Starting Over: Refugees Fleeing Afghanistan and Ukraine Find Hope in North Dakota

World events over the last two years have resulted in the displacement of millions of people, including refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine. Refugees leaving war zones in those countries are among the many looking for new homes. One place where they’re starting over is the state of North Dakota.

Escaping Afghanistan

August 2021: The United States suddenly pulled its remaining troops from Afghanistan, resulting in chaos plus the deaths of 13 American service members and around 170 Afghan civilians. It also strands U.S. allies in a hostile country ruled by the Taliban.

CBN News met one of those allies now living as a refugee in Fargo, North Dakota. For safety, “Abdul” wanted to remain anonymous. Serving as an interpreter for the U.S. military, his first attempts to evacuate Kabul came up short.

“I came back home, so the family told me, ‘Just stay home; don’t go outside ’cause the neighbors and the people in the area, they know where you’ve been working and who you’ve been working. And we don’t feel about yourself, like about your life and your security,’” “Abdul” shared.

Eventually, the U.S. military found a flight for him at another airport. Staying in Afghanistan could have cost him his life. 

“We’re hearing every day, like the Taliban, or the people who are running the government right now – they’re killing the Afghan forces whenever they find about them, like especially the commandos and Afghan Special Forces,” he explained. “So yeah, they could do the same thing with me, or even with my family.”

His family, unfortunately, did not make it out.

“Actually, it was too hard for me, even I couldn’t say them good-bye, or give them a hug, so it was pretty hard for me to leave those people who I loved them, or they loved me, like my family, and it was hard for me,” said “Abdul”.

Destination North Dakota

After spending a few weeks in the Middle East, “Abdul” ended up in the U.S., where he says North Dakota offered the best opportunity.

“It was super amazing for me when I come to the airport here – that was the wintertime; everywhere was snow – and those people from the community, they are pretty good people, and they told me like, ‘A best welcome to North Dakota, Fargo,’” he shared.

The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service helped make it possible.

“I remember the first Afghan family that arrived in 2021 – a husband who had already been here a period of time, welcomed his family, I believe, of five, and when he and his wife embraced after having been separated for a significant amount of time, it brought tears to my eyes and my colleague’s eyes,” Dan Hannaher, the North Dakota Field Director of LIRS, told CBN News.

“In fact, one of my staffers turned to me and nudged me and said, ‘This is why we do this work,’” he continued. 

Hannaher helped form the North Dakota office of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in March of 2021. Since that time, they’ve helped around 500 refugees.

While he has seen some resistance, he adds overall, the community is very welcoming.

“I’m very grateful for the outpouring of support and love from our community,” Hannaher shared. “There are always detractors; there are those who fear the unknown, or simply have a different thought process around how they feel about these issues.”

From Ukraine to the U.S.A.

Other refugees now calling North Dakota their home escaped Russia’s war on Ukraine. Sergii Listratenko, his wife, Nataliia, and their daughter, Kira, lived in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

“We saw burning tanks, burning cars, yeah,” Sergii told CBN News. “A lot of people died, but a lot of people, our military forces evacuated a lot of people.”

The family evacuated to western Ukraine and after six months, they decided Nataliia and Kira should head to the U.S. Sergii stayed behind to help in the war effort. At one point, he feared never seeing his wife and daughter again.

“When I moved back to Kharkiv, almost every day, Russians launched rockets,” he explained. “It continues every day for a half a year while I was in Kharkiv, but sure I thought that I could never see them.”

Seven months passed and Sergii decided to join his family in the U.S.  A friend recommended Fargo, and they settled there, preferring the colder climate much like Ukraine. Although he was overjoyed to see them again, leaving his homeland was bittersweet.

“You need to understand that I left my parents, my mom, my dad, my brother, and my nephews, and they’re still in Ukraine,” he shared.

Prayer for Those Left Behind

Government statistics show more than 400,000 Ukrainian refugees along with approximately 100,000 from Afghanistan have come to the United States since those major events in their countries. Both “Abdul” and Sergii request prayer for the many more left behind.

“So just I want to ask for the people to pray for the people of Afghanistan,” requested “Abdul”. “And also, I wanted the international community to force on the Taliban to reopen the schools and university, and let the girls and the females to go to and continue their education.”

“They shouldn’t pray for us because we are in safe place, so they should pray about our brave warriors that defending our, protecting our land,” Sergii shared.

And that safe place for these refugees now is North Dakota.  


     ‘I Prayed in the Name of Jesus, and He Answered’: Heroes Rescue 17,000 While ‘Saving Aziz’ in Afghanistan

     Offering Hope to Ukrainian Refugees


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