Yuliya had what most people would think of as an atypical childhood. Born in Kharkiv, Ukraine, she spent the first eight years of her life as a citizen of the Soviet Union. There she learned patriotic songs and dances in classrooms filled with portraits of Lenin, and pined for the day she could join the pioneers club, wear a red scarf, and help the elderly cross the street.
She grew up in a single parent home, and learned to take on responsibility at a young age. Her mother worked long hours to make ends meet, and by the time Yuliya was seven she was cooking, cleaning their apartment, and washing her own clothes by hand.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, life was very hard for them, and it was only by the slimmest of margins that they didn't sink into destitution. This experience gave Yuliya an unbeatable work ethic, and made her something of a packrat. For the first few years of our marriage, every food item on sale needed to be bought and stockpiled. It might never go on sale or ever be available again, ever. She's gotten better since then.
One conversation with her mother stands out clearly in her mind, which has motivated her in everything she does since then. She said "We have no money to get you an education or bribe teachers for you, if you don't get straight A's, you have no chance in life." In the context of their conversation, this was literally true. It was also commonly accepted for students to purchase grades following perestroika, because there was no money to pay police officers or doctors, never mind professors.
After finishing high school, Yuliya went to college and gained a diploma in accounting, traditionally a woman's job in Ukraine.
In terms of her social life and relationships with peers, her narrative would bear a strong resemblance to "The Ugly Duckling". Social standards for beauty are very exacting in Ukraine, and they don't allow for girls who grow too quickly, develop breasts too early, participate in sports, or really develop any kind of muscle tone or definition. Women are to be petite waifs. This, coupled with the commonly accepted chauvinism lead her to conclude that marrying a Ukrainian would be a mistake.
After that she worked as a translator for NGOs and missionaries who came to Ukraine. In the course of that experience, she gained sponsorship to come to Canada for a university education. She jumped at the chance, arriving in Manitoba mid-January, and started classes the day after she arrived. The campus was in a small, isolated village. Her pragmatic self got a BA in Business Administration, and her introspective self got a BA in Social Sciences (Sociology/Psychology). For personal enjoyment she took up piano and voice, and did a minor in music. After a year in piano she was playing Grade 8 pieces, and for her voice recital sang the same song that her teacher did for his master's recital. I am bragging a little about her at this point, but she is somewhat of a prodigy. It is daunting for me that she is currently ace-ing MA level courses for which she does little studying beyond preparation for her exams two weeks prior.