When Vlad Kirichenko was in elementary school, he was bullied.
“I was small, a wimpy little boy, plus there was the language barrier,” said Kirichenko, who had immigrated to Spokane from Ukraine with his parents. Though he could speak English, it was his second language, and he spoke with an accent. “Interestingly, the bully was a Russian kid.”
His father gave him some weights to work out with, and as he got stronger and grew, the now 6-foot, 3-inch Kirichenko eventually beat the bully at arm wrestling, “and he no longer wanted to mess with me.” The two former adversaries remain friends today.
When he was in eighth grade Kirichenko and his four younger siblings transferred to Summit Christian Academy, where a number of the students are of Eastern European heritage. He said his sister and three brothers did well in their classes at Summit, but he wasn’t achieving.
“I was the stupidest kid in class and didn’t want to remain that way,” Kirichenko said. “I was the only one without any (academic) awards, and I wanted them, too.”
By his own hard work and the support and help of his teachers, he turned things around academically. His cumulative grade point average is 3.3, but in his senior year he has a 3.9.
He loves biology and chemistry and is good in math, “but ironically I’m pretty strong in English,” he said.
At Summit he is president of the student council and participates in all sports, from soccer to basketball, volleyball and kickball.
His parents, Alexander and Snezhana Kirichenko, had relatives who moved to Spokane before them, so when the opportunity arose they came, too. There were better economic opportunities for them in Spokane, but there were religious reasons for them to leave their homeland as well.
“We are Pentecostal Christians and, for one thing, my father was not able to get a full education in the old Soviet Union days because of that,” he explained.
His parents want to preserve their native languages, so at home they still speak Ukrainian and Russian. His father also believes that it will be an advantage for his children to be able to speak three languages as they grow and move into the workforce.
Kirichenko said the most influential thing that has happened in his life was last year when at 16 he met Jesus and took him as his personal savior after hearing from an 87-year-old woman who spoke of her mission to India.
“I grew up in a Christian home, but I had never experienced what I felt then,” he said. “I knew that God made me for a purpose, that I would be with him and that it would be beautiful.”
Although he loves to cook – and eat – Asian food and had considered being a chef, he is pretty certain he will work in the medical field, likely as a chiropractor. He is looking at a pre-chiropractic program at Whitworth University, as well as possibly attending Washington State University or Eastern Washington University this fall.
Whatever happens, he knows he has grown and improved and overcome some hurdles to land where he has – with a strong sense of hope about the future and his faith.
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