Crossing the Mexican border by foot, eight months pregnant.
In the months preceding the war, Anna’s inner circle brushed off any possibility of Russia invading Ukraine. They didn’t give it much thought as they watched the news of oligarchs sending their children abroad or witnessing the Russian embassy burn their files, causing a massive smoke. “It’s one of their tricks,” Anna told me during our Zoom call, referring to Russia’s modus operandi of misleading its opponents. Yes, the war in Donbas has been going on for eight years. Yet, Anna’s friends, family, and colleagues — nobody believed Russia was capable of attacking an entire country.
Anna remembers how two weeks before the invasion, she went grocery shopping with her parents and saw a middle-aged woman with messy hair piling up her basket with buckwheat, spaghetti, and other non-perishables. “It was funny to me, I mean, surely Russians weren’t that stupid. It’s the 21st century, for Chrissake….”
In the upcoming months, Russia’s war against Ukraine would kill thousands of civilians — amongst them hundreds of children — and displace millions of Ukrainians around the globe.
Among the latter was Anna, who, in her last trimester of pregnancy, was forced to flee the country, crossing the U.S. border with Mexico by foot, and give birth to little Emily in California.
This is her story.
On Thursday, February 24th, the twenty-three-year-old Anna woke up in the middle of the night from a bad dream. She was in her two-bedroom apartment in Chornomorsk, a small city on the outskirts of Odesa — known for its nightlife, vast beaches, and beautiful Ukrainian women.
Anna retrieved her phone from a nightstand and saw 34 unread messages from friends, most in screaming capital letters, “ANNA, WAKE UP! THE WAR HAS STARTED!!!!”
Still half-asleep, Anna didn’t believe what she had read. She thought something was off when she heard a faint blast from her bedroom window. “Odesa is a port city. I thought it must be the noise from a cargo ship,” she told me.