A fresh cut at life
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Every time Tamara Kolesnichenko opens the door to her salon, she enters into a world of possibilities that were once unthinkable.
Kolesnichenko was born in the village of Kupelya in Ukraine. After marrying her husband, Vladimir, she moved to Olevsk, Ukraine. At the time, the country discriminated against Kolesnichenko because of her Pentecostal faith, she said.
“It was a tough life there,” said Kolesnichenko. “We couldn’t practice our religion freely.”
Kolesnichenko said her religion prevented many opportunities for her and her family.
“When we still were there, it was kind of getting better but, still, you wouldn’t find [a] good job,” Kolesnichenko said. “For my older sisters, even me, it was harder to go to school, get [an] education, good education, because, if you practice believing in God, you are not able to get [a] good job, or get an education because it’s everything for those who were in the parties of the communists.”
In 1998, Kolesnichenko, her husband and her 2-year-old son sought refuge in the United States. She moved to Erie, Pennsylvania, because her brother lived in the city.
“It’s easier when somebody [is] waiting than when you go somewhere and don’t know anybody,” Kolesnichenko said.
Kolesnichenko said one of the earliest difficulties she encountered was the language barrier.
“When I first came, [it was a] different language completely,” Kolesnichenko said. “I had to learn English first, and then, little by little, step by step.”
When Kolesnichenko mastered English, she became an interpreter. Her sister, who lives in Virginia, pushed Kolesnichenko to open a beauty salon after being a stay-at-home mother for seven years.
“She said it’s pretty good business, if you have a good place, a good start,” Kolesnichenko said.
Kolesnichenko’s first step toward opening her own salon was attending Fortis Institute in Erie. After graduating as the valedictorian of her class, she opened her own salon on Peach Street.
Tamara’s Salon, which opened in June 2015, features Kolesnichenko as the only stylist. She said she does not have any specialties but is hoping to hire another stylist.
Kolesnichenko said her salon had more business in the summer than the winter, but she is hopeful to receive more customers.
“I hope it’s going to spread more.”
Regardless of the success of her salon, Kolesnichenko said she is grateful for the opportunities she received in Erie.
“My kids…it’s easier for them. It would probably be more difficult for kids [in Ukraine],” Kolesnichenko said. “It’s a completely different style, culture and life is harder. Here, everything is more about comfort. There, it’s ‘You have to work. Tough.’”
While Kolesnichenko is happy to live in Erie, she still thinks about Ukraine. She has cousins, nephews and two nieces who still live there, and she has returned to the country twice since 1998.
“I don’t get that much homesick, but still, I think [about] how it is there, and especially now with war going on there,” Kolesnichenko said.
Kolesnichenko said her life has changed dramatically since moving to the U.S.
“It’s different,” Kolesnichenko said. “I don’t know how I would be in Ukraine right now.”