'Love can been seen': Armstrong family, Ukrainian orphans are overcoming language barriers and enjoying time together
Traveling across the world to a country where you know very little of the language can be scary. It can be an equally daunting task for a family hosting them. However, slowly but surely the Armstrong family of Dickinson and the two Ukrainian boys they are hosting for the summer are adjusting.
Ben and Ashlee Armstrong are hosting two Ukrainian orphans this summer: Artem, 9, who has been in an orphanage since 2011, and Rostik, 16, who has been at the orphanage since 2010. The family was also supposed to host Artem's 8-year-old brother Max, but due to paperwork issues he couldn't make the trip.
Ashlee Armstrong said it has been a learning experience as they try to navigate the cultural and language barriers.
"Language is so important," she said. "Fortunately, love can be seen in just the way we express ourselves, through our facial expressions."
Armstrong said they have friends born in Ukraine to Russian parents who have lived in the area since they were 6 months old. They've been helping them bridge the language barrier by serving as translators.
"They've been so helpful," Armstrong said. "The language barrier, especially with the younger one, can cause some frustration and that's to be understand. Not being able to communicate, it's hard. It's mentally hard, it's draining."
Nadia Kolosov, one of the Armstrongs' friends, has spent multiple times a week helping translate.
"Imagine going to a whole different country and not understanding anything someone's saying," she said. "It's just very complicated for someone to come into a whole new world and not understand a thing."
Kolosov said it has been great to work with the boys and do what they can to help out the family.
"It's been a good experience," she said. "We feel honored and blessed to be a part of these boys' lives and helping out the Armstrongs."
Armstrong said the boys have adjusted well to the United States and North Dakota. She said Rostik has been hosted multiple times before and immediately started doing well. Because Artem is just 9 and is away from his brother, it was more of a challenge, but he is getting better every day.
"I don't know how we're going to bring them back in a month," Armstrong said.
Artem and Max are not eligible for adoption for about a year due to the adoption process in Ukraine. However, Rostik could be adopted if the family raises enough money in a short amount of time and if Rostik wants to be adopted. At age 16, he gets to choose whether to be adopted, Armstrong said.
"Rostik is just so cool," she said. "Artem has really clung to my Russian speaking friends and he's just precious. If you could take away some language barriers, stuff that happens from time to time, the kid is a doll and he's hilarious."
The family has spent time traveling with the boys, including making trips to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, the Mall of America in Minneapolis and the water park in Bismarck. Rostik has also enjoyed playing soccer with a local international team, Armstrong said.
"We have about a month left with them, so after (vacation Bible School) we're going to take them over to Montana and go hiking in Glacier Park or maybe go canoeing and just spend quality time with them," she said.
Ukrainian Cultural Institute in Dickinson recently hosted its annual North Dakota Ukrainian Festival. Armstrong said while the boys were unable to be a part of the Ukrainian camp that is hosted each year, they enjoyed different aspects of the festival.
"Rostik videotaped the whole thing, he loved it," she said. "I think it just makes him proud because it represents his culture and they got to sing the Ukrainian national anthem and it was so sweet to hear Artem belting it out. ... I'm happy to be able to share that with them because it's important to our family and I know it's important to them."
Armstrong said the community support has been amazing. A dentist in Montana donated complete dental work for both boys and Dr. Mark Emmerich in Dickinson is donating vision services.
"The community has been so great," she said. "People have brought dishes by, people have donated to activities to do with the boys and all around have just been a great support. ... The Ukrainian community has really surrounded these boys. When they see them, they're so kind to come up and talk to them and they just want to meet the boys and make the boys feel comfortable."