A Russian masseur who came to Wichita with only $500 in her pocket has built an elite clientele among local business leaders including developer George Laham and banker Michael Michaelis.

Only seven years after immigrating to the United States from Russia, 29-year-old Sveta Yakubovich is opening Sveta’s Body Therapy,offering therapeutic massage and acupuncture at 2141 N. Bradley Fair Parkway in Bradley Fair.

It’s a proud moment for a woman who has developed into one of the best-connected women in Wichita — catering to a high-profile client list that includes doctors, bank presidents, developers,stockbrokers and other high-level professionals.

Many visit as often as once a week to have their kinks, cramps and knots worked out by Yakubovich’s powerful hands.

Getting Hooked

On a Sunday morning Yakubovich is confirming an afternoon appointment with developer George Laham while Emprise Bank chairman Michael Michaelis waits in a chair nearby. A bundle of energy,Yakubovich greets the friends who have stopped in to wish her well at her new location while answering the ringing phone in her distinct Russian accent.

Michaelis, who says he first met Yakubovich when she was offering chair massages at Green Acres health food store several years ago, says he had never had a massage — and never thought he would.

But as his wife was shopping, Michaelis decided to give Yakubovich’s chair massage a try.

“I play squash at the Wichita Racquet Club, and soon Sveta convinced me to try a (full) massage,” says Michaelis, who now has a weekly appointment with Yakubovich. “I was hooked.”

Trained in Russia

The opening of her business is a dream-come-true for Yakubovich, who came to Wichita in 1993 with her mother, her husband, Simon (a massage therapist at the Wichita Country Club), her then-infant son, Misha, and only $500 in her pocket.

Trained in massage and as a physical education teacher in Gorky, Russia, Yakubovich was earning the American equivalent of about two dollars a month and was determined to offer her family a better way of life in the United States.

“I knew that in Russia to make money you either had to be a genius or do something illegal,” says Yakubovich. “In America, you can have anything you want. There is more opportunity here.”

Speaking no English and unsure of what direction to take, Yakubovich soon earned her massage therapy certifications and began working at Mae-ssage, a salon at the Wichita Racquet Club in February 1994, where she worked for six years. Hired by Mae-ssage owner Rick Mae, Yakubovich says he watched her grow from a “little Russian girl” into a woman now ready to launch her own business.

“I am grateful to Rick for giving me the opportunity to start my career here, and to meet the people who have become my clients and friends,” says Yakubovich.

George Laham has been a client and friend of Yakubovich for about five years, and says he has known for some time her interest in opening her own salon. Her level of service, professionalism and tremendous client base were right for Bradley Fair, he says. “Sveta is an excellent massage therapist. She’s energetic, accommodating, and has a tremendous work ethic,” says Laham. “In my business of developing buildings for new businesses, it’s most exciting and rewarding when you are involved with someone like Sveta, considering her background, drive to succeed and love for capitalism.”

American success story

Dr. Ken Jansson, an orthopedic surgeon with Advanced Orthopedic Associates and medical director for Via Christi’s Sports Medicine services, remembers the first day he met Yakubovich.

“The first time I saw her she didn’t even speak English,” says Jansson. “She is the American success story. She has done it the old-fashioned way, with a lot of hard work and good effort.”

Although as a doctor Jansson doesn’t generally make referrals for massage services, he says it is good for providing stress relief and general wellness. “I think people with milder problems, general aches and pains, and flexibility problems can do well with massage,” says Jansson.

Yakubovich says she loves her work because she is able to bring relief to overstressed bodies. Massage services offered include Swedish; back, shoulder and neck; deep tissue massage; reflexology; body dynamics and pregnancy, as well as acupuncture and acupressure.

Massage sessions generally are one hour, but will range from 15 minutes for a chair massage to 90 minutes for a thorough spa massage. The facility is also equipped with a shower and dry sauna. Yakubovich’s staff of five therapists includes Dr. Allen Fitzner, an acupuncturist who has practiced for more than 31 years.

Yakubovich is also a student at the Kansas School of Chinese Medicine, where she is studying acupuncture and Chinese medicine. Once a competitive swimmer in Russia, she believes in natural remedies to heal the body’s ailments and takes no medications. Yakubovich even foregoes anesthetics at the dentist’s office, and has had a root canal without benefit of pain blockers. “There are some problems you cannot treat with massage, but you can treat with herbs and acupuncture,” says Yakubovich.