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Former Montana student living in middle of Ukraine crisis

Yuliya Zhydetska
Posted at 10:50 AM, Mar 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-01 15:05:24-05

BILLINGS — The crisis in Ukraine is all too real for one former Huntley Project student currently living in the middle of a war.

"We’re watching TV 24/7," Yuliya Zhydetska said. "We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. We don’t know what’s happening now."

Zhydetska and her parents don’t leave their home in downtown Ivano-Frankivsk, even though they’re in the safer western part of the country.

"Every evening we get air threats," she said. "They don’t know where the rockets are going to drop, so they have to notify everyone."

The family considered fleeing the country, but it’s too late now.

"There are kilometers of cars sitting at the border, hundreds of people running out of gas, running out of food," she said. "Our friend has been waiting there for three days."

Yuliya Zhydetska is back in her hometown of Ivano-Frankivsk on the western side of Ukraine.

So instead, Yuli has decided to help in any way she can, starting with the thousands coming through her city.

"People are sleeping in schools, so we’re helping with stuff for them like clothes and food."

"There are young children in cars, so she and her mom are making soup and taking it down," said Stephanie Berg-Tossoun, Yuli's exchange coordinator during her time at Huntley Project.

Yuli has also been active on social media, directing people to fundraisers and pro-Ukrainian causes. It’s behavior Berg-Tossoun saw back in 2014.

"She was so involved with concessions," Berg-Tossoun said. "She wanted to get her presidential volunteer hours in. She was very engaged."

"I loved it," Zhydetska said of her time at Huntley Project. "It was like watching the movies and then living in those movies, so I loved school. And I loved the fact that it was a small school and I knew everybody, and everybody knew me."

Yuli came to Huntley Project through the FLEX program - Future Leader EXchange.

"It's the intention that these kids will go home and be great leaders and set good examples for children in their countries," Berg-Tossoun said. "She is a very good representation of what a FLEX alumnus should be."

Stephanie Berg-Tossoun classroom
A Ukrainian flag sits among Stephanie Berg-Tossoun's Spanish class treasures inside her Huntley Project classroom.

The relationships Yuli made here, especially with Stephanie who she talks to every day, have been a huge help during the most difficult time in her life.

"The support is amazing, especially right now," Zhydetska said.

"We have a former FLEX alumnus in Romania, and if things progress and get worse in Ukraine, that’s where (Yuli's) family plans to go," Berg-Tossoun said. "We've already got her connected with somebody there. It's wonderful to see the humanitarian side that comes out of this."

Montana can always make it seem like a small world.