Mission driven: Minnesotan jumps into action to aid Ukrainian refugees
Peter Nordquist became 1 of 9 Americans to join a humanitarian team that was in Poland for about a week before crossing the Ukrainian border on Sunday, April 10, and traveling to Lviv on a crowded bus.
Most Americans watch the devastation Russia is inflicting on Ukraine and shake their heads in horror. Peter Nordquist did way more than that. He bought a plane ticket, flew to Poland and joined in humanitarian efforts to aid Ukrainian refugees.
“For weeks I watched dozens of news reports seeing innocent Ukrainians getting bombed to smithereens for no reason,” said Nordquist, who left Minneapolis on April 2. “I watched the looks on their faces . . . calm, friendly people going about their daily routines . . . when all of a sudden, a deadly missile would land a few feet from their path. Sad, senseless dying of peaceful people.”
Nordquist, 66, lived in Bemidji until he was 13, when his family moved to the Twin Cities.
His parents had a second home on Big Bass Lake on the outskirts of Bemidji, so the Nordquists always spent a lot of time in town, even as Peter was finishing high school. He came back to Bemidji for his junior year before graduating in St. Louis Park.
Peter and his wife Laurie spent summers in Bemidji with their three children. He owned a food packaging business in the Cities. He and Laurie are retired now and plan to sell their home in the metro and move to their Lake Bemidji home permanently later this year.
That will happen after Peter returns. He expects to continue his work in Poland and Ukraine for another seven weeks.
“Seeing these news scenes for about six weeks was nauseating,” Nordquist said. “They left me feeling hopeless, helpless, angry and very empathetic. I wanted to help in some way, but how?"
What finally set Nordquist over the edge was when he came across a quote about two weeks ago.
"I came upon a quote somewhere, saying, ‘All it takes for the proliferation of evil . . . is for enough good men to do nothing.’ That was all it took," he explained. "With my wife’s blessings, along with our three adult kids, I decided I would go to Ukraine and help in any way possible.”
Laurie said there was some apprehension as the family discussed whether her husband should go.
“He’s very adventuresome,” she said. “He’s very mission-driven and he’s also one that just really takes action when he sees a need. So I wasn’t surprised. We all wanted to make sure he was going to be safe.”
Nordquist said he was inspired by the story of Mark Lindquist of Moorhead, a U.S. Air Force veteran who suspended his campaign for Congress in order to go to Poland and Ukraine to join the humanitarian efforts.
“I was going to do this anyway,” Nordquist said after following media reports on Lindquist’s plan. “But then when I saw Mark it just kind of sped things up a little. Mark was thinking the same way I was. He had researched contacts in Ukraine and devised a plan to help. I called him the next morning and we teamed up our resources.”
Nordquist became one of nine Americans to join Lindquist’s team. They were in Poland for about a week before crossing the Ukrainian border on Sunday, April 10, and traveling to Lviv on a crowded bus.
In a Facebook post last week, Lindquist praised Nordquist for his contributions to the team.
“He’s like our logistics deputy,” Lindquist wrote. “He’s so willing to dive in, get his hands dirty, figure out how to solve the problem and I know I can rely on him.”
An open mind
Peter said he went into this mission with an open mind not knowing what to expect.
“I wanted to somehow make things easier for people,” he said. “All the reports on the national news about the Ukrainians being very proud and very strong-willed are true. You can see the resolve on their faces. Even though they’re sad, they know that they’re in the right. They know that they’ve been wronged and they’re not going to stand for it.”
On his first day in Lviv, Nordquist witnessed that resolve as he walked past a town square, where two college-aged men, one of them draped with a Ukrainian flag, played their violins to raise spirits and money for the aid efforts.
“They’re playing with passion,” he said. “You could hear it in their violins.”
That scene was quite a contrast to the gloom Nordquist sees on the faces of refugees.
“People are carrying their belongings in a plastic garbage bag,” he said. “And it’s cold here. It’s hard to know that they don’t have a place to go. They’re just wanting to get where it is safe.”
Safety has not been a concern for Nordquist, with one exception.
“I haven't felt not safe, other than a few minutes while crossing the Poland-Ukrainian border,” he said. “A guy walking next to me said, ‘Keep your head up looking for missiles.’ It gave me the willies. However, I know God is with me and whatever happens, is God's will. With that in mind, a person can get through a lot of discomforts.”
Nordquist said he is buoyed by the support he has received through social media, and his wife agreed.
“I know we’ve all been just so impressed with the outpouring of support, particularly from the Bemidji community,” Laurie said. “That’s what community is all about. To see people really rallying and giving Peter encouragement and support means a lot to him as well as to our whole family.”
Readers can find Peter Nordquist on Facebook to follow his mission and learn how they can help.