From Luhansk to Las Cruces


Born in a small town in the Luhansk region of Starobelsk in Ukraine, Alla Sukhomlinova was surrounded by music.

“My parents were very fond of music and from childhood I attended a music school,” she said.

Alla went on with her violin to study at the College of Music in the city of Severodonetsk, graduated from the conservatory in the city of Donetsk, then went back to teach at the Severodonetsk College of Music for 12 years.

“There was grief in my life,” she said. “In 2015, my husband died and when I moved to the city of Odessa with my middle daughter and her family. I worked at a music school and taught children to play the violin.”

In 2019 she met American Donald Jackson, who had been “hanging around Las Cruces off and on since 1969,” in the city of Odessa, they enjoyed each other and were married, and then lived in Washington state for a while.

“Since my husband fell in love with Ukraine very much, we planned to live for several months in America and several months in Ukraine,” Alla said. “And so it was we came to Odessa for several months and then we flew to Ukraine for the last time on Feb. 3, 2022.”

A week later they learned all foreigners were to leave Ukraine and Donald returned to America. He also had a business issue to resolve. Alla stayed with her family because, she said, Ukrainians did not believe a war would start. She went to the city of Staroblsk with two of her adult daughters for her mother’s 80th birthday. Her daughter went to Kharkiv following the birthday.

“When on Feb. 24 we heard explosions at 4 in the morning we were very scared and did not know what to do,” Alla said. “My eldest daughter called me from Kharkiv and said the war had begun. Russia attacked Ukraine and there was a full-scale invasion.”

The family was in a panic. Alla’s mother refused to leave her home, but Alla went on to Kharkiv.

“I arrived in Kharkiv by train and on that day an air raid alert was announced,” she said. “Everyone had to go down to the underground parking and we had to spend nights and days there.”

After a harrowing journey to Poland where one of her daughters lives, Alla was able to make her way back to the U.S. to Donald and the couple settled in Las Cruces. She had to leave everything behind, only carrying a small bag including documents and some winter clothes.

Alla’s parents connected her with music, and the violin specifically, in her childhood.

“I often said it was difficult for me to learn it, but my mother insisted,” she said. “She told me it will come in handy. I don’t regret a bit. Now I enjoy playing the violin.”

Now that she has landed in Las Cruces, plays the viola with an orchestra in town. She also plays as a busker at the Downtown Farmer’s and Crafts Market, collecting money to send to Poland for refugees from Ukraine.

“I love small children very much,” she said.  “I give lessons, even in the square (plaza), I give the violin to small children, they try to play.”

“The violin is a natural extension of herself,” Donald said.

Alla is available for private functions as well. She can be reached at 253-264-7221 for inquiries about her services.

Since leaving Ukraine, Alla’s daughters and mother have all left the country for safer environments. Her mother had broken her hand and finally acquiesced to leaving. By then the trip had become more difficult and expensive as they had to move her through Latvia and then to Poland.

“My mother was also transported to Poland because it was so dangerous there in the Luhansk region,” Alla said.  “Two days after her departure there was an explosion near her house, breaking windows and all the glass flew on her bed. If she had stayed in her house, I don’t know if would have been dead or not.”

Connecting with friends and family in Ukraine, Poland and across the world, Alla has a YouTube channel with more than 1,100 followers where she share her life and adventures in Las Cruces. It can be found at Alla California. She speaks Russian, the language primarily used in her home region.

“You can find I speak Russian in Ukraine because I’m from the north in the Luhansk area,” she said. “Now we regret it because Russia thinks if people speak Russian, they think we are with them.”