Australia’s Ukrainian community has come together in a united show of support for the besieged country in anti-war protests and religious services across the nation, including in Perth where many expressed sorrow and fear for their families.
At a mass at the Ukrainian Catholic Church of St John the Forerunner and Baptizer in Maylands on Sunday, tears flowed during a powerful sermon in which it was declared Ukraine only wanted peace, but would stay defiant against the Russian invasion.
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It came as those at the service recounted horrific stories from family members in the battle ground in Ukraine, with some beside themselves with worry after contact with relatives fell silent.
For some parishioners, the emotion was so overpowering they had to excuse themselves and walk outside to cry.
Other cultural groups, including members of Perth’s Maori and Aboriginal communities, attended the church and performed their own cultural ceremonies in a sign of respect and solidarity.
After the dances, performed by Haka for Life and Corroboree for Life, the performers said they stood with their “brothers and sisters” in Ukraine and denoted the bloodshed and mass murder unfolding in the country.
Those watching sobbed and wiped away tears, prompting hugs and a reminder that they were not alone for those who were most in distress in the crowd.
The group then consoled each other as they burst into the Ukrainian national anthem.
Some at the service told The West Australian that they had family members in Ukraine who they have not been able to contact.
Others broke down when talking about the men in their family who had been “conscripted to war”.
Erica and Edmond Rosowski said soldiers came into their cousin’s home to take her two sons, who were “able bodied men”, to fight.
Breaking down in tears, the pair said one of the family members conscripted is a new father, with the whole family fearing they won’t see him again.
“Yesterday, we learnt that my cousin’s two sons have been taken and they will be fighting with Ukraine,” Mrs Rosowki said.
“We got a text from one of the men who is going to war to fight for Ukraine. He just sent three words which said ‘war has started’.
“They are willing and happy to go and fight, as a lot of people out there are.”
The 69-year-old Australian-born grandmother said her family in Ukraine was living out of a bomb shelter and were “terrified.”.
“At the moment they’re in shock, the reality of it has come in because they’ve all been told to leave their places or move on,” she said.
“All the trains are full, so they are walking and moving. They can only take so much,” she said.
Breaking down in tears, Mr Rosowski said he went to bed every night thinking about the war.
“If I was there, I would be the first one to grab that rifle that (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelenskiy offered, but unfortunately I can’t get one,” he said in tears.
The German-born grandfather believes this war will be Putin’s demise.
“I think what Putin is doing now, will be his undoing. A lot of the Russian people are protesting, and I think they will make him think twice about what is going on,” he said.
“The world is now uniting — all of Europe is now uniting.
“This will make Putin realise the world is not going to stand for his false flag war that he is trying to create, so that he can get back some of his ex-soviet union influence.
“He’s being imperial. He wants to be a king maker, he wants to be remembered in the future as the man who rebuilt the soviet empire — today is not the day that will happen.”
Mrs Rosowski the lack of communication with her family had meant she was forced to sit back and “watch it all unfold.”
“It was very, very sad news for us … we can’t really have too much communication at the moment because the phones are down and everyone is panicking, and they’re all moving” Mrs Rosowski said.
“The hardest thing is watching and not being able to do anything about it.
“A lot of things are happening and it’s so hard to put this into perspective that this is happening in this time.
“My heart goes out to all my family and all the people in Ukraine. I feel for the men and women who are out there fighting for their homelands, and for the people that have been taken away.
“We stand with Ukraine. Our prayers are for Ukraine. We are thinking of all our family, our brothers and sisters, and all the Ukrainians.”
Ukrainian President Zelenskiy’s words of “you will see our faces not our backs” have stayed with the couple, who say they show the resilience of Ukrainian people.
“We are going to fight to the end. We’ve got the courage, we’ve got the strength, and we’ve got everybody standing behind,” Mr Rosowski said.
“The Ukrainian people are all united to that, that they are not going to give up … they are going to fight to the end, win or lose.”
The couple, who fear they might not speak to their family again, have a message of love they hope will reach them.
“You are so brave, courageous. Our prayers and thoughts are with you. We wish you all the best from our hearts. If we were able to, we would be out there fighting for you as well for our father land,” Mrs Rosowski said.
The couple’s comments came as thousands protested across the country at the weekend, a rally in Melbourne on Sunday by far the largest.
In Victoria, a Russian man burned his passport in an extraordinary act of defiance against his home nation.
Former Russian citizen Andrei, who has been living in Melbourne, burned his passport with a friend during a pro-Ukraine protest in the city attended by thousands.
In the vision posted across social media, Andrei was visibly shaking as pieces of ash fell to the ground outside Treasury Gardens.
Asked by a bystander if he was denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin he simply said: “Absolutely, yes.”
“Curse him and everything he stands for,” Andrei said.
“I hope he will not live for much longer.”
Furious anti-war protests have unfolded across the world, with thousands taking to city streets in the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Turkey, The Netherlands, Montenegro, Cyprus, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Italy and others.
Many have congregated outside Russian embassies wearing blue and yellow and waving Ukrainian flags as they spouted anti-war and anti-Putin messages.
Premier Mark McGowan on Sunday described the conflict as “madness”.
“You’ve got basically a dictator threatening nuclear war. I’ve never seen that, I don’t even think we saw it in the Cold War, so this is pretty frightening stuff,” he said.