Lalita Ghukasyan moved to eight different countries in nine months before coming to the United States in early January 2023.

TOLEDO, Ohio — February 2022 shook the foundations of families across Ukraine. When Russia invaded the country, it sent people scrambling to survive. Lalita Hukasyan, a tennis player at the University of Toledoone of many who had no idea how much her life would change.

“I was walking around Odessa to do some of my paperwork and there was no siren and I just heard this sound, I looked up and (two rockets flew in the sky),” said Ghukasian. “It was a terrible situation. Talking about it now, I’m a bit nervous about it.’

As reality turned out, her family had to make the most difficult decision of their lives.

“My father just told me that I should leave my country to be safer,” said Ghukasian. “He was so worried about me. I was in Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, France, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, and then I moved to America.”

Her journey to nine different countries in nine months took place while she watched her country being torn apart from afar. She eventually arrived in the US in early January 2023.

“The tennis courts where I won the tournament last year … are gone,” said Ghukasian. “In many places in Kyiv, where I went with friends to hang out after tournaments, there is nothing. It’s so sad. The places where you grew up and had so many memories are now gone.”

At the age of just 19, Ghukasian was forced to make decisions that would change the rest of her life.

“I just had to do it because there’s no future now,” she said. “You can’t live freely there, so I had to move somewhere. I needed to move somewhere to create my future, to do something.”

She is now writing a new chapter in her life as a freshman for the Rockets.

“She couldn’t wait to start classes, that’s something we take for granted, but it’s a dream come true to go to college to play the sport you love and get an education,” UT tennis coach Tracy Mountler said. “She’s resilient and I think she really embraces and appreciates everything that comes with being a student-athlete here at Toledo.”

In Ukraine, it is still difficult for Ghukasyan to communicate with his parents. In her hometown of Odessa, there is still no electricity or hot water. Her parents have to go to the mall to make the call. But with each inning, she is one step closer to achieving her dream and creating a new life for herself in the US

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