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Astana, Kazakhstan • 23 August, 2022 | 10:42
6 min read

Ukrainian Baby Photographer in Almaty: 'I really blend in'

Nadyia Zaharova on her profession, learning Kazakh, and fellow Ukranians

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Nadyia Zaharova
Nadyia Zaharova

Nadyia Zaharova, a photographer who moved to Kazakhstan from Ukraine, recently shared what she likes about Kazakhstan and why she decided to learn the Kazakh language, Tengrinews reports. 

Nadyia actively posts videos on her TikTok account dedicated to her life in Almaty, as well as her attempts to learn the Kazakh language. Her videos get several tens of thousands of views, as well as supportive comments from Kazakhstanis giving Nadyia advice on word pronunciation.

Nadyia moved to Kazakhstan in the fall of 2020. She had met her future husband, a citizen of Kazakhstan, through mutual friends when he arrived in Ukraine. Together with her husband, they visited Kazakhstan several times until they finally decided that they would live in Almaty.

"Probably the hardest thing for me before I moved was realizing that I would have to leave my parents. I'm the only child in the family, and I didn't want to leave my parents, but I was in love so I had to go. I was not afraid of cultural problems, because I knew that many people here speak Russian and I would understand something, even though my first language is Ukrainian. However, once I was in the environment, I quickly realized I also wanted to learn Kazakh," Nadyia said.

Photos, babies and fireworks

She managed to find a job quite soon. At first, she wanted to work as a photographer at Shymbulak [a mountain resort near Almaty]. When she arrived there in winter, she discovered it was too cold for her. After that, Nadyia decided that work was not for her. The same day she came across another ad.

"I originally have a medical degree. When I came for an interview for a photographer position, I was very surprised when they started talking about maternity hospitals. I thought maybe I misunderstood something.

In the end, it turned out to be that I was offered a job as a photographer for the event when mothers leave the hospital with their newborns. I really liked this job because the emotions people experience in these moments, especially fathers taking their newborn babies in their arms for the first time, cannot be described in words. I love capturing their joy.

I was also very surprised to see how mothers are greeted when they leave the hospital. I've never seen anything like this before: many people invite musicians, organize whole shows, and sometimes even use pyrotechnics. As I understand it, for the people of Kazakhstan it's a real 'той' [celebration]," Nadyia Zaharova added.

Spell it, read it, sing it

According to Nadyia, she also began learning Kazakh at work. Often, the colleagues or customers she encounters speak Kazakh. The girl started listening to unfamiliar words, memorizing them and asking for their meaning. In addition, this hobby was actively supported at her new job. The woman recalls that one of her first assignments from her boss was to write down a list of Kazakh names on a sheet of paper and learn how to write and pronounce them correctly.

"It's very important for me to understand people and what they say. One of the first things I learned was numbers, as I often had to deal with them. Our supervisor, who supports self-development in the team, gave us the task of learning poetry. I was immediately given a poem in Kazakh. At first, it was very difficult, I could memorize only 12 lines out of 24. When I was able to read them, my boss said that if I was able to memorize a part, I could memorize the whole thing. I also memorized the anthem of Kazakhstan. I just listened to it over and over on YouTube until I could sing it right. Overall, this experience has helped me a lot in my work and communication," said the photographer.

Hundreds of supportive teachers

With her move to Kazakhstan, Nadyia set up a TikTok account. In her video blog, she talked about life in Ukraine, moving to Kazakhstan and adapting to life in Almaty. Over time, she also began recording clips talking about Kazakh words she found remarkable and wanted to learn.

"I thought since it was a new country I wanted to talk about my experiences. I was surprised that the bulk of the page's audience were Kazakhstanis, not [my] compatriots. In the comments, I get a lot of support; they write a lot of good things about Ukraine and my attempts to learn the language. They often correct me about something, but in a kind way, without any negativity. It's nice when you come to another country and feel such support. Over the past few weeks, views of the videos have increased dramatically, by about 90%. This coincided with the time I started posting about the Kazakh language," said the Ukrainian.

"Among the words of the Kazakh language, I especially liked the word 'жаным' because it translates to "my soul" and sounds very affectionate. My other favorite word is "тәте". You call many strangers that way out of respect, and [Ukrainians] usually do not call strangers "aunt," added the author of the blog in TikTok.

Everyone needs a haven

Nadyia said that recently she has been receiving a lot of letters from Ukrainian citizens who want to visit or move to Kazakhstan. She tries to give them useful advice on how to obtain the necessary documents. According to her, many Ukrainians see Kazakhstan as a good place to live.

"Once I even met with one girl to give her useful advice. I don't talk to Ukrainians here very often, as my social circle is made up of colleagues and new acquaintances. I feel a lot of love and support here under these difficult circumstances for Ukraine and Ukrainians. It is very pleasant for me. Unfortunately, since last fall I haven't had a chance to come home and visit my family. I was planning to do it this summer, but I had to postpone it. Theoretically, I could have come to Ukraine through Poland, but my parents are worried about me and advise me not to. In the first days after these events, I was very afraid for my parents, I called them every day and followed the news, but they say everything is quiet now," added the Ukrainian. 

Nadyia wishes all her compatriots who would like to come to Kazakhstan to find their own haven, their happiness, their home. The woman believes that they should be able to immediately fall in love with the beauty of Kazakhstan and be charmed by the hospitality and kindness of the people.

As for Nadyia herself, the title of one of her TikTok videos wraps her story up in just four words: "I really blend in".

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