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'Still going on': Billings family urges community to think of Ukraine amid war

Posted at 5:55 PM, Jan 28, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-29 12:25:26-05

BILLINGS — It's been more than 700 days since Russia's attack on Ukraine set off a full-scale war. Here in Billings, it's been nearly a year since Yuliya Johnson was able to bring her mother Marina Petrusenko from Ukraine.

With the majority of the nation's media covering the Israel-Hamas war, the mother-daughter duo is hoping to remind the community of Ukraine's ongoing plight.

The pair's peaceful dwelling in central Billings is a stark contrast to their hometown of Sumy,, almost 6,000 miles away.

“I have a lot of relatives from my dad’s side who live around Sumy. They report all the time, some people, they just continue to be in bomb shelters and they continue to be in basements,” Johnson said.

Yuliya Johnson

Petrusenko escaped scenes like this nearly one year ago, knowing her own nephews were fighting for their freedom.

“She prays about her nephews all the time. She feels that praying protects them. But in the same time, she hopes this war will be over pretty soon,” translated Johnson for Petrusenko.

Though Ukraine has lost most of the world's attention, Ukrainians like Johnson and Petrusenko are still suffering.

“We have memorial for him in our house ‘cuz it’s Ukrainian tradition,” Johnson said.

Johnson had just started the paperwork to bring her dad Ijor to Billings last fall.


“He was ready, I think. He helped with [the] army, he did his part. But he realized he wants to see his family as well,” said Johnson.

Unfortunately, Ijor would never arrive, passing from a stroke just before reuniting with his family.

“His papers were almost ready. We just waited till he turned 60, it was like two months before he turned 60. It was so close,” Johnson said.

“He very [much] wanted to come here but she understands it’s life. God has his own plan. It’s hard to accept but she tries every day just to keep him in her memories,” translated Johnson for Petrusenko.

Marina Petrusenko

The pair hope to see the end of the bloodshed, for their own country and others.

“She understands now, a lot of plight on the Israel-Palestine War in conflict, but she just wants people to remember how hard in Ukraine it is, and remind senators and presidents that it’s still going on,” translated Johnson for Petrusenko.

“Sometimes, my friends ask me, is the war over? I’m like, no, I know it’s not in the media. In our world, if something’s not in the media, it kind of doesn’t happen. But just remember, it’s going on. It’s still going on. My wish is that it will be over as soon as possible. I strongly believe that we need to, and I know a lot of people oppose it, but we need negotiation. Yes, we need to have our territory, but we need to have this war over,” said Johnson.