Mar. 8—DICKINSON — In a packed room filled with ranchers, politicians, teachers, alike, all stood in allegiance on Monday evening at Dickinson State University with the country of Ukraine, who continues to fight for freedom against Russian forces.
About 275 people showed their support for Ukraine at the Biesiot Activities Center, some wearing a blue and yellow flag wrapped around them and others sporting their own styles of Ukrainian colors with scarfs, color-coded outfits and even a dyed mohawk. The rally for Ukraine in Dickinson continues to rack in the monetary funds for humanitarian efforts, and is currently at $37,000 as of Tuesday morning.
Over the past week, several community members, including
and Emil Anheluk, with the support of local Ukrainian churches raised local awareness to the Russo-Ukrainian War and how people in southwestern North Dakota can play a role in that cause.
"... A full house is always welcome... North Dakota never ceases to amaze me when it comes to helping their neighbors,"
said, who served as the rally's emcee. "You see it in our communities a lot and now, what they're doing for the country of Ukraine. The outpouring of support from all over North Dakota — places that you wouldn't even think (of) — it's amazing. I think that we're just so thankful for every dollar donated and we're going to make sure that it goes to good places and helping the people on the ground."
In his address to a packed room, Mayor Scott Decker remarked how proud he is of the Dickinson community and surrounding areas for getting this event organized in such a prompt manner.
"... We are connected. Us, Deckers, are from the Ukraine. We're right from north Landau, right north of Odessa. That's where my great grandfather came from... We have that tight knit community, and it is something to be very proud of. Like I said, we have to pray for the Ukrainans that they harden their resolve to continue this fight," Decker said. "War is not easy, but they need our support. They need our prayers to make it through this to fight this tyrant."
Among other politicians in the audience, North Dakota Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner compared the Russo-Ukrainian War as a David and Goliath situation, but believes David will win again.
"... Putin rules with fear. Zelenskyy rules by example," Wardner said. "... He's out there as a warrior. He's on the frontlines. He's with his men. He's rubbing elbows with them. He's encouraging them. It gives me goosebumps when I think about what this man is doing."
Foreign exchange student Sophia Tretiak, from Lviv, Ukraine, recounted that 12 days ago, she had the worst feeling she had ever experienced — calling her parents in the middle of the night from Terry, Montana, after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared war.
"... The first days were awful. I was just sitting on the same place and checking the news all the time. I was scared to go to sleep because I felt if I go to sleep, then during the night something will happen and the whole Ukraine will disappear," she said. "But then, my mood has changed completely because I saw Ukrainians. I saw my nation... A lot of dark days are ahead. A lot of people have already died and a lot of them will be killed. They are shooting in our orphanages, ... houses, schools, universities and it will be very hard for us to rebuild our beautiful, big cities after this war. But I believe that we will be able to do it because we, Ukrainians, have been fighting for our freedom since the beginning of our history... We always were a temptation for our enemies."
Ukrainian exchange student Zlata Godunova, 17, who attends school in Glendive, Montana, noted in an interview with The Dickinson Press how the reality of the situation has drastically changed in just a matter of weeks. Before, Godunova would call her mother twice a week; now, it's twice a day. She spoke more on the impact the war is having on her family during the rally.
"My great grandmother (who's still) alive now and 97, she was a teenager when World War II started. She always told me, 'I'm so happy you will never see the war and you will never understand what I felt.' And now, I have no idea what in her mind how she's feeling because everything that was in her backstory, it's happening again," Godunova said.
Though the room was filled with Ukrainian descendants and immigrants, several supporters from Dickinson and surrounding areas who may not have direct ties to Ukraine, such as Connie Connolly, showed up because the fight for freedom is paramount.
"It's very sad that their country's getting bad, but they are standing up and fighting very hard to save their country, which I'm very proud of them," Connolly said, noting that her mother was born in Odessa. "... People have to get out and support them. It's a small country and they need every penny that we can give to them."
Also showing her support for Ukraine was 16-year-old Ana, a foreign exchange student from Georgia and attends school in Terry, Montana.
"My country has experienced Russian aggression and I understand Ukrainian people. We all know what they are going through," Ana said, whose last name has been withheld for the safety of her family in Georgia.
Despite what is happening in Ukraine, the spirit of Ukrainian people lives on in western North Dakota and eastern Montana. In one of the final moments of the rally, Tretiak wanted to dedicate a Ukrainian dance to the crowd. Despite being able to play American sports such as basketball and volleyball, nothing can replace the feeling of dancing with her Ukrainian brothers and sisters, she said as the crowd chuckled and embraced her with a cheerful response following her performance.
The event also featured guest talks from Bill Palanuk to Vice-consul, Consulate General of Ukraine in Chicago Yevgeniy Drobot. Four Corners Cafe & Catering, of Fairfield, provided attendees with a light meal, featuring Ukrainian entrees.
Donated by a local rancher, a replacement heifer will be auctioned off at 11 a.m. Thursday at Stockmen's Livestock Exchange in Dickinson, with the money going to help support Ukrainians.
"... This is step one in a marathon," Anheluk said. "This is not a sprint, this is a marathon. We're going to keep fundraising for as long as we need to help people in Ukraine. But this is that opening salvo; we got to get this cash into their hands."