How Russia is killing Ukraine's future: the story of a computer science teacher who stayed in her hometown Kharkiv

How Russia is killing Ukraine's future: the story of a computer science teacher who stayed in her hometown Kharkiv

Meet Yuliia Zdanovska, a member of Teach for Ukraine. She is a young, talented math genius and computer science teacher. She is 21. Forever 21.

She was killed by a Russian missile in the first week of the war while volunteering in her native Kharkiv.

At the age of 14, she became a student at the Ukrainian Physics and Mathematics Lyceum (UPML), affiliated with Taras Shevchenko National University. Yuliia passed the independent external testing in mathematics with 200 points and won a silver medal at the European Mathematical Olympiad for girls. It was in 2017 when the Ukrainians took gold, beating the Russian team for the first time in history. 

The same year, she entered the Kyiv National University to study computer mathematics at the Kyiv National University.

Professor Bohdan Rublov, chairman of the All-Ukrainian  Olympiad in Mathematics, says: "I remember when she was 12th in the ranking at the All-Ukrainian Olympiad and was supposed to be selected for the International Olympiad, which is what everyone dreams of. She was given 7 points for one of the problems, and she came to the appeal and said that the jury had made a mistake in this problem; according to the criteria, she should have had 5 points. We corrected it, and she became 13th, falling short of where she dreamed of being. That's the kind of person who is in heaven now."

In her first year, Yuliia came up with a proposal to start a programming club for 6th-grade students, which grew into the Quanta Programming Olympiad project. 

She was the only student qualified to work at Samsung R&D Institute Ukraine in her second year.

Her professors predicted a great future for her, including a professorship at a leading US university. Still, Yuliia had her educational ambitions: she dreamed of becoming the Minister of Education of Ukraine to ensure every child received a quality education. Her first step in this direction was to participate in Teach for Ukraine, which sent her to teach in the Dnipro region.

Even in the short six months Yulia spent at the school, she left an impact, just as she did everywhere she went. For example, 15 pairs of headphones were found in her classroom after spring break. It turned out that Yulia had bought them with her own money so students could use them during class. In addition, she brought her old smartphone to a student who did not have a gadget so that he could study at home. 

The school has now installed a plaque in Yuliia's memory. Students cannot believe that this could have happened. They wish it were a mistake. Only after some of them suddenly run into the school and see her portrait with a candle do they realise that the computer teacher is gone. 

Her last words were: "I'm staying in Kharkiv until we win."

In memory of Yuliia Zdanovska, the Department of Mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has announced the organisation of the free educational project Yuliia's Dream for talented high school students (grades 9-11) from Ukraine.

The Bebras International Computer Science Competition winners in New Zealand have been awarded Yuliia Zdanovska Honorary Awards.

Professor Maryna Viazovska paid tribute to Yuliia Zdanovska in her speech at the Fields Medal Award Ceremony at the International Congress of Mathematicians, which took place on July 3-4, 2022.

The Kyiv City Council renamed Lomonosov Street, where the KNU Campus is partially located, to Yuliia Zdanovska Street.