Julia Kalinski: A pillar of support
May 2, 2022
With the global weight of the pandemic, Julia Kalinski, Director of Alumni Engagement and Annual Giving at Bolles, already bore heaviness on her shoulders and in her mind. But, headlines dominating the news cycle took a sharp turn away from the pandemic and instead towards threats of invasion of Ukraine by Russia. This threat ultimately turned into a violent, tragic war that has devastated countless families both in and out of Ukraine.
Hearing about the worsening situation in her home country of Ukraine and knowing that her father, aunt, uncle, cousin, and five close friends all reside there, this weight grew exponentially. “It was just sadness and heaviness. I remember telling my husband that I haven’t felt that kind of heaviness in a really long time.”
Kalinski was born to a Russian family in Ukraine while the nation was still occupied by the Soviet Union, with her first language being Russian. In 1991, when Kalinski was still young, Ukraine gained its independence.
As she experienced this transition into freedom, Kalinski was also able to experience a newfound liberation regarding the ability to more fully learn and express her culture. “Ukraine has always had a culture and a language and all of that, but it was kind of suppressed by the Soviet Union during that time. So as we gained our independence, we started speaking Ukrainian in schools, and we started getting to know the culture and the dress and different things started reentering our culture that was all new to me.”
When Ukraine declared its independence, all official and government documents were changed to the Ukrainian language. With Russian being her family’s native tongue and the language her parents initially learned, Kalinski still spoke Russian at home but learned Ukrainian and English at school. “Learning different languages was very important in our school systems,” Kalinski stated. Ukrainian and Russian culture have some overlaps. The two languages, as Kalinski put it, can be compared to each other like British and American English in that each has different pronunciations and terms that differ in meaning.
To Kalinski, being Ukrainian means “a chance to grow, to have new opportunities. It’s a chance for democracy. The way people lived in the Soviet Union was very different than the way they look now. My friends have small businesses, my friends are able to travel and leave the country. That was never the case when I was a small child.”
Now, this freedom that she was able to experience during her childhood is becoming suppressed once again, as she worries about the safety of her friends and family who currently reside in Ukraine. Mainly through Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram, Kalinski communicates with them daily to simply listen and be there for her loved ones.
One impact on Ukrainian mental health is the ear-piercing sirens. Kalinski noted that there are air-raid sirens everywhere, even in places that aren’t under siege. The war in Ukraine has forced individuals, like Kalinski’s family and friends, to completely alter their lifestyles and location. Alice, her cousin, escaped from the small Ukrainian town of Irpin and is now in Europe, but longs to go back home. Kalinski’s best friend Lida, an accountant, moved from Kyiv to a small town in western Ukraine with her husband. Kalinski stated that Lida, who “will not even entertain the idea of leaving,” “is deeply committed to her country and believes that they will come out of this stronger.” Oksana, another friend of Kalinski and an owner of a teddy bear shop, had to evacuate with her family and dog after her residential building was hit by a missile while she was, thankfully, in the basement and unharmed.
Up until 2012, Kalinski would visit Ukraine once a year to indulge in favorite pastimes with her family, one of which is cooking. As the Director of Alumni Engagement put it, “cooking is a big part of Ukrainian culture. I started cooking with my grandmother when I was five years old, so it’s very near and dear to me.” Kalinski’s favorite dish is borscht, a beet soup accompanied by heavy cream. It is made in all former Soviet countries, but the “Ukrainian” version involves adding vinegar and potatoes. Kalinski described memories of cooking together as hearing “inner laughing” that occurs when she is cooking with her family. “One memory was cooking these special cakes for Easter and having them christened, which was a tradition under the Orthodox Church.”
Her Ukrainian upbringing has played a major role in shaping her career and who she is today. “I think it just provided me a background, a perspective about how others live and how you know, we’re all different and how important it is to make sure we take that into perspective and help support people when how we can in all their different places and phases of life. I’ve been in the nonprofit sector for many years, and I enjoy that work. And that’s been my passion is to help people get where they want to get. So I think it’s shaped me into becoming a helper.”
Kalinski is a member of the Rotary Club, which is an organization that, “comes up with a fund and starts rebuilding,” as Kalinski put it. Kalinski also sports a connection with Marty Karachi, the President and CEO of the Jessie Ball DuPont fund organization. If one is looking to take part in helping the crisis, she recommends Global Giving, which is also run by Karachi. Kalinski claims that global giving is the ideal platform because they understand the logistics of the country and allow the donor to connect with the specific peop/le they are helping.
While there are daily worries about her family and friends’ safety in Ukraine, Kalinski knows that the most important thing she can do is be there for her family and all of those in Ukraine. When asked what advice she would give to those like her who currently have family or friends in Ukraine, she says to “just be there,” while also remembering to “have some separation and take care of yourself because you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself.”
By being there for her loved ones, Kalinski acts as a pillar of support that despite the weight it carries, remains strong, steady, and still standing. When asked what she would say to the people of Ukraine right now, Kalinski stated, “We stand with you.”