Anna Korsunskaya was born and grew up in the city of Zaporozhye, in southeastern Ukraine. There is heavy fighting and shelling in the surrounding areas and the Russian army gets closer to the city every day.
Anna’s parents tried to make aliyah when she was three years old, but it didn’t materialize. Her mother was born in an autonomous region of the former Soviet Union and she did not have a birth certificate; a critical document.
Although she knew that she was Jewish and attended a Jewish school, Anna says that the family did not really celebrate Jewish holidays or rituals. She can trace her Jewish spark to her paternal great grandparents. They were very Orthodox, but impressed upon her grandfather the importance of not flouting his Jewishness.
Anna’s grandfather was a role model for her. He was a highly respected aeronautical engineer and Anna dreamed of walking in his footsteps and becoming an engineer.
When she was 14, life threw her a huge curve ball. Her father told her that he wanted her to go to Israel, to complete high school, to become a citizen and to get a college education. Anna, who had attended a Jewish summer camp in addition to school and felt a connection to Israel, was shocked that her father was so adamant about her leaving.
“He wanted me to have a better life and better opportunities for the future,” says Anna. “He told me that without money or connections, I could be the smartest, most talented young women in the Ukraine, but I would not be able to go very far.”
Anna was hesitant, but joined a program, Na’aleh, that brings teens, many from the former Soviet Union, to Israel before their parents. She attended high school in Nahalal, a moshav in the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel.
She excelled in school and was fortunate to meet some wonderful friends, who she is still in touch with. She went to the home of one friend for Shabbat and the family adopted her. To this day she spends all the holidays with them.
“I love the warmth and the acceptance of Israelis,” says Anna. “They made me feel right at home.”
But Anna missed her parents terribly and was upset that they were not able to visit her in Israel.
“No matter how many friends you have, there is nothing that can replace the feeling of love and belonging that you get from your parents. I did not have the luxury of coming home after a long day in the army, or from college, and just letting go and knowing that someone would be there for me,” she says.
Anna went on to serve in a logistical support unit for combat soldiers. “I was responsible for the preparation and distribution of the critical supplies soldiers need for training and combat.”
Before COVID-19 changed the world, Anna had been living in Israel for seven years without her parents.
SHE RETURNED to see them once a year but was unable to go during the pandemic. This caused her great pain, as tragedy struck and her mother passed away. Anna was heartbroken.
She pleaded with her father to visit her when the skies opened. When rumors of war began, she again begged him to come. He did not believe there would actually be a war and told Anna that if there was one it would be over in a few weeks.
“My father wanted to send me money for my birthday, but I told him to use this money to buy a ticket to Israel. Two days later, war broke out and my father could not leave. He is 49 and still eligible to be recruited to the army,” says Anna. “Every able-bodied male from 18-60 is on standby to help fight for Ukraine’s independence.”
Anna is now a sophomore at ORT Braude College of Engineering. She is majoring in mechanical engineering. Alongside her intensive studies, she is worried sick about her father.
“The Russian army is getting closer and a rocket fell very close to where he lives. I am exhausted from listening to the news and from the stress,” she says. The nuclear plant located in Zaporozhye, Europe’s largest, was set on fire in early March; a terrifying scenario.
Anna also has an older brother who remains with his family in Ukraine, an aunt and cousin who are refugees in Switzerland and another aunt and her daughter who are refugees in the Czech Republic.
In addition to her studies, Anna finds time to volunteer, within the framework of the Atidim Takeoff program which gives her comprehensive financial, academic and social support that enables her to go to college. She works with lone soldiers and helps them get over the hurdles of being on their own in a new country.
“Some of these soldiers are true heroes,” says Anna. “I came to Israel on a program and had support. There are soldiers I work with who simply came alone and I have the utmost admiration for them. They deserve all of the help that we can give them.”
Anna also deserves assistance, but she has proven that she is strong and resilient. She recently gave up waitressing at night to begin a student job in her field at MicroKim which designs and manufactures advanced products for defense and commercial industries. She thanks the supporters of Atidim for being there for her and giving her a priceless gift.
Anna prays that her father will join her in Israel when the war is over. “This is our home,” she says unequivocally.
She dreams of completing her degree, working as an engineer, contributing to her country, having her father walk her to the chuppah at her wedding and raising a family in Israel.■
Anna Korsunskaya, 23From Zaporozhye, Ukraine to the Jezreel Valley, 2013