We Need to See Tasha Now

Tasha Poduska
10 min readJul 4, 2022


So I got into Russia, without the Visa as you know, in the end of 1991 and the start of 1992. Me, with my one-way ticket, my knowledge of 4 Russian words, a fake visa, no place to live and a desire to just play volleyball. So now what?

Well, this was a really good question, it turns out that in the process of me coming to Russia, a lot was lost in translation, first of all, no one thought I was really coming, they must have known about visa requirements, not inviting me, etc. but there I was, in Russia ready to play for their team.

During the process of preparation for me to go to Russia, my Russian teammate, Sveta, that was playing for our team in Fairbanks, Alaska was translating for me, or at least I thought she was :) Turns out her English wasn’t that good or she thought I was kidding. She was also still in shock that she was playing and living the USA, so I understand now why things got lost in translation. I thought that she had explained to the Russian team that I wanted to come play and train with them to improve my skills, I later found out that the Russian team took offense to this as they are not a “come do what you want, you damn American” kind of team, they are a professional team that has to win to get paid.

Good thing the actual team loved me, and they wanted me to train and hang out with them, so with some coaxing, the coach let me stay. The men’s basketball team found a place for me to live.

Side thought here — There are a few times in my life that I have been electrocuted, the first one was when I was at my friends house, I had borrowed her convertible Porsche (because why wouldn’t you borrow a car like this) to go to her house and see what was up with her dryer. I had UNPLUGGED the dry so that I could work on it (this is the smart part). While I was looking at the back of it, I heard that it was starting to rain, I remembered that I left the top down on the Porsche, so I ran outside in the rain (thus wet, a conductor of electricity), put up the top and then went back in. Little did I know that the roommate had seen the dryer unplugged and decided to plug it back in so that she could do some wash, our paths didn’t cross so, neither of us knew of the events the other was doing. I went back to what I was doing, touched some cables together and flew across the room, hit the wall, felt every filling in my mouth almost pop out and my heart was racing through the roof. I lived of course, but never wanted to fill that again. UNTIL… I lived in a Russian apartment by myself and the TV wasn’t working, so of course I think I can fix this. Thus, I once again UNPLUG the thing, to be safe, but little did I know that the capacitors store electricity at high voltage. They can deliver a deadly shock even when the circuit power is off or the appliance is unplugged. You won’t electrocute yourself if you follow the one-hand rule, but if you touch it with both hands the shock makes your arm jerk violently. This ended all my relationships with electricity and me fixing or touching anything electrical. Sorry for the long side note.

So let’s just talk a little more about apartments and what it’s like to live in Russia in 1992. I think visuals will help here, these are a couple of apartments I had over my first stay in Russia from 1991–1998.

A typical bathroom layout, note the swinging faucet from tub to sink
My kitchen, if you put your hand on the stove and the corner of the fridge you get shocked, obviously the ground wire hasn’t come to Russia in 1992
That couch is my bed and that computer came in 1995

No laundry washer and dryer, I gave my clothes to a friend and paid her to wash them, hang dry them and iron them. No microwaves, no cable TV, no simplicity at all, every single thing is hard. When I started to make really good money (which I will explain in a blog in the near future) my friends were always jealous of me, but I always told them that they were welcome to live the life I’d lived, go without hot water, freeze, sleep on strange beds and figure out another language and culture, then they too could have what I have, but I doubt any of them would have survived.

So now we know where I live and how I lived, we know that I want to play volleyball and that somehow I created a multi-million dollar business. So let’s go back to what brought me to Russia — Volleyball.

I was so excited, and of course cocky, about playing professional volleyball in Russia. I didn’t get paid, because I wasn’t as good as them, and I lived off handouts from my friends who had nothing really to spare, but I loved it and it was my dream.

Training… If you think you know fundamentals of a sport, I challenge you to go to another country, Asia, Russia, Europe and put that to a test. To start practice each day, we had to pass 1000 balls and set 1000 balls against a 2' x 2' pillar. Yes, a pillar, not a wall, we didn’t have walls because our gym looked like this…

Floors that give you slivers, blinding sunlight and a short ceiling, running track on top

My teammates knew that I we couldn’t train or start practice if I couldn’t do this simple skill set of passing on the pillar. So they spent hours and hours with me teaching me to focus, and not feel extra pressure when i got past 500. It took some time and we started practice late a couple of times, but I got it. This simple skill taught me the best lesson I could ever learn about pressure. After dealing with the pressure of the pillar, the actual game, making a crucial serve for game point, seemed so easy, no pressure. To this day, I’m still so thankful for those days that I passed the ball against the pillar for hours and hours. It was a challenge of me, against my own mind. Later when I returned to the USA and became a club volleyball coach, I taught the fundamentals first, never let them slide and I helped to created great future volleyball players.

So the Russians changed everything about the way I played and what I wore, yes, the shoes that we thought were so cool and protect your ankles are actually very heavy and hard to play in. My teammates called me an elephant, as they could always hear me running or stomping as they called it. They showed me that if you are actually jumping and landing correctly, you don’t need these shoes. So I too, put on the little keds and began to learn how to jump, actually explode up and land softly, I went from an elephant to an gazelle.

Now training is good, I’m progressing, but now the team needs to travel for competition and this creates a couple of problems for me. One — they can’t leave me alone for a few weeks as I don’t speak the language, I can’t get food (we stand in line to get rations) and I can’t get around yet.

Side thought here — during the Soviet times people were given talons or slips like these, to get 1 kg flour, 1 kg dry milk, 1 kg sugar, 2 pack cigarettes, 2 liter of vodka and other things. I was not Russian, so my friends had to share their rations with me, to help I would stand in one line, while they were in others, usually the toilet paper line was longest (if they had toilet paper, most the time we just used newspaper). You get cigarettes and vodka to trade. When someone has a birthday, you trade your vodka for more flour or meat, then do the opposite for when you need something. It’s a true barter system and it worked really well. We also had free transportation on all trams and buses.

Ration slips

Two — I can’t travel with them under my American passport as it will cost them 4 times as much. Yes, for a Russian, it may cost 300 rubles to fly somewhere, for me it will be 1200 rubles or more, because obviously all American are rich and they can afford to pay more. This was truly their rational.

Another side thought here — talking about the ruble here, when I first arrived in Russia in 1991, the dollar to ruble exchange was 1 to 6, when I left Russia for the first time in 1998 the dollar to ruble exchange was 1 to 6,000. So when I first arrived, I could buy an apartment for 6000 rubles (not a great one, but yes a bad one), when I left I could buy a snickers bar for 6,000 rubles.

Inflation is something the USA has yet to fully understand

So what to does the team with me? We all decided to go drink together, because, as you know, this is when we have our best ideas, and… we came up with a brilliant plan — I would travel under the Russian passport of someone that looks like me :) Mind you, this one act would have sent me to a Russian prison for the rest of my life, but we were young and stupid and this was a great idea in our minds. The coach agreed (his version of agreeing is just shy of him calling the KGB on me himself, he did not like me and he could care less where I got left) so off we went.

It would have been nice if they gave me a passport of a person’s name I could actually pronounce, but they didn’t, it was Shimonimna (I can’t even spell it right, as it was so hard to say). There was a good side though, we travelled on chartered planes, they were delayed a lot, like 6 hours or more, but they were cheaper, and the process of getting on them was simple. You lay around the airport all day waiting for the plane, when it shows up, they line everyone up, check your passports and put you on. My team gave me a fur hat, fur coat and anything else that would make me look Russian. I hopefully wouldn’t have to speak, they would just call my name. The first time they called my name, I didn’t know it was my name, so they had to push me forward. Some lady in a uniform looked at the passport and let me on. Great plan!

I got to see so much of Russia this way, at a time when Russia was transforming from a Soviet Union to a capitalist society. We had so much fun, playing, yes, I actually got to play int he back row a little, behind my 6 feet plus team of women. We would also travel by train, and when the conductor came by to check our passports, the manager said that we were all sleeping from a tough game, gave them the stack of our passports for review and that was that.

Me in 1995 traveling on a train from Vladivostok to Khabarovsk, I had my own key to the conductors cabins at this point, as I had learned the bribing and present game by then.

Then in one city, during a game, our middle blocker sprained her ankle and was out. We luckily were very close to finishing that game, so we won and went back to the hotel. The whole team was very upset, from what I could gather, we were done, we didn’t have enough players or we couldn’t win without her. I didn’t understand this, as I had minored in sports medicine, so why weren’t we just taping her up. I tried to explain to my team that I could tape her. First of all, they had never seen sport tape, thus they never knew that I could do something with it. I told them we had to ice her and rehab her, then I could have her ready to play tomorrow. We had plenty of snow and ice, so that wasn’t a problem and I brought with me my med kit, with tape and pre-wrap, so I taped her ankle.

You would have thought I cured cancer that day, everyone was so impressed and yes, should couldn’t jump as high, but she could still play. My new name at that point became “Dr. Shimonimna” and I became more of a team trainer, than player. My coach found a new fond love and use for me that he actually started training me more. I changed how we warmed up, stretched and did rehab in the off seasons. My mom kept me stocked with tape and supplies, and my life was great.

You should know by now, everytime my life is great, something is about to change, and it did. One day in the middle of practice in the fall of 1992, two men came to practice, one with a walrus mustache and one just old and scary looking. They both had suits on, and when then entered the gym, everyone stopped what they were doing immediately, so I knew these guys were important, they spoke to my coach,

“We Need to See Tasha Now”

they said. Then my coached called me over and told me to go with these two men. My life changed from that moment forward.



Tasha Poduska

I bring to the table a unique and eclectic professional journey that spans continents and industries. Want more, go to tashapoduska.com