When the first reports of Russian troop movements started appearing in the Ukrainian media a few months ago, Vironika Giacchi, the manager of a jewelry store in Manhattan, signed up for a class. first aid near home on Staten Island. She said that if Russia launched a full-scale invasion, she would return to Ukraine and volunteer as a nurse.
“I love Ukraine, it’s my country, and if I need to protect it, I’ll definitely go back.”
New York City is home to more than 150,000 Ukrainians, the largest community in the country, with pockets in Manhattan’s East Village and Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, and populations scattered across five boroughs. There are Ukrainian banks, restaurants, bars, schools, churches, synagogues and cultural centers.
Some came in the 1970s or 1980s, knowing only that Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. Others, millennials of the fourth wave of immigrants, grew up after independence, with global connections through the internet. Many have Russian relatives or Russian friends and receive news from the Russian media.
They left very different countries behind, and arrived with different relationships with Ukraine, Russia and their new homeland. “The biggest difference is whether you go somewhere or leave somewhere,” said Dora Chomiak, president of the non-profit organization Razom, which was founded in 2014 to support the independence movement in Ukraine. “The people who come in the 70s and 80s, the people who refuse, they are going out to have a better life. People who have migrated recently because Google hired them here or something, they’re going somewhere.”
Giacchi’s Red Cross class was heavily Ukrainian, and it highlighted some divisions in the community. A few people shared her opposition to Russian aggression. “But there’s a lot of mixed opinions, and it can be very hot,” she said. “I don’t want any arguments, so I don’t ask others.”
At the New Wave Ukrainian Heritage School in Brooklyn, students drew cards for Ukrainian fighters killed in the 2014 uprising against the country’s allied government with Russia. Michael Rozdolska, 8, whose grandmother is the principal, said he didn’t know any of his classmates who were scared. But if it is, he said, “I will tell them that Ukraine will win. Or maybe the Russian president will die, and they will get a better one.”
Tensions could be seen last week at Streecha, a Ukrainian church canteen in the East Village. Dmytro Kovalenko, the manager, said that today, the television of the Ukrainian newsroom does not stop, but it is still not enough for customers.
“We all check for updates every 10, 15 minutes,” he said. “It’s a time of worries.”
Mr. Kovalenko, 41, emigrated from eastern Ukraine amid an earlier clash with Russia and pro-Russian forces in 2014. He said the situation is now even worse.
“Back then, in 2014, we didn’t know what was going to happen, so we didn’t worry much,” he said. “When they invaded Crimea and started the real war, shelling, killing people, now we know what can happen. There is more tension because we know what to expect after the first steps.”
Ukraine has become a tech hub in Eastern Europe and many of the recent arrivals work in tech businesses that help them stay connected with their old homeland. Anna Polishchuk, who splits her time between New York and the Bay Area, is the co-founder and chief product officer of the startup Allset, which has offices in the United States and Ukraine. Part of her job now is to plan for the unknown.
What if the internet connection fails? What if she had to move operations to safer areas in Ukraine or elsewhere in Europe?
“The connection in Ukraine can be hacked easily, so there is always a risk of no connection,” Ms. Polishchuk said. “If something happens and it stops working, we need to move people quickly. You never know before it happens. We need to have a contingency plan, who goes where.”
Even if Russian troops do not advance through the breakaway territories they entered on Monday, Bogdan Globa, an LGBTQ rights activist who applied for asylum in the United States in 2016, said Russia could cripple Ukraine financially and is still actively promoting LGBTQ activism in Ukraine.
“Many investments will not come to Ukraine this year,” he said. “It will have a huge economic impact on Ukraine. That’s what Russia wants. They want this mess forever at the border. People will leave Ukraine, the economy will be in bad shape. They don’t need to invade Ukraine. They can take Ukraine politically with pro-Russian parties and win elections.”
The warning of an invasion coincided with New York fashion week, which brought Russian and Ukrainian models and photographers to runway shows and parties. Models Sasha Knysh and Helga Hitko, who moved to New York from Dnipro, eastern Ukraine, say their Russian colleagues have been very supportive.
“It’s one of the top topics to talk about right now,” Ms. Knysh said. “They want to know, how is my family. But it’s hard to tell them, because nobody knows.”
Like others interviewed, they said it was unsettling to talk to their families in Ukraine, who refused to think about leaving.
“They don’t believe it,” Ms. Knysh said. “They believe that a lot of Russian troops are on the border, but they don’t believe that anything is going to happen. They think it’s all just a big provocation. I said, maybe they want to move to the west of Ukraine, because it’s more stable, but they don’t want to talk about it, because all their lives are there. They are trying to keep hope, but you also have to see reality.”
Maryna Prykhodko, who works with Ukrainian women’s organizations at the United Nations, said that due to the time difference, events in Ukraine arrive in New York at midnight, adding sleep loss to other stresses.
“The act of opening my eyes and waking up in the morning means I have to look at my phone and be able to see that the idea of my hometown no longer exists and the people I love and know are dead or dying. “, she said. “Pretty much anything to wake up to.”
As the day goes by, she says, the stress never goes away.
“I can be on a pedestrian walkway in New York and I’m calculating how much time my family has to get into their basement before a bomb destroys their house, I’m counting. Calculate the time it takes a Russian tank to reach my doorstep in Ukraine from the Russian border,” she said. “When I got those updates on my phone at 4 a.m. that something had happened somewhere, I was immediately awake and had no hope of sleeping at that point.”
Katya Shokalo, a Ukrainian lawyer, plans to spend the year earning a degree from New York University, then returning home to her husband, Vitalii Peretiatko. Now all plans are put on hold.
“It’s hard to think about the future,” she said. “This is a real change. It’s a must-plan when you’re only planning for yourself. But now you worry every day what will happen to your family. It can’t be planned anymore.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/23/nyregion/nyc-ukrainians.html NYC’s Ukrainians are worried and scared