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Recognizing the Civic Institutions of Little Ukraine

Ukrainians have long loomed large in the cultural tapestry of the East Village. Indeed, well before the neighborhood was dubbed the East Village, many knew a portion of it — and still do — as Little Ukraine. Like many immigrant groups, the first wave of Ukrainian immigration into the United States consisted of individuals flocking to economic opportunity in the United States during its rapid economic expansion after the Civil War. Smaller waves followed but were dwarfed by that of refugees during World War II and its aftermath. The majority of them settled in the Northeast, with tens of thousands of them finding a new home in the East Village and turning that neighborhood into a social, civic, and spiritual center of gravity for the Ukrainian community, with 2nd Avenue and 7th Street as its focal point. These developments have greatly enriched the physical and cultural landscape of the neighborhood. Changes have included symbolic ones, like the renaming of Hall Place — the street connecting 6th and 7th street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue — in honor of Taras Shevchenko, a foundational Ukrainian literary figure. They’ve also included hearty gastronomic additions (e.g. Veselka, Ukrainian East Village Restaurant; Streecha; and Meat Market J. Baczynsky) and a variety of places of worship, such as St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church, All Saints Ukrainian Church, and Cornerstone, First Ukrainian Assembly of God.

Today, however, we take a look at some of the other civic institutions that have for decades supported the Ukrainian community and promoted its culture and history in Little Ukraine. 

We start with the Shevchenko Scientific Society (4th Avenue at 10th Street), the headquarters for a society originally established in Lviv, Ukraine in 1873 but dissolved by the Soviets in 1939. The current incarnation of the group relaunched in the neighborhood in 1948, and since then has been a home for scholarly activity focusing on Ukrainian concerns. It contains a research library, an archive dealing with Ukraine and its diaspora, as well as offices and lecture halls. The archive consists of an extensive and ever-growing assembly of private and organizational collections of all manner of documentation regarding the life of Ukrainians. A bi-annual publication, The Bulletin, covers the newest acquisitions both to the archive and to the organization’s library. In furtherance of its mission, the Shevchenko Scientific Society also offers a variety of research grants and has financed and published major scholarly endeavors, such as volumes of the Encyclopedia of Ukrainian Diaspora, which is available for sale at their bookstore. In addition, the Society hosts several research centers. One of them deals with the demographic and socio-economic study of Ukrainians in the United States. Another focuses on the interdisciplinary study and publication of primary sources concerning Ukrainian literature, philology, history, and culture more broadly. 

A few blocks from the Shevchenko Scientific Society we find another pillar of the Ukrainian diaspora, the Ukrainian National Women’s Association of America (UNWLA, 2nd Avenue at 13th Street). UNWLA has been bringing women of Ukrainian descent together to assist Ukrainians the world over through a wide range of cultural, educational, and humanitarian initiatives. Founded in New York City almost a hundred years ago, since that time the group has become involved in some of the most noteworthy developments of the past century. They organized a pavilion at the World’s Columbian Exposition, assisted the resettlement of Ukrainians displaced by WWII, and led a campaign to bring attention to the Chernobyl and other nuclear plant disasters. Beyond these efforts, UNWLA has also raised relief funds in response to numerous humanitarian crises, sponsored schools and pre-schools in Ukrainian studies in Germany, Austria, and Belgium, established a scholarship fund, financed the English translation of an oral history of the Holodomor, and launched Our Life, a newsletter-turned-monthly-magazine that has covered subjects of Ukrainian concern since 1944. Of special interest to our neighborhood, UNWLA also established the Ukrainian Museum. 

The Ukrainian Museum (6th Street btw 2nd and 3rd Avenues) is the largest museum in the country dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of artifacts and works of artistic and historical significance to Ukrainian culture. Operating since 2005 out of a new building designed by Ukrainian-American architect George Sawicki and funded by contributions from the Ukrainian-American community, the museum boasts an extensive collection of fine and folk art, as well as a vast archive of photographs, posters, letters, and sundry documents that capture the life and history of the Ukrainian people both in their home country and in the United States. Beyond these materials, the museum also offers a wide array of public programs, including conferences, concerts, and fantastic workshops. Do you want to learn how to make traditional Christmas tree ornaments? Do you want to learn how to decorate Ukrainian Easter eggs (pysanky) — and who hasn’t? The Ukrainian Museum is the place for you. 

Finally, just a block from the Ukrainian Museum, we find the Self Reliance Association of Ukrainian Americans (2nd Avenue at 6th Street). This association has been serving the community since the 1950s, providing essential services to recent immigrants and subsequent generations. In 1951, it started sponsoring a Federal Credit Union for Ukrainian-Americans. This is a cooperative institution that offers affordable financial services to its members and is democratically governed by them. Since that time the Association has also sponsored the Saturday Ukrainian Heritage School, which operates out of the nearby Saint George Academy and provides instruction in the Ukrainian language and in the country’s culture, music, literature, geography, and history from nursery school through twelfth grade. At the other end of the age spectrum, since 1997 the organization has operated a senior club that has offered a variety of social services and seminars, as well as exercise sessions, bingo nights, and excursions to museums, the botanical garden, and St. Josaphat’s Monastery in Glen Cove, among other places. Recently the Association has started hosting weekly political discussion groups. There is plenty to talk about.

These institutions are just a few examples of the dozens of organizations, businesses, and churches that have sustained the Ukrainian community for decades. Today, we celebrate their contribution towards making Little Ukraine the thriving neighborhood that it is today. 

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