How the Minnesota Hockey League helped a Ukrainian refugee and her family feel at home: ‘I love this community’

When war broke out in Ukraine, third-grader Margo Bestuzheva, and her mother fled the country, leaving everything they knew behind. When the duo finally reunites with her father in Minnesota, they find a new home thanks to the welcoming hockey team.

Margo and her mother, Anastasia Bestuzheva, were among the eight million people who left Ukraine after Russia invaded it. Margo’s father Igor Rudy worked in Minnesota, so the duo crossed over to 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 settled in Minnesota, she saw an ice hockey team flyer and was instantly inspired.

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

Hockey is an official sport in Minnesota, loved by people of all ages and genders. However, Margo encounters some obstacles at first, because she and her mother left Ukraine without important documents, such as Margo’s birth certificate.

This is where the leaders and other fathers of the Minneapolis Storm Eight and Under Youth Hockey League stepped in.

“They’ve only been here for two weeks… She was new to her elementary school, she was new to Minnesota, Minneapolis, USA, and she was like ‘I want to try hockey,’” said coach Drew Wood.

The Ukrainian national team takes part in the International Youth Hockey Championship in Canada


Wood said Bestuzheva reached out to him and asked how her daughter could join the league.

“So I answered her right away,” Wood said. Four other people from the association (were) like, ‘We need to do this. How do we cut out all the red tape and make this like, well, something happen? … We’re all watching the world fall apart in so many strange ways, from our couches, and there’s not much we can do. So when a part of the world in turmoil knocks on your door and says, like, ‘Can you come? ‘We’ll do it.’

Even when Wood and other members of the league managed to cut the red tape and get Margo on the team, the kindness continued to show: They helped Margo put on her new hockey gear from head to toe.

“It was like, you know, you don’t need to use our second-hand stuff. Like, let’s make this special. Let’s go to the hockey store with her and let’s, like, get the good stuff, brand new, and let’s go,” Wood said.

Margo isn’t the only member of her family who’s found a home on the ice. Bestuzheva and Rudy were also welcomed by the hockey community.

“It’s a family. The community was a family,” Bestuzheva said, adding that team members helped take her and Margo to the rink because she didn’t have a car. “…I love this community. The hockey community in Minnesota.”

For Margo, the best thing about hockey is the friends she makes on the team and any time she spends “skating and scoring.”

“It’s all fun. It’s so much fun,” she said. “I can not explain.”