How This CNM Student Escaped the War In Ukraine

Anna-Mariia Gross has a new life here in the United States but still has family back home who are living through the conflict
September 13, 2022

Anna-Mariia Gross remembers the exact day she left Ukraine. February 26, 2022. Her dad, a pastor, dropped her and her 17-year-old sister on the Moldova border and they walked across and met family friends who picked them up. The plan was for Anna-Mariia and her sister to then stay in Romania for two weeks and come back to Ukraine. But the war never stopped and Anna-Mariia and her sister never went back to their home.

“None of us guessed the war would last this long,” Anna-Mariia says.

She and her sister ended up spending three months in Romania with family friends and then another two months in Slovakia at a youth center that she knew about thanks to her dad’s church. Meanwhile, Anna-Mariia’s dad stayed behind because at the time men under 60 were not allowed to leave the country in case they were needed for the war. Her mom stayed with her dad. 

“My mom joked that if she left him behind he would only eat sandwiches, and she wasn’t okay with that,” Anna-Mariia says. 

Eventually, David and Angela Breidenbach, who run an Albuquerque-based Christian non-profit that helps people from former Soviet countries, reached out to Anna-Mariia and said they wanted to have her and her sister come live with them.

“Dave and Angela Breidenbach know my family very well and they are just like my second family.” Anna-Mariia says. “They told me they would love to have me and my sister. They said, ‘We want you here and we want you safe.’” 

Anna-Mariia and her sister landed on August 1 and both enrolled in schools. Anna-Mariia decided to enroll at CNM and her sister enrolled at The Menaul School.

Anna-Mariia is currently studying Business and has plans to eventually transfer to UNM for a Marketing degree. Here at CNM she says she’s found a warm and welcoming community of staff, students, and faculty who are always willing to help. She’s also been really impressed with the college’s tutoring services, which she relies on regularly. 

“In Ukraine it costs money to see tutors, but here anyone can come and ask questions whenever they need help,” she says. “That’s amazing.”

Back home in Ukraine, Anna-Mariia’s family is thankfully safe. They live outside the city of Odesa and haven’t seen as much fighting as other parts of the country. But the war still makes Anna-Mariia understandably very upset. 

“People are getting used to the war,” she says. “They hear the sirens, and they hide, and then they go back to their daily lives. But no one should have to get used to war.”

Luckily, because restrictions had eased a bit, Anna-Mariia’s parents were able to travel to Slovakia to see Anna-Mariia and her sister before they came to New Mexico. The family also has frequent video calls.

“We call them in the evening before going to bed and it is the morning for them while they have breakfast and they tell us, ‘We want to know all about your lives, tell us more!’” Anna-Mariia says. 

Anna-Mariia is very proud of her parents because through their church they’ve offered services to their entire community.

“They’ve been able to offer support to many people who don’t have relatives in the area,” she says.

For now the plan is for Anna-Mariia and her sister to stay in New Mexico, keep attending school, and hopefully fly back to Europe next summer to see their parents.

“We’re all hoping for the best,” she says.