Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.

“Kanaleneiland is like my home town in Ukraine”

“There’s a lot you don’t see in Ukraine. When I arrived in the Netherlands, for example, I was amazed by the number of people with a disability”, says Tanya Leeuwen-Skrypka. “People in wheelchairs in restaurants and the town hall, and someone at the Tax Office who wrote with his feet! When I asked my Dutch husband why there were so many disabled people living here, he didn’t understand my question. You just don’t see them in Ukraine – my neighbour was disabled so he stayed indoors. I’ve since learned that everyone counts in Dutch society. Equal opportunities are just fantastic.”

In Ukraine, Tanya was married to a Ukrainian and they had two children.  She worked in a tourist office, answering questions via Skype. A Dutchman called Wop got in touch because he was coming to work in Kiev and was interested in the country’s history. He also asked Tanya what she thought about living in Ukraine. She wasn’t used to questions like these, but they started chatting and agreed to meet. They both felt the spark, even though Tanya wasn’t looking for a new relationship. But love always finds a way and Tanya divorced her Ukrainian husband and she and her children moved to Utrecht, where Wop lived. “A decision I’ve never regretted.”

Learning on the job

Tanya and her two children moved to Kanaleneiland with Wop. She liked it there – Odessa (where she lived in Ukraine) is a multicultural city too. The head of the local primary school told Tanya that 99.5% of the pupils had foreign roots. She didn’t understand why this was important as long as the results were good. Extra language classes helped her children to pick up Dutch quickly, and Tanya herself found a Dutch course through the municipal authorities. She was also offered a six-month practical placement. She learned all about the homeless programme in Utrecht, for example, and the kerb-crawling district close to where they live. Tanya is still finds it hard to believe that things like this exist and has endless respect for the aid workers.

Her ‘lucky break’ came when she was offered a job at Ladyfit, a gym aimed at women from ethnic backgrounds. She started as a volunteer and was later given a contract. She loved it there: getting to know other residents and learning how to communicate with people from different cultures. She made friends with Turkish and Moroccan neighbours and is now invited to all their family weddings, she says with a big smile. Nowadays, Tanya works as a data analyst for a major market research company and knows all the supermarkets, chemists and filling stations by heart. “Thanks to my work, I’m learning more about the Netherlands every day.”

Coming from Ukraine, Tanya is pleased with the way things are organised in the Netherlands. In her country, a house that looks nice from the outside will probably have leaky sewage on the inside. On the other hand, the Dutch could learn from the spontaneity of Ukrainian people; everyone here is ruled by an agenda, whereas in Ukraine, you just drop in for coffee when you feel like it.

Tanya really likes Utrecht. She loves biking across the Dafne Schippers bridge to the Leidsche Rijn with Wop, where they follow the Lint (a bike path lined with wild flowers). She’s also a regular at Het College café and El Mundo tapas bar. Tanya hopes to find more time for voluntary work in the future. “I want everyone to have the opportunities I had.”

Name: Tanya Leeuwen – Skrypka
Place of birth: Odessa, Ukraine
Date of birth: 17 January 1970
Motto: ‘Everything happens for a reason’

Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.

Click here to view the other articles.