S.F. emigre girl wins first prize in national HIAS poster contest

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Ten-year-old Kseniya Tuchinskaya imagined herself flying in a red, white and blue star-spangled balloon, and as her magical ship sailed across the globe, it gave haven to young adventurers from other continents as well.

When the balloon finally ventured into the United States, Miss Liberty's glowing torch sent the children warm waves of welcome. Heading westward with the sun, the travelers saw America's fertile farmlands, Seattle's Space Needle and San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

Kseniya's story, which she expressed in a vividly colored oil painting, placed first in this year's third annual 1997 Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society poster contest.

"The balloon represents America, and the children in the balloon represent all the people from different countries," Kseniya said. "The sunny weather means that we are happy living in America."

In the picture, the girl with the yellow braids is Kseniya herself. The Asian girl below her is Elizabeth, her best friend. Elizabeth holds a bouquet of flowers, representing friendship. All the other children are imaginary.

"The painting took me a week to do; my mother is an artist so she teaches me at home," Kseniya said.

This year's contest was quite competitive, as over 500 emigre children from across the nation sent in entries.

"The poster contest is designed to provide young people with an opportunity to give artistic expression to their feelings about their new country," said Rachel Zelon, director of HIAS refugee and immigrant services in New York City. "It is clear that these children see America as a place of safety and protection and they understand the privilege that citizenship affords."

The Tuchinskaya family immigrated to the United States from the former Soviet Union four years ago. Anti-Semitism and harassment caused Kseniya's family to flee Moldova in August 1993. "We were very afraid for Kseniya's future," says her mother, Tanya. "We were getting threatened for being Jewish and my husband and I grew very concerned for our daughter's safety."

When she first arrived in San Francisco, Kseniya could not speak any English and found public school very difficult. But with a little moxie, she learned how to speak conversational English in just three months. Kseniya now attends a private school.

"It was tough at first because we didn't know the language," Kseniya said, "but I now like the schools here. People are friendly."

HIAS, the international migration arm of the organized American Jewish community, is dedicated to assisting persecuted and oppressed people from around the world and delivering them to countries of safe haven.