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One step at a time: A refugee’s journey to rebuilding through education, community, and hard work

By: Kayla Friedrich

[SPOKANE, Wash.] On Feb. 24, 2022 Svetlana Paserba and her family’s lives were turned upside down when Russian President Vladimir Putin sent armored tanks rolling through the wheatlands of Ukraine, marking the beginning of a long war.

“We had to run from Russia because we did not support this war,” she said. “My husband reposted an anti-war post on Facebook on February 24 and five policemen came to my apartment and he was arrested by them.”

Svetlana’s husband Arkadiy was an anti-war activist and the Paserba family’s safety was jeopardized after he was arrested.

Two months later the Paserba family left Moscow for the Inland Northwest and their lives would never be the same.

Svetlana had been working in the medical field for over 20 years before she came to Spokane. She came from a long line of women who’d spent their careers in the medical field.

“I was an instructor in the medical school at my last years in Russia, and I have a major in biology with a specialization in biochemistry,” Svetlana said. “All my life I’ve been in the medical field. Since 1999 I worked as a medical laboratory scientist in the hospital.”

By August 2022, Svetlana graduated from Spokane Community College’s English as a Second Language program and went straight into the community college’s medical assistant program so she could reenter the field that added fulfillment to her life in Moscow.

A grant from the Washington State Department of Health and Social Services helped Svetlana pursue her medical assistant certificate at SCC where she also works as a tutor for ESL where over half her students are Ukrainian.

“Now I’m on my way to my third quarter,” she said. “This quarter, I’m working as a volunteer here at Spokane Community Colleges as an assistant for instructors who are teaching ESL students in the level one. I’m Russian and I am happy that I can help these people,” Svetlana said. “This is just one part of my life, and if I can use this time to make the hard life of these people a little bit easier, I think I can make a great role in their future.”

Svetlana hopes that by creating a kind and supportive environment for other students, they will be able to see hope that they can rebuild their lives once more in a safe place.

When she first began this journey, Svetlana found hope through her ESL and medical assistant teachers, case manager Anne Mayer in the SCC WorkForce Transitions Office and her classmates.

“I can ask ‘I need to purchase a special book for my medical assistance course, and I need it to pass my exam. I don’t have a laptop I need it to do my work’ and she said, ‘I will help you’ and she did this for me and my husband,” Svetlana said.

In the Spring quarter, Svetlana will spend her last quarter as an SCC student at the Sacred Heart Medical Center for her externship at Inland Northwest OBGYN.

With a medical assistant certificate, she’s ready to discover new opportunities in healthcare.

“I tried all my best,” she said. “It’s pretty difficult to study medical terminology in a second language but it’s the only way and I must do it… Thomas Edison said, ‘There is no substitute for hard work.’ Every day I will make a small step.”

Amidst every obstacle, the Paserba family seeks hope and is relentless in rebuilding their lives through education, community, and hard work.

As Svetlana completes her medical assistant certificate, Arkadiy is working at the International Rescue Committee as a volunteer while their two children complete their associate degrees through Running Start.

Posted On

3/21/2024 8:54:51 AM

Posted By

Kayla Friedrich



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