'Little Ukraine', the stronghold of the Ukrainians in New York, mobilizes against the war | International

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Protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this Tuesday at the UN headquarters in New York.CARLO ALLEGRI (REUTERS)

Bouquets of blue and yellow flowers occupy one of the entrances to the Catholic Church of San Jorge, in the East Village, in Manhattan. The offering flanks two flags of the same colors and a banner that reads: "Pray for Ukraine." Candles, icons, photos and messages are added to this improvised altar in one of the nerve centers of LittleUkraine, where the immigrants who arrived in the Big Apple at the end of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th settled. Two streets further up there is another Ukrainian church, but an Orthodox one. In a grid of a dozen blocks, traditional restaurants, a tailor's shop, a bank and a butcher's shop map the Slavic fiefdom; sporadically, you hear Ukrainian spoken. Along with another important enclave in Brooklyn, Little Ukraine is home to a large part of the large Ukrainian community in New York, the largest in the US, some 150,000 people, including nationals and second or third generation Americans, who watch the drama of a country that many of them call the mother country.

Tanya prays and lights a candle in the church of St. George, which features an icon of the saint and the dragon and a photo of a smiling Pope Wojtyla. “My husband, Valeri, is in Lviv. He went to see his parents, very old, and the invasion caught him. Luckily he has not been mobilized because he has already turned 60, but he cannot leave and he is also reluctant to abandon them. We are waiting for a safe conduct, papers, whatever, to bring them to New York, but the Administration has been paralyzed by the war”, she explains sadly. Lviv - the Ukrainian name for the country's westernmost city, Lvov in Russian - is not the most dangerous area, concedes the woman, a hairdresser, "but right now nowhere in Ukraine is safe, and less so as the days go by." The interview takes place this Monday.

The testimonies collected in Little Ukraine are similar: they, or their ancestors, come from western Ukraine, which is more open and pro-European. that the opaque is pro-Russian; all use the Ukrainian demonyms and, without exception, praise the role of President Volodymyr Zelensky in the conflict. Like Oksana, 31, who arrived in New York seven years ago with her parents and sisters, "in search of a future and, above all, a better education." The family comes from Ternopil, a city near Lviv, “where my grandparents and some relatives still live, for now they are fine, but many friends in other parts of the country are at risk, they feel that the rope is closing around them. They don't leave because of the bombs, they spend the day in the shelters”. Oksana, a graduate in Politics who aspires to work at the UN "to avoid such conflicts", ponders the role of Zelinski, "the best leader that could be imagined in such a situation".

With a more political discourse than her neighbors, more enraged -the rest of the community oscillates between discouragement and disbelief, in addition to pain-, Oksana dedicates these days to activism, as a guide for television crews or weaving support networks, to raise material aid for the Ukrainians, just like the NGO Razom or the US Ukrainian Congress Committee, with a campaign aimed at refugees. At the head of the Veselka restaurant, an institution in the neighborhood with its 70-year history, Jason Birchard, a third-generation Ukrainian, also contributes part of the proceeds, while granting paid days off to part of his staff, "those who they have direct relatives, siblings, cousins ​​or even parents, on the front line. They are so worried that they do not leave the house, hanging on the phone to get news.

Of the rest of the staff, a couple of Ukrainian waiters refuse to speak, “it is painful for them, they do not want to go deeper into the suffering. I only have distant family there, in the Lviv area, but I can't help but remember my grandfather, who came to New York in the 1940s, fleeing war and famine and the Soviets and Nazis, if I saw today to his country attacked by the Russians… he would be very sad”. The businessman defends trying Vladimir Putin "as a war criminal in The Hague" and, first of all, the establishment of a no-fly zone over Ukraine, a possibility that the West rules out because its application would imply the use of military means, specifically of NATO. “Something is that they send us weapons [desde la UE]but it is insufficient to stop Russia.”

The quintessence of the East

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The staff at the Baczynsky butcher shop is quintessentially Eastern: there are Poles, Romanians, a Kazakh and several Ukrainians. It was founded by an immigrant from that country in 1970, and today it is a magnet for young compatriots, economic immigrants who in recent decades have replaced the political exiles of yesteryear. Ivan, who arrived a decade ago from Lviv, is glad not to be in his country, “because he would be in the front line of fire, if not already dead”, but at the same time he laments himself for being far away. Pessimistic, he does not expect anything from the international community, "this could be seen coming, eight years of war in the east [el Donbás] and nobody has managed to put an end to it, what are we going to wait for now? With a face of few friends, she only softens the gesture to praise Zelensky: "We are to death with him, we all support him." To the point of taking up arms? Ivan avoids answering, while he addresses a client in Ukrainian. "This is not a war against Ukraine," says the woman; “It is a war against the free world.” The old claim of the West when Russia was the USSR resounds again decades later, as a hitching pennant or a chimera.

To find solidarity towards Ukraine it is not necessary to go to the East Village or Brooklyn. Suddenly, at kilometer zero in New York, a young woman wrapped in a blue and yellow flag passes like a shot. Ukraine? "No, I'm Russian, but I can only demonstrate here against this absurd and savage war, in my country I couldn't," says Lidia, 31, who arrived seven years ago "as a tourist." Under her arm she carries a poster with a dove of peace and slogans for unity against barbarism. "I have many Ukrainian friends here and only together can we stop Putin, who wants to return us to the trunk of history because of his Soviet nostalgia," explains the young waitress.

“In Russia there is no freedom of expression, there is no opposition, because it is persecuted or imprisoned… there is no future. Don't get me wrong: I love my country with all my heart, my parents are still there; I want to go see them, as a tourist, but after living here these years I know I couldn't do it in Putin's Russia: in the US people live and let live, they prosper, they can make plans... Putin only inoculates victimhood, in addition to fear : those who are not with him, are enemies who plot his evil. Do you think I could demonstrate there or carry a Ukrainian flag above, like now? Lidia strides away again: she comes from a protest against the war in front of the UN headquarters and is late for another, with a hundred people and as many yellow and blue flags flying, in the very heart of the Big Apple .

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