Portraits of Ukrainian and Russian New Yorkers

(Video: Sasha Maslov and Sasha Arutyunova for The Washington Post)

‘Since the war began, we have lived in two time zones’

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The New York region is home to a quarter of Ukrainian and Russian immigrants in the United States.

And over the last two months, many members of these communities have been glued to television and social media and watched the war in Ukraine unfold. Many Ukrainian Americans are afraid of their family and friends and desperate for help. The Russian Americans are appalled by the violence and on guard against the oppression in their homeland.

We have interviewed several people about the crisis and how it is affecting their society. Below we have told their stories.

Wolynetz is curator and librarian at the Ukrainian Museum and Library in Stamford, Conn., And lives in Queens, NY

For Wolynetz, the recent scenes on television of Ukrainians fleeing with as much of their belongings as they could carry felt familiar. It was “very similar to what we went through,” Wolynetz said.

As a child, Wolynetz fled Ukraine with his family to escape communism and spent four years in a deportation camp in Germany. She later immigrated to the United States after World War II. From what she’s seen, the current emigration is “a much more horrible situation today. More cruel, more murderous, much more inhuman.”

Lubow has long been active in the Ukrainian American community and is the curator and librarian at the Ukrainian Museum and Library. Lubow was last in Ukraine in 2021, on the 30th anniversary of the country’s independence from the Soviet Union. “It was a wonderful, very uplifting time,” Wolynetz said. “And then came the war.”

Druzhinin, a hedge fund trader, works in New York City and lives in Connecticut.

Druzhinin grew up in Sukhumi, Georgia, before fleeing to Moscow to escape the war between Russian-backed separatists and the Georgian army in Abkhazia in 1992.

“When I talk to friends in Russia about the atrocities being committed, most people are willing to listen, but they still have a hard time believing what I say.”

– Alexei Druzhinin

Today he lives in Connecticut with his wife, Tanya Voitkevich. He describes the conflict in Ukraine as one between the Western rule-based order and a Kremlin that clings to the rest of its former global influence.

Druzhinin said his friends in Russia are extremely cautious about discussing the conflict. “Every call I make has to be over an encrypted service. People are scared,” he said.

The biggest challenge, he added, is to break through the information barriers that the Kremlin raises as the conflict unfolds. “Russian society is divided,” he said. “When I talk to friends in Russia about the atrocities being committed, most people are willing to listen, but they still have a hard time believing what I say.”

Chomiak, who lives in New York City, is the president of Razom, a non-profit Ukrainian-American human rights organization.

Chomiak leads Razom, which means “together” in Ukrainian. It was founded in 2014 with the aim of creating a more prosperous Ukraine. The group has provided job training, mental health support and English-language learning for years.

That has changed since the war began.

“Our job 24/7 since February 24… has been to save as many lives as we can,” Chomiak said, adding that Razom has provided Ukraine with medical supplies and other resources. When the conflict broke out, Chomiak “could not believe my mother’s childhood was happening again,” she said.

“My mother is in her 80s and she grew up as a child of war,” Chomiak said. “I really did not think we were a place like humans on this planet where we were so barbaric that we just wanted to attack, unprovoked and with this level of destruction and brutality.”

Zgurov is a neurosurgeon living in New York City.

Zgurov immigrated to the United States about 2½ years ago.

“Since the war began, we have lived in two time zones,” he said. “We live in an American time zone and in [the] Ukrainian time zone. “His relatives have not left Ukraine because” they want to stay on their land. “

Knowing that his family is still in Ukraine “is a stressful thing, but on the other hand, I feel an overwhelming respect for their choices.” He urges Russians and Russian Americans to be vocal about the war.

“Unfortunately, many Russians, not all of them, but many of them just decided to keep quiet,” Zgurov said. “With this terrible situation, silence is a crime.”

Sheynfeld, an artist, lives in Manhattan.

Sheynfeld moved to the United States from Odessa in 1988, when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union. Ten years earlier, her parents unsuccessfully applied to immigrate to the United States, triggering retaliation from the authorities, which set the stage for a decade-long struggle to escape Soviet persecution.

Sheynfeld, who speaks Russian, is today a U.S. citizen living in Manhattan. “The war is stunning in its horror. It is the worst crime Putin has committed,” she said.

Sheynfeld, a successful artist whose works have been exhibited around the world, recently organized an exhibition at the New York Ceres Gallery to support the Ukrainian people.

“It felt especially good to reconnect with all the people we know in New York who all feel exactly the same way,” she said.

Sheynfeld paints 12 portraits of Ukrainian women displaced by the conflict, set against the backdrop of the Odessa landscape. “It feels good to help wherever we can,” Sheynfeld said.

Pevzner lives in Brooklyn and runs Brighton Care Pharmacy.

On August 19, 1991, Pevzner stood in front of Moscow’s Russian parliament building and watched Boris Yeltsin climb on a tank to speak out despite the military coup that was about to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev. As Russian civilians flocked to a nearby square to protest the coup, Pevzner saw the writing on the wall.

A year later, he immigrated with his family to the United States. Today, he owns Brighton Care Pharmacy in New York City’s Brighton Beach, known by the city’s residents as Little Odessa.

Gorbachev’s policy of economic liberalization – called glasnost – had triggered a spiral of inflation in Russia similar to that triggered today by Western sanctions. “I did not like where Russia was going economically and I needed to find an opportunity to work. There was nothing available in Russia,” Pevzner said.

“I am totally against the war in Ukraine,” he said.

Pevzner said his conversations with friends and relatives in Moscow reveal a sharp interruption between the reality presented to Russian citizens and that which the rest of the world is witnessing. »I have lived in America for 30 years and they have lived in Russia for 30 years. Putin has been in power for 22 of those years. I think they have been brainwashed, ”said Pevzner.

He said that while the Russian inhabitants of Little Odessa still disagree about the conflict in Ukraine, public opinion against the war is strengthened after Russian propaganda deals were blocked in the United States.

“Most of the community here used to get their news from Russian media, which reported pro-Russian propaganda.” Now that they have been blocked, “the reality of what is happening is becoming clearer,” Pevzner said.

Buryk is a retiree living in North Caldwell, NJ

Buryk hosts “Krynytsya” or “The Well”, a podcast featuring interviews with Ukrainians around the world. He said the outbreak of war was like a “bad nightmare” that came to life.

For Buryk and many Ukrainian Americans, the conflict did not begin on February 24, but eight years earlier, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula.

“Ukrainian Americans have been seeing this coming for a long time because having a neighbor like Putin on the border makes it quite difficult for Ukraine,” he said. Watching and reading about the war has made an already proud Ukrainian American even more so.

“Ukrainians have done an absolutely fantastic job of trying to hold it together and defend their freedom,” he said.

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