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In New York’s ‘Little Odessa,’ Ukrainians see Russians as neighbors, not enemies -Breaking

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© Reuters. The Guardian Angel Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn, New York City has attached flags of Ukraine to its pews, March 4, 2022. Picture taken March 4, 2022. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

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Jonathan Allen and Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters). Inga Solnikova filled 2 rooms at her Brighton Beach salon, New York City, with donations of diapers and clothes, as well as medical supplies, for Ukraine.

This diverse neighborhood on the waterfront in South Brooklyn was home to many Ukrainian Americans and Ukrainian-American residents. But, donations were also made by Russians and Uzbeks as well as Georgians and Azerbaijanis.

They all bring things here from their own parts of the globe, and they gather them together. She spends her own money, and brings things here,” Sokolnikova, 48 said in tears.

Brighton Beach has seen the effects of the conflict in Ukraine. The neighborhood is filled with Cyrillic sign, where people from Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union have lived side-by side since the 1970s. They earned the nickname Little Odessa.

While Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine only two weeks ago stirred emotions, many Ukrainians said they were supported by the whole community.

Yelena Makhnin (executive director, Brighton Beach Improvement District) stated that there is “no tension.” Ukrainians should speak Ukrainian today if you are human.

Makhnin, 60 years old, claimed she couldn’t sleep for days after friends who were involved in the conflict bombarded her mobile phone with text messages and calls. For support, she leaned on her Russian husband for 14 years.

“He understands. He knows. She said that he doesn’t talk a lot to me about it. He comes and he sits beside me. He holds my hand every time.

Irina, a 63 year-old Ukrainian American woman, was worried about the spread of prejudice against Russians. She wondered if it would be a good idea to rebrand her Brighton Beach ballet school, founded almost 30 years ago.

Brighton Ballet Theater calls itself a school of Russian American Ballet. Roizin wanted people to understand that this was referring only to Agrippina Vaganova’s teaching methods.

She stated, “We cannot remove Russian composers such as Tchaikovsky from our lives” and made a distinction between the Russian people and their government. “I do not want people to be angry at Russia like COVID made many people mad about China.

Many businesses have Ukrainian flags hanging from them. Donations to support the Ukrainian community and others are being organized all over the area. Russian American Officers Association is a group of Russian-speaking police officers from New York. It has placed donation boxes in stations throughout the city to receive first-aid kits and gauze.

DONATION DRIVE

The women sort through boxes of cardboard and plastic bags containing donations to Brighton Beach’s Guardian Angel Roman Catholic Church. They found ramen noodles, pasta, toothpaste, tampons and multicolored clothing jumbles.

The plan was to send it to Polish contacts who could help it cross the Ukrainian border. Parents and staff from a Saturday school in the area for Ukrainian children organized this effort. They also contacted parishioners of the church to help distribute it across Ukraine’s border.

Sergiy Emanuel (the church’s multilingual priest) summoned photos from his smartphone sent by a friend to Zhytomyr in Ukraine that showed an abandoned school. According to him, he received support calls and donations from Russian-speaking people because of their accent.

He stated, “People are afraid to claim they’re Russian.” They say “Oh, we are from here.” They have to be scared of claiming they’re Russian. Why? “Due to one insane man?”

Women sorting donations felt that their efforts were modest. However, it was better than doing nothing. It also provided an escape from worrying about Ukraine and the uncertainty of their loved ones. Many described feeling panic after trying to contact a loved one but getting no response.

Iuliia, 33 year-old Saturday school teacher said that the worst thing is when it’s both day and night. We pray that they wake up, and call us.

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