SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — When Governor J.B. Pritzker ordered the flag of Ukraine to be flown over the Illinois State Capitol on Monday afternoon, a woman who grew up in Kyiv helped accompany the flag personally to the top of the dome.
Secretary of State Jesse White’s office invited Tatyana Shlyaka, a Springfield woman who immigrated here from Kyiv with her son and husband in 1995, to help hoist the flag over the building where she works.
“Honestly, I couldn’t believe it,” Shlyaka, a tour guide supervisor at the Capitol, said on Tuesday afternoon. “I hesitated for a moment, but I said, ‘Yes, I would love to.'”
As the head of the tour guides at the Capitol, Shlyaka is still in awe at how close she can get to the halls of power. She said she wasn’t able to “go close to the government buildings” when she grew up in the Soviet Union.
“When people from different countries comes to the Capitol and they see this democracy at work; when they see they can go to the chambers in observe [the] General Assembly, they can be a part; then, when they see how people come to the rotunda to express their opinion, it’s makes me choke [back tears].”
In her office hangs two maps — one of the United States and another of the world — where tourists can place a pin to show where they came from. She hung them there as a small way to demonstrate the global reach and inspiration the Land of Lincoln has around the world.
She described feeling overwhelmed with pride and emotion as she watched those blue and gold colors wave above her workplace.
“I’m very proud to be an American with those deep deep Ukrainian roots,” she said. “It makes me feel like the world is behind Ukraine. It makes me feel that Ukraine is going to succeed.”
“As much as the world expresses the support of Ukraine, we were adding to that,” she said. “I want all of my friends in Ukraine, and all of my friends, or people who don’t even know me, to see all those little steps we can take to support the Ukrainian people, and absolutely support Volodymyr Zelenskyy. I think he has great leadership. He is a hero.”
Shlyaka found herself at a loss for words when she described the images and videos of missiles striking buildings in the city where she was born.
“This conflict cannot be explained or understood,” she said. “It’s an unspeakable, violent act.”
She held nothing back in criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin as an unprovoked aggressor.
“Anything possible needs to be done to stop that person… that animal, if I can say that,” she said.
What would Ukraine look like if Putin’s Russia defeated Ukraine and installed a pro-Moscow regime?
“Total control,” she said. “I was born in Soviet Union. And it so it wasn’t only Ukraine. It was all other countries looking for their freedom, their voices, their ability to speak when they would like to.”