America’s Ukrainians rally and mobilise

TTHE MANNEQUINS in the window of Executive, a boutique on Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach, they are dressed in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag. Inside, Khystyna, who moved to the United States ten years ago, can think only of her home and her family. “It’s impossible to function, to sleep,” she says. Brighton Beach, known as Little Odessa, is the largest Ukrainian enclave in New York. Brooklyn has 44,000 immigrants from Ukraine, more than 13,000 of them in Brighton Beach. Firouza Ruzenaji, originally from Uzbekistan, works all night sewing Ukrainian flags to keep up with the demand.

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In total, more than 125,000 people of Ukrainian descent call New York City home. They arrived in the United States in four waves. Up to half a million arrived between 1890 and the First World War. A second smaller wave came after that war. A big third wave came after 1945. Lydia Zaininger of the Ukrainian Institute of America, a cultural center, says the images of Ukrainians fleeing with children echo her own history. Her widowed grandmother fled the Ukraine with three children in the late 1940s.

The fourth wave, mostly Jewish, arrived in the 1980s and 1990s. Victoria Neznansky came to the United States in 1989 as a refugee. She had begun to hope that things had gotten better for the Ukraine, with her young Jewish president. “There is no forgiveness for what Putin is doing,” she says.

Though few Ukrainians still live there, Little Ukraine, a corner of Manhattan’s East Village, remains the community’s spiritual and cultural center, says Alexander Motyl, a political scientist. New Yorkers have flocked to the area to show their support. They queue around the block for dinner at Veselka and at the Ukrainian East Village for varenyky (meatballs) and borscht. Hundreds of non-Ukrainian New Yorkers are visiting the Ukrainian Museum. “They are learning that Ukrainians have always been resilient,” says Maria Shust, their director.

Chicago has the second largest Ukrainian population: about 26,000. Among the descendants of Ukrainian immigrants is Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, who appeared at a rally Feb. 27 at St Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church in the Ukrainian village of Chicago. In Tryzub’s Ukrainian kitchen, a sign told diners that the restaurant is now full for days.

Volunteers at Razom, a nonprofit organization, have raised $5 million to help Ukraine and its refugees. Their volunteers are mostly young Ukrainian professionals working in New York. Mariya Soroka, co-founder of Razom (which means together), points out that almost for the first time the different generations of Ukrainians are coming together. Her colleague Mariia Khorun, a lawyer, is coordinating the infrastructure for refugee resettlement. She predicts, “There’s going to be another wave.”

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This article appeared in the US section of the print edition under the headline “Union”.

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