Fayette County

Almost 100 become U.S. citizens in Lexington

Natalya Tyutenkova waves an American flag after becoming a U. S. citizen during a naturalization ceremony at the Federal Courthouse in Lexington Friday afternoon.
Natalya Tyutenkova waves an American flag after becoming a U. S. citizen during a naturalization ceremony at the Federal Courthouse in Lexington Friday afternoon.

At precisely 2:08 p.m. Friday, Natalya Ivanovna Tyutenkova raised her right hand in a federal courtroom in Lexington and took the oath she had waited four years to receive.

When it was done she was an American citizen.

Tyutenkova, who was born in Khazakstan, then clutched her brand new certificate of citizenship, and beamed as she proudly waved a small American flag to the large contingent of friends who had turned out to support her.

"Oh my gosh, what a big day" she said afterward. "I'm so excited."

Tyutenkova, 56, has lived in Lexington since 2006, and is married to Stanley Brunn, a professor of geography at the University of Kentucky. She was among almost 100 people, representing more than 30 nationalities, who took the oath of citizenship in two ceremonies at U.S. District Court in Lexington on Friday.

Friends and family members packed the courtroom, chatting in many different languages, snapping photographs of the moment to be preserved through the years.

As always, the ceremonies were occasions for emotion: lots of happiness, and some tears, at leaving old things behind and starting new lives, with new freedoms and responsibilities.

"The court is proud of each of you," said U.S. District Judge Karl Forester, presiding over the second ceremony as Tyutenkova and 46 others took the citizenship oath. "You have become citizens the hard way. You have earned it."

But Forester also warned that citizenship carries responsibilities. He urged the newly minted citizens to "work to stamp out injustice," noting that terrorists both domestic and foreign continue to threaten America.

Georgia Clemons, representing the Bryan Station Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, told the new citizens to be involved in their communities and to "always, always, stand tall and be proud to be an American."

Tyutenkova, who lived under harsh Soviet rule in Khazakstan until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, said that during the process of becoming an American citizen she was asked why people continue to come to America. Her simple answer: Freedom.

"It is still what people come here for," said Tyutenkova, who has family in Khazakstan and visits them annually.

Tyutenkova's journey to American citizenship began in 2004, when she worked as a translator for international observers sent to monitor elections in Khazakstan under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The observer she was assigned to translate for was UK's Brunn.

"We worked together for five days," she said. "And then he came back several times to see me."

They were married in Lexington on Valentine's Day 2006, and Tyutenkova began the process of becoming an American citizen.

Since arriving in Lexington, she has become a fixture at Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church, where she lends her gardening skills to the grounds committee.

"She brings so much to our Sunday School class," Diane Baldwin, associate pastor, said as one of those who turned out to support Tyutenkova on her big day Friday. "Knowing someone who has lived under communism makes us all understand how privileged we really are."

Brunn wasn't able to attend Friday's ceremony. He's in Belgium and won't return until later this month. But he did e-mail Tyutenkova a poem that he wrote for the occasion. She said she considered showing it to her friends, but finally decided not to.

"It's too personal," she said.