- By Kara Hildreth
Eagan couple heartbroken for friends fearing for lives in an unprovoked war
An Eagan couple is heartbroken for friends fearing for their lives after Russia invaded Ukraine, which was once their homeland.
Yury and Irina Slutsky, who have been married for 43 years, moved away from Ukraine seeking better lives in the United States in 1989 with their two children and their parents.
The couple’s journey to America began when they applied to leave in 1979, which was denied by the government under the leadership of Leonid Brezhnev, leader of the Community Party of the Soviet Union.
The Slutsky remained vigilant and patient for seven more years until 1986 when the U.S. was open to receiving immigrants. At that time, the Soviet Union was under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union who served as general secretary of the Community Party.
In 1989, Ukraine was a republic as part of the Soviet Union.
The young couple desperately wanted to live free lives. As Jewish people, they were not able to worship freely.
“You could lose your job – it was horrible. You could not go to the college because they were not accepting Jewish people, no matter how good you did at school – they make you fail and that is why the Jewish kids who wanted to participate in higher education were actually moving to Russia because at that time in history Russia was a lot less discriminative than Ukraine,” Yury explained. But that was back then.
Yury was born in Kyiv, Ukraine when the country was part of the former Soviet Union. When Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union.
“It was not that rosy that everybody thinks right now, and it was not that good,” he said.
The Slutsky waited months before being able to move to the United States and Minnesota to join the family. They stayed in Austria for a week and a half and a couple of months in Italy waiting for paperwork to process.
When asked why they immigrated, Yury said “It was for our kids.”
In 1991, the country of Ukraine became independent from Russia and political leaders pursued establishing a democracy.
After moving to the U.S., the family settled in Minnesota where Yury owned and operated Total Care Dry Cleaners for years at the Farmington Mall before he sold the business in May 2015.
Today Yury, 64, is the owner of MSP Inspections, a residential inspections company.
Beloved, a lifelong friend
The couple shared how friends in Ukraine are under enormous stress living in war-like conditions. Many have left comfortable lives, livelihoods, jobs and homes to flee violent Russian attacks in recent weeks.
The couple remains in close contact on the phone with many friends, including Irina’s best friend Alla, who is a beloved childhood friend that is like family.
Even though the two women live apart, they stay close like family. Both women followed through with the promise of naming their children with the best friend’s first name – Irina and Alla – to show love and devotion to each other and honor their lifelong friendship.
Alla recently left her home in Ukraine with her family and she left everything behind, taking only a small suitcase.
Yury said his wife cannot sleep now because her dear friend is in harm’s way.
“We finally had a chance to talk to Alla, and she and her husband lived in a beautiful apartment building in Kyiv with her daughter, and two kids who are 7 and 17 years old,” Yury said.
When the unprovoked Russian attacks began on Ukraine more than two weeks ago, Alla and her family decided to stay in Kyiv and wait.
“We tried to convince them to leave Ukraine ASAP, but they were firm, telling us that everything will be fine,” Yury said.
When explosion sounds rattled buildings and became very loud and closer and closer, they became scared. Alla and her family grabbed only a few things and jumped in the car and began driving without even knowing what the safest route to travel was, Yury said.
“Our generation learned from our parents’ real stories about their families who were running from Hitler’s soldiers during World War II, and right now it is exactly the same nightmare, only 79 years later,” Yury said.
Alla’s family drove as long as they all physically could, Yury said, only stopping when explosions were too close. “At some point they noticed a tank driving behind them; that was young Russian soldiers who got lost,” he said.
He said the family didn’t drink a lot of water to avoid having to stop. They knew hundreds of cars will be in front of them near the border.
At the border in Moldova, a Ukrainian officer told the family he could not grant permission to pass because Alla’s son-in-law was an adult and her grandson who would be 18 years old in a couple months. Men in Ukraine are not able to leave the country due to the need for soldiers.
Irina said, “They cried, begging the officer and he finally allowed her grandson to leave the country, but her son-in-law had to go back.”
Yury said “It is hard to believe what the people of Ukraine have to go through. Can you imagine what is going on with people who do not have cars or relatives in different countries, where they can stay for the time being?” Yury said.
In recent days, Irina spoke with Alla who said the family is staying because they do not want to leave their son-in-law behind.
Irina said Alla is living in a world of denial since she can hear the bombing that vibrates the windows.
“It is the most horrible – we just hope he is not going to be able to press the button and make even more destruction,” Yury said.
The couple pray Russian President Vladimir Putin will not launch any chemical, biological or cyber-attacks.
The Slutsky family has sent packages abroad to support families and fleeing refugees in nearby countries.
“Most of the Russian stores here and in Burnsville, they are sending packages and shipping it themselves to the organizations they trust, so they know it is not going to disappear,” in Ukraine, Yury said.
The couple’s youngest daughter’s employer recently gave a large sum of money to aid Ukrainian families, and their oldest daughter sent packages with diapers and necessities to families living in bomb shelters or who are in need of humanitarian relief.
A couple of years ago, the couple recall visiting Kyiv in Ukraine and have fond memories. “It is such a beautiful city and we have been traveling a lot to see the small cities in Europe and comparing them, and this was one of the most beautiful cities,” Yury said.
Both are expressing heartache about friends in danger, how the country is being destroyed, and for the lives lost and livelihoods ruined.
“It was such a beautiful place, and it is terrible to see what is happening,” he said.
In Kyiv, like in major cities of the former Soviet Union, most people speak Russian, said Yury, who studied Ukrainian in school. He can speak it and he understand it.
Yury posted on his Linkedin account: Due to the current state of affairs, the perception of Russian (or Russian speaking) people has become very negative due to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
“I’m getting calls from potential clients, but as soon as they hear my Russian accent, they change their minds,” Yury said.
Irina said good friends who own the Russian restaurant called Moscow on the Hill in St. Paul has recently been harassed.
“Like many Russian-speaking business owners, we are being punished for the action of one sick criminal,” Yury said.
“I don’t know any Russian-speaking people here in the United States who support what is going on right now in Ukraine. We are doing what we can to help the people of Ukraine, we are donating money, collecting and sending boxes with clothes, food, and diapers,” he said.
This time in American history can be compared to when Muslims living in the United States were harassed after 9-11 by uninformed Americans. Or when Chinese immigrants living in New York and California were harassed after the COVID-19 outbreak because some believed the virus was grown in a Chinese laboratory.
Yury urges Americans to stay informed and become independent thinkers while pausing from making immediate judgments. He urges all to refrain from getting into political lanes and work to understand all the issues.
The couple still watches some Russian state TV and Ukrainian television in the United States, he said adding “We watch the same news from two sources to see who is lying more.”
The propaganda produced on Russian state TV is real, Yury said. This misinformation can be hard for people to sort out.
Feeling saddened there may not be a peaceful agreement between Russia and Ukraine, Yury said “We are afraid it’s at the point that it is not going to be possible.”