CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The horrifying images of war in Ukraine continue to rattle natives of the former Soviet republic living in North Carolina.
Music has always been part of Tatyana Thulien’s life. She grew up in Kyiv under the Soviet Union.
Thulien says she finds playing piano and singing in her Charlotte home an outlet for hope.
“I think about love and peace,” Thulien said. “And I think about how every country deserves to live in peace and so does my beloved Ukraine.”
With her hometown under attack by the Russians, Thulien thinks about her parents, who were originally from Russia and Ukraine. Her mother survived the siege of Leningrad during World War II as a teenager.
“That’s why the sirens today that are all over Ukraine do resonate in my heart,” Thulien said. “Because my mom spent a whole year in sieged Leningrad listening to those sirens.”
In her early 20s, Thulien, a mother of two at the time, watched as the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s. She lost her job at an engineering department and fell into the wild post-socialist environment of private business.
She eventually received a fellowship to study in the United States at the University of Georgia and University of Missouri.
She met her husband in Missouri. The two married in Ukraine before she got her visa and moved to Minnesota in 1997. She’s been involved with the Slavic community for many years as a public figure, journalist and Russian language instructor.
“Our dear lord wanted me to be here,” Thulien said. “He wanted me to create the family here and be able to bring my heritage here as well.”
Thulien stays in constant contact with her friends still living in Ukraine. They continue to send her heartbreaking messages and videos of empty store shelves.
“I say to them please stay strong, please do not give up, please do not lose hope, and please stay alive,” Thulien said.
Thulien is looking to do more for Ukrainians. Her nonprofit United Communities Association is helping create a humanitarian project called Road of Life.
She is collecting basic necessities like clothing, medicine and money.
“People are scared. People are suffering. They are absolutely uncertain of their future, and we need to help them,” Thulien said.
Thulien says she prays for a brighter future, although she’s still unsure how the war will end.
“I really don’t know today,” Thulien said. “I hope that the whole world will stop and just concentrate on peace.”
Thulien is running for the Mecklenburg County Commission at-large seat. She also serves on the community relations committee to help bring awareness about county programs, services and initiatives.
To learn more about donating to her humanitarian project, visit United Communities Association’s website.