Ukrainian teen cheerleader navigating high school in San Jose honored during Senior Night

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Friday, October 14, 2022
Ukrainian teen, SJ cheerleader honored during 'Senior Night'
A Ukrainian teen cheerleader who arrived in San Jose in May after the Russian invasion was honored at Mt. Pleasant High School's 'Senior Night.'

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- A quintessential high school experience for every student-athlete includes recognition on Senior Night. On Thursday, the loudspeakers at Mt. Pleasant High School's football field announced, "Victoria Balakshyna!"

The evening ceremony marked the last home game seniors will ever play or cheer.

For 17-year-old Victoria Balakshyna it's a memory she never anticipated making.

Victoria's aunt, Iryna Duhring, assisted ABC7 News with translation.

"Because she saw a lot of movies where she saw all this, you know, rituals in America you do... So she's really happy," Duhring said about Victoria's experience as a cheerleader. "She's really like it, and it gives her power after what she went through."

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The teen and her mother arrived from Ukraine in May after the Russian invasion. However, Victoria's father wasn't allowed to leave and remains overseas.

In San Jose, the teen has immersed herself in schoolwork and cheerleading. She explained it's a sport that isn't offered back home. The teen even found enjoyment in simple American customs.

"Lockers! She's saying this is something big, because we don't have that in Ukraine at all," Duhring translated. "And lockers is something she saw in a movie again."

However, unlike the movies, Victoria's experience is real and it's bittersweet.

VIDEO: Bay Area nonprofit plays key role as Ukraine evacuation efforts escalate

In the Bay Area, a local nonprofit Nova Ukraine is helping to fund Ukrainian evacuation missions, providing everything from fuel to vehicles.

The teen is navigating what seems to be a whole new world, while her country is still at war.

"From one side, she's happy that she's here," Duhring translated. "And sometimes she feels guilty that she's here and some people stayed there, like her dad. But at the same time, she understands that her dad is happy that she's in safe and she can enjoy life."

From San Jose, Victoria is cheering on those at home.

"Slava Ukraini," Victoria told ABC7 News.

"She's saying, 'Slava Ukraini,'" her aunt followed, "This is our saying when we say, 'Be safe in Ukraine everyone.'"

HOW TO HELP: Local and national support for people in Ukraine

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