‘It was completely transformed,’ Kodiak resident returns from second trip to Ukraine

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been raging for just about a year and a half, and travel to the country has been restricted. But one Kodiak resident has made his way there, twice. 

Thor Johnson is back on the island after helping troops fighting a real war, the one in Ukraine. He said on his first trip to the country’s capital, Kyiv, in April of last year, the city was nearly empty as folks were fleeing conflict.

“And then I got back there this year and it was completely transformed – the city was completely different,” Johnson said. “The amount of traffic, it was alive again – it was beautiful. People everywhere, all the stores were reopened, it was an amazing thing to see.” 

Thor Johnson owns the Emerald Game House, a hobby and table top game store, October 5, 2023. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

Johnson served in the U.S. military about a decade ago, in the Alaska Army National Guard. He says he felt called to help after seeing some of the atrocities that have been caught on photos and videos around Kyiv. 

Johnson says the original plan was to visit Ukraine for a month just the one time last year. But this summer he went back for three months. 

“I fell in love with the people, the culture, the history, the food, and their heart,” he said. “Everybody has their heart in it because they know what kind of fight this is, it’s an existential fight really, for them.” 

Johnson has such an appreciation for the people of Ukraine that he got tattoos of the Ukrainian flag, October 5, 2023. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

Since his last trip, Ukrainian forces have pushed invading troops away from the city. Johnson says international aid has also made a huge difference for the people. 

“Now, they have all of this equipment, and they have funding that we can give them and they’re able to fight back and take back what’s theirs,” Johnson said. 

The Emerald Game House has the Ukrainian flag on the walls in show of solidarity and support while patrons can enjoy games about fantasy wars as well, October 5, 2023. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

Further funding support from the U.S. is currently stalled as the federal government continues budget negotiations over the next month.

On his trips to Ukraine, Johnson spent his time on bases training new troops like newly conscripted soldiers and volunteers. 

He helped teach standardized communications, battlefield first aid, and even some combat training. Johnson says he worked with a huge range of people serving their country. 

“The age of troops ranged all the way from like 18 to even in the 80s because it’s a lot of volunteers and some of it’s conscripts,” he said. 

It took Johnson four flights and a bus ride one way just to get to the country and help. Between the flights and the supplies he’s brought, Johnson’s personally invested thousands into helping the country. 

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