Ukrainian teenager from Westminster connects with Arvada classmates through piano
When 13-year-old Ukrainian refugee Timofey Salomatin started at Tennyson Knolls Preparatory School in Arvada, he didn’t speak any English and his classmates didn’t speak Russian, so the kids used Google Translate to communicate. When other students asked Timofey what he liked to do, he mentioned that he played the piano, leading the curious students to beg their teacher to let him play.
Tricia Corneau is a culturally and linguistically diverse education specialist at Tennyson Knowles. Timofey didn’t know what to expect when he sat down to play the old piano in the Colorado school’s music room.
“Tymofii started playing and it was like an American Idol audition,” Corneau said. “All the students’ jaws hit the floor, and everybody clapped in unison, and everybody was clapping and cheering. Some kids were crying.”
Since that day, Timofey’s skills have become legendary. He even played in a recent high school event for Westminster School called “Celebrating Excellence.”
“They’ve never heard anything so beautiful, neither have I,” Corneau said.
His mother Ella Salomatina would agree.
“There is a saying in Russian; ‘Talent is 99% work and 1% talent.’ I think Timofey has a talent from God. God gave him this gift,” Salomatina said in Russian.
Tymofii studied piano for seven years, attending a music school in Ukraine. His siblings also play musical instruments, but his mother says he is the most gifted.
“It’s my dream,” Tymofii said in Russian. “I want it as a career as a pianist.”
It’s a gift he’s cultivated even in the face of great adversity.
“This war left an impression on all of us, we saw it with our own eyes, we heard how the shells exploded, we all survived it, the children survived,” said Salomatina.
In 2014, Tymofi, his parents and four of his siblings fled their home in Ukraine’s Donetsk region to other parts of the country. But in 2022, war followed them.
“The place where we lived, there was shelling, it was very scary, the children were very scared,” said Salomatina. “We ran from a house to the basement to hide from the shells and God put a wall over us, that is, we were all unharmed, nothing happened to us, although there were explosions all around.”
They moved back to western Ukraine and lived there for the past year, but the danger continued.
Finally, in late March, they migrated to Colorado to live with relatives, but left one family member behind.
“My eldest son Andrey, he’s still in Ukraine. He can’t leave because we have a war there and men between 18 and 60 can’t leave the country,” said Salomatina.
As the war progresses, the family’s chances of returning decrease.
“Not too long ago, there was an explosion in the village where we lived and our house was badly damaged. At the moment, we see no way back. It is dangerous for children to stay there,” said Salomatina.
Now, they are adjusting to life in Colorado. Salomatina says the community is welcoming and her kids love the school. They also befriended other Ukrainian refugees in the area.
“We are grateful to America as a country. Helped Ukraine a lot in this war. We are grateful to the school and our dear teacher. He gave a lot of time for us. Thank you!” Salomatina gestured gratefully to Corneau.
“He’s such a motivated student. He’s passionate about his learning, he’s passionate about his music and he’s such an inspiration to our students and our staff,” Corneau said.
Tymfii is making friends, and learning English, but in the meantime, she tells her story through music.
“Music is the universal language and he proved that,” Corneau said.
There is no music program at school and Timofey does not have a piano at his relative’s house. Instead, he practices on an electric keyboard his family borrowed from a church and takes lessons remotely with his music teacher in Ukraine.