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Ukrainian woman adjusting to life in Billings after fleeing war

Posted at 6:10 PM, Apr 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-07 10:17:39-04

Billings resident Yuliya Johnson never thought she’d bring her mother, Marina Petrusenko, to live with her in Billings.

Petrusenko and her dog, Savva, traveled miles to flee her hometown of Sumy, Ukraine.

Though she’s safe in Billings, it doesn’t quite feel that way.

“She says I still feel like I live in two worlds, so in the morning when I wake up, I still don’t feel that I’m here in Billings and safe,” Johnson said Tuesday.

Johnson traveled to Slovakia, where thousands of Ukrainian refugees have fled, to get her mother in late March. They arrived back in the United States March 27, and Petrusenko has set up residence in Billings.

Petrusenko has been in the city for a little over a week now, and Johnson is beyond relieved.

“I even did not know if we would see each other again,” Johnson said.

For Johnson, having her mother close brings back childhood memories.

“I will see her and she always cooks something. She always meets me with soup or with some Ukrainian traditional dish,” Johnson said.

However, the war isn’t over for Petrusenko even if she is across the world.

“It’s painful, she said it’s painful. I’m crying every day,” Johnson said.

Petrusenko still hears devastating news from her homeland.

“Her classmate just died two days ago,” said Johnson.

Johnson’s father is still in Sumy. He’s helping the Ukrainian army transport captured Russian tanks.

“He says the situation in the city is a little better for now but nobody knows what it will be like in a few days 'cuz Russian troops are all around the border now,” Johnson said.

Petrusenko says she wouldn’t be in Billings if it wasn’t for her dog, Savva.

“My mom said that she could not go through this journey without him. He, at some point, helped her to survive,” said Johnson.

Now Johnson and Petrusenko spend their time enjoying everything Billings has to offer, like last week’s art walk.

“We went to many galleries and she said it’s amazing how much you guys do for art, for local art,” Johnson said.

The pair are hopeful that the war will end soon, so Petrusenko can go back home to rebuild.

“I just want this all to stop and then we will rebuild,” said Johnson.

However, the pair is beyond happy to have each other and to be in Billings.

“I like people a lot, they’re so friendly, they’re so nice,” Johnson said.

Listen to Johnson describe traveling to Slovakia to meet her mother:

Out of Ukraine: Billings woman recounts journey to unite with mother