"Who's going to be the next big winner right here at the Whopper Water game?"

Dasha Alieksieienko stopped, transfixed by the announcer at the Minnesota State Fair booth on the midway. Contestants fired a water gun at a target and held their triggers in a race to see whose plush toy would rise the fastest.

She decided that she would be the next big winner.

Just 11 years old, Dasha fled Ukraine weeks after the Russian invasion began in February 2022. She and her parents sought refuge in Italy for a year before arriving here in May. Dasha starts sixth grade in Edina on Monday, but is not looking forward to it the way she would if she were in Ukraine. Her mother hoped a trip to the fair would give Dasha a reprieve from all the turmoil they had endured.

Dasha sat at stool number 7 and aimed her gun. A bell rang, alerting contestants to pull the trigger. Her toy began shooting higher than the two other children playing the game. "Here we go, here we go … this is a great race, this is a great race. Who's going to win?" blared the announcer. "It is number 7! Number 7!"

She had lost her whole world last year, but on Friday morning the man on stage declared, "Winner, winner, winner, winner right here!"

The Minnesota State Fair is a 164-year-old tradition, but many new refugees are discovering it for the first time this summer. The International Institute of Minnesota is taking refugee classes to the fairgrounds this week, and some Minnesotans are taking Ukrainians whom they sponsored.

Journey Gosselin brought Dasha to the fair Friday with her parents; he is part of a circle of Twin Cities families supported by the refugee support organization Alight that sponsored Dasha's family and their friends in another family.

They arrived at 8:30 a.m. Their first order of business? Buying corn on the cob. Then cheese curds — Dasha said they didn't have anything like them in Ukraine. At one display, she plucked mosquito larvae out of a dish and examined them under a microscope. She got a temporary tattoo of a mosquito on her wrist. Her parents, Roman and Jane, told Gosselin that the Ukrainian word for mosquito is komar.

But what Gosselin was excited to show them the most was the DNR's fish pond. The Alieksieienko family had been avid fishers on the Dnipro River, a vital water source where fishermen have since lost their livelihood, fighting has intensified and Russian forces blew up a key dam in June that caused massive flooding.

Lately they have come to love fishing on the Mississippi, where Dasha recently caught a 10-pound carp. At the fair pond, the family eagerly leaned over to catch a closer look.

"Papa, papa!" Dasha called out, pointing at the fish.

Jane gasped in delight.

"It's a very good emotion, thank you very much — we like this!" said Jane, hugging Gosselin.

"We'll never take Jane away," Gosselin told her husband, Roman. "You can come fishing at the lake by my house, Nokomis."

As they walked through the throngs, Dasha took notice of the Skyscraper amusement ride: "The Ultimate Thrill Ride!!!! 165 feet & 70 mph of pure FUN!!!"

"Are you excited?" an attendant asked as she waited to board.

Dasha nodded.

"You look nervous," the attendant said.

She shook her head. But after she got strapped into her seat, Dasha admitted maybe she was scared. And 165 feet in the air, as the ride briefly stopped to let participants enjoy the view, she acknowledged that now, she really was scared.

But then she noticed the skyline to the west. "That's Minneapolis!" she said, pointing in delight.

The skyscrapers, to her, resembled those in her hometown of Dnipro.

As the ride sent her hurtling upside down, she didn't even scream.

Dasha got to pet a sheep, then a piglet. She stroked a horse from the mounted patrol named Ivan. She watched a sculptor carve the face of this year's Princess Kay of the Milky Way onto an enormous block of butter. She ate vanilla ice cream, then a decadent dessert called Strawberry Donut Delight.

But her favorite part was the Whopper Water game.

Winning once wasn't enough — she wanted to win again.

Dasha won a second game, and traded her stuffed steer for a Squishmallow named Avery — a stuffed duck. If she won one more time, she could trade it for an even bigger one. As she took her position again, the announcer warned another competitor, "You got your hands full — number 7 is not playing any games today!"

She narrowly lost that game, and the next. But seeing how determined she was, an attendant handed her a giant Squishmallow shaped like a jellyfish.

"You guys have a wonderful today," he told her.

Dasha walked away with both new toys, jumping up and down.

Then she posed as Gosselin took her picture.