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Inside a gym-turned-medical supply room at the Ukrainian American Community Center in Minneapolis, stacked high with bags of tourniquets and wound treatment kits, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States urged Americans not to forget about her country's struggle.

Ambassador Oksana Markarova's visit Thursday to Minnesota was the first of a 10-state tour, primarily of the Midwest, to encourage community dialogue about the war and bolster support for Ukraine. Called Whistlestops for Ukraine, the tour is hosted by the think tank German Marshall Fund of the United States and the philanthropic Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

"We can win this one. It is very difficult ... we are fighting this fight every day, there are a barrage of missiles and drones on peaceful cities every day," Markarova told the crowd of about 50 people, including several injured Ukrainian soldiers. "But we will stay the course. We need you, our friends, to stay the course with us."

The war in Ukraine broke out in February 2022 when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine that has left tens of thousands of civilians dead and millions of people displaced.

The war hasn't let up. In recent days, Russian missiles struck apartment buildings in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region, local officials said Thursday, killing at least two people and burying families under rubble as the Kremlin's forces continued to pound the fiercely contested area with long-range weapons.

Since the war began, the Ukrainian-American community in northeast Minneapolis and beyond has stepped up to support the war-torn country by collecting money to buy medical equipment to be sent to the battlefield and by welcoming refugees in need of assistance. Minnesota is home to some 16,000 people of Ukrainian descent, according Minnesota Compass data.

The ambassador was joined by Howard G. Buffett, head of the philanthropic organization, and Heather Conley of the Marshall Fund for the event that focused on the importance of continuing to support Ukraine against Russian aggression.

Ukraine never had any intention to attack Russia, Markarova said, pointing out how small the country is compared with Russia. Just like Ukrainian Americans who immigrated to Minnesota and built the community center, Ukrainians dreamed of living in peace, she said. Their country's choice to be democratic and European was threat enough to Russian President Vladimir Putin, she said.

Buffett warned that if Ukraine loses the war, Russia will next attack a NATO country. Then, he said, the United States will have no choice but to become fully embroiled in another world war with its greatest enemy.

"Americans have much more at stake in this than they realize," Buffett said. "We will be sending our sons and daughters and our brothers and sisters to fight a war that has to be fought if it comes to other borders."

The event also highlighted the work of Minnesota organizations and speakers, including Dr. Yakov "Jacob" Gradinar, co-founder of the Protez Foundation. The foundation fits injured Ukrainian soldiers with prosthetics and participates in local refugee resettlement projects.

Other stops on Markarova's tour of Minnesota included an agribusiness discussion at the Minneapolis Foundation, a visit to the Capitol with state Senate President Bobby Joe Champion, a meeting with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a trip to the Minnesota Farmers Union with Gov. Tim Walz and a visit to the Protez Foundation in Oakdale.

The ambassador encouraged Minnesotans and Congress to support the supplemental U.S. budget ahead of what could be a lethally cold winter if Russia again attacks Ukraine's energy grid.

The battlefield in Ukraine has seen few major changes in recent months. A Ukrainian counteroffensive that started in June dented deep Russian defenses in some areas but has failed to change the complexion of the 22-month war. Moscow has held firm in most of the areas it occupies while using the long-range weapons to inflict damage on Ukraine, including civilian areas.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

The Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova spoke with Father Ivan Schkumbatyuk before the program.
The Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova spoke with Father Ivan Schkumbatyuk before the program.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune