Friday, July 14, 2000

Ukrainians find their dream home

Coming to U.S. worked for them

By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        They're just everyday folks living normal lives. That's what Edward and Luba Sokolsky say.

Everyone has a story worth telling. At least, that's the theory. To test it, Tempo is throwing darts at the phone book. When a dart hits a name, a reporter dials the phone number and asks if someone in the home will be interviewed. Stories appear on Fridays.
        He's an electrician. She's a cosmetologist. They live with their 10-year-old son, Andrew, in a comfortable home on a cul-de-sac in middle-class Deerfield Township. Another son, 26-year-old Boris, earned a bachelor's degree from Miami University and an MBA from Xavier University and recently landed a job in Los Angeles.

        All told, the Sokolskys are doing just fine. But there were never any guarantees it would work out this way.

        There was, in fact, plenty of uncertainty and anxiety 21 years ago when they sought permission to leave their lifelong home in Lvov, Ukraine, for America. Ukraine was then a republic in the communist Soviet Union.

        In Lvov, the Sokolskys lived in a government-owned apartment. Edward worked as a buyer for a government-run factory. Luba worked as a nurse for a government-run hospital and later, as a cosmetologist at a government-owned salon. Owning their own home or business was an impossible dream.

        The Sokolskys, who are Jewish, say they were not victims of anti-Semitism. And they did not decide to leave because they were poor. In fact, they had a decent standard of living in Ukraine. But they yearned for something better.

        “We were young,” Luba says with a pronounced accent, “and we were interested in something different in our life.”

        Too, they wished for better opportunities for Boris, and any children they might have later.

        From the communist government, they heard stories about America's soup kitchens and unemployment lines. But friends who had immigrated to Cincinnati wrote letters that offered a more hopeful picture.

        The Sokolskys arrived in 1979.

        “When we came here, it felt like another planet,” Luba says. The language and culture were foreign. But with assistance from Jewish Family Service, they began carving out a new life.

        They lived in a Roselawn apartment for four years, then bought a Montgomery condominium. In 1984 they became U.S. citizens. And seven years ago, they moved into their Deerfield Township home.

        Luba worked for several beauty salons over the years. Encouraged by Edward, she began dreaming of having her own business.

        About seven years ago, she joined About Face, a Blue Ash cosmetics salon that specializes in skin care and makeup. A year and a half ago, the Sokolskys bought the business.

        “First month, it was very, very scary,” says Luba, who is 51. “But day by day, I make it, and I'm very happy.”

        They shudder at how different their lives might be had they not left their native land. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine's conversion from communism has been difficult.

        Luba and Edward have made separate trips back to their homeland, she in 1997, and he in 1998. What they saw saddened them.

        “It's terrible,” says Edward, 53. “The kids Andrew's age, begging in the street. I was sitting outside a cafeteria, eating; we didn't finish, and when we left those kids grabbed the leftovers.”

        The factory where he once worked had closed. The faces of the people reflected despair.

        The Sokolskys have no family left in Ukraine. A year after they arrived in Cincinnati, Edward's parents followed them here. (His father has since died.) Luba's sister also immigrated.

        Their present and future is here, thanks to a gutsy decision they made 21 years ago.

        “I think, in everything, you have to be brave, not afraid,” Edward says. “You have to be optimistic, not pessimistic.”

        “We fulfill our dream,” he says. “God bless America.”


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