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Australia Grants Refugee Visas to Thousands of Ukrainians Fleeing War

A girl looks at her mother on a train bound for Poland in Lviv, western Ukraine, as they flee the war, April 15, 2022.

About 6,000 Ukrainians have been granted humanitarian visas in Australia. The visas will allow the Ukrainian refugees to work and study for up to three years.

For Inna Ilienko and her 8-year-old son, Andrey, fleeing their home in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, was the start of tortuous journey to safety in Australia.

"To cross the border with Slovakia, then from Slovakia to Poland, and from Poland to Austria , and from Austria to Australia. In Australia, I feel very safe, very safe."

"These are stories that we all heard from our grandparents fleeing the Red Army in 1945, and to be honest, they were childhood stories for us," said Andrew Mencinsky of the Ukrainian Council of New South Wales, which is helping to resettle those displaced by the war in Europe.

"It was like 'oh, my God I can’t believe how you lived through that.' And now hearing about people going through that again. It's heart rending. It's unbelievable."

But Australia's decision to grant humanitarian visas to Ukrainians has been criticized by campaigners who say it ignores the plight of other asylum seekers. The government rejects that claim, insisting its policies give priority to the most vulnerable.

But Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition is not convinced.

"It is very, very opportune for the government to respond to the plight of the Ukrainians, but (it) is a very, very selective compassion," he said. "The wars that Europe is involved in, the wars that Australia has been involved in that has created the refugees from Iraq, from the Middle East, from the situation in Africa - there is a very different attitude to them. We’ve got fortress Australia. The fences are up for the vast majority of people who desperately need help."

The government in Canberra says it will welcome more refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine and has imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has denounced "Russia’s brutal, illegal and unjustified invasion" of Ukraine.

His government has sent missiles and armored personnel carriers, as well as humanitarian aid, to Ukraine.