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Former Congressional candidate from Moorhead helps Ukrainian girl shot in face by Russian troops cross border

In an email to The Forum, Lindquist wrote, “I was able to use Google translate to talk to the little girl about her teddy bear and her big smile,” Lindquist writes. “They were doing well and had smiles that seem incomprehensible given their current situation.”

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A grinning Lindquist performs "The National Anthem" for a Kansas City Chiefs game. Lindquist says he got his love of performing and singing from his dad, Gordon, who is also a singer.
Contributed / Steve Sanders
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UKRAINE — It didn’t take long for motivational speaker and former Minnesota Congressional candidate Mark J. Lindquist to get into the thick of the action in Ukraine.

In an email received by The Forum early Wednesday morning, Lindquist wrote that he helped an 11-year-old girl, w ho CNN had reported was shot in the face by Russian soldiers March 16, by pushing her wheelchair a half-mile across the border into Poland.

Lindquist, who announced March 20 he was suspending his campaign to run for the U.S. House of Representatives in order to directly help Ukrainian refugees, was one of a group of international humanitarian volunteers who were stationed just outside Ukrainian customs at the time. A vehicle approached carrying a male driver, the young girl and her mother.

The volunteers — who also included two former Marines, a California resident and an American expat now living in Finland — offered to help the group with their bags, according to a Facebook post by Derrick Miller, the former Marine. As the mother and daughter navigated their way through customs, the mother talked to humanitarian workers, showing the volunteers her phone containing the CNN article and pointing to her daughter’s face.

The 11-year-old had a series of stitches from her cheek down her throat. According to the original CNN report, the girl, her older sister, mother and grandmother fled from the embattled port city Mariupol on March 16 after weeks of Russian bombardment.

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They were able to leave by jumping into the back of a stranger’s car, which navigated around numerous Russian checkpoints before turning toward Vasylivka. At that point, they stumbled across Russian soldiers, who opened fire on the car without warning, according to CNN.

The driver stopped and the passengers exited with their hands up, which is when the mom saw her younger daughter was wounded. Realizing their mistake, the mother said Russian soldiers gave the girl first aid and sent her to a hospital in the Russian-occupied city of Tokmak.

The girl had a bullet wound to her jaw and the base of her tongue, and a bullet was lodged in her throat near her carotid artery.

A Red Cross vehicle later took the girl to another Ukrainian hospital for a life-saving surgery, which is where she was interviewed by CNN.

On April 5, after the mother and daughter arrived at the border crossing, the small group of volunteers formed a protective perimeter around the family. “There was no … way anyone was going to harass this family on their way through,” Miller wrote in his Facebook post.

Miller also gave the family an envelope containing Polish currency, worth about $250.

As Lindquist helped the girl and her mom, he noted they were in “good spirits.”

“I was able to use Google translate to talk to the little girl about her teddy bear and her big smile,” Lindquist wrote. “They were doing well and had smiles that seem incomprehensible given their current situation.”

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The Ukrainians were greeted at the Polish border by the girl’s father. “The moment when we saw them hug the father at the border is probably something I’ll remember as I fall asleep for the rest of my life,” Lindquist wrote.

He also wrote that it felt inappropriate to take a picture with them, but the group did capture some images from the rear as they crossed the border into safety.

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Mark J. Lindquist captured this photo of the injured girl (in purple coat) and her mother crossing the border into Poland.
Contributed / Mark J. Lindquist

Lindquist said he’s had multiple opportunities to make humanitarian contacts and help out since arriving in Warsaw on March 31.

Earlier this week, he received a tour of the largest border crossing in Poland, Przemysl. His next mission was to meet with those refugees’ family members who are on the front lines wearing vests packed with sand instead of body armor.

“You might as well hold up papier mache in front of you as you walk into war,” he wrote. “I’m taking meetings this morning with the site director of Przemysl camp and we’re figuring out how to raise $270k for body armour sourced from the western part of Europe.”

Before he left Moorhead, Lindquist successfully raised $11,500 to buy a vehicle to help transport Ukrainian citizens to safety.

He and a group of fellow volunteers were able to buy a van, which is being used to help transport supplies and extract citizens from small outlying towns across central and western Ukraine. “We’re hearing directly from residents in Kyiv, Nizhyn, Kherson, Odessa, Kharkiv, Skadovsk and many others,” Lindquist writes.

He said he’s met many people, veterans and civilians alike, from all over the United States who have voluntarily traveled to the dangerous region for the same reasons that he did: They want to help.

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“As soon as you find out that guy is an American, nothing else matters,” Lindquist wrote in an earlier Facebook post. “Who knew I would have to fly to the other side of the planet to find people who were willing to cling to being an American first and put every other petty thing aside?”

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Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before she learned the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the narrative to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she has worked as a Dickinson, N.D., bureau reporter, a Bismarck Tribune feature writer/columnist, a Forum feature reporter, columnist and editor, a writer in NDSU's Publications Services, a marketing/social media specialist, an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist at a nonprofit.
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