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LETTER: Germans from Russia? Actually, Germans from Ukraine

GRAND FORKS — The March 18 Herald carried two stories that were of special interest. The first described North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven’s visit to Ukraine (“Hoeven: We need to punish Russia,” Page B3).

Unmentioned in the write-up was the fact that probably 40 percent of North Dakota’s present residents trace their ancestry to Ukraine. Many are actually of Ukrainian bloodlines, but most are what we call Germans from Russia.

In fact, they are Germans from Ukraine. It so happened that Russia had controlled Ukraine during the century that the Germans came as settlers. But the German colonies historically were in Ukraine, not Russia.

The second story was the column by George Will (“Buds of the socialist spring,” Page A4). In it, Will describes Stalin’s great genocide of Ukraine. To break the backs of the independent farmers and force collectivism, Stalin took the food supplies from Ukraine and sent nothing in return.

Some estimates say that 10 million died in a massive famine.

It is said that 60,000 of the German colonists died of starvation.

So, seen in this light, Hoeven’s trip to Ukraine was not just a sightseeing venture. He was visiting the homeland of the second largest ethnic group in North Dakota, the Germans from Russia’s Ukraine.

Also of importance in the present day is the fact that Vladimir Putin seems to want to absorb big portions of Ukraine into Russia. Russia’s Stalin killed millions. Modern Russia is perhaps different, but Russian nationalism still exists.

Ukrainians, for the most part, dislike Russia. When I visited what once were the German villages of southern Ukraine (studying the folk housing styles that were prototypes of Dakota farmhouses), I found this to be true. The Communists killed or deported all of the relatives of our Dakota Germans who didn’t get to the New World.

William Sherman

The Rev. Sherman is a former pastor of St. Michael’s Church in Grand Forks. He is the author of several books on North Dakota’s ethnic history, including Plain folks: A history of ethnic groups in North Dakota,” “Prairie mosaic: An ethnic atlas of North Dakota” and “African Americans in North Dakota.”