When it comes to Ukrainian culture, I know zip, nada, nothing and am fully comfortable with admitting my ignorance about this country. But if you can remember, check out here if you don’t, what excites me the most in life is exploration of the unknown; it’s what fuels the very essence of my being. With this in mind, I was more than up to the challenge of learning about Ukrainian culture and history in NYC’s Little Ukraine!
Prior to my recent Culture Weekend Staycation to Little Ukraine in the East Village, the first thing that came to mind when I thought about Ukrainian culture was Russian culture. I know, that’s so wrong; not all Eastern Europeans are alike.
But perhaps I’m not alone with this mixup. I mean, the Ukraine was part of the United Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) and was occupied by Russia prior to The Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. Nevertheless, Ukrainian culture is unique and distinct from Russian culture (you’ll learn more about this in my Ukrainian from home post coming soon!).
A third of NYC’s 80,000 Ukrainian immigrants reside in the East Village’s Little Ukraine. Some sources indicated that Little Ukraine is bordered by 14th St and Houston Ave, but I beg to differ. After scouring the different streets and avenues in this area, it became obvious that Little Ukraine is concentrated on 2nd Avenue between East 6th and 7th Streets. This is the hub of Ukrainian culture in NYC.
Little Ukraine is small in comparison to Little Egypt’s Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens, but definitely more distinct and larger than the East Village’s other ethnic enclave of Little Manila,
While in the East Village, I stopped by several iconic landmarks of Ukrainian culture. St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church (30 East 7th St.) is recognized as the nucleus of the Ukrainian community and was originally founded in 1905. Right across the street is Surma- The Ukrainian Shop (11 East 7th St), a mainstay in the neighborhood, established in 1918. This Ukrainian shop consists of an array of Ukrainian cultural items such as Ukrainian Easter eggs (pysanka), woven items, porcelain, wood crafts and hand-painted icons.
Walk along 2nd Avenue to sample Ukrainian delicacies at neighboring restaurants: Veselka (144 2nd Ave) or Ukrainian East Village Restaurant (140 2nd Ave); you can’t go wrong at either establishment. Need to sample your Ukrainian culinary curiosities from home? Right across the street from the aforementioned restaurants is the East Village Meat Market aka J. Baczynsky Market (#1 139 2nd Ave.), a gourmet marketplace featuring Ukrainian specialities including some of the best fresh kielbasa, potato pancakes and blintzes.
The All Saints Ukranian Orthodox Church (11th St and 3rd Ave) recently had beautiful artwork added to it’s front exterior, a significant alteration to the bare and beige stucco walls from its 1970′s inception. You can read about the church’s history and renovations on the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation blog.
The next stop on my exploration of Ukrainian culture in NYC was The Ukrainian Museum. Upon entering, I was greeted to the left by a small gallery of pysanka, or beautifully and intricately adorned Ukranian Easter eggs. Judging from the intricate design work, (eggs are written on using a stylus with colored beeswax and etched by hand) it’s safe to assume that Ukrainians take this pass-time very serious. In fact, pysanka were once thought to hold supernatural powers, possessing the ability to ward off evil spirits and cure disease! I could use some of these!
While the Ukrainian Museum is small, consisting of 2.5 floors of exhibits, it packs a huge punch! There were many interesting exhibits throughout, including one on Ukrainian women’s fashion. Who knew Ukrainians were so fashionable? Most artwork was contemporary with the exception of the display cases in the basement floor which housed ceramic pieces.The Ukrainian Museum 222 East 6th St. (b/n 2nd and 3rd Aves) New York, NY 10003
After the Ukrainian Museum, I was ready for lunch and just a few blocks away was Ukrainian foodie icon, Veselka. This popular restaurant has a strong following that’s enabled them to keep their doors open to customers for over 50 years; a huge feat in NYC’s cut throat restaurant business!
On the menu, a smorgasbord of Ukrainian delicacies from stuffed cabbage, to an assortment of kielbasa and pirogies. I wanted to try it all so I opted for the Deluxe Vegetarian Plate. My meal came with a house salad, beef borscht, pirogies, kasha (a grain similar to quinoa) and stuffed cabbage with mushroom gravy. Overall, the food was good and definitely hearty! My favorite was the beef borscht (or beet soup)! My least favorite: cabbage stuffed with kasha. If you’re not a fan of quinoa, then you probably won’t like kasha much. Overall, great restaurant in terms of ambiance, service and food; a must try if you’re looking to sample Ukrainian cuisine.
Touring Little Ukraine in NYC’s East Village is a pleasant stroll through a few blocks on 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Allocate about 2-3 hours to see everything from the churches, shops and restaurants.
And if time permits, there a few notable Ukrainian cultural institutions outside of Little Ukraine. The Ukraine Institute of America (2 East 79th St.) is housed at the Fletcher-Sinclair mansion and features art, music and literature of the Ukraine. There is also the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences (206 West 100th St.) and Shevchenko Scientific Society (63 Fourth Ave).
Looking for Ukrainian festivals? Each year in April there is an Ukrainian film festival aptly titled Kinofest. Also, as the weather begins to warm up, look out for the Annual Ukrainian Festival that takes place in May.
Did this Culture Weekend Staycation to Little Ukraine in NYC help you discover Ukrainian culture closer to home?
New to Culture Weekend Staycations? Read all about CW Staycations.
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