“Now they’re in a situation where Odessa is being bombed every week or so.
“The troops are moving towards them. They just have one more city before Odessa, so once that city falls, Odessa is going to be under attack.”
Last week the family’s visa applications were rejected on the grounds that they did not comply with migration requirements and had not “sufficiently demonstrated they intend only to visit Australia temporarily, or that their circumstances are an incentive to return to their home country”.
The Australian government was estimated to have rejected hundreds of Ukrainian refugees, and immigration lawyers were working to help several families at a time.
“When the war started, the Australian government set up this process where you could apply for a visitor visa, and once you arrive in Australia, you can apply for the special refugee visa,” Baptista said.
“Now you can only apply for the special refugee visa, [but] you can only apply for the special refugee visa if you are in Australia.
“What has happened in the last three to four weeks is that they’ve decided that Ukrainians, because they’re intending to stay longer, they no longer comply with the visitor visa rules, which state that you need to go back, you’re just visiting, you’re not staying in Australia.”
This is not the first time the family has endured war. They initially lived in eastern Ukraine in Donetsk, but when Russia invaded the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, they moved to Odessa.
“I know the beginning was rough. They had to live in a one-bedroom apartment with many relatives. But then they found jobs and started to rebuild their lives,” Baptista said.
The situation now is exacerbated by a lack of jobs, Baptista said. Kovalova lost her job in the HR department of a factory because it closed when the war began.
“Her partner worked in a baby products company, and now with all the kids, babies and mothers leaving, they’re actually cutting down his hours,” she said.
“They’ve decided to leave the father behind because he’s not allowed to leave [because of conscription in Ukraine].”
A Home Affairs spokesperson said the department would not comment on individual cases but was prioritising visa applications from Ukrainian nationals, “particularly those with a strong, personal connection to Australia”.
The department said applications were assessed on merit and considered against the requirements for a visitor visa set out in legislation.
Since February 23, the department said it had granted more than 8000, mostly temporary, visas to Ukrainians, and over 3200 of the visa holders had arrived in Australia.
Kateryna Argyrou, co-chair of the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations, said while there were no official statistics on the number of Ukrainians being rejected, judging by the number of people who had reached out to the group, it would be in the hundreds.
“The biggest challenge with the visa application process currently is the massive financial burden of medical check fees,” Argyrou said.
She said the majority of people who did arrive from Ukraine were women and children, and there were challenges once they landed in Australia.
“Some of them arrive with nothing more than a small suitcase to their name, they don’t have the necessary level of English yet in order to immediately enter the workforce, and they still have to find a way to take care of their children,” Argyrou said.
The process to transition to a 786 visa, which is only available to Ukrainian refugees already in Australia, is also problematic, she said.
“If they can’t afford to pay for the medical check fees – usually $330 to 430 per person, or more than $1000 for a mother with two children – they will not be able to transition from the 449 visa to the 786 visa, which provides access to Medicare,” she said.
“So our fear right now is that mothers, babies, and the elderly will be stuck in limbo and will not be able to get basic health care or access to GPs, which is very worrying.”
Argyrou said the medical check fee issue had been raised, and the federation was in discussions with Home Affairs trying to find a solution.