July 8, 2011

AUSTRALIA: Torn apart by war, reunited in aged care

SYDNEY, NSW / Australian Ageing Agenda / July 1, 2011

By Yasmin Noone

Every older person has a story. A few months ago, Vladimir – an 85 year old man of Estonian origin who lives at Villa O’Neill aged care facility in Melbourne – thought his story had already been set in stone.

Villa O'Neill resident, Vladmir

When Vladimir, also known as Bill, fled his homeland and a suppressed life under Russian occupation in 1949, he believed his whole family were dead. He arrived in Australia on a ship called General Omar Bundy and started a new existence thinking he was to spend the rest of his life without family.

His parents and siblings had all been killed, either in World War Two or at some point thereafter during the reign of terror imposed on Estonians by the KGB. Vladimir never married and did not have any children. He lived his life alone and in later years, developed dementia.

But a few months ago, 68 years after the assumed death of his brother, Vladimir’s life story was rewritten. A letter from the Australian Red Cross informed Vladimir that Bernhard (his brother) was still alive, living in Estonia, and had been searching for him for more than six years.

“It has been a very, very long time since I saw my brother,” Vladimir said. “I am glad my brother survived the war, that’s the main thing.”

The Australian arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross had been contacted by the Estonian branch three years prior. Up until that point, Vladimir could not be found. The Australian Red Cross case manager had no leads and no luck. Villa O'Neill (a Villa Maria facility) was the last shot in the dark before the case was to be closed.

As the case worker for the International Tracing Service, Ivana De Masi-Chan said, it was an aged care contact in Melbourne that pointed her in Vladimir’s direction.

“A community contact [working in an aged care service] knew Bill was at Villa Maria," De Masi-Chan said. "The good news came when we then followed through with the service.”

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