They are killing us. Amid the hip restaurants and overpriced bars of New York City’s East Village, the sidewalks are indignant; signs tacked across the brick walls demand attention from the aging hipsters, NYU undergrads and occasional punker ghosts. Brutal intervention. New imperialism and war.
Just south of the holistic petcare store on 2nd avenue, it’s obvious something shattering has happened. Is it legal? Rest in Peace. It’s here that New Yorkers have stumbled into Little Ukraine—a fading immigrant enclave surrounded by the commodified cool of kitsch boutiques. Putin’s actions in Crimea are reminiscent of Hitler’s actions in the Sudetenland in 1938. A haphazard memorial of roses, votive candles, and black-and-white pictures of the dead portray a community united around a single demand: Russian soldiers out of Ukraine.
Step into some of the nearby cafes and you’ll find that the spoken conversations match the messages on the signs. Sandwiched between the theater playing “Stomp” and a smoke shop is Stage Restaurant, a sixteen-stool, lunch-counter style Ukrainian diner. Today, the place is quiet, the muffled sounds of pedestrians outside mixing with the smells of butter-fried varenyky and caramelized onions that hang thick in the air.
Behind the counter wearing a backwards cap over his graying hair is Andriy Kvasnytsya, Stage’s long-time cook and resident quipster. “You can consider it like a war now, it’s a war,” he says over the clatter of forks, knives and plates. “So far I haven't met anybody pro-Putin.”
Wiping down a glass case displaying rice puddings and cheesecakes, he says dismissively, “I think the problem in Russia is they are brainwashed now…. Outside big cities, in the country, they only have TV,” which is “all controlled by the government.” Not that he holds it against his Russian customers. In the permissive crucible of the diaspora, the 49-year-old prefers wit to ill will. “I told one of them, I said ‘listen, you be careful speaking Russian in Brighton Beach because Putin might come over there and ‘protect’ you and ‘liberate’ you.”
A community that once sent care packages of western clothing, food and toys home to their families in Ukraine are now sending money to fund protests, medical assistance, legal fees and informational campaigns in the heart of the uprising, Kiev. An announcement tacked to the door of the Ukrainian National Home restaurant (“Euromaidan in Ukraine needs support!”) offers easy ways for potential contributors to donate via PayPal, wire transfer or direct deposit.
“Several of us helped set up a fundraiser to help people on the square… working as volunteers on our days off,” says Maria Lutsan, one of Stage’s servers. The Lviv native worries about rumors she hears from those abroad, a crucial source of information for the Ukrainian diaspora. “My friend in Odessa tells me that Russians have started showing up, organizing pro-Russian meetings. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it scares me.”