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Kief in North Dakota: How the Settlement Founded by Ukrainians in the USA Over 100 Years Ago

The city of Kieff in North Dakota was founded by Ukrainian settlers over a century ago. These were Protestants, they came here at the end of the 19th century fleeing persecution in the Russian Empire, writes “Voice of America".

Photo: video screenshot Voice of America

Half a century ago, the grandmother of Devine Henrikson lived here. The man recalls how he spent his summer holidays with her:

“It was a small town where everyone knew each other and helped. They didn’t speak English, and all the time I tried to understand what was going on. ”

Kief was founded in 1908 as a station along the railway line. Although the town was named after the Ukrainian capital, at that time, the traditional spelling of its name was just that. And only in the 1967 year, after North Dakota passed a law abolishing the previous names and statuses of this settlement, it became the city of Kiev. According to Devine, at the source of its foundation were Anton and Khristina Bokovy, who immigrated from the Ukrainian capital.

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Husband and wife professed Protestantism, and at the beginning of the twentieth century, Kiev was part of the Russian Empire, where the Russian Orthodox Church dominated. Supporters of other religions were persecuted.

Having fled from Qivea in the 1889 year, Anton and his associates were looking for a place where they can freely pray and cultivate the land. The United States turned out to be a suitable country. At that time, North Dakota was handing out land to anyone who was ready to settle and create a community. Thus, several families from Ukrainian Kiev were able to create their own Kiev in the USA. There they prayed in Ukrainian and became free farmers.

Photo: Voice of America screenshot

Kiev is now an American well-groomed, but sparsely populated town.

One of the residents, Audrey Voloshenko, remembers little of his story.

Photo: Voice of America screenshot

“My mother is German, and my father is Russian or Ukrainian. In fact, what difference does it make, ”the woman laughed. She listed the names of neighbors whose houses are now empty.

Previously, the population of the town was 300 people. Now it’s just 7.

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Annie and Richard Helme consider themselves Germans, although Richard's father immigrated to the United States from the Russian Empire. He admits that his great-grandfathers might have been German missionaries who promoted Protestantism in the Russian Empire.

“My father came here from Odessa in the 1902 year, having received land in North Dakota. They lived here for 5 years and got the right to own property, ”recalls Richard.

Both Annie and Richard do not adhere to the traditions that existed here.

Photo: Voice of America video screenshot

“I don't remember anything about traditions. Now we are celebrating Easter. We go to church, set a large table, ”says the man.

But all the remaining residents remember well when Kiev was a prosperous city. They were engaged in farming, business, there were several churches and two schools. “There was a grocery store, a bank, a furniture store, a dairy processing plant, a gas station, household goods, and a post office. Everything was needed here, ”Annie recalls.

Despite the fact that the city is located far from settlements, its activities were supported by the railway. Steam trains stopped here for refueling.

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Everything changed when steam trains were replaced by diesel and electric trains. Then the need to refuel with water disappeared.

An alarming signal was the closure of a school in Kiev, where in addition to English, Russian and German were taught.

“When the school closed in 1959, the population has since begun to decline,” Annie explains.

Young people moved to big cities, and business gradually faded. Only the Baptist church remains.

Photo: Voice of America video screenshot

Local now lacks a grocery store. They have to travel about 80 km for groceries.

Now this settlement is called a ghost town, but its inhabitants do not agree with this.

The only reminder of the Ukrainian founders is an old church, which opens its doors to parishioners once a week.

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