Tatyana Koltunyuk credits a police officer, who created a makeshift tourniquet to stop blood flow, with saving her life after she was bitten by a shark off the coast of Rockaway Beach in New York City earlier this month, according to her daughter, Dasha Koltunyuk.
Recently retired Koltunyuk would take an hour-long subway ride to Rockaway Beach to go swimming most days.
Dasha Koltunyuk described the harrowing details of her mother’s attack on Aug. 7 in detail.
“She was in the water as she normally was towards the end of the day and she felt something bump into her, hard. And then she saw the shark on its belly up look at her,” said Dasha Koltunyuk. “She described looking at its eyes very vividly and just seeing it. She almost describes it as being mischievous, almost like an adolescent spirit.”
"She saw all of its teeth. She described how green and dirty they were. And then the shark attacked and she remembers a cloud of blood in the water," said Koltunyuk's daughter.
Dasha Koltunyuk said her mother still vividly remembers what the shark looked like and is convinced it was a great white.
According to the Global Shark Attack File, a website that tracks shark and human interactions, the last known shark attack in New York City was in 1958.
The doctor who tended to Koltunyuk’s wounds said it was the biggest bite he had ever seen, according to Dasha Koltunyuk.
“He was just kind of in awe of it, in awe that she survived that,” she said.
"I think the fact that she's alive is a miracle," Dasha Koltunyuk added.
Koltunyuk’s story has always been one of survival, her daughter said. After immigrating from Ukraine in the 1990s, her husband died and she became a single mother. In addition, Koltunyuk couldn't continue her previous job as a marine engineer because of the language barrier, so she was forced to find new ways to provide for her family. Most recently, she worked as a nanny.
“She's a fighter,” said Dasha Koltunyuk. “She's fought for everything in our lives on her own.”
Despite the trauma, her daughter said Koltunyuk feels no ill will toward sharks.
“My mom is in love with nature, with animals. And I do think that she'd want me to tell the public to not hate on sharks but to do everything we can to to be able to swim safely,” she said.
Koltunyuk, who is still in the hospital, has undergone seven surgeries with potentially one more ahead. The family set up a GoFundMe to assist with medical bills in the wake of the attack.
Gregg Kallor, Koltunyuk’s son-in-law, said the outpouring of support for his mother-in-law has been a comfort.
“People’s empathy and compassion is amazing,” said Kallor, “We don’t feel like we’re alone.”
Dasha Koltunyuk said her mother’s wish for the future is to celebrate on the same grounds that caused her pain.
“When she's on her feet, in whatever form that is, one of the first things she wants to do is go back to the beach with a bottle of champagne,” she said.