Student putting a human face on the war in Ukraine

The community has really come together over this, and it’s all been student driven.

The reality of world events was brought home to students at Xavier Catholic College Llandilo when they welcomed refugee Denys Oborskyi to their school.

Ukrainian refugee Denys, his younger brother Kiral and his mother fled the war in Ukraine in February and made their way to their cousin Ivan’s house in Llandilo in western Sydney.

Through parish connections, Kiral was enrolled at Corpus Christi Primary School and Denys started at Xavier Catholic College soon after.

Initially using Google Translate to navigate his lessons, Denys is now settling into school well. “My favourite subjects are Technology and PDHPE,” he said.

“The school looks different to my school in Ukraine, which is a big building with three floors, but I like studying in Australia. I’ve started playing basketball because my cousin Ivan plays it.”

Denys’s new neighbour, Kalan Markson, just happens to be in the same year as Denys at Xavier, and they’ve become firm friends. And Year 12 student Mark Babadzhanian, who was born in Russia, helped Denys with translation when he started attending Xavier. Denys’s English is rapidly improving, and he is now navigating school quite well.

“I can’t speak highly enough of this young man, he’s quite remarkable,” Acting Principal Greg Malone said.

Denys has written a poem about his experiences and Kalan has created an artwork illustrating his feelings about Indigenous, Ukrainian and Anglo-Saxon cultures in the melting pot at his school.

“Denys’s presence is influencing the students’ learning – they need to know how things fit in the world,” Greg said.

Mark recently organised a weekend meet-up for Ukrainian refugees from all over NSW at the school.

Greg said the connections formed on that day were crucial for refugees. “I spoke to one woman who said Australia is 'very nice but very lonely’.

“The community has really come together over this, and it’s all been student-driven.

“Mark organised a donation drive and we collected far more than we need for the local community.

“We’re sending brand new clothing and tins of food to a refugee centre to distribute. Rotary Club of Nepean donated $5000 and stayed for the whole afternoon of the refugee meet-up.”

Greg said the teaching staff had adapted quickly to meet Denys’s needs. He has a teacher who accompanies him to most classes, and the College’s Head of Diversity is providing one-on-one English lessons.

“What we don’t hear enough about is how teachers respond to whatever need there is,” Greg said.“If Denys’s hand goes up in the classroom, a teacher is there to help.”

Denys is unsure what the future holds. “Perhaps we will go back to Ukraine when the war ends,” he said.

His father is still in Kyiv living with Denys’s grandparents.

Sue Osborne