ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Anna-Mariia Gross, 20, is a first-year student at Central New Mexico Community College (CNM). She studies business and has plans to eventually go into marketing. However, her life today looks much different than it did just a few months ago.
“It’s six months now. It’s a lot, and it’s very hard on everyone. I didn’t realize it was that big until we would see the news. Scary news; scary things,” she said. Born and raised in Ukraine, she was living with her family in Odesa when tensions with Russia began to escalate.
“All of us thought, well, they’re our brothers, they’re so close to us. Why would they do something that horrible? Even though they have a history, and we have a history with them,” said Gross.
On February 24, 2022, her life changed. She was woken up in the middle of the night by loud, unfamiliar noises.
“I thought maybe it’s fireworks, or maybe my brain is playing with me, I had never heard something like this before,” she said, “That’s when I got up, and I realized my parents are not sleeping, just like me, and I’m quite close with my parents, so I went and kind of went and laid down with them in their bed.”
The noises were an attack by Russia. She and her sister went to Romania two days later.
“We would stay there for two weeks; that’s what my dad promised me,” said Gross, “And each time we moved it, two more and two more and two more weeks.”
Her mother stayed behind with her father, who as a man under 60, had to stay in case he needed to fight. Those few weeks in Romania turned into three months. Gross and her sister then went to a youth center in Slovakia. At the youth center, she had access to camps and the ministry she’s used to. Still, it was a trying time.
“It was hard. It was hard because you expect to be home sooner, but it’s not happening,” she said. It was in Slovakia, Gross realized she wouldn’t be back home for a while and had to make other plans. She enrolled in CNM and got her visa. Through the help of an Albuquerque-based Christian non-profit that works with her ministry in Ukraine, she and her sister moved in with her host parents in Albuquerque.
“It’s dry. It’s a different nature, which is pretty,” she said of New Mexico, “I’m actually liking it more because of people.” Gross said she still talks with her parents often.
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“At first, it was very hard. Now, it’s becoming a normal thing, which is the worst. You shouldn’t be getting used to things like this. It’s a war. You shouldn’t be getting used to hiding or hearing the sirens, then going back to your normal life,” she said.
While there isn’t much fighting in the small town her parents are in, she wants people to remember the war isn’t over.
“The war is still happening, and helping and supporting is a great thing. If you can help one person, it’s a good achievement,” she said.
Most would call fleeing a war and continuing schooling impressive, but Gross doesn’t see it that way. She’s taking things one day at a time, hoping the war ends soon. She said one of her biggest takeaways from the last six months is how people can come together.
“The world is small,” she said, “When people are nice and supportive, and they become your family, even though they’re not your blood.”
Gross plans to transfer to the University of New Mexico after two years. She hopes to visit her parents soon.