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One year after Russian invasion, Ukrainian family makes a new life in Virginia Beach

After getting aid from her childhood foreign exchange program family, a Ukrainian mother and children landed on their feet in Hampton Roads.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — If our past shapes who we are, it’s hard to tell how Anna Yakovlyeva lives a life any different from any other kid. 

The bubbly 7-year-old calls Virginia Beach her home, but her roots run deeper to a place much farther away. 

"We’ve been here a whole year," she said as she showed off her collection of toys.

"You feel like you lose your place in life, and now you have to build it all over," Anna's mom, Oleksandra "Alex" Yakovlyeva said. 

She keeps life for her two kids, Anna and Volodymyr, as normal as she can, even though their last year has been anything but that.

"She's transferred from one place to another. She has friends here, a life here. Sometimes I think maybe she's forgetting what she had in Ukraine," Alex said. 

Exactly one year ago, 13News Now first talked to Alex after she escaped by crossing the Ukrainian border by foot from the earliest days of the Russian invasion. She was aided by the foreign exchange family she’s known since childhood.

A year since that meeting, they’ve traded in a war-torn country for a white picket fence and yard, now independently living in Virginia Beach.

Both Anna and "Vova" are attending public school, and have picked up the English language after hardly knowing it at this time last year. 

"I don’t want them to hear an air alarm like Ukrainian kids hear every day, a couple of times a day. I don’t want them to experience not having electricity," Alex said. 

“The hardest is spelling because in Ukraine, how you hear the words, you spell the same," Vova said, who's recently been accepted into the Governor's School for the Arts for his dance abilities. 

In a year filled with uncertainty, Alex and her family have found stability. For Alex, it’s both the end and the beginning to a life’s chapter.

"I've accepted it for my children because they’re happy here, they're developing here. But I cannot say I've accepted it for myself. It’s still hard, because I had my entire life there," she said.

"When I’ve thought my life has stopped, I would say now, maybe now, it’s just become different."

The mother credits the work of local YMCAs to help her family acclimate and adjust to life in America.

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