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How a Minnesota hockey league helped a Ukrainian refugee and her family feel at home: “I love this community”

When the war in Ukraine began, third grader Margo Biestuzheva and her mother fled the country, leaving behind everything they knew. When the duo finally reunited with her father in Minnesota, they found a new home thanks to a welcoming hockey team. 

Margo and her mother, Anastasiia Biestuzheva, were among the eight million people who left Ukraine after it was invaded by Russia. Margo’s father Igor Rudyi was working in Minnesota, so the duo crossed into Poland and headed there. The journey took the mother-daughter pair seven months. 

Along the way, Margo maintained her favorite hobby: Playing the piano. Once she and her mother were settled in Minnesota, though, she saw a flyer for an ice hockey team and was immediately inspired. 

“I want to try something new, because in Ukraine I can’t play hockey, because just boys,” Margo explained. 

In Minnesota, hockey is a state sport, beloved by people of all ages and genders. However, Margo faced some obstacles getting started, because she and her mother had left Ukraine without important documents, like Margo’s birth certificate. 

That’s where the leaders and other parents of the Minneapolis Storm Eight and Under Youth Hockey League stepped in. 

“They’d only been here for a couple of weeks … She was new to her elementary school, she was new to Minnesota, Minneapolis, the United States, and she was like ‘I want to try hockey,'” said coach Drew Wood. 

Ukrainian team participates in international youth hockey tournament in Canada


Wood said that Biestuzheva reached out to him asking how her daughter could join the league. 

“So immediately I respond to her,” Wood said. “Four other people from the association (were) like ‘We need to do this. How do we cut all the red tape and make this like, something that happens?’ … We’re all watching the world unravel in lots of strange ways, from our couches, and we can only do so much. So when a part of the world that’s in turmoil knocks on your door and says, like, ‘Can I come?’, we’re going to do that.”

Even once Wood and other members of the league were able to cut the red tape and get Margo on the team, the kindness kept coming: They helped outfit Margo in head-to-toe new hockey gear. 

“It was like, you know what, she doesn’t need to use our secondhand stuff. Like, let’s make this special. Let’s go to the hockey store with her and let’s just, like, get her good stuff, brand new, and like to start sort of fresh,” Wood said. 

Margo isn’t the only member of her family who has found a home on the ice. Biestuzheva and Rudyi have also been welcomed by the hockey community. 

“It’s family. Community was family,” Biestuzheva said, adding that members of the team have helped transport her and Margo to the rink since she does not have a car. “… I love this community. Hockey community in Minnesota.” 

For Margo, the best thing about hockey is the friends she’s made on the team and any time spent “skating and scoring goals.” 

“It’s all fun. It’s just so fun,” she said. “I can’t explain.” 

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