In 33 years of teaching, health and fitness instructor Maria Crabb said she has never met a student who has overcome as much as Galina Kukharskaya.
“She happens to be one of the strongest young people I have ever known. I have a great respect for her. I don’t say that lightly.”
When Kukharskaya, a senior at Mt. Spokane High School, was 9 years old, her twin sister, cousin and grandparents were brutally murdered in their California home by a family member. Kukharskaya and her younger sister, Victoria, were playing in the front yard and survived.
Although this tragedy permanently touched her life, Kukharskaya said she wants to turn it into a positive. She can recall that Monday morning with perfect clarity and recounted the details with poise. But mingled with the horrific memories are many good ones.
Kukharskaya recalled how, after spending seven days in protective custody, she returned home to find their yard was filled with candles, flowers and cards. “It was so sweet,” she said, adding that 5,000 people showed up to the funeral to support the family.
Kukharskaya said her mother is the main reason she has been able to deal with the trauma and loss.
She underwent counseling and took a monthlong family trip to the Ukraine, “to keep our minds off the sorrow and pain,” she said, adding that it was a way to change their script of life. “That got us into a positive way.”
And the family talked about it together, as often as needed, remembering, grieving and finding a way to keep the good memories alive because her mom insisted that every conversation include something positive. Kukharskaya said that’s why she can now tell her story with ease and composure.
“(Mom) would always say something positive, tell funny stories,” she said. “That helped a lot.”
Yet that traumatic event when she was so young naturally affected Kukharskaya’s perspective.
“I don’t take life for granted,” she said. “You can die any day. … Live your life to the fullest and appreciate the people in your life.”
For other students going through difficult situations, she said she’d advise them to do what her mother did.
“Don’t let your tragedy or sorrow capture you,” she said. “Open it up and make a positive out of it.”
And Kukharskaya does this every day by enjoying the small things, whether that’s shopping with friends, traveling, or volunteering after school.
“It doesn’t take much for me to enjoy life,” she said, describing herself as laid back and nice – “someone that sees the little details.”
This approach is also evident at school. Crabb said Kukharskaya is quiet and hard-working, with a strong loyalty to friends and family.
“She is very supportive of other students and a good friend to her peers,” Crabb said. “She is very positive and always supports positive efforts.”
Because of those gentle qualities and Kukharskaya’s ability to see both the fragility and beauty in life, Crabb said Kukharskaya will do well after graduation.
“She comes to school every day put together, willing to work hard with a good work ethic. And yet she has seen the world in many ways with this hurt she has,” Crabb said. “She will go on in this world and touch many lives with her story, because she is so put together.”