It seems that you can’t look at the news these days without seeing something about Ukraine. From the protests in Kiev, to the Russian annexation of Crimea, to the instability in its eastern cities, Ukraine might not be the place to visit right now. But New Yorkers need not venture far to experience authentic Ukrainian culture.
The East Village has long been a melting-pot neighborhood with various ethnic groups calling it home over the years. Ukrainians are no exception. Ukrainian immigration to New York coincided with other mass European immigrations in the late 19th century. Another mass Ukrainian immigration occurred during and after World War II, as Ukrainians escaped the Nazis and Russians. According to the East Village/Lower East Side Designation Report, Ukrainian immigrants tended to settle predominantly on 7th Street in the East Village. It is in this area that Ukrainian culture and architecture is visible today.
Ukrainian worship appears to have its origins in the East Village, when, in 1890, Father
Alexander Dzubaj led Ukrainian immigrants in prayer at St. Brigid Church on Avenue A. After moving several times, the delegation purchased a Methodist church on East 7th Street, between Second and Third Avenue, in 1911. St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Church served as the home for Ukrainian worship until a new St. George’s was built in 1978. The current St. George’s, located on the same street, is a fantastic example of neo-Byzantine Renaissance architecture and possesses a very Eastern European feel to it. The church has sponsored the Ukrainian Festival every year since 1976 where Ukrainian performers and artists are put on display for all of New York to enjoy. This year, the festival will be held from May 16th -18th.
The Ukrainian Museum, located just south of St. George’s, is the largest museum in the United States dedicated to collecting and preserving art work and other artifacts relating to Ukraine’s cultural heritage. Established in the 1970s, the museum moved into a new building in 2005, which granted it ample space to display its art, as well as house its archives. The museum has a collection of over 10,000 pieces of art and leads programs dedicated to both historic and current topics of Ukrainian life and culture. The Schevenko Scientific Society, founded in 1873 in Lviv, Ukraine and named after the poet Taras Schenenko, is a preeminent scholarly institution dealing with Ukrainian and Slavic studies. Following its closure in Ukraine by the Soviets in 1939, the Society relocated to Fourth Avenue, near Astor Place, in 1943. The Society sponsors neighborhood education programs and periodically hosts lectures and poetry readings.
Of course, one cannot truly experience a different culture without trying its food. Luckily, the East Village provides opportunities to dine like a Ukrainian. Veselka, perhaps the best known Ukrainian restaurant in New York, has served borscht, pierogies, goulash, kutya, and other traditional Ukrainian foods since 1954 from its location at the corner of East 9th Street and Second Avenue. Many college students, myself included, have surely found themselves in Veselka in the wee hours of the morning enjoying the delicious Ukrainian cuisine. Just down the street, in the Ukrainian National Home, is Karpaty Pub, better known as Sly Fox. The Ukrainian bartenders there will gladly pour you a shot of Ukrainian vodka while they recall what life was like under communism.
If experiencing Ukrainian culture is on your to-do list, simply head to the East Village. Ukrainian culture is clearly alive and well in the neighborhood.