Ukrainian war refugee embraces new life at Queen Vic Market
Queen Victoria Market trader Khalilulla Dydar counts every day as a blessing. It was only in February that he and his family were dodging missile strikes in Ukraine after their home came under threat from a wave of Russian attacks.
He and his 45 extended family members were separated by the war after Russian forces attacked Odessa, destroying the city’s military infrastructure and residential homes, which saw dozens of innocent people killed and wounded.
“Our children heard the alarms and the rockets and were scared. We were forced to shelter in underground cellars,” the 32-year-old recalled.
“At first when the war started, I didn’t want to leave but then my brother called me from Kyiv. He said he could see Russian tanks from his apartment on the 12th floor.
“We made the decision that life would not be possible if we stayed,” Khalilulla said, adding that he and his brothers went to Romania while other family members in Kyiv fled to Poland.
But with nowhere to live they decided to go to Germany where they met another hurdle in not being able to speak Polish or German, which made Europe a “difficult place to make a new life”.
“I Googled countries where English was spoken and where we could go without visas,” Khalilulla said, after which they found themselves land in Ireland.
But after hearing about an opportunity for Ukrainians to come to Australia, Khalilulla applied for a humanitarian visa which saw he and his wife, and three children arrive in Melbourne on July 9.
Khalilulla initially tried to find a variety of jobs but was ambitious to start his own business.
He approached refugee micro-finance provider Thrive for a loan, which led him to opening a stall at Queen Victoria Market called Smart Goods where he sells mobile accessories, LED caps and glasses.
“I’m very happy,” he said, adding he planned to grow his business and build a new life, but as a temporary visa holder, he remained cautiously confident of his future.
“From the first day in Australia, I was feeling comfortable. It’s a free country with many different people. Here at the market, there are people from China, Vietnam, and different parts of Europe like one family,” he explained.
“In Australia we feel fully free. My kids are happy here; they are studying English and looking forward to starting school.”
“We are enjoying the river and nature in Melbourne and the multicultural nature of its people. Nobody cares about the colour of your skin or the size or shape of your eyes.”
The launch of his stall at the market on September 24 is an incredible journey for the Afghanistan-born Khalilulla who, along with his family, also faced danger under the Taliban rule in their home country.
“I remember playing in the street and the Taliban started firing. My mum called me in just as bullets started striking just a metre away from me,” he said.
Khalilulla left for the Soviet Union with his older brothers in 1996 as a six-year-old, before later fleeing to Ukraine where he was united with his parents in 2014.
While in Ukraine, he got his first taste of running a family-run wholesale business selling umbrellas and other accessories across Ukraine and other parts of Europe. •
Caption: Khalilulla Dydar at Queen Victoria Market.