Saturday, December 9, 2023

Ukraine twins at work in Lake George

By Zander Frost, Chronicle Staff Writer

Ukrainian twins Anna and Tetiana Huzii have worked at the Fort William Henry hotel desk all summer.

“I work in the morning, Anna in the evenings and our guests think it’s one person,” Tetiana laughed. Their only simultaneous day off is Friday.

The twins’ hometown, Ivano-Frankivsk, is around 200 kilometers from the border with Poland in Western Ukraine.

Asked about the Russian invasion, Tetiana said, “We didn’t expect it.”

Anna, left, & Tetiana Huzii are 25-year-olds who study tourism in Slovakia, while their parents and brother go about their lives in Ukraine. Chronicle photo/Zander Frost

They said their hometown’s airport was bombed by Russia shortly after the war began, on February 24.

The twins were in school in Slovakia, studying for masters degrees in tourism.

“Our family sent us a picture…the smoke, you could see it from every part of our homeown,” Anna said. “Few days later, they send missiles again and completely destroyed the infrastructure.”

“But thank God now it’s relatively safe,” Tetiana said.

The twins said their mother is an accountant; father a building engineer; and brother in IT, all still working as normal.

Anna and Tetiana, 24, are travel obsessed. They go abroad for summer work frequently across Europe, including three stays in Germany. Their goal is to eventually own their own hotels.

They speak “Ukrainian, English, German, Slovak. We know Russian but we don’t want to speak Russian,” Anna said.

They said they learned English in school, from watching movies and TV shows like Modern Family, and from apps like Duolingo.

They came to Lake George because a Ukrainian friend worked the same front desk job at Fort William Henry in 2018 and recommended it. The twins reached out to the hotel and got the job.

Their parents “were surprised,” that they came to America now, Anna laughed. “But they are happy for us. And happy that we are safe. Mom counts every day.”

She said they talk for five minutes daily. They felt they had to seize the chance — they had already missed out on working in South Carolina because the pandemic disrupted their plans.

Do a lot of their friends travel for work?

“It’s hard to get [a J-1 student worker] visa from Ukraine. That’s why we decided to go to study [in] Slovakia because when we applied for a visa from Slovakia, it was really easy,” Anna said. “In Ukraine…after a bachelor’s degree you have no chance to get America.”

They said that Slovakia’s membership in the European Union means “almost 100% of students get visa.”

Ukraine is not an EU member. “Not yet. We just candidate,” Anna said. “Ukrainians always wanted to be a part of Europe. And even Maidan [2013 Ukrainian uprising] started because of it.”

Thoughts on LG, America

About Lake George. Anna says, “Beautiful nature, like lake, mountains.”

Tetiana added, “It reminds of our region because…we have Carpathian Mountains. Very famous resort…So we have a lot of beautiful lakes as well. So it’s like we’re in Ukraine.”

Anna said on their way here, “we spent only five hours in New York City, but it was too crowded, too. It’s completely different. Lake George is so clean, so calm.

“Only during Americade, like a lot of bikers. It was noisy. And we have to survive during car show,” she laughed.

They particularly enjoyed working for three summers in Germany.

“Everybody thinks Germans are so strict, but they are so helpful, they’re so nice, they’re always eager to help, even if you don’t ask them,” Anna said.

“They’re really good people and they don’t drink beer every day. Don’t eat only sausages,” she joked.

In Lake George, they are living in a cramped apartment with four student workers in a single room.

“Americans call it crazy house,” Tetiana said.

“We are trying to spend more time outside,” Anna said, choosing her words carefully. “We never could imagine that some places like this exist in the States. The United States is so development country. We had no idea that it’s possible.”

They found “Crazy House” on a “list of places where we can stay. And when we write the messages, most of them booked or they didn’t,” Tetiana said. It was the only housing available.

About America, Tetiana says, “It’s country of opportunity. Everybody can find his own way of how to live here.”

“But every state is like different country,” Anna said. “Different taxes, different laws. Different words.

“It’s completely different! One state they call soda ‘Coke,’” Anna said.

“In Ukraine we have the same taxes, same law, everything is the same,” Tetiana said.

What else surprised them?

Tetiana said, “We were surprised that Americans don’t know that it’s two different countries, Czech Republic and Slovakia.”

Also, legalized marijuana surprised them. “We don’t have such problems, thank God,” Anna said.

“I think it’s not okay, it’s not normal, they have to cancel it,” Anna said, half-joking. “It’s not healthy.”

Feeling the support

They said they were surprised and appreciative of the support for Ukraine they found locally in the current war.

“It lifts our moods. We don’t want people to forget about Ukraine. And this is like a sign of support,” Anna said of seeing Ukrainian flags.

“A few years ago, people didn’t know where Ukraine is, like five years ago, we’ve been working in Germany…When we said we are from Ukraine, [they asked] ‘where is it?’” Tetiana said.

“We [explained] it’s between Russia and Poland. It’s the biggest country in Europe,” she added.

Their view of Ukrainian President Volo-domyr Zelenskyy? “He is the hero of 21st Century like in the movies,” Anna said.

Tetiana said, “Some people were skeptic because he was actor and nobody believed in him, but he showed. A true leader.”

They said initially the youth believed in Zelenskyy and older Ukrainians were skeptical. Now, “even old people change their mind about him,” Tetiana said.

Post-Lake George plans

The twins will work at the Fort William Henry until September 10. “After that. We have a month for traveling,” Anna said. “Tetiana wants to go to Boston. I want to go to New York City, and we would like to visit National Parks, like Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone.”

“We have a lot of plans,” they laughed.

How will they travel? “We don’t know yet. But we’re thinking to take a bus from Lake George to New York City. And after that, maybe some plane?” Anna said.

“Probably we will travel with other friends. We will rent a car and go together,” Tetiana said, particularly for the west coast.

“We study tourism, so we know a lot of tourism destinations” in a class roughly translated as “Geography of Tourism.”

“The most popular sightseeing in every country,” Tetiana added.

Then they’ll head to Slovakia to register for their next semester of classes, and then return to their family in Ukraine.

Anna said, “We like to go to as many places…This occupation will give us this opportunity.”

Tetiana added, “Honestly, I don’t understand people who like to go to the same place 20 years. You can see such many different places to come back to the same place.”

Anna said that at the Fort William Henry hotel, “We have a lot of guests that are staying in the same room. They know the room number. Coming every year.”

That’s not the twins’ style. “We would like to see new places, because every country has different food, traditions, culture. It’s so interesting,” Tetiana said.

The Chronicle said, if they owned a hotel, those would be their best customers.

“Maybe we will have a chain,” Tetiana and Anna joked. “On every continent!”

The twins said, “Please mention…Sam Luciano (president of FWH Hotel), Debbie Tabor (his fiancée) and Christine Mozal (owner of Docksider Restaurant), we are very grateful to them for making this interview happen.”

This story came about because Fort William Henry president Sam Luciano brought Ukrainian twins Anna and Tetiana Huzii to dinner at The Docksider restaurant. They’re summer J-1 workers at the Fort’s hotel. The photo was taken by Debbie Tabor, Sam’s fiancée.

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