From Kherson to Phoenix, a Ukrainian refugee feels welcome in Arizona

By Phil Latzman
Published: Tuesday, October 11, 2022 - 12:19pm

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Ukrainian war refugee Alexandra Kholodniak
Phil Latzman/KJZZ
Ukrainian war refugee Alexandra Kholodniak at a Phoenix Starbucks on Sept. 26, 2022.

More than 6,000 miles from home, Alexandra Kholodniak comes from the southern Ukrainian port city of Kherson, which has been at the center of battles over Russian annexation. She spent the summer in Europe before making her way to Arizona in September.

Sasha, as she likes to be called, learned English while a university student in Ukraine. But when she arrived here to navigate a new world, she knew virtually no one.

“Everything [is] unfamiliar to me, except Starbucks,” she laughed.

So why did Kholodniak decide to come to Arizona?

“For me, it was an opportunity to work and to find something to do, to earn some money.”

She came with her 9-year-old daughter, who doesn’t speak any English, and enrolled her in a Phoenix elementary school.

“She is surprisingly good,” Kholodniak said. “Despite the fact that she doesn’t know any English, she found friends at once and she’s quite happy.”

Kholodniak said she isn’t sure she and her daughter will ever return to Ukraine.

“Of course, in my dreams I’d want this war to end tomorrow and I’m packing my bags to go home, but if it continues for a long time, I don’t know what I will do.”

She said being away from family and friends in Kherson has been gut wrenching. “When you are not in that place, you worry much more about them. You know you are in safe place, but they are not. It’s hard because you can do nothing.”

In the meantime, Kholodniak has felt welcomed by her new community in Phoenix.

“They are all nice. I love them,” she said. “It is nice to be here and feel this support.”

And while she’s here, Sasha hopes to send a message about why she left Ukraine in the first place.

“It is not only for us, but for the whole world because it’s about democracy.”

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