The Jewish Observer
News from Middle Tennessee's Jewish Community | Saturday, April 13, 2024
The Jewish Observer

Guilt and Gratitude: A Ukrainian in Nashville Continues to Adapt

It has now been two years since Russia invaded Ukraine. To date, over 30,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and millions more have been displaced and dispersed throughout the world. One of those families made their way to Nashville. Inna Shulkina and her mother, Lilya Krasnopolska, fled their home city in eastern Ukraine at the start of the war. Their first stop was western Ukraine, where they hoped to wait out the war. Once it dawned on them that the end was nowhere in sight, they made their way to Israel, where they have family members.  

Eventually the pair decided to move to Nashville, where Inna’s daughter and son-in-law live. Today, Shulkina and Krasnopolska are settled in to their apartment in South Nashville and are gradually building new lives far from their homeland.  

Shulkina, who is a teacher, continues to teach her Ukrainian students virtually, though many of them have also been displaced. “Some of my students have already been in Europe for two years. They’re used to it and are building new lives.”  

Others of her students remain in Ukraine, with four in her home town. “When I start the class, I’m always nervous about the internet connection, about the sirens. I’m relieved when I see their faces,” says Shulkina.  

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Inna Shulkina teaching her Ukrainian students over Zoom.

Shulkina says the students in Ukraine have become used to the sounds and inconveniences of war. “It’s heartbreaking. At 16, 17 years old they are so used to it they don’t care anymore. It’s so scary that at such an early age they are not living a normal life.” 

As the war rages on, Shulkina says she does not know how long her students will remain displaced. Those in Ireland received permission to stay an additional year, but those in Switzerland and other parts of Europe are unclear about their status. 

Meanwhile Shulkina worries about her other family in Israel. “On October 7th I called my cousin who said she wasn’t concerned, it probably wouldn’t last more than five days.” Still other cousins live in Ashkelon where, she says, “My cousin said it was on fire. I told them to come here, but they won’t leave Israel.”  

In addition to virtual teaching, Shulkina works at Nashville International Center for Empowerment  (NICE) where she is an educational support specialist. She also teaches English as a Second Language classes three times a week at Glencliff High School. Among her favorite classes is the adult classes where the students come from Africa, Cuba, South America, Afghanistan, and may other countries around the world. “It’s interesting to teach international students,” she says, “I learn so much about so many things.” 

Shulkina and her mother arrived in the United States under the Humanitarian Parole status. She was able to apply for family reunion since her daughter lives in Nashville. She recently received her Employment Authorization Document which allows her to live and work in the country until 2029 and hopefully by then she will have received a green card.  

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Ukrainian Inna Shulkina teaches adult ESL classes.
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Inna Shulkina, pictured far right, with her ESL class and their families.

Krasnopolska’s status is not the same. She remains under Humanitarian Parole, with an expiration date on her passport of June 11, 2024. Shulkina says they are hoping for an extension. “For now we’ve applied for Temporary Protected Status, and recently we were authorized to re-apply for Humanitarian Parole.” But she says it is stressful waiting and not knowing how things will turn out for her mother. 

“My mom still can’t accept the situation,” says Shulkina, “It’s not easy because she lived her whole life across the ocean. She wants to go home, and I can’t tell her there’s no home to go back to.” 

Shulkina and her mother have had success building a life in Nashville, making friends, working, and spending time with her daughter. Her mother has learned English and is very active. Still, she feels weighed down by constant fear and guilt. “When I feel life is good guilt overtakes me. One of the things that keeps me awake is that at home people are dying every day, and I’m here living a normal life.” 

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