Godsend in a new Aussie home

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Regina Coeli Primary, Beverly Hills teacher, Ms Jessica Moate with Year 6 students and friends, Mark Koshel and Monica Zarifeh. Photo: Alphonsus Fok.

Sydney Catholic Schools is opening its doors and heart to families fleeing war-torn Ukraine to find safety and a future

The three things Mark Koshel misses most about his war-torn homeland are his hamster, his PlayStation and his dad … just not in that order he grins.

The 11-year-old Ukrainian refugee is the newest addition to Year 6 at Regina Coeli Primary at Beverly Hills and one of a growing number of students who have fled the Eastern European country for a new home within Sydney Catholic Schools.

Arriving in Australia six weeks ago with little English and few possessions, he said he was “so happy” just to be in a place where he was sent to bed each night by his mum and not the sound of missiles and deafening sirens.

Living near the capital of Kyiv, he witnessed more in a few weeks than most should in a lifetime and spent many nights holed up in his bathroom with his terrified family seeking refuge from the fighting.

Regina Coeli Primary Year 6 student Mark Koshel on the basketball court. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Mark is one of about 6,000 Ukrainians who have been granted humanitarian visas in Australia.

Farewelling his dad before escaping via Poland, he said that starting a new life in Sydney had been tough, but made that little bit easier by his new Ukrainian classmate Monica Zarifeh.

Regarded a Godsend by Mark and his teacher, she translates everything into English while providing a shoulder to cry on when times get a little tough.

Unaware of the lifeline she has provided, Mark said she has given him a little taste of home he so desperately craves.

“Monica has been so great, it’s good to have someone I can talk to about things and have a laugh with,” he said.

“She has a lot of family back home as well so she understands what I’m feeling.

“I miss so many things about my home, my hamster Shmut, my Playstation and of course my dad, but having her here to talk to is a big help.

“I get to talk to him on the phone all the time but I’m still scared for him and don’t know when I’ll see him again.

“I tell him all about Australia and how good the weather is and how beautiful the beaches are, which are probably my favourite places.

“We are very lucky to be here and be safe.”

Regina Coeli Primary, Beverly Hills students, Mark Koshel and Monica Zarifeh. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

Sydney Catholic Schools is providing Mark with a refugee bursary, so his fees are covered, however his parents insisted on buying his uniform.

Regina Coeli Primary School Principal Chris Egan said the students had welcomed Mark with open arms into the school community.

“We are delighted to be able to support Mark and his family after being displaced from their homeland in Ukraine,” he said.

“Mark has made new friends and is already growing and thriving despite some of the challenges of learning in a new language.

“It’s been such a blessing that Mark’s class has Monica in it, she also comes from Ukraine and has been able to speak to him in his native tongue.”

Year 6 students from Regina Coeli Primary, Beverly Hills, Mark Koshel and his Ukrainian “Godsend” classmate, Monica Zarifeh in class. Photo: Alphonsus Fok.

Monica’s family are leaders in Sydney’s Ukrainian community and she has held awareness and fundraising days at the school, selling handmade wristbands in the blue and yellow Ukrainian colours to assist families in need.

Added to that support is Sydney Catholic Schools who are providing not only financial but pastoral support to the Ukrainian community both here and overseas.

Director Mission & Identity Anthony Cleary said Sydney Catholic Schools has endeavoured to make its communities aware of the practical support that Australians can give to the people of Ukraine.

“First and foremost, this is through prayer,” he said.

“Prayer resources have been distributed for use in schools, and staff have been encouraged to join with the community of St Andrew’s Ukrainian Catholic Church at Lidcombe.”

“Formation and information sessions have been run in schools to raise people’s awareness and understanding of the current conflict in Ukraine, and specifically on the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

School communities have been encouraged to support the Ukrainian people through the appeal of Caritas and the Ukrainian Crisis Appeal and schools have been given some fundraising suggestions to support this.

“As the conflict continues we are increasingly mindful that our support also needs to go to those nations taking in the displaced people of Ukraine, in what is the greatest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.”