Planning a trip soon? Make sure you take in the Annual Ukrainian Festival on 17 May – the area’s streets shut down for the whole in celebration of Ukraine’s national cuisine, music, and culture.
Food, Drink and
Souvenirs Ukrainian Style
Locals know that the East Village Meat Market on Second Avenue is the best place to get good kovbasa. The store’s owner, Julian Baczunsky, 89, migrated to New York in 1949 after spending several years in a German labour camp. He opened a store on Avenue B in 1955, but closed it before opening the Meat Market in 1970. The store has drawn a number of Ukrainian celebrities, including the first President of Ukraine, Mykhailo Hrushevskiy.
Local bar Sly Fox, or “Lys Mykyta”, is designed to look like a log cabin in the Carpathian Mountains. Locals in the know affectionately call it Karpaty Pub.
Another place to check out is Veselka, one of the best known Ukrainian restaurants in New York City, located nearby on 9th and Second Avenue. The restaurant regularly appears in movies and has been featured on shows like Gossip Girl. Veselka was originally founded by the late Wolodymyk Darmochwol in 1975. Like Baczunsky, Darmochwol lived in a labour camp in Germany before immigrating to the US.
For Ukrainian books and media, you can count on Surma Book & Music Company, which dates back to the 1800s. The store also boasts an Andriivskiy-Uzviz-worthy collection of matrioshka dolls and traditional Ukrainian souvenirs and gifts.
Other Key Sites
Little Ukraine continues to thrive; after the collapse of the Soviet UNI0N in 1991, Ukrainians were able to immigrate to America and a new wave of Ukrainians arrived in Manhattan. Though rising rents have driven out many recent émigrés, the area is abuzz on weekends, when Ukrainians drive in from the suburbs to enjoy a taste of home. Many bring their kids to St George’s or the Kyiv National House for Ukrainian language lessons. Once there, they can participate in PLAST or CYM, two international Ukrainian youth groups similar to the Boy Scouts, but that reward children for learning Ukrainian songs and poems. The Roma Pryma Bohachevska School teaches Ukrainian folkloric dance nearby.
Since its construction in 1905, St George’s Ukrainian Catholic Church has been the heart of Little Ukraine. It’s Easter masses are often so popular that crowds of worshippers spill out into the streets. The Church runs a school nearby, St George’s Academy, where students can take Ukrainian lessons. Nearly 250 students are currently enrolled in the school, which is located on East 6th Street and Taras Shevchenko Place.
Make sure you check out the Ukrainian Museum, located on 6th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. The Ukrainian National Women’s League of America founded it in 1976 and it is the largest Ukrainian heritage museum in the US. In 2005, the museum moved into its current home, a cutting-edge facility designed by Ukrainian American architect George Sawicki. Donations from Ukrainian American New Yorkers funded the US$5 million complex. With folk art, fine art, and archival materials at its core, the museum organises regular exhibitions, with catalogues written in Ukrainian and English.
A Home for Exiled Scholars
Although it is not located in Little Ukraine proper, no discussion of the Ukrainian diaspora in New York is complete without mentioning the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences (UVAN). Located on 100th Street, UVAN is dedicated to the “promotion and advancement of Ukrainian studies”. UVAN was created in 1950 and was initially known as the Ukrainian Free Academy of Sciences, as it counted many exiled scholars among its members during Soviet rule. Home to a Ukrainian-language library of 55,000 books and 500,000 museum archival holdings, it is the largest Ukrainian-language archive outside of Ukraine. In addition, the Academy has published over 140 books and journals, including seminal works on various aspects of Ukraine’s national culture, architecture, and history. It also organises lectures, conferences, concerts, and art exhibitions featuring Ukrainian artists and luminaries.
A Home Away From Home
Businesses like Veselka and East Village Meat Market are brick-and-mortar testament to the tenacity and courage of the Ukrainian spirit. The Academy, where scholars huddled over Ukrainian texts banned during Soviet rule, is living proof of the indomitable Ukrainian spirit and casts the ongoing national language debate in a new light.
As the Frank Sinatra song goes, “New York, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” Ukrainians have not only made it in New York, they’ve made the city their own with businesses and organisations that have withstood the test of time and will continue to serve as a home away from home for Ukrainians across the Atlantic.