Alexander Hranchenko, 36, escaped from the horrors of war last October as he made his way from his village in the Kherson region of the Ukraine to Wheeling, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago.
"I wanted to stay and fight. However, my life was not fully my own as I needed to save my family," he said. Alex did so by getting his parents and sister's family and dog to Slovakia. "I found a house for my family and then decided, with my family safe from the war, I could go to America," he explained.
Alex had already found shelter for his wife and 13-year-old daughter, Victoria, with friends in Poland the previous spring. He had been in touch with a friend and a friend of a friend to get sponsorship through "United for Ukraine," an American government program. His friend lived in Wheeling and that's where Alex came.
In Ukraine, Alex had built a delivery service. He became the customer services representative for a bakery as well as the "right hand" of the owner. As Alex had been driving since he was 18 (the legal age in the Ukraine), he became a taxi driver in Chicago.
He is waiting for his temporary license to become finalized so that he can become licensed for over-the-road driving. "The training is relatively short and it allows me to earn a better income which I can use to support my family's needs, "Alex said.
The beginnings of the war are vivid in Alex's mind.
"On Feb. 23, the war started at 4 a.m. By 8 a.m., Russian soldiers occupied my village. We didn't have time to make any weapons to defend ourselves. As guns are not permitted in Ukraine as they are in America, there was little to be done.
"At 5 a.m. that morning, a friend called who lived 5 miles from Crimea where Russian troops had been stationed since 2014. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to go and save them. Then I thought about the active hostilities that were happening and thought it best to stay at home. I did the right thing. When things calmed down, I saw lots of civilian cars with dead people in them. They had been shot by Russian soldiers during the offensive movements."
Today, Alex knows that Russian soldiers are living in his family's houses. Still he is grateful his parents are ok. They both have jobs working with the elderly.
He also has come to realize that even as a youngster he liked America. "I liked the culture...the music, the films, YouTube, Facebook, and American-style football." Alex was a team member of an American-style football team that traveled in Ukraine until 2017.
"The war pushed me here," he concluded. "And I do love America," he said.