With rationed food and nearby shelling, conditions worsen for North Dakotan held in Ukrainian prison

Kurt Groszhans can hear the sounds of explosions from his prison cell, his food is being rationed and the facility's heat and electricity have been turning on and off throughout the day, according to his family.

The Lukyanivska detention center in Kyiv, Ukraine, is seen in this 2013 photo.
Artemka via Wikimedia Commons

BISMARCK — Kurt Groszhans' living conditions have been deteriorating day by day as the violence of Russia's invasion strikes closer to the Ukrainian prison where he sits behind bars.

Groszhans, a farmer and businessman from Ashley, North Dakota, can hear the sounds of explosions from his cell in Kyiv's Lukyanivska detention center, according to his sister, Kristi Magnusson.

On Tuesday, March 15, Russian shells reportedly struck the Lukyanivska metro station, about three-quarters of a mile from the detention center.

With Russian forces threatening to seize the capital city, Groszhans' family is pressing for his release as the war hinders the prison's everyday operations.

The heat and electricity in Groszhans' cell are spotty, and his food is being rationed. His family has heard the prison is giving inmates only potatoes for meals, and the guards stopped serving inmates meat weeks ago.


Groszhans' family believes the people delivering meals to the prisoners are beginning to ask prisoners to pay them in cigarettes for the food.

As Russian forces move closer to the center of Kyiv, Groszhans' family fears the guards may stop showing up to work to aid with the war effort.

"Food is being rationed and we don’t know when the guards will stop coming to work," Magnusson told The Forum in a statement.

Russia launched its attack on Ukraine over three weeks ago, which has resulted in the displacement of millions and believed to have caused the deaths of thousands of soldiers and civilians. Russian troops have surrounded Kyiv, and some of its residential areas have been bombed, including the shelling that hit a street less than a mile from where Groszhans is detained.

Fearing that Groszhans could find himself in the thick of battle with little means to protect himself, his family is urgently requesting that Ukrainian officials release him so he can seek safety.

"Kurt is an American who has not been convicted of a crime, in a city encircled by Russian troops," Magnusson said. "The Ukrainian officials need to let him out of prison so he can try to protect himself and get out of harm’s way — just like the State Department is advising all Americans."

A man in light-colored blue jeans, a dark-colored t-shirt, a leather jacket and a Minnesota Twins cap stands in front of water.
Kurt Groszhans is accused of attempting to have a high ranking official assassinated in Ukraine. His family says the allegations are false.
Photo courtesy of the Groszhans family

Groszhans has been detained in Ukraine since November on charges that allege he tried to have Ukrainian Minister of Agriculture Roman Leshchenko assassinated. Groszhans' family has denied the allegations, saying they are trumped up charges based on fabrication. His family believes he should be given the opportunity to follow the U.S. government's advice and get himself out of the country.

An estimated five Americans, including Groszhans, are thought to be held in pre-trial detention centers in Ukraine, according to the news website Axios.


Kyiv Groszhans
The Lukyanivska detention center (blue pin), where Kurt Groszhans is being held, is about three-quarters of a mile from the Lukyanivska metro station (red marker) that was reportedly hit by Russian shelling on Tuesday, March 15, 2022.
Image via Google Maps

On Friday, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., told The Forum in a statement that he and Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., are working with the State Department "to press" Ukraine to release Groszhans "as quickly as possible."

"(T)he situation for Kurt has only gotten worse. We support the Ukrainian people in their fight against Russia, but we need the Ukrainian leaders to act so my brother can get out of Kyiv before it is too late," Magnusson said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at

Michelle (she/her, English speaker) is a Bismarck-based journalist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.
What To Read Next
Get Local