Refugee Week 2022: Helen Chernonok

Helen arrived in Australia two months ago after fleeing the war in Ukraine. She lives in Jan Juc, and she’s being supported by the Ukrainian Community in Geelong and Cultura.
Refugee Week 2022: Helen Chernonok

How are you settling in?

The first month was very difficult. It was like ‘I’m here but I’m not here. It wasn’t my choice to be here’.

Everyday I wanted to go home. But I understand that this is a really good opportunity for me and I need to stop being blue because that’s not helping me, my family, and Ukraine.

And I’m really grateful that I can live here in safety. It’s also a huge change for me, because I was successful and independent back home. But here, I have to rely on other people’s kindness.

I try to find some things to enjoy on my own, like I go out and buy coffee and a croissant, and that’s my thing. I did it for myself, I earned it. It’s important for my self-confidence.

What do you love most about living here?

I’m originally from Kyiv, which is very busy. Geelong reminds me of Vinnytsia, a city by the river in the west of Ukraine – it’s quiet and nice. And I really love the Ukrainian community. They’re like family.

What does healing mean to you?

I know about healing because I had a major medical procedure in the past – I had bone marrow transplant. And then here, with the recent experience of having to leave my home. For me, healing is having time for myself to reflect and recover.

What helps you in your mental health and wellbeing?

Being in nature. I live in a beautiful area, by the beach. It really helps me to go to the beach and sit, sometimes for hours, and just watch the waves. It also helps when you’re surrounded by people who are understanding when you need to have some time alone.

What are you most looking forward to in the future?

I try not to think about the future too much, because I don’t know what that looks like yet. When I first came here, I thought the war would end in a month or so. For now, I’m trying to restart my life here – find a job to help my family and my country, find my own place, and to discover Australia and hopefully not see spiders and snakes (laughs).

What can we do more to support people from refugee backgrounds?

I think it’s about communication and understanding what it’s like to be somewhere new. For a few weeks, when I came here, everything was new - I didn’t even know how to ride the bus. Little things, but I was hesitant to ask because I didn’t want to seem stupid.

I’m now in a group with Ukrainian new arrivals and we share tips on how to adjust and adapt. The Ukrainian community in Geelong and Cultura have also been helpful with answering any questions we might have.

Page last updated: Wednesday, 3 January 2024