From Russia With Love
By Anna Elena Berlin, CPC
—On Special Assignment
Olga Kaplounenko is a charming Russian chanteuse that sings at Open Circle, Showstoppers, and Los Cantantes del Lago Community Choir. She is a gregarious woman who’s devoted to caring for Seva, her husband of 33 years. They found their way to Lakeside after Seva was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease at age 55. Since my husband was diagnosed with the same thing at the same age I immediately felt a strong connection to this courageous woman whose devotion is the ultimate act of love. Olga speaks Russian, English, Swedish, and Spanish. Besides singing she studies Spanish, plays duplicate bridge, and keeps busy caring for her husband, the cats, and their lovely home where she has kindly invited me to interview her.
Their home is filled with objects from Russia, USA, Sweden, and Mexico. Olga even managed to travel everywhere with boxes filled with Russian books and movies. After extensive research they chose Lakeside in 2011 for the good care available for Seva and the great variety of interests and activities. They love living here and don’t miss the other places that they have lived. It’s only a 3 ½ hour flight for their single, only son to visit them from Silicon Valley. And again like me, she has grandmother envy and high hopes for grandchildren in the future.
Olga tells me she has loved to sing all her life. As a child she and her friends entertained the old ladies of her grandmother’s hometown of Klin, 85 km northwest Moscow. Klin is the birthplace of Tchaikovsky and home to his museum where Olga’s mother did her piano exams on Tchaikovsky’s own grand piano. Olga had eight year piano status at music school, she sang in the school choir, and in her university choir. After the fall of the Wall she attended Jazz College in Moscow for 5 years where she learned all kinds of vocalizations and music theory.
Olga excels in the “people are not what they appear to be” category. Her sweet disposition gives away nothing of her dynamic personal history. At eighteen she met and married Seva, “the best husband I could have ever had” according to Olga, at the Moscow University specializing in metals. There she got her Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering and Seva became a Superconductivity Physicist. She worked as an Electrical Engineer, went into Process Engineering, and worked in clean rooms making superconductivity chips. Olga and Seva both worked for Coherent, a laser product design and manufacturing company in Silicon Valley, where over 15 years she doubled her income as she rose into management.
The success she has enjoyed is incredible considering she has had Type 1 diabetes all of her life. Due to Russia’s discrimination against diabetics in certain occupations the Metals University forced her to leave superconductivity studies to study electrical engineering instead at age nineteen. At age twenty she managed to have a healthy son but had to spend 2 months in the hospital in Russia because of the lack of modern health technology in 1983.
As a matter of current interest I ask her for her thoughts regarding the Russian regime and events in Ukraine. Because husband Seva is Ukrainian, Olga follows news from Ukraine, Russia, and the west and has a unique view. She doesn’t believe what either side of the conflict says. She thinks that the conflict is the result of the US having their hands in Ukraine’s affairs in an attempt to take away the buffer value that Ukraine holds for Russia. She explains that Putin is half Ukrainian himself and that Russia has been there for their Ukrainian brothers for so long. She thinks the west’s goals are to weaken the Ukraine-Russian relationship and to get as close to the Russian border as possible.
I ask her if she has Russian friends here that she can converse in Russian with. She tells me of several including a couple that were Russian Circus performers who were abandoned here during the 1991 coup in Russia. They were stranded here with tigers and other wild animals because the new government didn’t want to pay for their tickets back to Russia. At first they were very unhappy, but Olga feels that they are much happier here than they would be in Russia now because they have a house and breed cats. The Russian man still holds the Guinness Book of World Records for balancing on the most cylinders while on a swinging trapeze. Local Russian expats are very interesting indeed.
Finally, Olga would like to see more open venues for talented people to perform, especially since the close of the Red Piano where she used to sing. I have to agree with her, there are so many musical people here that need a good place to share their gifts.