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Our Staff in Russia

Alexei and Galya Altonen

Galya has been Director of the English Program since its inception in the fall of 1992 and Executive Director of the American Home since 1996. She graduated from Vladimir Pedagogical Institute (now Vladimir State University for the Humanities) with a degree in teaching English. Before her employment at the AH she taught English and ballroom dancing at a secondary school. And she danced "semi-professionally"-with Alexei as her partner.

Galya is responsible for the overall operations of the American Home. As the American teaching staff, students in the Intensive Russian Program, and guests of the AH can testify, she is very good at helping with everything from administrative issues, to understanding Russian culture, to visits to the doctor or dentist (when necessary) and to assisting with any host family and other issues. And she does a lot more behind the scenes to keep the American Home running smoothly.

Alexei is Director of Special Projects for Serendipity-Russia. This means that he assists with-and often takes charge of-whatever needs to be done on the Russian side in connection with everything from Serendipity's tourism development project to the ongoing assistance to the local basketball program (including the AH sponsored and cosponsored Street Ball Tournaments)-among many other specific projects. Alexei played the key role in organizing three very successful Fulbright programs for a total of 43 American K-12 educators in 2004, 2007, and 2008. Without Alexei's resourcefulness and hard work-and the assistance of other staff members-these programs would not have been possible. (See the educational exchange section.)

In addition to being an accomplished ballroom dancer, Alexei has an undergraduate degree in teaching English and the equivalent of a PhD (a Candidate of Science degree) in Latin and English. He currently teaches these languages part time at Vladimir State University for the Humanities, formerly Vladimir State Pedagogical University. He previously taught at several secondary schools, including School No. 23 which specializes in foreign languages. Alexei thoroughly enjoys working with students! One of his hobbies is photography, which he enjoys whenever he has free time.

Oxana Ustinova

Oxana began working at the AH in July 1999. She took over from the AH's first secretary/office manager, Anya Morozova. (Anya moved to Moscow where she ultimately married one of the AH's former teachers. See the first issue of the AH newsletter.) Oxana holds a degree in English from Vladimir State University for the Humanities where Alexei teaches. She also has a degree in Economics and Management from Vladimir State University.

In August 2006, she was promoted from Office Manager to Assistant Director. Her responsibilities include the keeping of all office and personnel records, the maintenance of office equipment, purchasing equipment and supplies, receiving visitors and registering students-and more. In addition to the above responsibilities, she does a very good job translating from English to Russian-and the other way around.

You will also see Oxana digging up dandelions in the yard and helping with cleaning before a special event-that is, doing whatever needs to be done. (All the Russian staff help out where and when needed.) Oxana's hobbies include sports such as cross-country skiing in the winter, tennis, and "rock climbing." (The AH was able to assist with the donation of a number of "holds" that are being used on the climbing wall where Oxana works out.)

Natasha Yudina

Natasha began working at the AH in fall 2006, filling in as the secretary-receptionist while Olya Solovkina was on maternity leave. Natasha was born in the settlement of Mezinovskiy near Gus Khrustalny where a number of major glass and crystal factories are located, although her family now lives in Vladimir. She has a sister four years younger than her. Her mother works at the post office and her father works in construction in Moscow. Natasha graduated from Vladimir State Pedagogical University in June 2006 with a major in German. She has also studied English as a minor and has taken class at the AH. In 2004 she studied in Germany and in 2005 she did her student teaching (German and English) in a local school. She enjoys foreign languages.

When Lena Belova and Olya returned from their maternity leaves in fall 2008, it was decided to have Olya work with Lena on assisting the teachers-with Natasha staying on as the secretary-receptionist. She does an excellent job of explaining the program, dealing with students and other school-related issues, and keeping the school records in order. She always has a smile and a pleasant word for everyone who enters her office.

Olya Solovkina

Olya graduated from the Ryazan Pedagogical University in 2000. She trained to teach English and computer science. Her husband, a career Army officer, was reassigned to Vladimir. After moving to Vladimir, she worked briefly as a secretary for a construction firm and then as a translator at a firm that produces souvenir items. Given her love of English, she was delighted when, out of several applicants, she was offered the position of secretary-receptionist at the AH in March 2003-when Lena went on maternity leave.

As noted above, when she returned from maternity leave in fall 2008, Olya was assigned to work with Lena as what we now refer to as a Teacher Supervisor. (Experience had demonstrated that, especially in the fall when the teachers are just getting started, one person can't always handle all the questions and requests for assistance. Plus, with young children at home, we knew that both Lena and Olya would need time off when their children were ill. Investing in two staff to work with the teachers has proven to be very worthwhile.)

In fall 2010 Olya took on the additional responsibility of teaching the Z1 classes--which she says she is thorougly enjoying doing.

When she has some free time, Olya devotes it to "indoor gardening." She also loves to read in English. Among her favorite authors are Huxley, Tolkien, Orwell, Bradbury, Wilde, and Asimov. She reads a great deal-but hasn't yet managed to devour everything of interest in the AH library. New books have been coming in at a faster pace than she can read.

Lena Belova and Danila

Lena started at the AH as the secretary-receptionist in July 2001. She began working with the teachers in spring 2002. She helped them deal with students who weren't "living up to expectations," and she began reviewing and organizing the teaching materials. In March 2003 she went on extended maternity leave. In May 2003 she and her husband welcomed Danila into the world. Lena returned to work exclusively with the teachers in August 2004. She took maternity leave again in October 2006. Her second son, Matvey, was born in January 2007.

Lena studied foreign language teaching methods at Vladimir State Pedagogical University-and is delighted to be able to put her training to direct use. (See especially her essay in issue No. 9 of the AH newsletter.)

Lena is a member of the local bicycling club-where she met her husband. Her other hobbies include playing with her son, reading, and hiking.

Irina Leonteva
Ira works halftime as the AH's bookkeeper. She graduated from the Vladimir Branch of the All-Russia Finance and Economics Institute where she majored in accounting. The Russian system demands a tremendous number of financial documents-many more than a similar size organization would have to prepare in the States. Ira has been working at the AH since 2002; she is very good at keeping the organization's financial documents in perfect order. Ira has a son Andrey who likes to attend AH parties. She likes to spend her days off outdoors with her son.

Tanya Akimova

Tanya has a degree in teaching Russian from Vladimir State Pedagogical University-now Vladimir State University for the Humanities. She and Nelli are both excellent "Russian as a foreign language" tutors. They can cover almost any subject. And they customize their lessons to meet each student's needs.

Tanya is married and has a grown son and daughter. The daughter, Nina, was able to spend a year in Bloomington-Normal through the Rotary high school exchange program. She was hosted by the University High School basketball coach, Cal Hubbard and his wife Vivian. The Hubbards had stayed with the Akimovs when, in April 2000, Cal put on a series of basketball clinics in Vladimir. (Tanya's husband and son are avid basketball fans-and amateur players.) Besides the pleasure she gets from helping the AH teachers and the Intensive Russian students master the Russian language, Tanya enjoys relaxing at the family dacha and reading. (The Russian staff and new teachers now regularly start the year off when a special picnic at the Akimov's "country cabin.")

Nelli Mukhammadieva

Nelli earned a degree in Russian philology from Moscow State University. Before coming to work at the AH in 1997, she taught Russian to foreign students at Vladimir State Pedagogical University. Among other pastimes, Nelli enjoys knitting-which she finds very relaxing.

Valentina Spiridonova

Valentina is the AH's attorney. She began helping us with legal matters in 1996. (See An Illinois Yankee in Tsar Yeltsin's Court: Justice in Russia.) She is married and has two children. Valentina provides us with very valuable legal advice and service. When she has a free moment, she indulges in gardening.




Nadya Pyanikova

Nadya is the AH's "travel specialist." She escorted the first tour group that came to Russia through the AH back in 1993. She has helped organize and has escorted all subsequent AH sponsored tours since then. In between tour groups, she has done everything from help keep the AH clean to tracking down building materials in Moscow. Nadya shares her apartment with two cats and, for two years, a former teacher at the AH, Linda Harris. (Linda taught English at the Vladimir Tourism Academy until health issues required her to return to the States.)

In the fall of 2006 Nadya spent two months touring America-starting in Boston and ending up in Southern California. All along the way she was generously hosted by families and individuals whom she'd escorted during their trips to Russia. This was clearly a trip of a lifetime….)

Nadya has a wonderful talent for making visitors feel comfortable and helping them get the most out of their visit to central Russia. In her spare time she loves to read romance and mystery novels in English. Anyone who needs help with travel arrangements can rely on Nadya.

Vanya Sokolov

Vanya retired from the Russian militia (police) in 1989. He began working at the AH as a "night guard" in December 2000.

Vanya is a jack of many trades. He used to manage a team that does an excellent job of installing "paving blocks"-see the AH sidewalk and front porch; he currently provides car repair services. He has contributed a lot to the maintenance of the American Home - including painting it. In addition, Vanya provides transportation when needed and does any other odd jobs that come along. He's very outgoing-always ready to engage in a lighthearted or serious conversation-as long as you can speak Russian.

Vanya spends most of his time at the AH. But when he has a free moment he enjoys watching Russian soap operas and reading science fiction. He is divorced. His son, Roman, studied with us. He graduated from a law institute after which he was hired as an assistant to a Federal Judge.

Vasili Nikitenko
Vasili is a retired Russian Army officer. He began working at the AH as a night guard in 2002. Vasili is the chairman of the retired military officers' association in Vladimir. He actively participates in the activities of the group and in the city's social life in general. Vasili is also happy to share a cup of tea with others, along with some stimulating conversation-in Russian.

Vitaly Krupen
Vitaly is also a retired Russian Army officer. He began working at the AH as a night guard in 2007. He is a quiet and good-humored person who is always willing to engage in conversation in Russian. He lives alone. In his free time enjoys gardening.

2010-11 English Teachers
Left to Right: Adam Bloodworth, University of Georgia; Ann Murdoch, Boston University; Emily Peyton, University of South Carolina;
Rudy Benik, University of New Hampshire; Rosalind Brayfield, Carleton College; Alli Germain, Indiana University;
Bethany Stringer, Texas A & M University; Alex Bearden, University of Washington in St. Louis

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