Northland based Olesya Gan checks in on her family daily.
Kerikeri-based Ukranian Olesya Gan spoke to her sister just hours before Russian missiles struck Ukraine.
She advised her to pack bags for herself and her children.
“I said if it’s going to make you happier, pack some bags in case.”
Hours later, she got the call.
“She called me and said, “it’s started, there’s bombing and we’re running.”
It was something that Gan could scarcely believe, and up until it happened, people in Ukraine didn’t either.
“People didn’t believe that Russian people would come to kill Ukrainians. Imagine your cousin Australia coming to kill you and your children. People were talking about it, but they weren’t prepared.”
What started as a brief moment of disbelief has turned into the new normal for Gan and millions of Ukrainians.
She’s watched helplessly from afar as the places she grew up in have been destroyed by bombs from their neighbouring country.
Daily calls with her sister have become a “drill”, and she’s downloaded Telegram, where she can see in real-time where missiles are hitting Ukraine.
The mother-of-two said in the last year, her perspective on life has altered dramatically. She described it as an “interesting paradox” that has forced her to treasure more moments, yet see things more plainly.
“When you think about it, the world becomes very small,” she said.
Gan said Aotearoa needed to realise what Ukraine was fighting right now was the “school bully.”
“If you let the bully win, you’re going to be next. Some wars are localised, and some wars make our world different.”
Gan critiqued the way Aotearoa has handled migrants from Ukraine, stating more needs to be done to help her people.
“When the war started, I tried to get my parents here to take them away from the war, and I couldn’t.”
She believes bringing refugees from Ukraine to work can be a “win-win” situation for Aotearoa.
“They could offer for people to come here. New Zealand needs workers.”
Gan went to the border last year when the war began, aiding refugees who didn’t have basic supplies. She said leaving the country is a good option for those who have no choice, but for many, they are stuck.
The cost of living in other countries is expensive, and she said many displaced cannot work with language barriers.
“To rent a flat you need at least 80-900 Euros. It’s good for somebody that doesn’t have a choice, but people have realised it’s unsustainable.”
She said many who left Ukraine at the beginning have made their way back.
About 8.1 million people have been displaced from Ukraine into Europe.
That’s more than the population of New Zealand. Around half of these individuals have registered for temporary protection schemes, but many have returned home.
According to the United Nations, at least 8000 civilians have been killed, and 13,000 have been injured since the Invasion began last year.
Those who remain in the country used to hide when missiles came, but Gan said now ”they’re starting to get used to it.”
“They sit, and continue their lives,” she said.
Gan has done what she can to provide her own aid to Ukraine. She raised $30,000 last year, which paid for new winter tyres for utes, and simple items for soldiers on the front lines.
She also sent old classmates money for generators and body armour.
Nineteen have died.
“You grow up with them, you know their wives and kids,” she said.
Gan’s belief is while Aotearoa has a small budget compared to larger countries, political support, education, and spreading awareness were the key.
She likens a lack of interest in Ukraine, to people in Aotearoa who don’t vote.
“They think, oh it’s not my business”, but this paradise can be taken away very fast if you don’t educate yourself.”
“Open your eyes and your perspective will change,” she said.