Women, toddler find refuge in county

 

April 7, 2023

Jana Peterson

These Ukrainian women are taking refuge from the war in Minnesota. Clockwise from top left, refugees Katia, Gloria, Anastasiia and Stefa pose with Galyna, a fellow Ukrainian and longtime Carlton resident who is their host, translator and friend.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine last year, her baby, Stefa, was beginning to talk, said Anastasiia, a Ukrainian woman now living in Carlton.

Then the air raid sirens started. Sometimes they would go off for seven hours in a row.

"She became numb and stopped talking," Stefa's mom said through translator Galyna Tuttle.

On this particular Saturday morning, however, the now

2 ½-year-old was running around upstairs at Common Ground Coffee Bar & Deli, taking advantage of the wide-open space. She stopped occasionally to listen or ask her mama a question, climb onto her lap, or scribble on a piece of scratch paper. The curly-haired toddler smiles more easily now.

"Fast forward, Stefa just started talking again," Tuttle said. "That was our Christmas miracle."

Tuttle, also a native of Ukraine, has lived in Carlton County with her husband, Andrew Tuttle, for nearly 17 years. She is rescuer, hostess and translator for Anastasiia and two other Ukrainian women who moved here last fall, fleeing the war in their homeland.

Together the Tuttles run 11th Hour Ministry, a nonprofit they started in 2018 to help support Ukrainian widows and orphans. Their mission has expanded since the war started, and now includes sending badly needed medical supplies to Ukraine, plus money to volunteers who - at considerable risk - buy food and deliver it to areas that are occupied or without adequate food.

That mission doesn't include bringing refugees to Carlton County. They did that privately, Galyna said. That means their home now holds double the people. Instead of four, there are eight: Galyna and Andrew, their two children - ages 12 and 14 - plus Anastasiia, Stefa, Katia and Gloria. (Editor's note: The Pine Knot is using only first names to avoid putting the women or their families in any danger back home now or in the future.)

Gloria is only 18 years old and was at university when the war started. She remembers waking up and seeing many missed calls on her cell phone. Then the college sent a text that all classes were canceled and there was a state of emergency.

"My parents were worried about me [in the city]," she said. "We found a friend who was going to the country, and could take me home."

But the whole city of Cherkasy was also in a panic. There were huge lines at stores and gas stations; they waited three hours for a limited amount of gas, she said. But there was less chance of being hit by a bomb in the country, and they would have well water to drink.

"We had lots of relatives come stay at our house," she said.

It was the same for Katia, whose parents live in the country and opened their home to family, including her cousin, Anastasiia. When Katia said there were 15 people at their two-bedroom home, her cousin corrected the number: It was 16, she said.

Katia said the invasion sparked both panic and disbelief. There were so many Ukrainian friends and family members living in Russia. Why would they do that?

"We called them, asked them to rise up and stop this madness," she said.

The first day bombs fell in the areas around the city, but not in Cherkasy, a city in central Ukraine that celebrated 725 years of existence in 2011.

Soon enough, planes carrying bombs were flying over, and the soundtracks of their days were punctuated by explosions. It was a good night if the sirens went off only two or three times, Katia said.

"At first we were terrified and would run for cover," she said, "seek shelter every time. Then it gets so tiring that you just think, 'If I die, I die.' People don't pay attention anymore.

"Then you start adjusting and if it's quiet for a long time, you wonder, 'Where is the sirens?' " she added.

She told how a missile hit the bridge in Cherkasy and made so much noise the entire building shook. She was in the shower.

"My first thought was 'I'm gonna be dead and they will find me naked in the rubble.' Not worries that I was going to get hurt," Galyna translated as Katia chuckled. "Just that I'm going to be naked."

Never-ending war

Both of Katia's parents are 11th Hour Ministry volunteers, buying and bringing food to people, even in Russian-

occupied territories. Every trip they make is a risk. She is proud of them, but she worries, too. It helps her to believe God is protecting them.

Her parents and other volunteers hear stories of incredible brutality by Russian soldiers and mercenaries: rape, torture, killing for pleasure. Russian missiles are now targeting civilian buildings more often, including hospitals and churches and infrastructure like power plants and water treatment plants.

"We were sitting with no water, heat or electricity for three days and that's when I realized I have to get out," Katia said. "Emotionally and mentally I started giving up."

It took a few months and lots of paperwork, but she came back with Galyna last fall. They had to travel at night on trains using no lights, windows sealed with duct tape to prevent glass shards if they were hit. They had to walk across the border to Poland, where Katia was amazed to see people walking and driving on the streets at night.

"It was martial law in Ukraine, so nobody was on the streets," explained Galyna.

Anastasiia came a little after. She and Stefa stayed in the village with Katia's parents until September, then went back to her home Vinnytsia.

"That's when I realized it's not ending," she said. "For the sake of the baby, I had to leave the country."

Safe in Minnesota

The effects of the war linger, even in Minnesota's quiet frigid winter.

Galyna described how an airplane flew over the yard not long after the three women arrived in Carlton, and all three started looking for somewhere to hide. She assured them that they don't have to fear airplanes here.

"I'm still afraid of loud noises and especially airplanes," said Katia.

When the women arrived, they brought only small bags, packed with the bare essentials. But people here have donated warm clothes, toys, even gift cards to all.

Katia used her Christmas gift card to buy supplies for Ukraine.

"Thanks to people we're not hungry, we have a roof over our heads," she said. "We don't need anything."

While doubling the size of their family has upset the routine of their lives, Galyna said she wouldn't have it any other way. However, she is looking forward to a time when her guests can drive here legally,

and achieve a little more

independence.

For now the Ukrainian visitors are spending their time learning English, helping with 11th Hour work when needed and trying to find some peace while their loved ones are still fighting a faraway war. They light up when they talk about a Ukrainian dinner held at Common Ground last month. It's obvious they weren't looking for a new life here. They'd rather go home to a country no longer under attack or occupation.

But the war is still present, even some 5,000 miles away. They are grateful for the support they have found here - and for the support the U.S. government has given Ukraine.

"We're grateful for help to Ukraine," Katia said. "I understand that people are tired of hearing about the war in Ukraine, but this war is not finished. There's still heavy battles. Ukraine didn't do anything - it was attacked."

In tears, the former software company manager talked about the difference between Russian soldiers and mercenaries, and the everyday people who are fighting for Ukraine. People like her cousin, who made a good living selling on the internet. Teachers, writers, musicians, actors, doctors.

"Regular people," she said. "These people had no idea how to fight before the war started."

 
 

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