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Meet Katya Karankevich.

Activist. Scientist. Rock Climber. Artist. Biker. 

Originally from Russia and then Alaska, Katya moved here three years ago to go to graduate school and now works for a local biotech company.

She didn't expect to love Tucson, but now it's home.

"I love, love, love Tucson," Katya says. "It's the weather. It's the people. It's how laid back life is here and something I didn't think I would find here is a community of rock climbers, academics and political-minded individuals. I didn't think there would be such a progressive community in such a small city. When I lived in Alaska, I lived in a town very similarly sized to Tucson and we also had one street of downtown, but I didn't find all of these beautfiul  people there that I found here."

Courtesy of Katya Karankevich
Katya Karankevich

Tucson is also where she found her voice as an activist.

After the last presidential election, Katya decided she needed to get involved.

"I was upset and legitimately scared," Katya says. "Scared that women's bodily autonomy was gonna get taken away by this political movement. And that's when I said I need to do something with my free time."

So, she put together a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood. You've probably heard of it: the Nasty Women Exhibit. Artists donated works to be sold and 100 percent of the proceeds went to Planned Parenthood.

A second art show, Pussy Power, ran for the month of October.

Her passion to help those who don't have a voice led her to becoming a biker in a motorcycle club called Guardians of the Children, a nonprofit that helps children who have been victims of abuse, and their families. 

To top it off, Katya is also a rock and mountain climber and is working toward the goal of climbing the seven summits, which are the tallest peaks on each continent. So far, she's done two — Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa, and Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Western hemisphere. 

On doing something

"I wanted to do something that would have a positive impact on the community and allow us to come together when we were grieving. We can't just be rolling around in our sadness and a blanket forever because the legislation that impacts women's bodies is gonna keep coming, whether we're upset about who's in office or who's controlling the Senate and Congress. We still have to be informed about the laws that limit abortion, birth control, all of which ultimately make women second class citizens... So I decided to have art shows that would empower artists who are not usually activists and would empower the community of Tucson to come together for women."

Courtesy of Yekaterina A. Karankevich
Yekaterina A. Karankevich, (Katya for short), right, organized the Nasty Women Exhibit Tucson to raise funds for Planned Parenthood. Pictured with her is Ethan Smith Cox, major gifts officer for Planned Parenthood Arizona.

On speaking out

"I think I'm moving my activism to organizing Tucson to protest when it matters so that we don't burn out. Holding a sign in the park with your friends feels really good but you're preaching to the choir there and it's actually not doing anything. Because what you want to do is you want your elected officials to be scared of you as a whole. You want them to not vote in ways that screw over Tucson or Arizonans. You have to actually go talk to them."

On birth control

"I don't believe that solar panels or cars was the greatest invention of the past 100 years. I believe it's birth control because up until birth control women didn't have a fair chance of deciding on what to do with their lives. Birth control evens the playing field for all women, but only if they have access to it and it's affordable."

On becoming a biker activist for children

"I found Guardians of the Children when they were mentioned in a movie. I was like that's cool, a biker gang that does activism for children. I was living in Alaska at the time and they don't have a chapter so when I moved to Arizona I called and I met up with them." She asked them, "'You're a biker gang. Don't you do like vigilante justice? I'm ready.' They were like 'we don't do that. Here's what we actually do.'

The hardcore look is just a facade. If for example a mother is worried her child's attacker will come back or if her abuser ex-husband has visitation and she feels powerless when visitation hours are happening, we will show up with 20 of our bikers and have a BBQ on her lawn so that when he shows up he sees that this powerless woman is not particularly powerless at this moment and there's no way he will yell at her or the kid in front of us."

On what it's like to help families

"It makes me so happy when we can help a family. Like, I cried... when I found out that a family was sleeping in a playground slide because they didn't have any money. When we got them train tickets, got the kid diapers and got food and they wrote back to us saying everything was fine now and they were so happy, I was just like 'Yes.' That's what it's all about.

"We had a kiddo who couldn't eat. Wasn't sleeping. And when we came and spent time with him and looked under his bed for monsters and showed him everything was safe, he started sleeping that night and that was after six months of him not sleeping or eating. We're not just a motorcycle organization that drinks beer and collects donations for toy runs, but we also do things that really profoundly affect the lives of kids."

On climbing

"I love climbing. Oh my gawd, I love it. When I moved to Tucson I decided to learn...I got into climbing when I realized it was like a mental puzzle and I'm such a competitive person with myself. If I can't do something today and I come back next week or the next day and I can marginally see improvement that's so inspiring to me. It's so motivating to keep doing it."

On climbing the seven summits

"I have been into high altitude mountaineering lately, so I've been taking off the seven summits, which is the tallest peak in each continent. I climbed Kilimanjaro last year. Summit day was the coldest I've ever felt in my entire life. It was cool to be on the tippy-top of Africa, but I was so delirious from altitude sickness that I wanted to get the eff down as fast as I could."

On how to stand up for something

"If you're feeling scared and upset and disenfranchised this year pick one thing that you feel passionate about. It doesn’t matter what it is. But read up on that thing and follow that thing in the news and show up when that thing is being threatened, whether its public parks or women’s health or DACA or immigration or global warming. Anything. I think it can also be like the buddy system with exercise. Find another one or two people that are willing to commit to that thing you are passionate about and spend more time with  them and then you'll end up doing things together and having ideas.

"You don’t have a voice if you don’t think you have one. We as Tucsonans can have a huge voice if we want to."

(Editor's note: Responses have been edited for clarity and also watch out below for swears if you don't like em)

Name: Yekaterina (Katya) Alexandrovna Karankevich

I'm on a mission to ___________________. 

Promote bodily autonomy, freedom from government oppression and personal choices in family planning.

What's your astrology sign? Does it fit you? 

Walrus. Irrelevant, because astrology is not real.

Describe yourself in three words... 

Compassionate, Determined, Resourceful

And in five emojis. 

Insert phallic vegetables for all five choices

Your first-ever job? 

I didn't like babysitting, so when I was twelve I made flyers and posted them around the neighborhood to clean houses for 10 dollars an hour. It worked. I got phone calls to my mom's landline and was booked by several homes. My first job where I was legally able to work at age 14 was scooping ice cream at a local Coldstone Creamery. I was the first person promoted to a leadership position in the global company before age 16. I worked at a music shop, changed oil on cars, posed nude for art classes all before I turned 18.

How long have you lived in Tucson? 

3.5 years ago. Moved down from Alaska for a graduate program that I quit after three months because I am very bad at sitting still.

Who and/or what inspires you? 

What we women can accomplish with access to birth control. The ability to choose exactly when I want to start a family inspires me to fight against anti-choice legislation and to promote reproductive freedom for all women, especially in Arizona when teen pregnancy is high while comprehensive sex education is not available in all schools.

The secret to coping with stress is ________________. 

Lots of exercise, fresh berries and 10 hours of sleep when you feel overwhelmed.

Your favorite Tucson spot? 

Rocks and Ropes climbing gym downtown along with Bentley's House of Coffee and Tea. Two great place to get together with like-minded free thinking or outdoorsy folks.

What are your favorite three songs and why? 

Push It by Salt n Pepper, Zombies by The Cranberries and Man I Feel Like A Woman by Shania because I will drunkenly karaoke all three of them until forced to leave the establishment. "What do you mean this isn't a karaoke bar!? What kind of mortuary is this, you pirate wench!?"

Your go-to order at your favorite Tucson restaurant? 

Green Curry with extra eggplant at Karuna's Thai Plate

What's your favorite Tucson-only thing? 

Mt Lemmon's cornucopia of climbing walls

You know you're a Tucsonan when _____________. 

The sweater comes on once it drops to 75 outside. You get used to cheap happy hours and then go to Boston or any other major city.

What constitutes your morning getting-ready routine and how long does it take? 

If you call pressing snooze too many times to be appropriate a 'routine', I'll accept it. I don't feel like engaging in work until I have my caffeinated beverage of choice. I also can't work if I have had too much caffeine, so it's a precarious titration that must be performed.

Favorite app at the moment? 

Appetizer?= hot wings anywhere because you can't screw that up, and if you do, there is always ranch... Software Application?= Kindle

Give us a two-sentence pep talk. 

You can improve yourself any day that you decide to start. Today could be that day.

What would you tell your teenage self? 

You will not be depressed forever. Leaving home and living in your car is better than putting up with other people's circus and other people's monkeys. Those are not your monkeys. That is not your circus. You are sometimes better off living in the street than an unsafe place. It's okay to dig through dumpsters because people throw away a lot of good stuff that you can eat or turn into art. You can be strange, independent, angry, thankful, unpolished, complicated, responsible, irresponsible and self-reliant all at the same time. Just because you are the weird one at school now doesn't mean that you will be lonely forever. There are lots of other weird people that will like you and they live in Portland, Oregon and Tucson, Arizona.

What's a quality you got from your mama? 

My appearance, but other than that hopefully nothing. She used to steal my bras when I was a teen, citing that I was too fat to wear them when we were the same size, a six. Maybe I should add hoarding to this list but I am not ready to admit how hard it is for me to throw away items I may use in five years.

And one you hope to pass on to the next generation? 

I think this sentence is missing a word. If the question was any one thing you hope to pass on to the next generation it would be to proofread your emails and important applications before sending them, including some texts. Sometimes 'china' can autocorrect to vagina. Which makes the sentence, "I am cleaning my grandma's china in preparation for the funeral" a bit different. Also, set up automatic mail in ballots. Lastly, get an IUD. You can't feel it and it lasts for 5+ years. Taking a birth control pill everyday sucks and you will likely forget a few times.

The last great book you read? 

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

The last great movie you watched? 

Get Out. Best film of the last five years due to it's ability to enchant and reveal overt and subtle racism in America. It is more important now to watch it than ever.

People would be surprised to hear you're actually a(n) ______________ expert. 

nothing expert. I know literally nothing and so do you.

Is there something you've always wanted to learn, but haven't had the time? 

I got drunk and bought a xylophone, so I guess I am learning that now.

Anything you've always wondered about Tucson? 

Why don't we have rainwater collection systems next to every road to divert flooding, which would save the pavement (bye bye cracks and potholes), while filtering the liquid and using it for park or grey water irrigation?

Favorite ice cream flavor? 

The real question is whether I eat that for my entire dinner. 

Where can our readers follow you on social media? 

I would rather they didn't. Most of my online posts consist of memes or my opinion on politically related happenings. www.dumpsalad.com is my site for pet projects like the Nasty Women Exhibit Tucson which was a Planned Parenthood fundraiser.

Is there something you REALLY nerd out about? 

Peptide chemistry and related peptide-based drug development. Because, cancer vaccines are cool and that is what my vanilla adult jobby job is all about. Also equally nerdy or embarrassing is that my boyfriend and I make up songs that we sing to each other all the time. We have been doing it for years and there are dozens in my head that would not make any sense to anyone else, if they knew what was rattling around up there. Imagine 'Hey Jude', by The Beatles, but about chicken wings. "Hey, Dude. Come eat some wings. You were hungry, wings make it bet-ter-errr." etc. You can make up wing related lines forever like that! Another domestic favorite is 'Garbage Juice Situation', where the only lines are to yell "We've got a garbage juice situation" like a lounge singer when faced with something unpleasant figuratively or literally when you have the garbage bag rip and leak garbage juice on the floor. Now you know some incredibly intimate stuff about me.

What's your spirit animal? 

Easy. The Narwhal. They can break through the northern ocean ice and hunt fish with their four foot long tooth-horns. They're really unicorns of the sea that actually exists.

Which fictional character (from TV, movies, books, etc.) just gets you? 

No one real or fictional has ever understood who I was or accepted me as I am. Part of that is the hard communist-era crust that shields my soft teddy bear nurturing persona. Years of chipping is required to get to the nice nougaty center. The other part is that I think most things, such as social niceties are total bullshit. Think of a Matryoshka stacking doll where the outside dolls are scary, loud, raging, tattooed feminists who curse prolifically, while the deeper tiny doll is your favorite grandmother who wants you to come over and spill the beans on your anxieties. That inner doll will cook for you and binge Netflix when you need to be distracted. In summation: I scare people initially, but I am squishy inside.

What makes you feel the most confident? 

A clean pair of underwear. You never know when emergency technicians will have to cut all of your clothes off of you while you are unconscious.

The best piece of advice you ever received? 

If someone doesn't like you, it's not your problem.

Angela Pittenger | This Is Tucson

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