A Look at the Conflict in Ukraine from North Dakota

July 21, 2022 By Zane Francescato

As the war in Ukraine continues to rage, Americans are starting to see and feel the impacts of the conflict in their daily lives. With ports along the Black Sea at a standstill and almost 300 ships being kept from carrying grain exports, the strain on global food insecurity has been added to a growing list of now state and local concerns. In fact, the Heartland State of North Dakota shares deep roots with Ukraine and is facing a multitude of issues stemming from the Russian invasion of the country.

Partnerships Rooted in History

North Dakota and Ukraine share a rich history. Between 1896 and 1899, at least 10,000 Ukrainians settled in western North Dakota. Centuries ago, when the Russian government invited German farmers to what is now primarily Ukraine, native farmers to the region were kicked out, resettling in America across the upper Midwest and North Dakota – greatly benefiting American agriculture.

With the collapse of the U.S.S.R in 1991, North Dakota businesses seized on the opportunity to engage former Soviet Bloc countries. With new markets opened, many North Dakota companies began developing relationships to assist businesses and farmers in former Soviet Bloc countries modernizing their means of production. One such company, Amity Technology in Fargo, has sold thousands of pieces of farm machinery to companies in both Russia and Ukraine – with the company’s cofounder and CEO, Howard Dahl, having visited Ukraine 93 times since 1992.

In the decades since the fall of the iron curtain, North Dakota companies have maintained their relationships with Ukraine, in some cases becoming a significant portion of their business. When asked about the partnerships between the North Dakota business community and Ukrainian businesses, Executive Director of the North Dakota Trade Office Drew Combs said that his state “has been blessed with hardworking, entrepreneurial-type folks that came to help these Soviet Bloc countries modernize and saw opportunities that led to other endeavors, strengthening those bonds of friendship and cooperation.”

Are They Going to be Farming or Fighting?

The current situation in Ukraine has nearly halted all exchanges and relationships cultivated over the past thirty years. Due to ongoing issues in the supply chain, North Dakota companies have had a hard time finding replacement equipment or spare parts for materials for customers in Ukraine. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that sending materials into an active warzone is extremely complicated.

“I think the most heart-wrenching dilemma is that many of our companies have employees and contractors that are directly impacted by the situation,” said Combs, when asked about the ongoing crisis. One such company is west Fargo-based Titan Machinery, which is among the largest American dealers of agricultural and construction equipment in the world. The company owns and operates a network of over 70 full-service agriculture and construction equipment stores across eight states and four European countries – including 16 locations in central and western Ukraine.

Agriculture of course is another concern for the state. Early reports indicate that less than half of the Ukrainian wheat harvest is likely to be exported this year, leading to further strain on the supply chain and compounding global food insecurity. With at least 30% of Ukraine’s farmland being occupied or unsafe, shelled, or mined, it begs the question: Will Ukrainian farmers be farming, or fighting come harvest time?

Why It Matters

Communities in North Dakota across the nation are paying attention to the global food crisis as our world has never been more connected to the stories and impacts of war-torn communities abroad. America’s leadership during these times of unprecedented and growing global threats is not only being evaluated by our allies and adversaries abroad – but by Americans here at home.

It is crucial that our leaders continue to show a strong response to the growing humanitarian crisis coming from Ukraine by strengthening the role of development and diplomacy, thereby advancing the security and economic interests of American families.