Little Ukraine in the East Village is so named because it boasts the biggest population of Ukrainian New Yorkers — all proud of their heritage, but now experiencing the heartbreak of war.
Storefronts and apartments in the district have been draping their businesses and homes with Ukrainian blue-and-gold flags as the Russian invasion intensifies. On Feb. 24, the area exuded both a sense of unity and eerie sorrow as many Ukrainian natives are consumed with anxiety over their loved ones who remain in imminent danger.
A sign reading “Pray for Ukraine” can be found hanging on the entranceway of St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church on East 7th Street. Candles flickered beneath the makeshift shrine, encompassing the hopes of locals that somehow, someway the conflict will reach a peaceful solution.
Oksana Ivafid is a Ukrainian native who has lived in New York City for 26 years. The war became a harsh reality for her and her family when she heard the United States embassy in Kyiv was closing. Since Feb. 12 there has been “Do Not Travel” notifications displayed, and then the order to immediately evacuate government workers in the Ukraine.
“I feel literally scared about it. My family all live on the West Side closer to Europe,” Ivafid shared, stating that she worries for all of the innocent people in the Ukraine and Russia who are being put at risk for this war. “There are so many mothers, fathers, who are going to be sad like I am. I want everybody to live in peace.”
Ivafid says that Putin doesn’t care about anyone, not Russians and certainly not the Ukrainian people. She prays for peace because she knows that this war will affect the world.
“My family are sad and upset,” Ivafid said.
Businesses like the East Village Meat Market and adjacent restaurant Veselka have hung the Ukrainian flag in their windows in a show of solidarity. They are not the only ones though.
Residents who do not have connections to Ukraine but have long since called the area home are also showing their support.
Rajani Tewairi has lived in Little Ukraine for 30 years and left her home wearing a blue hat and yellow bag. She is not only worried for her friends but also the future as a whole.
“I think it’s really dangerous and I think it’s like a tinderbox like what Austria, Hungry was like all those years ago. I really think that this can turn into something much, much bigger,” Tewairi said, listing the immediate impact this the attacks have had on the stock market, gas prices, and more.
“It breaks my heart,” Tewairi added. “You can’t ignore that there are people here that have family there. This is very real, and it brings it home.”