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Ukrainian Refugees Fill Workforce Gaps in North Dakota’s Oil Fields

In an unexpected turn of events, Ukrainian refugees fleeing the ravages of Russia’s war have found an unlikely sanctuary in the oil fields of North Dakota. The region’s persistent workforce shortages have prompted an innovative solution that is not only addressing labor needs but also extending a compassionate hand to those seeking refuge.

The Uniting for Ukraine humanitarian program, spearheaded by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, has paved the way for a novel partnership between Ukrainian refugees and the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s Bakken Global Recruitment of Oilfield Workers initiative. The program aims to bridge two essential goals: addressing the pressing workforce demand in the Bakken oil field and providing a new beginning for those displaced by conflict.

A Collaborative Endeavor

Sixteen Ukrainian refugees have already made the journey to North Dakota as part of a pilot program under the Uniting for Ukraine initiative, with an additional dozen slated to arrive by mid-August. This novel partnership not only underscores the urgency of the labor shortage but also highlights the empathetic response of various stakeholders involved.

The Bakken oil field’s booming growth a decade ago initially attracted a local workforce, but an economic shift saw a surge of job seekers from across the nation. The subsequent downturn in the energy sector, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shocks, led to a reverse migration. This left the region grappling with a staggering 2,500 job openings amidst a daily oil production of 1.1 million barrels.

A Global Solution

The Uniting for Ukraine program provides a unique and culturally fitting solution to this dilemma. Noted immigration lawyer advocates for North Dakota’s compatibility with the program due to its shared Ukrainian roots, similar climate, and agrarian culture. The initiative brings together sponsors, including business owners, managers, and employees, who not only assist Ukrainian refugees in securing jobs but also offer crucial support in terms of housing, healthcare, and education.

This collaborative effort has seen the arrival of approximately 160 Ukrainian refugees in North Dakota, with the majority finding a new home in the Bismarck area. The success of the program has ignited a surge of interest from potential sponsors, driven by the desire to contribute to the thriving community of working Ukrainians.

Stories of Resilience

Among the beneficiaries of this initiative is Maksym Bunchukov, who, along with his family, fled the turmoil of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. Bunchukov, now employed by Baranko Bros. Inc. as a road contractor, symbolizes the resilience and adaptability of the Ukrainian refugees. Many of them, thanks to their past seasonal work in the U.S., already possess Social Security numbers and are diligently learning English to enhance their employability.

A Path Forward

The Uniting for Ukraine program offers a unique proposition – a “humanitarian parole” that extends for two years, offering a potential pathway to a brighter future for the refugees. North Dakota’s history of welcoming Ukrainian immigrants further underscores the cultural affinity between the state and its new residents.

As North Dakota’s Bakken program endeavors to recruit 100 workers by the close of 2023 and aims for 400 in the following year, it is clear that the partnership between Ukrainian refugees and the oil fields is not just filling workforce gaps, but also building bridges of opportunity and compassion.

Ukrainian Heritage: A Cultural Tapestry

The Ukrainian Cultural Institute in Dickinson has also played a role in this narrative, offering a taste of home through lunches featuring traditional Ukrainian dishes. As the region embraces its Ukrainian heritage and stands in solidarity with those affected by the war, it underscores the profound impact that cooperation and empathy can have in shaping the destiny of both a community and its newcomers.

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