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19 September 2019

Mikhael

I was born in Ukraine. I lived in a small town about 500km from Kiev, close to the city of Vinnytsia. I’m Jewish. Life in Ukraine if you were Jewish was bad. I was the only Jewish person in my school and Ukraine was a communist country – communism is really bad for Jewish people.

It was when we were part of the Soviet Union and you weren’t really allowed to leave the country but if you did get the chance to leave, they didn’t let you back in. After Gorbachev became president, he changed everything – all the Jewish people left and went to Israel, America, Australia…

I left school after 11 years, and as soon as I turned 19 I left for Israel. I lived there for 10 years. I was in the army as a truck driver. I also worked on the Lebanon border bringing in products. It was a little bit dangerous but I didn’t see too much conflict. After the army I worked as a truck driver.

I liked it in Israel. It was hard leaving my parents and older sister in Ukraine, but it was a very bad situation – there was nothing to do in Ukraine, no jobs, it was very bad. Now it’s a little bit better. When my parents moved from Ukraine to Sydney, I came over here too. My older sister also came over.

I’ve been in Australia for 15 years now. I stayed in Sydney for a year but had an argument with my parents and I decided to go to Canberra. I’ve been here ever since. I now call my parents often for a chat.

I have a son but he’s in America. When I was 18 I married, but we divorced after a year. After we broke up, I left for Israel, so I haven’t really been in contact with my son or my ex-wife. He tracked me down, but we’ve seen each other only in photos and on Facebook. He’s 22 now. One day I’ll go and visit him.

I was working as a house painter and had an accident. I fell off a ladder and hurt myself pretty badly; I broke a hand and a leg and now I can’t go back to house painting. It makes it very hard to find work.

I like selling The Big Issue. I started about two years ago, when I was begging. I’ve made some good friends among the vendors. It’s definitely a community. I usually sell with my wife Salvina – we met in Sydney.

I’m homeless at the moment, so the money I make at The Big Issue really helps me out. I’m sleeping on the streets with my wife. It’s been pretty cold out there. 

I’m basically waiting for housing – I’ve been on the housing commission list for a year now.

I got my dog, Ganjibus, a year-and-a-half ago. He is a staffy. The reason I’m having a bit of trouble now with housing is because no-one likes the dog too much. I was living somewhere but they wouldn’t allow him; people in my block started to complain, so I left.

For now, I’ll keep selling The Big Issue. It helps a lot. And when selling The Big Issue you meet some good people and you can have a good chat.

Photo by Sean Davey

Interview by Anastasia Safioleas
Mikhael sells The Big Issue at Woden Town Square, Canberra.