Ukrainian Americans come together and mobilize
JIT MANNEQUINS in the window of Executive, a store in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, are dressed in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag. Inside, Khystyna, who moved to America ten years ago, can only think of her home and her family. “It’s impossible to function, to sleep,” she says. Brighton Beach, known as Little Odessa, is New York’s largest Ukrainian enclave. Brooklyn has 44,000 Ukrainian immigrants, including more than 13,000 in Brighton Beach. Firouza Ruzenaji, originally from Uzbekistan, works all night sewing Ukrainian flags to keep up with demand.
In total, more than 125,000 people of Ukrainian descent live in New York. They came to America in four waves. Up to half a million arrived between 1890 and the First World War. A second smaller wave came after this war. A third major wave came after 1945. Lydia Zaininger of the Ukrainian Institute of America, a cultural center, said images of Ukrainians fleeing with children echoed her own story. Her widowed grandmother fled Ukraine with three children in the late 1940s.
The fourth wave, mostly Jewish, arrived in the 1980s and 1990s. Victoria Neznansky came to America in 1989 as a refugee. She had begun to hope that things had improved for Ukraine, with its young Jewish president. “There is no forgiveness for what Putin is doing,” she said.
Although few Ukrainians still live there, Little Ukraine, a pocket of Manhattan’s East Village, is still the spiritual and cultural center of the community, notes political scientist Alexander Motyl. New Yorkers flocked to the area to show their support. They line up around the block for dinner at Veselka and the Ukrainian East Village, for varenyky (dumplings) and borscht. Hundreds of non-Ukrainian New Yorkers visit the Ukrainian Museum. “They learn that Ukrainians have always been resilient,” explains Maria Shust, its director.
Chicago has the second largest Ukrainian population: some 26,000. Among the descendants of Ukrainian immigrants is JB Pritzker, the governor of Illinois, who attended a Feb. 27 rally at St. Volodymyr and Olha’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in the Ukrainian Village of Chicago. At the Tryzub Ukrainian Kitchen, a sign told diners that the restaurant had now been full for days.
Volunteers from Razom, a non-profit organization, raised $5 million to help Ukraine and its refugees. Its volunteers are mostly young professional Ukrainians working in New York. Mariya Soroka, co-founder of Razom (meaning together), notes that almost for the first time different generations of Ukrainians are coming together. His colleague Mariia Khorun, a lawyer, coordinates the refugee resettlement infrastructure. She predicts: “There is going to be another wave.”
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This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline “Togetherness”