SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – On February 24, Oleksandra Yakovlyeva and her family’s lives changed forever with a Russian attack.

“We were sleeping, and we woke up to the sounds of explosions at 4 a.m.,” Oleksandra recounted, as she sat on the lawn of her host family’s home in Suffolk.  

Oleksandra’s Ukrainian home in Sumy was just two hours from the Russian border. “I looked out the window and saw the tracers and smoke in the sky. I felt the burning air and the burnt air and the smell. We understood we had to run away, so we gathered the kids. Anna was crying and Vova was in panic. He was like ‘take me away from here.’” 

They drove to the Hungarian border, and said goodbye to her husband and the children’s father, Yaroslav. 

With the help of Hungarian volunteers, the three found their way to Budapest International Airport and then to America. 

Oleksandra now watches the evil destruction of her homeland from a distance. “Oh my; it is extremely devastating. Some Ukrainian people feel hate, and I can understand them. I feel anger. How can you attack a country and destroy so many lives? It is true, I get emotional about it still. Yes, it’s still hard for me to talk.  I do my best not to cry, but every day we read news about, how it is going on back in Ukraine.” 

Men are not allowed to leave the country due to the war effort.

As the men fight the Russian Army, a resolve from Ukrainian women. “We try to build a new life here. Women feel a heavy responsibility for our children because we have to give them a future,” Oleksandra said.

As for the aggressor, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Oleksandra said, “What do I think of him? You can definitely compare him to Hitler, I am sorry to say.” 

Oleksandra’s connection to Suffolk was she was a foreign exchange student in high school and graduated from Nansemond River High School, so it made sense to return to what she knew.  

Now living with a host family here in Suffolk, her children, 6-year-old Anna and 13-year-old Vova, are never far away. 

“I am saddened. I understand it is going to be a long time. It is so sad,” said Vova. 

It has not been an easy transition. “Vova has problems with sleep now, and the main worry is where is their father,” said Oleksandra, adding, “I am hoping this war turns the world for the better. I think the world is turning against Putin and against his tyranny.” 

Memories of Ukraine are never far from the end of Oleksandra’s fingers, which are painted with yellow and blue fingernail polish.

“I will do my best to provide for them a good future for them because we lost so much. I probably will never have my life again, but I want them to have their future,” she said, with tears in her eyes. 

A fundraiser is being held Friday night at the Cape Henry Racquet Club in Virginia Beach. Money raised during the tennis exhibition will be used to buy supplies to be sent to Ukrainian families.