Yulia Zdanovska was killed by Russian shelling of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on March 3, 2022. She was 21.
A gifted mathematician, Zdanovska combined the best of her parents: she was a talented computer scientist like her father, and an avid volunteer like her mother, who co-founded the humanitarian charity Station Kharkiv, which works to promote the inclusive, non-discriminatory access of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to aid in Ukraine. Station Kharkiv has provided charitable assistance to over 100,000 internal refugees.
Zdanovska's gift for mathematics was evident from the age of six. She began participating in Olympiads while at elementary school. At age 14, Yulia moved 300 miles to study at the Ukrainian Physics and Mathematics Lyceum of Kyiv University.
Her success in national Olympiads for Informatics, Mathematics and Physics culminated with Individual Silver and Team Gold medals at the European Girls' Mathematical Olympiad in 2017.
Her move to university was the short walk to the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv.
Oksana Bezushchak, the dean of the faculty at Taras Shevchenko National University, said Zdanskova "was not only extremely talented, but had a fantastic, life-affirming energy. In her first year, Yulia came to me as she wanted to run a math and programming club for 6th graders. This grew into an outstanding Olympiad project called Kvanta-programming.
"In her second year, Yulia was the only student who qualified to work at Samsung R&D Institute Ukraine."
In sum, said Bezushchak, Zdanovska "was our mathematical sunshine, our hope, but is our unspeakable pain now."
Zdanskova, who majored in Computer Mathematics, graduated last year with a bachelor's degree in Mathematics; her bachelor's thesis, according to Bezushchak, was on "Multi-Agent Reinforcement Learning."
Faculty members envisaged her progression to a professorial post at a top U.S. university, but she had her own educational ambition: to one day become Urkraine's Minister for Education, so she could ensure every child across that nation enjoys a high-quality education.
Her first step in that direction was to join Teach For Ukraine, where shared her enthusiasm for computer science with the children in a village school.
According to her colleagues at Teach For Ukraine, Zdanovska's participation instantly made a difference to staff and students. For example, when lessons switched to remote learning for a time because of the Covid-19 pandemic, she improved the system, then trained the other teachers on how to operate it, which made online teaching and learning more effective and more efficient.
Another of Zdanovska's notable qualities was her generosity. She gave her smartphone to a student so he could study at home, and bought headphones for her classroom.
Zdanovska was visiting her family in Kharkiv, less than 25 miles from the border with Russia, when the war literally hit home. True to her nature, she was helping others when her life was senselessly ended.
School resumed after spring break, but Zdanovska was not there. Disbelief has given way to a minute of silence, every morning at 9 a.m.
Her future will go unwritten.
Following are the final lines of a poem by Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, titled "My Testament":
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.
— (Translated by John Weir)
In loving memory of Yulia Zdanovska: May 4, 2000 – March 3, 2022.
Mark Nash is a friend of the Zdanovska family, a supporter of Station Kharkiv, a tutor/teacher, and a Web enthusiast.