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Baumgarten: Can we have some petahe?

I remember when I was little and I would go to Grandma Rose’s house for Christmas Eve. In fact, about 20 of us went to Grandma’s house for that special day in December.

Somehow we jammed everyone into that house in Dickinson. The adults sat at the grand table. I usually got stuck at the kiddy table.

I don’t know how she did it, but Grandma always managed to pull together a great feast. She fried fish, roasted ham, baked poppy seed rolls and even boiled wheat. All the grandchildren hated the wheat, but she said we couldn’t open presents until we ate two large tablespoons.

But my favorite dish was petahe. You might know them as perogies or three-corners. It’s a thin piece of dough wrapped tightly around a filling. Traditionally, they are filled with cottage cheese, sauerkraut or, my favorite, potato. I would eat those until I was sick.

On Saturday I got to taste the delicious dumplings, but it was not because we had something to celebrate. The Ukrainian Cultural Institute in Dickinson hosted approximately 20 people, all who came to learn more about the conflict in their ancestor’s homeland. Protesters had occupied Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, after their president pulled out of an agreement that would have allowed the country to join the European Union. Instead, Viktor Yanukovych wanted stronger ties with Russia.

What started as a peaceful attempt to get the president to change his mind — people were singing and playing piano in the streets — turned deadly.

Those events were replayed at the gathering in Dickinson. Police attacked protesters with clubs and water sprayed from hoses. I watched in horror as police ran covered in flames. Priests and monks stood and prayed over the dead with tears in their eyes. Snipers shot at protesters, even as they tried to pull back the bodies of their friends and family.

I will never fully understood what could have caused such senseless violence. All I know is that it stemmed back to the days of Soviet Russia, that Ukraine had been under the boot of a powerful country until it dissolved.

According to Oleh Ivanets, they are still oppressed. He said at the meeting the president was nothing more than a puppet for Russian President Vladimir Putin. This had all come to a boiling point on Feb. 19, when almost 100 people were killed in Ukraine.

It’s hard to compare this violence to anything that has happened in history. Some have called Putin the new Hitler. Some say the men that began the protests are nothing more than thugs. The U.S. is calling for sanctions, while others say this could escalate into a full-on war. No matter who you ask, I don’t think anyone can fully comprehend what is going on in Ukraine unless they have lived there. Family members are pitted against each other, being forced to choose sides. Some may not know if they will ever see their loved ones again.

One thing that has made my heart bleed is how determined the protesters are in the face of danger. Despite being burned, shot at and watching their loved ones fall they keep fighting for what they believe they deserve — freedom. I doubt they will back down even if Putin wages war.

If there is one thing that people should do, it is to try to understand how important this event is — whether they agree with the protests or think Putin has a right to protect Russia’s interests.

I, like many in the U.S., will never know their suffering. All I can do is hope that a peaceful resolution is reached and Ukraine gets what it truly deserves. I have Ukrainian blood, but I know that won’t stop others from banding together to stand united with this country.

Perhaps one day we can all sit together and enjoy some petahe. That is a dish best saved for joyous occasions, and I hope that day comes soon for Ukraine.

Baumgarten is the assistant editor of The Dickinson Press. Email her at

April Baumgarten
April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, as the news editor. She works with a team of talented journalists and editors, who strive to give the Grand Forks area the quality news readers deserve to know. Baumgarten grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college,  she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.