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"I knew America only through the movies, but South Georgia isn't Hollywood and this isn't the life I thought it would be," explains Sasha, who comes across as thoughtful and self-assured.
When she first arrived, she didn't know enough English to talk to her stepchildren. Alone all day while Phil was at the auto shop, she spent hours on the phone talking to a network of other Russian girls who'd moved to the U.S., asking them how they coped.
"For the first year, I didn't know if I could make it," she says. She gradually became more aware of the gap in their ages, their cultural differences, their conflicting habits.
"If we didn't have such strong feelings for each other, it wouldn't have worked," she says.
Sasha says she realizes she was too naive when she got married; she wasn't prepared for the abrupt changes of moving from a city of 100,000, where she was surrounded by her family and childhood friends, to a town in rural Georgia where she could barely speak the language. Baxley has no decent library, she says, no movie theater, no shopping center.
"I now tell other girls, don't get married just to leave Ukraine, you'll be miserable," she says. "I think 90 percent of Ukrainian girls are unhappy over here -- they get married for the wrong reason. I know lots of girls who could barely last two years before they got divorced."
Couples counselor Kapphahn says he can often spot the marriages that have no chance.
"The determining factor seems to be how much time the two have spent together beforehand," he says. "I've known people who, with a week of meeting, had a wedding ceremony. Those are the ones who didn't make it."
The appeal of bringing home a pretty young thing is certainly universal, but not without its risks, Kapphahn points out.
"The bigger the gulf in ages, the harder to make it work, especially in these relationships," he says. "Pretty soon, she's getting attention from younger guys and thinking, 'Why am I with this old guy with the beer belly?'"
Other marriages fell apart because the husband wouldn't allow the wife to socialize with other Russians.
"It can make all the difference in the world for her to have that community support, but some American men view that as a threat," he says.
When Sasha gets homesick for things Russian, she and Phil load into the car with Lena, now nearly 7, and drive to a small Russian grocery store two hours away in northern Florida. There she can buy sausages, pickles and wine that remind her of home.
She also manages to visit her family about once a year. This spring, she returned to Sloviansk for six weeks, taking Lena to see her grandparents' home for the first time. She cherished her time there, but Sasha says she now feels like Baxley is home.
"I came to this small town, where there are no other Russians, so I had to become an American," she says.
Not surprising at all.. Most of America is a sprawling-strip mall dotted-suburbia speckled-freeway.
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