Climate crisis and migration: Greta Thunberg supports International Organization for Migration (IOM) over ‘life and death’ issueRead more United Nations (UN) Convenes Lake Chad Countries, Amid Growing Regional CrisisRead more 11 Disruptive Startups Selected for Cohort 3 of the Africa Startup Initiative Program (ASIP) Accelerator Program powered by Startupbootcamp AfricaRead more Africa Data Centres breaks ground on new Sameer facility in NairobiRead more Coffee with a human face: A union that improves livelihoods for Ugandan farmersRead more Trends Predicted to drive the retail industry in 2023Read more Vantage Capital exits Pétro IvoireRead more Afrobarometer charts path for Round 10 surveysRead more Unified communication and collaboration trends for 2023 (By David Meintjes)Read more 2023 starts with BIG IMPACT on Bizcommunity!Read more

In New York’s ‘Little Odessa,’ solidarity but also fractures over war

show caption
In Little Odessa's historic district, Russian restaurants line the promenade with signs in Cyrillic and many shopfronts display the yellow and blue colors of Ukraine./AFP
Print Friendly and PDF

Mar 20, 2022 - 01:43 PM

NEW YORK — When Russia attacked Ukraine, Bobby Rakhman changed the name of his grocery store in the “Little Odessa” neighborhood of New York from Taste of Russia to International Foods out of respect for his Ukrainian neighbors.

“We felt that the name Taste of Russia was inappropriate,” the Russian-American tells AFP, adding that the switch was done “in solidarity” with Ukraine.

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered armed forces into Ukraine on February 24, tension and sorrow have gripped this neighborhood in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, a tight-knit community of Russians and eastern Europeans.

Unlike at other restaurants and businesses in nearby Manhattan, Rakhman tells AFP that no one has threatened or boycotted his store, whose employees include Ukrainians with family in their native country.

“We have a mix of clientele. We haven’t had any confrontation in the store, what goes outside the store I can’t say,” he says.

But even if there haven’t been clashes between Russians and Ukrainians in Little Odessa, “People are very angry and sad,” adds the 51-year-old.

“Everyone is talking about the war”, says Rakhman, whose parents opened his store in the 1970s after arriving as refugees from the Soviet Union.

This seaside neighborhood was named after the Ukrainian city of the same name, known as the “Pearl of the Black Sea” and which today is threatened by Russian forces.

It has a high Russian-speaking population and is made up largely of Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe.

Many Holocaust survivors who fled to the United States settled in the area, with Russians and Russian-speakers following after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

According to US census figures, 45 percent of Brighton Beach residents speak a Slavic language at home.

In the streets of the historic district, where Russian restaurants line the promenade, signs in Cyrillic are seen and many shopfronts display the yellow and blue colors of Ukraine. Anti-war posters have also been stuck up.

But there are signs that the conflict is causing some fractures in the community.

“We lost a lot of friends from Russia here,” explains Liliya Myronyuk, a 56-year-old Ukrainian who has lived in Little Odessa for 18 years.

“I live like in war. Every day for me is war,” she confesses, referring to the “suffering” of relatives in Ukraine, before bursting into tears.


For Myronyuk, many Russians support Putin, even if “the majority of people are in favor of peace.”

Before the US government cut off Russian media, channels like RT were the only sources of news for many older people who don’t speak English.

Myronyuk admits that if she watched a few days of Russian TV then she, a Ukrainian, would end up hating Ukraine.

“It’s very strong propaganda,” she tells AFP.

Victoria Neznansky, a 60-year-old psychotherapist who came from Odessa with her parents in 1989, explains that the “Brighton Beach community has been bombarded by Russian propaganda for a long time.”

Now, she thinks, some older residents “don’t know who to believe anymore.”

“They don’t know and don’t want to know the new Ukraine, independent and free, with many hopes and inspirations. (Some) view Ukraine as a foreign western country that betrayed Russia,” says Neznansky.

MAORANDCITIES.COM uses both Facebook and Disqus comment systems to make it easier for you to contribute. We encourage all readers to share their views on our articles and blog posts. All comments should be relevant to the topic. By posting, you agree to our Privacy Policy. We are committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion, so we ask you to avoid personal attacks, name-calling, foul language or other inappropriate behavior. Please keep your comments relevant and respectful. By leaving the ‘Post to Facebook’ box selected – when using Facebook comment system – your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below. If you encounter a comment that is abusive, click the “X” in the upper right corner of the Facebook comment box to report spam or abuse. You can also email us.