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Grandmother Iryna Bilyk had fled her home country with her daughter-in-law and grandchild, leaving the now-unrecognisable capital city in a small car, as the sound of shelling continued around them.
Forced to leave Iryna’s two sons, son-in-law and husband behind, the trio headed for safety over the Romanian border.
Iryna’s daughter in Brisbane, also named Iryna, said when the Russian invasion began earlier this month, she begged her family to evacuate.
“They were panicking, there were tears, you know, we’ve got a little girl who is seven years old, she didn’t know where the bombs were coming from, what was happening,” she said.
“They just packed a tiny suitcase or a backpack and were just running, thinking ‘what if we get hit in the car’ … you just don’t know if you will be hit or not.”
She said leaving the family behind was not an easy decision for her mother, but she decided to go through with it for the safety of her granddaughter.
“My mum had to say goodbye to her two sons, to her husband,” Ms Bilyik said.
“My sister-in-law had to say goodbye to her husband, and my niece had to say goodbye to her father who she might never see again.
“Of course it was heartbreaking.
“There is constant bombing, one of my brothers stays up all night watching the sky … they can see planes flying constantly bombs, their friend’s house was bombed, you never know if you’ll be next.”
The family drove south to Moldova, before continuing to Romania.
It’s there Iryna’s husband, Martin Cropper, flew from Brisbane to meet them, before all four family members made the final journey to Australia.
But at the airport, Ms Bilyk said her mother, sister-in-law, and niece were immediately taken away by customs officers due to not being vaccinated.
Banned from hugging their loved ones, the trio, who do not speak English, were put onto busses and transported to Brisbane’s Wellcamp quarantine facility.
“We are not allowed to come anywhere near each other and they took her away,” Ms Bilyk said.
Her husband said the family was devastated.
“After all they had been through, to get to that point..to realise they were going to be taken away,” Mr Cropper said.
“You could see the fear and the heartbreak in their eyes.
“My niece actually believes she’s been captured by the Russians.”
Once at the facility, Ms Bilyk said her family was denied food because it was too late and were unable to wash the few items of clothing they had for two days.
Ms Bilyk’s mother, via the translation of her daughter, said she felt humiliated and her granddaughter thought she had been taken to prison.
“I didn’t expect this,” she said.
“Physically we are fine but emotionally we are not.”
The family has now been granted an exemption to quarantine at Ms Bilyk’s home and will be reunited this week.
Ms Bilyk is calling on the Federal Government and Queensland Premier to assist more Ukrainian refugees to come to the country, and to use the state’s two new quarantine facilities to accommodate them.
“We are people with hearts and we want to live normal lives with our families,” she said.
“There needs to be some understanding and compassion for people who are running for their lives.
“We can do more.”