From Ukraine with love

Not only in Sweet Home, but all over the world, women want to be pretty.

That’s Natalia Gourley’s specialty. She made it her business in Ukraine, and now she’s making it her business here in Cascadia with her husband, Robert Gourley.

Natalia Gourley has lived in the Cascadia area for a little more than two years, and the couple recently opened Salon Crasotka.

The term “Crasotka” means “beautiful woman,” she said. It’s the compliment one would use toward a pretty girl on the street.

Natalia, 33, a Russian, grew up in Sevastopol, located in southern Ukraine on the coast of the Black Sea. It was the base for the Soviet Black Sea Fleet. A city of around a half million, it now serves as base for the Ukrainian Naval Forces and Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

Natalia worked in a high-end, expensive salon. When the owner decided to close up shop, she took over the business, she said.

Natalia met her husband in Kyiv (formerly Kiev) while attending a convention for hairstylists. Every few months, she and other hairstylists would travel 19 hours by train from Sevastopol to three-day shows, where they would learn about new trends,

colors and styles.

“I had free time,” she said. “I was downtown. I saw a group of tourists.”

The tourist guide was a friend of hers from Sevastopol. Her friend told her the tourists were Americans, and she began thinking of rich people with big houses.

Robert, 42, was doing graduate research in Ukraine, he said. He had finished his work and decided to take the tour while awaiting a plane that was to leave the next day.

That’s when he saw Natalia, and he was smitten, he said. It’s not something he would normally do, but he passed his e-mail address and phone number to the tour guide and asked her to pass it on to Natalia.

The tour guide called Natalia later and told her about it, and then she sent Natalia’s e-mail address to Robert. He sent an e-mail to Natalia that led to their developing a relationship and eventually marrying.

“It was pretty neat and nice,” Natalia said. “I understood he was kind and nice.”

They started corresponding, a letter a week at first, around August 2006. Then it was two a week and then every day. They communicated in Russian. Using a translation service on the Web, they were able to communicate fairly well.

“It was really interesting because we were talking a lot about culture,” Robert said.

“She didn’t own a computer,” he said, so when he went back a few months later, he bought one for her.

He married her during Spring Break in March 2007, Robert said. “I intended to come back (to the U.S.) and finish school.”

But they couldn’t bear to be apart and decided to marry.

They worked their way through a mountain of red tape and were able to move back to the United States in February 2008.

Some of the red tape and an obstacle to their marriage arose directly from the breakup of the Soviet Union and Ukraine’s independence in 1991. Natalia’s birth certificate said, “U.S.S.R.,” which no longer existed, Robert said. “Her birth certificate was illegal. She had to go and get it replaced. All her documents for all her kids were in the same situation. Her daughter, Masha, was the first one born, back in ’95.”

Ukraine was independent, but some of its paperwork was still Russian. Masha’s birth certificate was written in Ukrainian, but it was on a Russian form. Her son, Dima, had a different kind of a problem.

Some kind of problem arose in connection with the official who stamped his birth certificate, Robert said. Every document the official had stamped was deemed illegal. So Dima had to have his replaced as well before the Gourleys could move forward and reach Sweet Home.

Natalia has had to adjust, from a busy metropolis to the intensely rural life on Highway 20 between the Foster area and Cascadia.

“My life always was too busy,” Natalia said. She had many clients and worked many 10-hour shifts.

That wasn’t a big deal though, she said. “It’s like going and visiting your friends all day long.”

Those friends keep each other busy too.

“We go out on Fridays,” Robert said. “They go out every night of the week.”

Fireworks go off all night long, he said. “The Russians work and play hard.”

They also do it in style.

“They dress to the nines,” Robert said. Ukrainians always dress up when they go out. They don’t get casual until they get home.

“The thing that totally caught her were the girls that wear sweat pants,” Robert said.

“Or even pajamas,” Natalia added.

Adjusting has taken time, Natalia said. “We drove through. He said, ‘This is Sweet Home.’ After a few minutes, it’s gone.”

On top of it, she couldn’t speak English, Natalia said. “I just started speaking English a year ago.”

She’s a perfectionist, Robert said, so she wouldn’t risk speaking English.

The couple purchased grammar books, and she started teaching herself to speak English.

Speaking was the big issue, he said.

“Sometimes it was pretty hard when you try to say something,” Natalia said. “I was crying sometimes because I was so sad about it.”

Being a member of the Gourley clan, she has a large extended family now, which means she had to leave the house and socialize. That helped her. She spent her time listening to the Gourley children, to what they were saying and how they said it.

She was finally forced to try out her English when it came time to get her Oregon cosmetology license. No Russian test is available, but a Spanish test is.

As a certified master beautician in Ukraine, the Gourleys were told she should probably just take the state test.

“We realized English was an issue,” Robert said. A Russian test was available for the driver’s license testing but not for cosmetology.

“That made her actually do it,” Robert said. She received her license in April and opened their new salon in the forest east of Sweet Home along Highway 20 in May. The salon provides a wide variety of services, from hairstyling to pedicures, a spa, facials and body treatments, everything except tanning beds.

Along with a sauna, Crasotka will add a “wet bed,” Robert said. A wet bed is sort of like a shower that a person lies in.

Business has been going well, Natalia said. She was a little afraid before it opened, but they joined the Chamber of Commerce and were able to advertise, which all helped a lot.

The Gourleys do not intend to keep their shop small or stay where they are, Robert said, although their resolve on that idea is iffy.

“But some of our clients actually like it out of town,” Natalie said.

“They come out to get away,” Robert said.

Robert has a bachelor’s degree from Oregon State University in environmental science with a minor in chemistry. He has completed graduate work in environmental and molecular toxicology. He had been in the Air Force before a health issue forced him to leave. He went back to school in 1995.

Now his expertise in chemistry and environmental science is helping guide what shampoos, conditioners and other treatments the couple uses at Crasotka.

Except a brief period where she worked in a tea factory, Natalia has always been a beautician.

“I started to cut my family’s and friends’ hair in high school,” Natalia said. She was always experimenting. “I was thinking, what if I cut it like this? I was trying to do different things.”

She attended school to learn to be a hairstylist, but her teacher told her she was much more than that and that she should find a way to get an apprenticeship instead of following the two-year license program. She entered an apprenticeship and made the art part of her life for most of her life.

Ukraine declared its independence and elected its first president in December 1991.

As a result of the decade-long economic turmoil that followed, she had to work for a time in the tea factory, and she was happy when she was able to get back into the salon.

That world-shaking event also helped shape Natalia’s life in other ways.

When Ukraine became independent, Ukraine decided to purge reminders of the Russians, including their language.

Ukrainian and Russian are about 25 percent different, Robert said.

Natalia’s grandfather was a Soviet submarine captain who fought the Germans during World War II. He also served on the battleship “New Russia,” which exploded and sank in 1955. And he settled in Sevastopol.

It was common practice for the Soviet Union to send retired soldiers to live along the main roads in different satellite states to build an ethnic Russian presence, Robert said.

Natalia was an A student in the nearly all-Russian city of Sevastopol, Robert said, and she spoke Russian.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, “we didn’t feel like a lot of difference,” Natalia said. “After awhile, Ukrainians said we have to speak Ukranian.”

One day she went to school, and the teachers were required to teach in Ukrainian, even in Sevastopol. The Russian students didn’t know Ukrainian, and Natalia’s grades dropped. Eventually, the Ukrainian government backed off on the requirement.

“It burned a lot of people,” Robert said.

“The first few years were pretty hard,” Natalia said. “Stores were pretty empty, and it was hard to buy something, hard to find a job, hard to make money.”

After a time, it got easier, Natalia said, and she was able to pursue her career as a beautician.

“I like to help people, make people pretty,” Natalia said. “I like everything pretty, and I want everything to be perfect. When you see they’re pretty and looking good, you feel better.”

When a woman is leaving, “she’s happy, she’s looking at herself,” Natalia said. “She can come to the salon and feel beautiful.”

The Gourleys would like to make Crasotka a destination salon, capturing a different part of the market than other salons in the area.

The ruins of the Greek port Chersonesos are on the outskirts of Sevastopol. The town was sacked by Mongol hordes.

The Gourleys want to pay homage to that Greek-Sevastopol history and build a Greek temple and European-style spa.

They’ve started working on the concept but still have a lot of work to do.

The couple has seven children between them. Both were married to spouses who died. When they married they created a sort of “Brady Bunch.” Their children include Ashley, 18, a graduate of Sweet Home High School; Jessica, 16; Masha, 14; Robbie, 14; Dima, 13; Nathan, 12; and Kaitlyn, 10.

The salon is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment on Sundays, Mondays and off hours.