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Billings women work together to bring Ukrainian family members to USA

Posted at 6:51 PM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-14 12:35:53-04

BILLINGS — One Billings woman is in the process of trying to evacuate her mother from war-ravaged Ukraine.

We introduced you to Yuliya Johnson, a woman whose family resides in Sumy, Ukraine. Johnson has been trying to evacuate her mother to Montana with the help of another Billings woman, Oksana Gamba.

“My mom said that like half of the city doesn’t exist anymore,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s family is from the city of Sumy in northeastern Ukraine. Russian troops have bombarded the city, destroying many of the buildings in the process.

Johnson’s mother, Marina Petrusenko, has been trying to evacuate the country with her dog since the invasion began. Johnson is hoping to bring the pair to Billings.

“Now my mom is still in Ukraine but she’s moving towards the border,” Johnson said.

Gamba is also from Ukraine and has family close to where Petrusenko is staying.

“My family, they are actually right now in the village next to the village where her mom is. And during evacuation, my mom broke her leg,” Gamba said.

Gamba’s mother, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew have to stay in Ukraine as her mother waits for surgery.

This hasn’t stopped Gamba from helping Petrusenko evacuate.

“I got connected to tons of groups and chats and different portals and what, everything you can imagine,” Gamba said.

She uses these connections to coordinate Ukrainians with volunteers and safe places to stay. She’s the one who coordinated Petrusenko’s departure from Sumy.

“The next step is hopefully tomorrow they will reach the border. That’s our hope, but the traffic is crazy,” Gamba said.

The problem is that Gamba and Johnson are still unsure of which border Petrusenko will have to travel to.

“We still don’t know to which country she’s exactly going, so until she doesn’t know, I don’t know,” Johnson said.

After they find the safest border for Petrusenko, Johnson will travel to see her mom and complete the paperwork to get her out of Ukraine and into Montana.

“She needs emotional support, she’s kind of lost. She doesn’t know another language, she needs somebody to help her with paper, help the dog with paper, and to bring her here,” Johnson said.

Johnson and Gamba hope they’ll be able to bring Petrusenko and her dog, Savva, to Montana by next week.

Johnson is eternally grateful to Gamba for not only helping her mother evacuate but for helping other Ukrainians as well.

“The things I read, it’s insane, you know, and if you can help somebody, it’s a crime not to help,” Gamba said.