By Mikayla van Loon
With an influx of refugees from Ukraine and the upheaval they had already experienced, the opportunity arose for a Lilydale couple to provide a safe and welcoming space for one man in his journey to building a home in Australia.
Rudi and Shelagh didn’t initially know who would take up their offer but were soon pleased to meet their 32-year-old male hostee.
Not doing it for praise or recognition, coming to Australia as immigrants themselves 20 years ago, the couple decided they could help give someone a start, particularly someone who had had to flee their home country so abruptly.
“It’s easy to donate sometimes and donations are great but we just felt we needed to do something practical,” Shelagh said.
“We live in this world of ours and everybody goes about their daily business and you just think, ‘Oh, someone else will take care of it, or the government will take care of it’,” Rudi added.
“But we thought ‘no, let’s just see if we can help someone’ and we were quite happy to do that because we’re alone. We’ve got a three bedroom home and there’s just the two of us.
“So, the decision was quite easy, based on a Christian lifestyle I suppose and doing something kind for someone.”
Shelagh said at the time they were considering taking someone into their home, many people were willing to help women and children who had fled Ukraine but were not as ready to accept single men.
“Shelagh and I, we have three sons. So it was just nice to have a young man in the home and now we call him our Ukrainian son,” Rudi said.
Being split from his family, Rudi said their hostee came with no one but had an uncle who lived in Doncaster who tried to help as best he could.
“So he ended up here and his brother went to the United States. The whole family is ripped to bits, which is really tough, but he’s trying to give it a go here,” he said.
The hostee stayed with the couple for a month, after Rudi caught Covid it was too risky for the hostee to stay without healthcare support.
Despite the short amount of time spent together, their bond was strong.
Rudi and Shelagh have offered to their ‘Ukrainian son’ that if he ever needs anything, he can walk straight through the front door and be welcomed with open arms.
“He knows that he can phone anytime and say ‘I need a place to stay’ and that might still happen,” Rudi said.
“That’s not what he wants. What he wants is to find his own accommodation where he can pay rent and he wants a job where he knows he’s got a regular income.
Shelagh said, “he was determined to learn English and to make Australia work.”
Should the opportunity arise, Rudi and Shelagh said they would take anyone else who needed a place to live but would first need to ensure their Ukrainian son was no longer in need of their help.
While for them their experience was more than pleasant, Rudi and Shelagh said for anyone thinking about opening their home to a refugee, there are things that need to be considered.
“We knew that we had to be all in all in and certain parts of our social life, our family life, would have to take a backseat,” Shelagh said.
Rudi said things like mutual trust and cultural differences are certainly important factors but more so, making sure refugees can connect with their own community is vital to their wellbeing.
“Because their communities are based more on the other side of town, is it fair for them to live in the eastern suburbs where they have no direct contact other than phones?” he said.
Approaching their own situation, Rudi and Shelagh said they had no expectations of what it would be like but knew all they needed to do was be loving.
“This home is just stuff whereas that’s a real person’s life that’s been so badly affected and whatever comes we will just love the person or people because nothing else is important because of what they’ve been through,” Shelagh said.
Their Ukrainian son has moved closer to his community, now living in Melton but as Rudi said, he has a “lifeline” in Australia should he need it.