On June 14, 1998, a little girl was born in Moscow, Russia. Her name was Александра Сергеевна Шайлукянченко. That little girl is now 25. Her American name is Alexandra “Sasha” Rai Shailluka. Today, Knoxville is home.
Sasha, as her co-workers call her, is a Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) on-the-road trooper. Her “beat” includes the roads, highways and Interstates 40/75 in Knox County. She has been part of THP Capt. Stacey Heatherly’s District 1 cadre for two years. The captain is a Sasha fan.
“Trooper Shailluka is an amazing asset for the Knoxville THP team. She has shown her ability to learn and adapt to many new experiences quickly. I am completely impressed with her capabilities,” she said.
The captain’s words – “her ability to learn and adapt” – are central to her story.
Her Russian mother was an alcoholic and abusive. She has never met or spoken to her father. The Russian equivalent of our Department of Children’s Services removed her from her mother when she was 8. The next eight years were divided between two orphanages, the latter in Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine. Just after turning 17, an American couple from Placerville, California, adopted her. Once in California, she earned her GED and her U.S. citizenship in 2018.
Her time in California was not pleasant. Her adopted family turned out to be dysfunctional and eventually collapsed. One of her adopted family’s cousins was living in Knoxville. She asked Sasha to be her maid of honor. The wedding was in 2020. While here, and as many before her, she fell in love with East Paradise. When she returned to California, she gathered herself and her belongings and headed to her new home. No job. She lived in a basement room with cousins for several months.
She describes herself as being “street smart.” The catalyst for that, she says, is that Sasha has always had to take care of Sasha. No one else was around to do it.
“It was all on me if I did something wrong. And I never did. I saw lots of drugs in the orphanages from a young age. I saw all the 14-year-old girls getting pregnant. Thank God I did not. I knew that could ruin my life. People shamed and humiliated these girls. It was horrible.”
Her next comment is both so sad and so very motivating for anyone struggling with life.
“Fear was my motivating factor, the only factor, because I did not want to end up like my mother. An alcoholic who was abusive and didn’t take care of me. I am working on my life to make something of myself and so far, so good,” she said.
Sasha is single with no marriage plans anytime soon. “I’m working and focusing on me. I have life goals and marriage is not one of those,” she explained. “Men need taking care of 24/7 and I’ve got no time for that.”
However, there is one male in her life who always welcomes her home. He’s 16-weeks-old and his name is Loui, a silver-haired Labrador Retriever.
Shasha work ethic is part of her fabric. Once in Knoxville she began cutting hair at a chain salon and worked at Burger Boys on Chapman Highway. But she needed a job with benefits that could lead to a career.
“I’d always wanted to be either in police work or in the military, the Air Force, but after thinking about my language skills (she is fluent in Russian, of course, Ukrainian and English) I was afraid I could be stationed somewhere in Europe and I didn’t want that. So, I applied to the Knoxville Police Department and didn’t hear back. So, I did my research and decided on the THP.”
Several weeks passed before she heard from them. Four months later they wanted to meet and interview her. After THP’s rigorous interview process and tests, both written and psychological, she was hired. She began her 18 weeks at the THP Training Center on Aug. 28, 2022, and graduated on Dec. 15, 2022. “It was rough and hard. My class started with 50 class members. Only 28 graduated.”
She loves this job – every day, every hour … well, almost.
“There are many things about it I enjoy. If I can make just a small difference for someone, get a little smile on somebody’s face, it’s great. It’s the tiny stuff that can make a difference. Changing a tire. Giving directions. Helping an elderly couple who can’t figure out their GPS,” she says. “What we all do in this job really matters.”
She recently spent two weeks doing school checks, visiting with hundreds of youngsters and their teachers, talking about her job and answering all manner of questions. She loved it.
And then come the not-so-fun aspects of the job – the violations and citations. Speeding. Not wearing seatbelts. Cell phones. No license plates or expired plates. DUI/impaired drivers and working DUI checkpoints. Underage drivers. “We have a lot of vehicle crashes here too,” she said. Last year she was in one when she turned to pursue a speeding car and was hit by a driver not paying attention. No one was injured.
There are two parts of the job she does not enjoy. “All of the paperwork and legal stuff I do not like. Both are challenging for me. The accidents with fatalities are hard to work,” she added. “And we have to make the death notifications when we work a fatal. That can be emotional for everyone.”
Her ability to speak Russian and Ukranian has come in handy for the THP. “It’s interesting how many of the 18-wheeler drivers are Russian or from Ukraine and some are women. Some of them we stop and they have no license and they can’t speak English, so I’m called to translate.”
And what about living in the U.S.? “I enjoy everything here. The people. The culture. The food for sure. I love it here. I can’t say one bad thing about the United States.”
She does wonder about our educational system. “I saw what my adopted family’s children were taking in school in California. What they were learning in the 11th and 12th grades I had in the 6th and 7th grades, like chemistry, trig and calculus.” she said. “It made me wonder what students study in college here.”
Before she was hired by the THP she asked to do a ride-a-long with a trooper. So, Trooper Clint McKissack, then the public information officer for District 1, did the driving for three days. “He really helped me and was kinda like a mentor for me. When I have a question, I’d call him.”
McKissack stayed busy answering questions. “She asked lots of questions about a lot of things. Why this, why that. She paid attention to how I talked with people. She wanted to hear how we talk with victims, people we stop and to the public. She asked relevant questions about the job.”
McKissack, now part of the Criminal Investigations Division (CID), took note of her common sense. Sasha, you will recall, said she’s street smart. “She had great common sense about figuring out what happened in crashes and spotting traffic violations before she had any training,” he added. “That really surprised me.”
She’s been surprising many for a long time – but not herself. Do not forget her words: “… I am working on my life to make something of myself and so far, so good.”
Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia. If you have someone you think we should consider featuring, please email him at the link with his name or text him at 865-659-3562.