‘I can’t fail my son’: fighting to stay in school – and in the country

By , 18/06/2019 11:16

Sebastian Skrynnik asks his parents most Fridays if he’ll be going to school the next morning.

“He’s always upset when I tell him no and asks how come he’s not at school,” his mother, Alexandra Pyatetskaya, said.

“It’s such a joy for him – it’s nothing but a pleasure. The holidays are hardest because he’s not learning and achieving and he feels he should be.

“Heloves reading and being with other children and is very protective of the younger kids.”

Butit appeared the cricket-mad six-year-old would never rejoin his year one classmates at Newcastle East Public School.

After a series of misfortunes associated with their visa, Sebastian’s Russian-raised parents have had to apply for a tourist visa, which does not allow them to work. The tourist visa expires in June. Ms Pyatetskaya is sweating on an invitation to apply for the Skilled Independent visa and thena bridging visa.

If that invitation doesn’t come soon, the family may have to return to Russia, a terrifying prospect for them.

“I can’t imagine what his (Sebastian’s)reaction would be like going to Russia and settling in, because it will break him,” Ms Pyatetskaya said.

And although Sebastian was born in , he is not a permanent resident and does not have a right to access public education, leaving his parents facing a school bill of $300 a week.

“I was homeschooling him, but the school realised we were still living in zone and asked us whether we would be bringing him back,” Ms Pyatetskaya said.

“I told them we just can’t pay it, we’re barely surviving. He’s an Aussie kid who has no rights and can’t be protected by society, he’s just on his own.”

At the same time, Ms Pyatetskaya’s husband Yury Skrynnik had run into mothers including Meaghan McGregor and lawyer Kath Fielden and explained the family’s situation.

Within less than three hours of Ms Fielden meeting the family on Friday, February 9, she rallied a small group of parents to provide a loan of $2700 to cover Sebastian’s term one fees. Ms McGregor said the Department of Education’s immigration team worked over the weekend to process the paperwork to allow Sebastian to return school on Monday, February 12.

“There is a strong legacy of helping others at Newcastle East Public School, regardless of where they are from,” she said.

Ms McGregor and Ms Fielden are now turning to the wider school community to raise$4500 which will helpthe small group of parents who provided the initial loan, and pay fees for part of term two and other education costs.

“The day I told him he was going back to school he was running around the house screaming ‘I’m free, I’m going back!’” Ms Pyatetskaya said.“He loves the community, but I never thought he would get that kind of love back.

“I was gobsmacked –I can’t express how appreciative we are.Knowing you’ve got the community behind you is life changing. Not just from a financial perspective but mentally knowing you’re not on your own, after all these years trying to push and nothing happening.

“You reach the point where you’re defeated, but now we feel like we can fight.

“As much as we were trying to float on the surface it felt like we were drowning.

“Now we’ve been lifted back up by the community. They’ve given us wings.”

“was the ultimate dream” for both Ms Pyatetskaya and Mr Skrynnik.

After receiving a scholarship as a 15-year-old to attend a school in the United States, Ms Pyatetskaya said she could “never have considered myself living in Russia full time”.

“If something happens to you, you’re on your own,” she said.

“If you don’t have family or money saved, there is nothing that will back you up.

“People are also not allowed to express opinions – you have to keep quiet if you disagree.”

Mr Skrynnik was a professional athlete who competedat the national level in modern pentathlon before suffering a career-ending injury.

The couple met in 2002, saw Mr Skrynnik survive a car crash in 2004 and married in 2007.

Ms Pyatetskaya, a qualified English, French and English as a Second Language teacher,researched a Skilled Independent visa 189, which allows someone to live and work in as a permanent resident.

She realised further study was one way she could boost her required points score.

She arrived in in February, 2010, on a Higher Education Sector visa 573 and enrolled in a Masters of Applied Linguistics, during which she was told it wouldn’t be hard to find a job.Just two weeks later, the points system changed. Ms Pyatetskaya applied for a Postgraduate Research Sector Visa 574 and enrolled in a second degree to gain points, a Masters of Communication Disorders, which was later discontinued and for which she is pursuing Macquarie University for a refund.

Mr Skrynnik, who had visited twice on a tourist visa, joined her in .

They welcomed Sebastian in May, 2011, but full-time work was hard to find.

“We know we’ve got the skills and knowledge to contribute,” she said.

“We’re happy to go where the work is and both of us want to contribute to the community, to be employed and part of society. We were never thinking of not working, but we don’t know how to get through the system to get employed.”

She said she gained limited work in child care and tutoring and was told once she received a teaching accreditation number she’d be considered for employment.

“I was ready to work in any capacity but could hardly find any work with my degree.

“I was hoping I’d get casual employment somewhere [in the Department of Education] to get a foot in the door but was told I was not needed in NSW, which was very very disheartening.

“The Department of Education, the university and TAFE do not sponsor.”

Meanwhile Mr Skrynnik – who had run businesses in both St Petersburg and Moscow – worked on his English, attended free skill-development courses and searched for jobs in his expertise of sports coaching, massage and aqua aerobics.

But even his applications to stock supermarket shelves went unanswered and he relied on occasional work as a manual labourer in gardening and landscaping.

When Ms Pyatetskaya did find a company to sponsor her Temporary Work (Skilled) 457 visa, it collapsed before it could help her apply for permanent residency.

“We’ve hit rock bottom,” she said. “I did not think permanent residency would be on a silver platter, there are steps and protocol.

“But we’ve followed those – we’ve never had gaps or been here illegally. We were ready mentally and financially but never thought we’d be in a situation where we’re holding on trying to stay, trying not to fall apart.”

She spent the past year studying and sat the International English Language Testing System (IELTS)’s academic test five times.She passed in October and applied for her Skills Assessment Certificate.She lodged an expression of interest in February to apply for the Skilled Independent visa.

Her temporary work visa ran out in December so she applied for a tourist visa, to June 22. If she receives an invitation to apply for the Skilled Independent visa, she can apply for a bridging visa. But it could take up to two years to receive an invitation.

“If we go offshore and get the invitation to apply you can’t get back in until it’s processed –so you don’t get a bridging visa.”

Ms Pyatetskaya said she is hesitant to bring her son to her native homeland.

“Here he is valued as a person, a learner and a child – it’s unbelievable how people are treating him here because we never got that at home. In Russia if you’re not first at school you’re next to nothing. We are teaching him Russian but he would struggle in school, be picked on and bullied.”

For now, the family is living in two rooms in shared accommodation and have accessed St Vincent de Paul and Grainery Care Centre for assistance with groceries, Soul Cafe for food and op shops for clothing.

Every day they wake hoping for good news.

“I’m pulling my hair out – if in June nothing happens, what do we do?” she asked.

“I’m running low on energy to fight but can’t fail my son. It’s worth trying – I’d never be able to face him and say there was a chance to stay and I never did it. We want him to have the opportunities to succeed and the choices that we never did.”

Donations can be made to ANZ Bank, BSB: 012780 Account: 216425905. Reference “SEB”.

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