North Dakotans with ties to Ukraine reflect on the war one year later

Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 10:01 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Even though Ukraine is thousands of miles away, the effects of the war are still being felt deeply by some North Dakotans.

Here at Little Odessa, an Eastern European and Ukrainian Market in Bismarck, food connects people and helps others find unity during the war.

“It’s been a very hard year for us because this was the place to reconnect. You know, we are living this over and over again because every single day I have friends here that I need to ask, ‘Is your family alive?’ And that’s a hard question to ask,” said Mirabela Punga, co-owner of Little Odessa.

Just east of Dickinson in Richardton, Sasha Tisbur Mayer stays in touch with her friends and family still in Ukraine. Her relatives in the war-torn country eat by candlelight because the electricity is out, and Sasha’s cousin puts her baby to sleep in the hallway most nights because of rocket attacks.

“Not being able to predict anything. We don’t know what is going to happen, how it’s going to and we’re hoping and praying for victory. Some days it’s easier to hope than others,” said Tisbur Mayer.

She says the talk of war had been brewing for a while and they knew it would happen eventually, but they were hoping the fighting would end quickly.

“President’s visit has been a very uplifting event. I had messages when I woke up on that morning, I’ve had messages from my friend saying, ‘Have you seen this? Have you seen this? This is wonderful.’ My friend said that she didn’t expect that she would have as strong of a reaction as she did, but it was just a very encouraging thing,” said Tisbur-Mayer

Some customers who frequent Little Odessa bring stories of the homes they had to flee from.

“I know a few stories where the people run with just a backpack, when they come to the store we talked about it and they were telling me the story of how they saw the tanks coming into town,” said Punga.

As of February 12, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reports there have been 7,199 civilian deaths since the war began.

Little Odessa has a donation jar to collect money for relief efforts and sells Tisbur-Mayor’s decorated eggs. Those proceeds are also used to help fund humanitarian aid.