My Favorite Ukrainians

Kat worked with a ballerina/bodybuilder/engineer/seamstress when she was employed selling wedding and prom fashions. We then lived in fashionable north Raleigh, NC. Kat’s friend’s name is Marina, and her money was earned by altering dozens of dresses a month; these almost always were rush jobs because with one week to go the bride’s diet that was going to peel off 15 pounds so she could fit that size 6 had somehow added four. Overtime paid well, and Marina earned and needed a lot of it.

She was born in a city whose name we do not recall other than it being a jumble of consonants and vowels likely to make our mouths hurt if we managed to say it a dozen times fast. Maybe it was Zaporizhzhia? Probably not, but her city was sufficiently populated for her family to live in a state-owned apartment in the days of the USSR. She was educated in engineering, and would have had a good career in that field had she remained in Ukraine after completing her studies. But even then, there was something called a K-1 visa in the USA which she pursued and used to emigrate to North Carolina. K-1 is essentially a mail order spouse program: find a US citizen to sponsor you, get the visa using that citizen’s declaration of interest, and suddenly one has three months to marry a US citizen, or move back home. Home could be anywhere for K-1 visas, not just Ukraine, but it was a popular source as almost all were fluent in Ukrainian and Russian as well as some English. It never hurts a K-1 to be a looker, and Marina met that qualification.

Marina married her sponsor. He turned out to be abusive so she left him with her young daughter who became smart and pretty even without a dad or child support. Marina’s engineering credentials were hard to verify unless one could read Ukrainian or Russian, but she had two mouths to feed and did what she could to survive. Sewing doesn’t pay much, but expert alterations done in short order were in demand. She used her ballerina talents in a few other bridal shop tasks, such as changing the light bulbs on 16’ ceilings. Kat held her breath every time Marina climbed to the very top of a step ladder and stood there calmly swapping out the bulbs.

Shortly before Kat left the bridal business for hearing aid sales and fittings, Marina helped her parents spend a couple of weeks in the USA. Marina’s mom and dad visited our home one Saturday spending that afternoon preparing dad’s famous borscht. His recipe is a rich brothy soup with onions, turnips, cabbages red and green, celery, a few beets, potatoes and for this special occasion, two pounds of kielbasa. Some things are universal: a love of good food, the shared joy of preparing it, warm smiles and an occasional comment translated by Marina. Along with rye bread and butter this borscht made a fine meal. Before we sat down to it I pulled a bottle of ice cold Stolichnaya (later I learned made in Latvia) vodka from the freezer. Boris gave me and that bottle a warm smile and as I poured straight up martinis into frozen glasses, I asked Marina if we might exchange toasts. She spoke to Boris (say “Bo-reese”) in Ukrainian, and his smile became broader. He said and she translated “Here’s to good friends!” He and I interlocked elbows and drank deeply. I asked Marina to translate mine in return, and she did. “Here is to our leaders: they otherwise weren’t worth much, but they managed not to blow up the world!” We all smiled again, and drank again.

Boris and Marina

Let’s hope today’s leaders can somehow pull off that same world-saving miracle.

5 thoughts on “My Favorite Ukrainians

    1. Kat got an image of hearts and hands clasped in prayer Feb 26 just before the invasion.

      Boris is gone, but Marina’s mom is thought to still be around but by now is likely too old to get out of the country.

      Years ago Marina, then living in Russia, could not believe that Crimea had been invaded by Russia. She considered it US propaganda. And not long after Trump’s election in 2016 she asked why so many Americans don’t like him?

      Yes, their information control is that good.


      1. I’ve struggled to find words to reply. Best I can figure is we have seen what people who get all their news from Fox or OAN come to believe. While she had previously lived in the USA almost 20 years, when Marina wrote this she had been back in Russia 4-5 years. She refused to believe that Putin had occupied Crimea, and believed everything his government communicated about Trump. It felt exactly like talking politics to a Trumper. We didn’t try. Kat wished her health and safety.

        Liked by 1 person

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