Where are you from?
What was your childhood like?
I don’t remember much about Belarus. We left when I was 3 due to religious persecution and environmental issue from the Chernobyl fallout. We lived 80 miles north of Ukraine. When we arrived we lived in Cleveland Heights and then moved to Mayfield Heights by the time I started first grade. When we moved to the U.S. both my mom and dad had to start careers from scratch. In Belarus, my mom was an engineer and my dad worked in dentistry. Their degrees and titles weren’t recognized. My grandfather was the head inspector and engineer for power for southern Belarus. He was sent to Chernobyl to assist with the cleanup efforts. He wasn’t able to get work in his career either. They started school again while working multiple jobs. As a result, they were always very focused on my education.
What brought you to Cleveland?
We had distant family connections to the city and there is a large Soviet population here.
What were your first thoughts about coming to the United States? Did those change?
I don’t remember. I was too young. My family always believed that with hard work and dedication anything was possible and they heard on the radios and through hear say that you could succeed in the U.S. with hard work and determination. That was a big driver for them applying to come here.
What challenges did you face transitioning here?
Language, culture. Essentially, starting from scratch was difficult. Reputation was important in Belarus and here no one knew who we were or my family’s accomplishments and qualifications.
What is your occupation? Are you a member of a sorority, fraternity, or any other civic or social organization?
I am a Business Manager for an aerospace company. I am a Fiji (Case Western Reserve University) and Summer of the Cuyahoga alumnus.
How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed?
I grew up here and identify first as a Clevelander, but people went out of their way to help my family transition to the culture and city.
What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?
We speak Russian and my mother cooks traditional food. We celebrate New Years, one of the most important holidays in our culture, as well as some Jewish holidays.
What do you love about Cleveland?
The people, the heart of the city, and the pride in our community and what it has to offer. Also, the friendliness of the people who will go out of their way to introduce you to and show you the city.
Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?
The city is made of them. This is Cleveland. This is who we are. Our main commonality is that everyone is different but open to differences.
Why is it important to travel abroad?
With work I did a lot of traveling early in my career and what I found is that seeing other places and other cultures gave me a greater appreciation of where I’m from and expands abilities to understand and appreciate other views and ways of doing things. I’m a better person for having traveled to other countries. It’s really interesting to see the inspiration abroad for many things we have in the U.S. that were brought here by immigrants.