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Billings woman with Ukrainian family hopeful mother will evacuate to USA

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Posted at 5:58 PM, Mar 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-09 14:35:36-05

BILLINGS — As Russian military forces continue to wage war in Ukraine, a woman in Billings is trying to make sure her Ukrainian mother is evacuated safely.

"Nobody believed until the last moment that war would start and that it would be so cruel," Yuliya Johnson told MTN News on Tuesday.

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Billings resident Yuliya Johnson is hopeful her mother will be able to evacuate Ukraine to Romania and eventually make her way to the U.S.

Johnson, 35, moved to Montana from Ukraine five years ago, but her parents are still in Ukraine. Her mother, Marina, lives in Sumy, an eastern Ukrainian city located just 40 miles from the Russian border. Johnson said the city has seen heavy devastation.

"Russian side, they said we will not attack civilians, but that's actually what they do," she said. "They used all the weapons they could use and they not so much shoot army, they target civilians."

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Firefighters in Sumy, Ukraine work to put out a fire in a building started by Russian artillery.

Yuliya said her mother knows of seven adults and two children who died in Sumy in recent days from artillery barrages and Yuliya has already lost friends of her own in the war. Yuliya's mother thought she was going to be able to leave the city yesterday, but she heard bad information, because only a foreign student was allowed to leave.

"They just let the foreign student and just told everybody else to come back. She's very hopeful that they will let her out tomorrow, but she's also unhappy because people spread this kind of news. Then the Russians can say there's no civilians there, we let everybody out. She's very upset about that," Johnson said.

The left shows a location in Sumy, Ukraine before Russian invasion. The right is after invasion.

Yuliya's father, Ijor, is a retired Ukrainian army colonel who has special training in artillery tracking. Yuliya said her father stayed behind to help in the war effort.

Yuliya said she is hopeful her mother will be able to leave the city by tomorrow and eventually make her way to the Romanian border. It's a journey that normally takes 18-20 hours in peacetime, but the trip has been made tougher by a lack of fuel at Ukrainian gas stations and uncertain conditions of Ukrainian roads.

Yuliya plans to meet her mother in Romania and bring her back to the states.

"Because Polish border is now overflowed with people. She plans to go in the Romanian border and will to go Romania as well. I'm very grateful for my boss who said if you need to go, you go. No two weeks' notice. Nothing, you just go," Johnson said.

A Russian military vehicle sits with deflated tires in Sumy, Ukraine.

As the world continues to watch the turmoil unfold, Johnson said it is important to get news from multiple sources, because propaganda and misinformation are still present in various forms of media.

"Just try to see the whole picture. Other things like praying has helped. Pray for us. It's real important. I'm grateful that people here support a lot," Johnson said.

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