“YOU can call yourself a programmer if you can fix your grandmother’s printer.” That joke tickled Dmytro Serdiukov when he spotted it online. The 18-year-old dreams of being a computer programmer one day, so he can get paid for what he is good at.
While he studies hard to achieve his dream, he won’t be fixing his grandmother’s printer any time soon because he and his mother and younger sister left the rest of their family behind when they fled Ukraine just when Russian bombs started to rain down on their homeland early last year.
Dmytro’s mother Olesia had been planning to get out of Ukraine ever since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and started armed hostilities in the eastern Donbas region. When Canada turned them down, Olesia applied for an Australian visa. It took years of waiting for the paperwork to be finalised and approved.
Meanwhile Olesia managed to put together an escape fund out of her modest earnings as a bookkeeper, and had bags packed and ready as Russian forces began to amass on the Ukrainian border and the world held its breath to see whether Putin would invade. He did.
The first rocket attacks began on February 24 last year, just hours after the Serdiukovs got their temporary residence visa. There followed a dramatic and frightening escape by bus, metro, and a train crowded with fellow refugees to get to the city of Lviv near the Polish border.
Dmytro was lucky to be on the train, as a law had just come in banning men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country. Dmytro was five months short of turning 18, and was allowed on the train carrying fleeing women and children. Olesia’s husband Vasily, father of 9-year-old Margo and Dmytro’s stepfather, had to stay behind.
The journey to safety reads like a wartime thriller. People slept on the floors and in the corridors of the train. At one stage near the Belarusian border, the train stopped and passengers endured the sound of nearby bombing while paranoid security guards ordered all lights out and patrolled the train both outside and in.
From Lviv the family had to somehow get to Poland. Olesia sacrificed 100 of her precious US dollars to pay a man to drive them the last 60km over the border. There they were met by kind-hearted ordinary Polish people offering hot food, blankets and clothing. Olesia cried with relief.
From Lviv to Krakow to Warsaw to Sydney to Launceston was another saga, if not as scary then just as marked by the generosity of people who responded to Olesia’s appeal for help finding accommodation. Foremost among these is New Norfolk couple Penelope Ann and David Lander, the new owners of the Old Colony Inn. They saw Olesia’s plea on social media and offered to accommodate the family free of charge.
The family is now reunited: Vasily managed to get to Tasmania two months ago and he and Olesia have both found work on local farms, and Olesia is doing some casual online bookkeeping.
As for Dmytro, a self-described ‘computer geek’ who got his first computer at the age of five, he is still studying software engineering online through a university in Ukraine, and has done some casual multimedia work at UTAS. He is passionate about the Ukrainian cause but grateful to have escaped a war zone. “I have dreams and goals,” he says.
He’s interested in 3D modelling, sound engineering, video editing and animation. He’d like to create ‘something cool’ – maybe a computer game – and has created a YouTube channel for displaying his work. He’s not that interested in social media such as TikTok and Instagram, but is remarkably accomplished for an 18-year-old. As well as teaching himself Japanese by watching anime, he taught himself to play piano on his stepfather’s old instrument.
He confesses to having an unhealthy lifestyle: always on the computer, staying up late, not getting enough physical exercise. He was made extra conscious of this on a sail-training expedition over 10 days last month, a Rotary-sponsored exercise for young people on the Windeward Bound, sailing down the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and around Bruny Island.
Everything went well although he didn’t enjoy getting wet when the boat heeled over, especially in Storm Bay, or having his hands rubbed raw on the rigging. He did enjoy the company and the teamwork though. I suspect that when we catch up with Dmytro in future, he won’t have become a mad keen seadog but an accomplished master of the digital universe.
MAIN PHOTO: Dmytro Serdiukov outside the Old Colony Inn at New Norfolk. Picture: ROSLYN TEIRNEY