ASTON – Even as she savors her newfound freedom, Neumann University student Aleksandra Rasstrigina finds herself overwhelmed at times for family members and others left behind in Ukraine.
The junior nursing student and Russian native came to the United States in 2015 when she was 16 years old.
“The Russian laws are very strict and do not allow much freedom of thought,” the 24-year-old said of her 2015 journey. “So, I decided to move to the United States for a better life.”
It wasn’t her first time in America.
She first came as a 5 year old when her family visited the country. She decided to leave Russia 11 years later, even as tensions mounted.
“It was just a difficult situation between Russia and Ukraine with Crimea,” Rasstrigina said. At the time, she had grandparents, cousins and uncles living in Ukraine. “Most of them were able to move away before the war even started.”
However, even as she came alone to the United States to stay with her aunt and uncle in New Jersey, her mom, three of her sisters and her dad remained in Russia. Her fourth sister had moved to America previously.
In 2019, her mom and three sisters living in Russia moved to the United States to New Jersey and Philadelphia.
“I see them all the time,” she said.
Her dad, Rasstrigina explained, lives in Moscow with his new family.
The student is quick to share that she came to the United States legally and had a green card. And, on Oct. 6, she became a United States citizen.
She said there were many reasons she did so.
“I definitely knew I was going to live in the United States for a long time,” Rasstrigina said.
Plus, noting the number of countries with entry prohibitions, she added, “I can’t go anywhere with my Russian passport.”
Most of all, Rasstrigina said, legitimacy was important.
“I wanted that opportunity to live here fully,” she said. “During the Trump era, it was a very scary time (as they spoke about) lowering the amount of people to come here. Even though I
came in here legally, it was scary and (becoming a citizen) gave me stability. I feel safer here than if I were to be in Russia.”
However, she said she still worries about those left behind.
While most of her family has moved to Russia or the United States since 2015, Rasstrigina said she does have some cousins in Ukraine.
“What’s going on, you can’t do anything to stop it,” she said, adding that the concern creates a lot of pressure for her. “It can get in the way of things for me. It’s overwhelming.”
Something that brings Rasstrigina joy is her time at Neumann University.
“I like the vibe,” she said enthusiastically. “I really like it. I enjoy it. The big auditorium, it feels very university-like.”
The nursing student is a junior and plans to graduate in May 2024.
Her medical career interest runs in the family as her dad is a doctor.
“I’m really interested in human anatomy and how the body works,” Rasstrigina said.
Then, when she started doing clinicals, she learned something else.
“I really like to help,” she said.
That’s even evident in the job she has outside of her collegiate studies, where she serves as a health aide for a woman with Parkinson’s disease.
Her dream is to become a psychiatric nurse, working with kids.
“I am very passionate about mental health,” Rasstrigina said. “You can really really treat a problem and possibly fix and improve someone’s life forever.”
She said youth needing psychiatric care come from difficult environments and situations and need coping mechanisms and people to teach them how to survive and thrive.
Rasstrigina said their care “will benefit them in the long run.”
She also shared how everyone can make a difference wherever they are.
“I think people should be aware of what’s going on in the world, and not just Ukraine,” she said, noting places like strife-torn Yemen. “I think people should care about our world. They should donate to the civilians. Even though we can’t stop war, that could change many, many lives.”