Most college students who go abroad spend their junior year in Paris, London, Madrid or some another plush international capital.
However, 28-year-old Alexis Anttila, a biology student from Dallas who attends Columbia University in New York City, has traded the comfort of an Ivy League classroom for fighting on the front lines in Ukraine.
"I decided to first go to Ukraine when I saw 40 kilometers of tanks rolling toward Kyiv," Anttilas explained. "Something in me said, ‘I have to go.’ As an American, the one thing I value most are my freedoms, and the Ukrainian people are currently having their freedoms trampled on by the Russians. And I felt inspired to go do something."
That something turned out to be four tours of duty on the battlefield, including serving as a combat medic, helping load shells for Howitzers, and firing anti-tank weapons like Javelins and NLAWs. She was injured last year when her vehicle hit a land mine, and she helped save the life of a wounded Ukrainian colleague.
"We were about 10 to 15 kilometers behind enemy lines on a reconnaissance mission when our vehicle hit an anti-tank mine," she said. The passenger in the front passenger seat was severely injured and had to have his left leg amputated. "We were able to pull him out of the vehicle, get a tourniquet on him, and thankfully everyone else in the vehicle was okay, except for some minor injuries and minor shrapnel wounds."
The New York-based non-profit group Razom For Ukraine, which has been providing humanitarian and war relief to the besieged country, helped coordinate the surgery that saved the man's life. Razom says that part of its mission is "to advocate for a decisive Ukrainian victory, as this is a fundamental security interest for the U.S. and its allies."
"Razom has provided hundreds of tons of tactical medical kits, hospital supplies, medicines, and communication equipment," says the group, which notes that support for Ukraine remains very strong in Washington, D.C.
"Members on both sides of the aisle — Republican and Democrat — are deeply and demonstrably committed to Ukraine’s victory....Lone or fringe voices can be loud, but not necessarily convincing. American leaders of both political parties are undertaking great efforts to see that Ukraine is ultimately victorious," Razom noted on its website.
Anttila said that she is not scared when she is on a mission, and while her parents back in Texas worry about her, she said they understand her dedication to help the Ukrainian people defeat Vladimir Putin.
"Putin is scared. He's sitting in Moscow and shelling out orders, but he doesn't seem to understand, or at least he doesn't seem to care what it's actually like on the frontlines," Anttila said.
She has one message for Putin.
"Get out of Ukraine, stop trampling on people's freedoms, respect the sovereignty of the Ukrainian people, and just do the next right thing."
Anttila added she intends to return to Ukraine until Putin's forces are finally banished.