On the cliffs of Icicle Canyon in Leavenworth, Zulfiya “Zulya” Dokukina’s life reached a tragic end. In a freak accident on May 14, 2016, the veteran climber and native of Uzbekistan fell 80 feet and emergency responders couldn’t revive her. Her death at age 50 hit the climbing community hard and her daughters, Jenya and Niyara harder.
Overnight, 25-year-old Jenya Dokukina became the parent of her 11-year-old sister. “It’s a little daunting to be raising my sister,” says Jenya, ’14. “I feel it’s very important to raise her the way my mom would raise her. It’s my job to be sure she gets out into nature and climbs,”
Jenya, who earned a UW nursing degree, works as a labor and delivery nurse at Highline Hospital. The two girls were always close, but Jenya says packing the lunch, getting Niyara to and from school, and providing discipline is a whole new level of responsibility. “I’m scared of her saying, ‘You’re not my mom, I don’t have to listen to you.’”
Because her mother was a strong role model, Jenya knows she can raise Niyara and do it well. Zulya’s story began 50 years ago in east Uzbekistan where she was born and raised. Women who wanted a non-traditional life of athleticism and adventure bucked not just parents but an entire culture.
“Uzbekistan is not a country where women are empowered,” Jenya says. “(My mom) wanted to climb mountains; she wanted to be strong. She wanted to go to a special school that trained people for sports. Unsurprisingly, her parents said no. She left her parent’s house when she was age 16.”
Zulya caught the mountain climbing bug in her teens and rapidly became a world-class climber. She married another alpinist, Alexey Dokukin, and bore a child, Jenya. When Jenya was 12 the family emigrated to New York City, but the mountains of the Pacific Northwest called to her parents and the family moved to Seattle.
The couple founded a Russian mountain climbing club and a second daughter, Niyara, was born. The couple eventually divorced, but Zulya kept climbing and guided many climbers to scale the region’s highest peaks.
Some in Seattle’s climbing community have been quick to support the girls, and Jenya draws solace from these people who knew and cared for her mother. Frith Maier, ’87, ’97, a climber and business entrepreneur, helped start a YouCaring site, and Zulya’s friends Larisa Borodina and Elena Hanajenko spearheaded the fundraising.
“I started climbing with Zulya last year,” Maier says. “We had a lot to talk about. We were pushing ourselves to climb. It was a nice climbing partnership and her daughter (Niyara) always came along and that’s how I know them.”
The fund now has about $30,000. “The money is mostly for Niyara’s college education,” Jenya says. “That will be the hardest thing to cover when she grows up.
In the meantime while her own plans to seek a doctorate are on hold, Jenya has another kind of mountain—parenthood—to climb. “I think she has a lot of opportunities ahead of her and I want to be sure she takes advantage of them.”