Case Study: Iryna* 

Iryna is 14 years old and in Year 9. She fled her hometown Kharkiv in March 2022, three weeks after the Russian invasion, with her mother Nataliia and younger brother Marko (8) amidst “constant bombing, constant alarms”. They left Ukraine without her father, who is of fighting age and was required to stay to defend their country. 

The family abandoned their apartment and drove in their car for five days to reach the border with Poland, only to find that the queue was so long it took two days to cross. There they abandoned their car and belongings. The family travelled with a plastic bag that held their paperwork, such was the speed with which they had to leave their homeland. They stayed in Poland for a short time until their flights could be organised to Australia. 

Upon arrival in Melbourne, they stayed in temporary dormitory-style accommodation with access to a group kitchen and communal living areas. The accommodation was strictly monitored with no one allowed in or out without authorisation. 

Iryna and her younger brother were enrolled in the local school close to the accommodation, where the teachers had set up a comfortable space for the newly arrived students to meet and play games together.  

Prior to arriving in Australia, Iryna was completing Grade 9 of her Basic Secondary Education (Grades 5-9). She did very well at school and spent most of 2020-21 undertaking remote learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Iryna has found it difficult to get used to school in Australia. Her schooling in Ukraine was very strict and formal, whereas here it seems to her there is not much of a strict routine and the work is too easy.  

After moving into a rented flat in the south-east suburbs of Melbourne, Iryna enrolled in a closer school. There are three other students from Ukraine in the school, none of whom are in her year level.  

The family have transitioned onto a 786 Visa, which means they have three years before needing to make further visa applications. Iryna is unsure how her mum is coping, but she can hear her talking to their dad late at night and crying. She also watches a lot of news from Ukraine on her phone. Both Iryna and her mum still receive air raid alerts on their mobile phone apps. 

Whereas lots of the other Year 9 students are talking about subject selection for their senior school years, Iryna does not want to be in Australia at the end of the year. As she puts it: “I would like that everything [the war] will finish as quickly as possible and we will be able to return back home.” She does not want to be in Australia for three more years without her father or friends.  

However, Iryna feels in limbo because the war in Ukraine has been going on for more than a year. While she initially thought she’d be returning quickly from Australia to her hometown, she now feels stuck here. While Iryna appears content with coming to school, she is at the point where she just does not want to engage anymore with learning (especially learning English, which she feels is a betrayal of her father and homeland).  

Iryna appears disinterested in forming attachments at school and is increasingly withdrawn. Her teachers have found that she excels at times in her schoolwork, but when it comes to activities that require group interaction she tends to drift off into her own world.  

With the separation from her father, Iryna is angry toward her mother, whom she blames for leaving Ukraine and bringing them to Australia. It feels like her mother is overwhelmed by the war and the loss of their father and is unable to cope. Iryna questions the injustice of it: “Why me? Why my family? Why my country?” 


*This fictional Case Study is an amalgamation of real characters and scenarios to facilitate professional learning.