America is known as a melting pot. We are a nation of immigrants and native-born citizens, all brought together under the banner of freedom. In this episode, Linda interviews Elena Z., a woman who was born in Soviet Russia and immigrated to our country from Ukraine. She knows what it is like to live without liberty and under oppression. She and her husband came to America for freedom and opportunity, and her love for this country and her concern for our nation’s future are both challenging and inspirational. What does she hope Americans will consider as we approach this and future elections? Listen as this patriotic immigrant shares her personal story, perspectives on the election, and hopes for her adopted country.
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Linda J. Hansen: Welcome. And thank you for tuning in to this episode of the Prosperity 101 Breakroom Economics Podcast. My name is Linda J. Hansen. The creator of the Prosperity 101 Breakroom Economics programs. We seek to connect boardroom to breakroom by empowering and encouraging employers to educate employees about the public policy issues that affect their jobs. We believe this will lead to greater employee loyalty, engagement, and retention and to an increased awareness of the blessings and responsibilities of living in a free society. Listen each week to hear from exciting guests and be sure to visit Prosperity101.com. Join us each week to hear from our exciting guests and visit us at Prosperity101.org. Thank you for joining us for this episode.
America is known as a melting pot, a nation of immigrants and native-born citizens all brought together under the banner of freedom. My guest today, Elena Z., was born in Soviet Russia and immigrated from Ukraine. She knows what it is like to live without liberty and under oppression. She came to America for freedom and her love for this country and her concern for our nation’s future is challenging and inspirational. So, Elena, since I have trouble with your last name [laughs], I welcome you. And I’m going to introduce you and could you please tell us your name, and a little more about your personal story?
Elena Zolotarova: Okay, thank you very much. My name is Elena and my last name – it’s a long one, I know. My last name is Zolotarova. It’s hard to pronounce, so you can just call me Elena Z. That’s okay with me. I don’t blame people for not pronouncing my name. I was born and raised in Ukraine. And I know that people over here, they usually think that Russia and Ukraine are the same, and partially it was true before the Soviet Union fall apart in 1991. And that was exactly my – day, my birthday. I remember the day of August 24th in 1991 and I was 10 years old girl watching TV. And I did not understand what’s going on and the whole country is falling apart. And we are going to be independent and we are going to build something new.
So, I came to the United States of America about 12 years ago by now. I came here because my husband got his job over here and I came like a little suitcase because I was on my dependent visa, and I was not able to work. So, it took long six years until we both got our documents, all paperwork done, and got our residents over here in the United States. And then right now, we reside over here and we love Wisconsin, and we raise our kids over here and I work. I work for insurance company, kind of with data management and I tried to contribute some data and analysis toward population health here in Wisconsin, and my husband is a software guy who knows everything about computers.
So, I have not been back in Ukraine for almost seven years right now. And I think that I am losing the track what’s going on over there. And it’s a different feeling when you are not assimilated completely over here. You are not your own here in the United States and you’re also not native anymore in your own country. So, you’re somewhere in between and – but it’s different and I used to it, but I kind of can compare what’s going on here in the United States and what’s going on over there because I did have this expose to different cultures and different stages of society, and kind of development.
While I was a teenager back there in Ukraine, I saw a stage when people lose their, I would say, values and ideals and how terrible it can turn when you don’t know what actually to teach your kids. What is right? What is wrong? You don’t know what to teach them. Because you have nothing left, everything is ruined and basically, you don’t know what you’re going to build. The most concerning things that I think about is that sometimes people don’t understand that they are losing the best things they might have. Because on one side, unfortunately, like everyone wants to get something better, and does not realize that to have this better, you need to protect what you already have.
And I think that America was built on very strong fundamental things, like freedom and independence, and human rights and equal right to – I mean, not initially, but eventually we came to that point, and we have so many things to protect. And right now, trying to go to some, I would say – maybe I’m too direct, but trying to get some sin very fancy and fashionable. We are at risk to lose what we already have. And I’m sorry if my language is too – sometimes I have to translate from Russian.
When I went back to visit my family overseas in Ukraine and then I come here, even while it was like seven years ago, unfortunately, I see a huge difference between these countries, because here people have so much. They used to have so much. They have freedom to think whatever ways they want. They are way more protected than people, let’s say in Ukraine, but in so many other parts of the world that I have seen. They have their basic needs usually satisfied or at least there are systems that might protect them in opposed in other parts of the world, people may not have it and they even don’t – how I would say it – they even have no idea that it can be this way. They even have no idea that it can be this way.
So, my main thing right now is the time thinking about what things I need to teach my own kids because they are Americans and I did not ever think that I would be so much concerned about what’s going on here in America than before. And now I am because I have three kids, and I need to teach them something and sometimes I’m lost because they have no idea how it will turn. And something that was a value before is not the value anymore, and sometimes I think that we are going too much into liberal part. And sometimes I think that we do not respect our traditions and bases that we have over here in the United States.
Linda J. Hansen: I have a question for you. You have talked about – with me even before, teaching your children regarding American traditions and values. And one of the things that you have really valued is the freedom that we have here. The economic freedom, the religious freedom. Like you just mentioned, the freedom to think, to purchase things, to have things. And just for our listeners, it’s almost like Elena gets choked up when she talks about these. I’ve seen her come close to tears when she talks about the contrast between these two countries and other countries around the world.
Elena has told me people have no idea what they might be throwing away here in the United States –
Elena Zolotarova: Yes.
Linda J. Hansen: – if we do not vote for policies that will protect our freedom. And, you know, as we’ve talked in this podcast before, there are people all over the world who long to come to America. They want to come here because we offer opportunity and prosperity, and you can come to America with $1 in your pocket and I, a billionaire. You can but you can’t do that in every other country. And when you were living under the Soviet rule and in Russia before Ukraine got its freedom in ’91, tell us a little bit about what your life was like.
Elena Zolotarova: Because mostly my childhood fall into the time of the last years of the Soviet Union, there were good and bad things about it. We never had a luxury we have over here. We never had it. We lived in a very small house of two rooms with the bathroom outside. It was a kitchen detached and when I’m talking about a small house with two rooms, it’s not two bedrooms – house, like here, people may think. It’s just two rooms. Two rooms, basically. And we were a family of four. I was sharing a room with my sister. I never had my own room and I even did not – I mean, I was dreaming about it, but I never got it. We did not have a car and it was very, very, very meeting ends’ life.
And I would not tell you that I was unhappy child because my parents did the best with they could and they were working hard. But I remember very well what was happening after the country was broken and we kind of lost foundation. That was – I was in my teenager’s age and I remember that there were times when we were hungry. Hungry, not all the time, but I remember those days. And I remember a couple moments just to illustrate when I was in my high school, my parents did not have any chance to buy me winter boots. I understand, I may sound like a fantastic person who I’m making up, but I’m not making up. And my grandma gave her own boots and I was wearing them for some time until my parents were able to buy me boots. It’s a real thing. And I remember one day when we woke up and we had our breakfast, and my mom told me that today we are going to walk to school because she has no money. She has no coins to give us to use public transportation. I remember those days very well.
So, my point here is not just to tell how bad life has been. But my main point is that to live with strong foundation and with no respect to the rules and order may bring a huge suffer. We think that maybe a little bit more additional, I would say, stimulation or whatever you may think it will be for good, but I think that it’s very important to protect foundation and understand how it works. Protected it and start from that point. We should not move way too hard, too far, with no respect to what we have. And sometimes they have a feeling that we are losing this point over here.
Linda J. Hansen: Yes. Elena has told me many times that she fears America is losing its freedom, its core. We’ve talked like I’ve mentioned before the Constitution and the constitutional principles. Here we have, you know, the Bill of Rights. That is not what is afforded to citizens across the world.
Elena Zolotarova: No, no, no.
Linda J. Hansen: America is the leader for freedoms.
Elena Zolotarova: This is what American people have to be proud for and this is what other countries are not even close to and never have been introduced to. Ukraine has 30 years of independence by now and nothing even close comes to the life. Nothing even close come to the life in oppose we – I see a huge declines – decline in in many areas of life, and I think that it happens because this kind of lost core, lost tradition, lost respect to the fundamental basis and people are not building ideals. Old ideals have been ruined. New ideas are not built.
Linda J. Hansen: We have talked – before we started recording, we talked about how we can’t erase our history. I mean, just like in Ukraine or other countries around the world, we can see that, you know, history can teach us so much. And now in our canceled culture of today, we’re looking at people wanting to erase history and to negate good and bad things that happened in our past, but we need to look at the entirety of what has gone on because we’re building better. We want to improve life for our citizens and for the freedom and hope that we offer to citizens around the world.
So, you know, you have mentioned also that you fear this election. I know you had wanted so much to have your citizenship papers done by this election. And for our listeners, the first time she told me that she wasn’t going to be able to vote in this election, I saw tears in her eyes. And it just – it broke my heart to know that here is someone who is working so hard to vote legally in America, who has such a heart for our country and yet, I know that voter fraud exists in America. I know that illegal citizens are allowed and even encouraged to vote in certain parts of our country. I know that citizens like Elena and her husband who are working so incredibly hard to be responsible citizens, to be part of American society, because they chose to come here for freedom and liberty, and opportunity and to teach their children, this amazing gift that America offers, and they want to be part of that. They want to vote. They want to participate.
And so, you know, to everyone listening, I say, please protect voter integrity, so we don’t have illegals voting in our system, but also work to make sure the immigration system is improved so that people can come here legally. The path can be maybe more streamlined, but obviously, you know, protected on all sides. But that we can truly offer this opportunity for citizens and I am so thrilled that she and her husband and their three little children live in this area. They’re such a gift to the community, and there’s millions of people like this.
I know, in the past, I worked with a young man who was born in Lithuania. And he talked of, you know, watching the Soviet tanks come across the field, and having his mother shoo him back into the house. And I thought, you know, people have no idea. In America, we have become complacent to the freedom that we have and we don’t realize how quickly it can disintegrate if we let our constitution go.
You know, you mentioned before these traditions, we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, you know, that these rights come from God, that these are rights that we should all have these human rights, and this is what America is about. I mean, people don’t risk their life to leave America. They risk their life to come to America. And I just – I know I – there’s a lady that I know from Poland, too. And she every time I see her, she tells me, “Please, please keep telling people to preserve America’s freedom.”
Elena Zolotarova: Oh, yes.
Linda J. Hansen: “Please don’t let it go the way of communism.” What would you say to that?
Elena Zolotarova: A couple of weeks ago, I kind of got an insight in my own head and I was thinking that is something amazing happening to me. It’s just an amazing transformation because mostly people would think about immigrants coming to the United States. They would think that the first thing people are interested in is their paperwork. And yes, it’s true, because you just want to get permissions to live your own life. But sometimes this path is very long and it’s very convoluted, and so many things happening over there. But I appreciate my long way toward my citizenship, that might happen I think next year or whatever, because I think eventually I grew up enough to get it. Because for me, right now, it’s not about getting my papers, not the time, not caring about papers. I have everything I need, except the right to vote now. My residence –
Linda J. Hansen: I wish you could vote. Yes.
Elena Zolotarova: Yes. And this is the only thing that distinguish me from the American people who were born here, from my kids who are citizens. I cannot vote and I want to vote. I would like to vote because I think that this will be one of the most important things in, let’s say, my lifetime because it really depends to which point we are going, which direction we are going. And in my opinion, I think that it’s very important to understand that when people here are going to vote this year, that they are picking direction. They are not picking a person. They’re picking direction. I think this is very important to remember. Because personal opinion toward other people is very subjective things. I may like or I may not like, and everyone is a human being, so bad direction is very important. That’s why I was feeling that, “Oh, maybe we will be able to get it and we will go toward this year.” But unfortunately, no, and probably it should be like this. I can wait but I think that it’s fundamental thing for people to kind of understand and direct themselves – their self to realize that they’re voting for direction.
Linda J. Hansen: Very good point.
Elena Zolotarova: Very, very important things because we sometimes mess up with personalities and some extreme points, which – whichever we may see. But I think that direction, fundamentals, basis, simple things is the most important things to be focused on.
Linda J. Hansen: You bring up a really good point that we should be focused on direction – direction for our country. And for our listeners, just in case you’re wondering who she would vote for if she was voting, I know we’ve talked about how she would be voting for Donald Trump. And it’s like this direction of American freedom, American individualism, American economic success and prosperity, American safety through law enforcement and military power, and just everything that America offers, not only for our own citizens, for the world.
But we have talked about how people don’t always like certain personalities and you bring up a really good point that we’re not voting for a personality. How we vote this time is about what we want to see for the direction of this country for the next generation. Like do you want your little children to grow up in an America where they are free to do whatever they want for their life and work in whatever job, have as many children as they want, go to the school that you or their children or when they have children, you know, have school choice? These things are not something that’s offered elsewhere in the world. I mean, some places have different variations of this, but nothing like what America offers.
And unfortunately, like you bring up, these things are lost when we don’t let the next generation know. And we have not done a good job in America of making sure this young generation is very aware of what it would be like to live without freedom. I know somebody – I saw somebody post something the other day that said that for all the people who are saying that America is a horrible country and things, they should actually go spend one of their college semesters in –
Elena Zolotarova: Somewhere else.
Linda J. Hansen: – somewhere else, like in Venezuela or in Ukraine, or in some third-world country where there is no freedom.
Elena Zolotarova: Go check.
Linda J. Hansen: Pardon me?
Elena Zolotarova: Go check. Go check.
Linda J. Hansen: Yes, go check. Yes, and see for yourself. My podcast guest last week was Judge Jim Troupis and he has been involved with the Center – or the International Center for Legal Studies and he has taught legal studies in Russia years ago. And he took my book, Prosperity 101 - Job Security Through Business Prosperity, and gave it to many of the students that he taught in Russia. And he said it was like water in a desert to them. I know you and I were talking about that a little bit. And you said, it’s because they’re so thirsty. They’re so thirsty for freedom and the principles of freedom.
Elena Zolotarova: They just don’t have this opportunity to – right now it’s improving was internet and all those resources. But if we talk about years ago, nobody had any idea how the rest of the life and what are those ideals are, and what’s going on. And that’s probably was a weak part and I think sometimes that people over here, they do not have enough expose to the rest of the world just to compare what it might look like, not even in like, I would say, economic sense or whatever, but it’s a huge contrast. It’s just a huge contrast and that probably made me to value what I might have here and what I might offer to my kids.
And what – when I’m telling – when my kids are going on out of control and asking for additional toys or something, or whatever they might ask and showing me that they are not happy with what they have, I always tell them said zero places all over the world, “Guys, there’s been people are not so blessed and we need to appreciate what we have.” This is the first thing that I’m teaching my own kids, not that I would like them to struggle, not that I want people around to struggle, but I think that it’s very important to understand and value what we have.
Linda J. Hansen: Well, and I’ve heard it referred to as human flourishing. Basically, America allows people to flourish. We can flourish intellectually.
Elena Zolotarova: Oh, yeah.
Linda J. Hansen: We can – you know, our health – our health is better when we can live in an economically prosperous –
Elena Zolotarova: Of course.
Linda J. Hansen: – society. There’s just so much we can flourish. We can – our families can grow. We can – it’s just –
Elena Zolotarova: There are so many opportunities all over here. So many opportunities, you can basically do whatever you want. You can do whatever you want and if people are not doing what they want, sometimes I’m like – I’m frustrated because of this. Because in my opinion, there is everything you might think about in this country. And this is a huge opportunity for people who are coming here like we did with, as you just mentioned, at the beginning was we came with two luggages. Two suitcase, one for myself and one for my husband. Look at us.
Linda J. Hansen: Oh, that’s amazing.
Elena Zolotarova: Look at us. Look at us.
Linda J. Hansen: Yes.
Elena Zolotarova: We did it over here.
Linda J. Hansen: It’s amazing.
Elena Zolotarova: It’s just different.
Linda J. Hansen: Yes. And that doesn’t happen elsewhere necessarily.
Elena Zolotarova: No, it’s hard. Yeah.
Linda J. Hansen: Right, right. And, you know, just the fact that you and I are sitting here at your house –
Elena Zolotarova: In my house.
Linda J. Hansen: – talking about these things and you have no fear –
Elena Zolotarova: I don’t have fear.
Linda J. Hansen: – about speaking about these issues. That’s huge. Because if you think of like Communist China right now or you think of a lot of the countries that are ruled by dictatorships or communist-socialist regimes, citizens cannot speak up and give their opinion and here you are free, like you and I will walk out of your house today and realize that, you know, we are still free and there may be people who disagree with us, but that is something we absolutely need to protect in America is that freedom of speech, the freedom of – yes.
Elena Zolotarova: Freedom of speech and the fact that I might have a different opinion from someone else does not make me an enemy, and does not make me a person who has no common sense in my head. Just about mutual respectfulness, but I – if I think that we need to kind of go back and review our history and respect it, and being proud of what this country built on, I think everything gets way more evident what we should do, from my perspective. We should not go too deep and try to go into some rocket science or to like, you know, spiritual. We need to appreciate what we have right now, because I think that sometimes we are losing the point.
Linda J. Hansen: Very good. And I think that’s a really good place to close. She talked about losing the point here in America, you know.
Elena Zolotarova: Sorry.
Linda J. Hansen: Oh, no, it’s wonderful. It’s wonderful. You talked about – you know, I often think of the phrase, “Keep the first things first.” And we have amazing founding documents. And have we always lived up to them, the ideals presented in them? No, but they provide a framework for freedom and equality for everyone. And if we hold on to those and keep our government running by those, I mean, we will be able to be a beacon of freedom for not only our own citizens, but for citizens like you who come here from around the world.
And so, I am thrilled that you’re here and I’m thrilled for your children. And I know that your words and your experiences will really impact people. I hope that everyone listening will hug their children a little tighter –
Elena Zolotarova: Yes.
Linda J. Hansen: – knowing that they can hug them in freedom, but also that they’ll appreciate their freedom, and they’ll think through who they’re voting for this election. This isn’t about a personality, you know, abiding by the Constitution, holding to the Constitution, holding up individual freedom, our freedom of speech, our freedom of assembly, our Second Amendment rights. This is something you don’t have in other countries, the right to keep and bear arms. Yeah, she’s saying no.
And, you know, we have amazing opportunities and freedoms here in America. And this election is going to be so foundational for the next several generations. So, let’s all look beyond any personality differences. And please, love your neighbors. Love your family members who may feel differently than you. You know, these – when I think about it, it’s really about what matters in terms of eternity, too. So, if we disagree with someone this time, they’re still a really valuable person. And we can disagree, like Elena said, and love them and –
Elena Zolotarova: Respect.
Linda J. Hansen: – and respect. Yes, respect. So, please, who whoever you are, wherever you’re listening, please respect those who disagree with you, but think through, refer back to our constitution. So, if you’re unfamiliar with the Constitution, I invite you to visit my website, Prosperity101.com. Get a copy of my book. The digital copy will be available as well as the hard copy, and in there, I also have the Constitution in there, and you can kind of get a brief review. But there’s just some great things to consider as you look through that book.
But please be educated as a voter and vote thinking about the next generation. What do you really want for the next generation and take a look at the history of other countries if they’ve chosen socialism or communism, or just to expanded their government control. What happens in those countries? What happens to the citizens and their freedom? You know, the government has nothing until we give it to the government first. So, when you get to the point where government is so big and citizens have no economic freedom, it becomes very oppressive for the citizens.
Elena Zolotarova: Yes.
Linda J. Hansen: Do you have something to add to that?
Elena Zolotarova: No.
Linda J. Hansen: You’re nodding. She’s nodding a lot. [Laughs].
Elena Zolotarova: [Laughs] Yes, I’m nodding a lot because I won’t probably be able to make it so smooth and presenting. And my thoughts are, like reflecting the same, but they are probably not so polished, but I agree with it. And I think that it’s very important for people here since they are able to vote, to understand that they are picking direction in which this beautiful, amazing country is going to go for at least four years, but it’s way more I think. It’s probably for generations and thank you for just being patient with me.
Linda J. Hansen: She’s worried about her accent, but I love it. It’s great. It reminds me of –whenever I talk with Elena, it reminds me of what a beautiful, amazing country we have.
Elena Zolotarova: Yeah.
Linda J. Hansen: That we are a melting pot and we welcome people of all different countries, all different nationalities, backgrounds, you know, everything and – but we – I want them to come legally.
Elena Zolotarova: Yeah.
Linda J. Hansen: We want them to come legally.
Elena Zolotarova: Yes.
Linda J. Hansen: And go through the proper channels to become citizens and be part of this amazing melting pot called America.
Elena Zolotarova: Yes, I agree.
Linda J. Hansen: So, yeah. Well, thank you, Elena. And if any of you would like to give a comment to Elena, just please do so through my website and I’ll make sure she gets it. But thank you for listening and please make sure to vote, and let’s keep America free. Thank you.
Just as we closed the episode, Elena mentioned some thoughts that she had regarding our COVID-19 pandemic and the attitude of fear that has so permeated our society. Her international perspective brings some great insights. I know you’ll want to hear them. Thanks again for listening.
One of the things that Elena and I have talked about as well is just trying to keep routines normal for her children during the COVID-19 pandemic. And she talked about how America has been almost immobilized by fear. And she has seen this before in other countries, how they can control people through fear. Could you share with us a little bit about that?
Elena Zolotarova: I think that it’s always very easy to direct people in the necessary direction you want them to go. If they are struggled and then fear, and they are unable to make their own decisions and kind of getting controlled, it’s way easier to make them to go the direction you want.
Linda J. Hansen: Right. And we were talking a little bit about how, you know, we’ve seen this in other countries. I mean, Russia – you grew up in Russia and then in Ukraine, other places around the world that fear is such a factor. You cannot flourish because you’re too afraid of what will happen to you. And right now, we see that in America. So often businesses can’t open, schools aren’t open, people can’t go about their normal life because there’s so much fear, and there’s been this push that in some areas of the country, either there’s mob rule or there’s government overreach that is so inhibiting our freedoms. And so, we need to look at that and we’ve seen this mob kind of rule in other countries, where they’re trying to create cultural upheaval in a sense, and we’ve seen it some here in America. What would you say to people who are afraid of that and what would you say to people who are afraid?
Elena Zolotarova: I probably would tell the same what I’m telling to myself. We need to coexist with new issues we see, and we don’t need to let those issues or whoever speculates those issues with to make us being always afraid and being in fear, because it’s terrible thing to be in fear.
Linda J. Hansen: Right. Fear does not allow us to flourish and prosper. It immobilizes us, right? So, yeah.
Elena Zolotarova: Correct.
Linda J. Hansen: Yeah, well, thank you for that. Thank you.
Thank you again for listening to the Prosperity 101 Podcast. This is Linda J. Hanson. I have a couple of exciting announcements for you today. My new book, Prosperity 101 - Job Security Through Business Prosperity: The Essential Guide to Understanding How Policy Affects Your Paycheck is now available. You can get your copy today through our website. This is an updated and expanded edition of a book I first published in 2009 and I know you’ll enjoy it.
When you visit the website, you’ll see our Breakroom Economics online courses. These short video online courses are designed for employers and employees with the goal of connecting boardroom to breakroom and policy to paycheck. I’m sure it’ll be a great resource for you in your workplace. You’ll also see that we’ve updated the website to include our entire podcast library. You can listen to each episode right through the website or you can share it with others, leave a review, or subscribe through your favorite podcast app.
In addition, you can request our free e-book with tips to help you educate your employees about the public policy issues that affect their jobs. Please visit our website Prosperity101.org or Prosperity101.com. And yes, we are transitioning to Prosperity101.com but either way, you’ll reach us and please contact us and tell us how we can serve you. Freedom is never free. We offer these resources to help you become informed, involved, and impactful. Thank you.