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Service and success from humble beginnings

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Grossi
  • 910th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Life ain’t easy. 

Many people wake up unhappy with where they are in life. They dream big and crave a change to the hand they’ve been dealt, praying for one wild shot to prove themselves. Some people wait their entire lives for a single opportunity to present itself, and some, tragically, do not have the faith in their own grit and determination to do what their heart yearns to achieve, succumbing to that little voice saying that maybe they just aren’t enough. 

But that’s a load of bunk, at least based on the example of Senior Airman Viktoria Senkiv. 

Senkiv is a fireteam member with the 910th Security Forces Squadron who believes everything is possible and no dream is too large.

At a young age, Senkiv learned the importance of hard work and was familiar with its rewards. Born to a family of farmers and raised in Horodenka, Ukraine, Senkiv spent time assisting her family with growing vegetables and feeding livestock. There she learned what could spring forth from patience and cultivation. 

“I know the hard work,” Senkiv said. 

Learning to work with her hands was only part of her life in Ukraine; she also cultivated her mind. Before the age of 18, Senkiv had achieved her first collegiate degree, a bachelor’s in financial studies at Zalishchyky State Agricultural College. Shortly after, whether by luck of the draw or fate design, Senkiv gained the opportunity to move to the United States by applying for a diversity visa, a U.S. immigration program.

“When I was 18, I won a green card in a lottery,” said Senkiv. “After six months of thinking, I actually moved to the United States of America.”

Discussing her immigration experience often causes Senkiv to pause and reflect as she remembers the challenges she faced. 

 “Let me tell you, It wasn’t easy, but I love it,” said Senkiv. “I was only 18 and I had to leave my family behind and explore the new world on the other side of the ocean. But I love the choice I made in that moment, and I have no regrets since then.”

The one thing Senkiv was sure of when choosing to begin her life in America was that there were many opportunities for herself and for others. She just had to look for them.

“You just have to start doing something,” said Senkiv. “Even if you don’t succeed at first, at least you try. That way you know if it’s yours or not.” 

Her very first and obvious barrier was understanding the English language. But instead of seeing it as an obstacle, Senkiv saw it as an opportunity to learn and grow. 

“I did not speak English at all,” she said. “I couldn’t understand people. My first month here, I was in a store and this lady came up to me and started talking, but I couldn’t understand. Luckily, I had a friend with me who explained she was only complimenting my shoes. But I kind of felt embarrassed that I got scared of the lady talking to me and being nice. That made me want to learn English immediately. Like I wanted to speak English right now and try to make a conversation with people. It was the conversations and practicing that really made it happen. ” 

Senkiv attended Wayne County Community College, earning an associate’s degree in criminal justice while holding down two jobs. After that, she felt enough confidence in her grasp of English to enroll at Ferris State University to further her education, ultimately earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal Justice and a first responder’s certificate. By April 2018, Senkiv had applied for and earned her citizenship to the United States. She desired to discover something new within herself to build upon, a new goal to strive for. In October of 2020, Senkiv enlisted in the United States Air Force as a Reserve Citizen Airman. 

“As I was thinking about my future, I realized that I wanted to try something else, something different,” Senkiv said.  “That’s when I looked at the military. When I was exploring this military side I realized that the Reserve is the best way to balance your personal life, civil life and the military life. At that point it was the right choice for me.” 

Enlisting as an Airman provided Senkiv with a wide range of benefits, similar to those that individuals on active duty would receive, with one major addition: time. The Air Force Reserve afforded Senkiv time to pursue her civilian career, time to volunteer within her community and time to serve her country as a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Senkiv is now approaching her 28th birthday, approaching her first decade living in the U.S., and has set up roots in a small city near Detroit, Michigan. Once a month, she makes a more than 220-mile, one-way commute to Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio, for a two-day Unit Training Assembly with her fellow security forces Defenders. When asked why she chose the 910th Airlift Wing, she said it came down to the people. 

“Youngstown touched my heart,” said Senkiv. “When I called different recruiters and came down to talk, it was the people that got me. The first questions I am always asked is, ‘How can we help? Is there anything you need assistance with? If there’s anything you need let us know.’ That really stuck out for me. Everyone I met was so willing to help out a total stranger, and that’s what made me want to be a part of this family.” 

As a member of the 910th SFS, Senkiv’s primary duty is serving as an installation entry controller for the front gate of YARS. Defenders like Senkiv are the installation’s first line of defense in keeping Reserve Airmen, civilians and military assets secure and mission-ready. The position requires alertness at all times, no small feat or responsibility. 

During the four hour drive home, Senkiv may be returning to her civilian life, but she never truly sheds the Air Force’s core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do. Although she has spent much of her time acquiring a higher education since coming to America, Senkiv has also been teaching others and volunteering within her community, beginning with teaching young Ukrainian-Americans about their culture’s language and history.  

“I also volunteer for…” said Senkiv, pausing for a few seconds before laughing, “for pretty much everything I can.”

As she recalls her experiences and achievements, her expressions bounce from cheerful pride to focused determination and empathy.

“I know how it feels to be alone somewhere and not having anybody there for you,” said Senkiv. “I know because that’s how it was for me for many years. So I decided to join the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America’s 76th branch.”

According to the UNWLA website, the organization was formed in 1925 by five Ukrainian women to inform and educate Americans about their heritage and their homeland. Today, it is considered the longest-running and largest Ukrainian women’s organization in the United States, continuing its mission to unite women of Ukrainian descent and affiliation in service, friendship and dedication to one another and to develop educational and cultural efforts and humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians worldwide.  

Senkiv has aided UNWLA in organizing events, cooking and selling food, and using the proceeds to support persons in need.  

“We have a few students that we send money to for education,” said Senkiv. “We also have a few foster homes that we help from time to time. Pretty much anybody who is in need, we do our best to help them.”

In addition to UNWLA, Senkiv participates in a non-profit organization called New Wave Detroit which plans and hosts events for Ukrainian performing artists, such as musicians and actors, allowing them to share their art and culture in America while assisting people in need.

“My mother always said, ‘If you want to change the world, start with yourself,’” said Senkiv. “Every single day I try to make her proud. I think about what she would say about what I am doing, and I’m just trying to do the right thing.”

As she thinks back to memories of her mother, Senkiv reveals there was one pivotal moment after her mother’s passing in 2016 which turned her life around and ushered her toward charity and community work. 

“I was going to college, and every day I saw this old man just sitting on the street, reading a book,” said Senkiv. “One day I decided to stop by and offer lunch, and I actually sat with him and had lunch with him. I still remember the day, May 26th, he said, ‘We may have everything today, but we may have nothing tomorrow. We need to think about that every single day in our actions. What are we doing, not for our bodies, but for our souls?’ That really touched me. Because I might not have everything I want, but I have everything I need. And with me having enough I just want to start giving back to people. That’s why I started volunteering. That’s why I joined the military. I can mix two of my worlds and make it work.”  

Senkiv shows no signs of stopping as she now sets her eyes on becoming an FBI agent. 

“I will try and do so,” Senkiv said. “But, honestly, I don’t believe we can plan much in the future because something can happen every day and change your life totally. I’m just trying to take it step-by-step and go day-by-day.”

Senkiv came to the United States as an 18-year-old farm girl in a land not yet her own and with, as she said, “no money, no family and no English.” Through hard work, persistence and determination to serve, she has demonstrated the validity of her claim that no dream is too big and anything is possible.