Ukrainian brothers in Bemidji fear for family, homeland from afar
Oleksandr and Sergii Bogdanov, who now live in Bemidji, worry about their home country of Ukraine as it faces an invasion by Russia.
BEMIDJI — Brothers Oleksandr and Sergii Bodanov came to Bemidji in December, leaving behind their occupations as a teacher and a computer specialist to be closer to their mother.
Originally from the Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv located near the Black Sea, the brothers work at the Bemidji Woolen Mills alongside their mother, Natasha, who has lived in Minnesota for the past 20 years.
The move to America meant leaving other members of their family behind and now they all face uncertainty and worry following the invasion of Russian troops into the country in the early hours of Thursday, Feb. 24.
“My wife and daughter live in Mykolaiv,” Oleksandr said, who expressed his concern and said his family members are currently sheltering inside their home as Russian troops approach the city.
Russia has been threatening to invade Ukraine for months, amassing troops along the country’s borders. These actions stem from Ukraine’s growing ties to Western Europe and its desire to join NATO, something Russian leader Vladimir Putin views as a threat.
Rather than pursuing diplomatic solutions, Russia opted to deploy troops into Ukraine and began firing rockets into cities earlier this week.
This is not the first act of aggression Ukraine has seen from Russia. In 2014 the Russian government invaded the Crimean Peninsula in southern Ukraine and attempted to annex the region.
“We have had a war with Russia almost for eight years,” Oleksandr said. “Now they have a war with all cities and areas of Ukraine.”
Ukraine has called for all able citizens to take up arms and enlist to help fight off Russian forces, simplifying the process of joining the military in a desperate situation.
Oleksandr and Sergii fear that Putin’s ultimate goal with the invasion is to take control of Ukraine entirely.
“It’s a sick idea of Putin,” Sergii said, “now Russia wants to control all of Ukraine.”
Ukraine used to be a part of the Soviet Union, but following its dissolution gained independence in a referendum that passed with an overwhelming majority.
Russian troops have entered Ukraine from three sides: the north, east and south. Rocket attacks have been reported in the capital city of Kyiv and the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, around 60 miles from the capital, has also been taken over.
“My friend in Kyiv reported a radiation increase of 10 times,” Oleksandr said, with Sergii explaining that the disruption and fighting taking place in the exclusion area surrounding the nuclear power plant could put all of Europe at risk.
“It’s very dangerous,” Sergii said, “not just for Ukraine, but for all of Europe now.”
Meanwhile, the Bogdanov brothers’ hometown of Mykolaiv has also been targeted by Russian troops in their advance.
The brothers have been able to maintain contact with their family in Mykolaiv, and are thankful that so far they have been safe and are not in any drastic need of supplies or help.
Oleksandr described videos he had received from friends of dozens of Russian attack helicopters hovering and flying around the city. He also said that two of the city’s bridges had been laid with mines and fighting was taking place on another.
When he had shown these videos to an acquaintance of his in Moscow, he said this person had dismissed them, something he attributes to the strength of Russian propaganda.
“I send these photos and videos: helicopters, bombs, rockets,” Oleksandr said, “he said this is fake.”
There are a number of Russian citizens who are protesting the actions of their government despite facing crackdowns. Condemnations of the Russian government’s actions have also come from all over the world as sanctions and other diplomatic means have been instituted to discourage continued attacks.
“All the people in Ukraine ask of other countries is not to be indifferent,” Sergii said.