Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne designated the Ukrainian Village as an official neighborhood in 1983. Nestled in Chicago’s West Town community area, it has long been an enclave for Ukrainian Americans and other Europeans. ‘Is.
Today, the neighborhood’s main corridor on Chicago Avenue is filled with Ukrainian-owned businesses, shops, and restaurants.
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As a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine looms, residents of the neighborhood are keenly feeling the impact. Many have family still living in Ukraine and feel limited in what they can do to help them.
“People in the community because we have such a large immigrant population, they are very worried and they are suffering a lot. Probably more because they are not there. They see it from a global perspective,” said Lydia Tkaczuk, chairwoman of the Ukrainian National Museum board. The organization has been present in the community for nearly 70 years, preserving Ukrainian heritage.
Video: Watch our full interview with Lydia Tkaczuk
Ukrainian-Americans living in the United States today immigrated largely in four waves – in the late 1800s, after World War I, after World War II, and in the 1990s after Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Taras Drozd has lived in the Ukrainian village for around 60 years and he is proud of what the area has to offer.
“The stores, the social service agencies, the medical professionals who are here. You can do whatever you want with a Ukrainian sense, with a Ukrainian language, a Ukrainian understanding of what motivates you and how you go about your business,” Drozd said.
Over the years, the Ukrainian village – also called “Ukie village” – has changed as new developments, restaurants and shops – with no connections to Eastern Europe – have moved in.
“Before the neighborhood changed, it was kind of like a bubble where anyone who walked in felt like maybe they were back in Ukraine, or maybe they didn’t have to assimilate as much as they did. ‘today,” said Ulyana Dmytriv, Operations. director of the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art.
Dmytriv says the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art is working to keep the region’s cultural heritage in the neighborhood.
The organization started as an underground collaboration in the 60s and 70s for Ukrainian artists to exhibit their works.
“They had all these works of art and nowhere to show them. So they went to different galleries but no one took them seriously. They had a different idea of what modern Ukrainian art looks like. So they created their own coalition. It all started as this little underground art collaboration,” Dmytriv said.
Several Ukrainian churches serve as centerpieces of the community — especially as tensions with Russia escalate.
Saint-Nicolas kept its doors open on Sunday for a vigil for Ukraine. Father Volodmyr Kushnir says parishioners are angry and fearful.
“All kinds of emotions and feelings are involved in the current situation because we live in the 21st century and it seems unrealistic, unreal that our neighboring country is threatening us with war. It’s just absolutely unfair and unjust,” said Kushnir.
Pavlo Bandriwsky is the vice chairman of the Illinois branch of the Ukrainian Congress of America Committee. The organization works to connect Ukrainian groups across the country, primarily to promote cultural heritage and advocate for a strong relationship between the United States and Ukraine.
Recently, the group has organized itself around the crisis in Ukraine.
“If the war were to escalate, it is expected that 5 to 8 million refugees could result, mostly women and children. We are therefore talking about serious displacement. We are talking about serious death. We also speak of catastrophic devastation. Millions of dollars in damage to infrastructure, hydroelectric plants, roads, bridges and more,” Bandriwsky said.
He says the US needs to enact “strong” sanctions now – not after an invasion.
Video: Watch our full interview with Pavlo Bandriwsky
Crisis abroad, impact in a Ukrainian village
Yaryna Klimchak is one of those with family in Ukraine – she was due to leave on Thursday to visit her new goddaughter.
Instead, she heeded President Joe Biden’s warnings to stay away and canceled her trip for the time being.
“For the baptism, I will watch virtually for sure. And of course, I will always support this girl all her life. It’s always that connection there even though I can’t be there physically. I plan to go back, hopefully in the summer when things slow down. Of course we will see how things move and I hope the West will be there to support us so things can calm down over time,” Klimchak said.
Her relatives live in the west of the country – closer to Poland than Russia – and she says they are not panicking. But they do the unexpected.
“What happens if the water is cut off? What happens if there is no more gas? What happens if we have no more electricity? How do we support the population? How do people continue to prosper every day? said Klimchak.
She was 3 when she moved to Chicago with her brother and parents. They were part of the most recent wave of immigrants, who came to the United States as religious refugees after Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
His mother, Maria Klimchak, says they only had two suitcases when they moved to the United States
“It was a dream to be a nice American citizen, but never to forget Ukraine,” Maria said.
She is now curator of the Ukrainian National Museum in Chicago, a position she says allows her to celebrate both her homes: Ukraine and the United States – Chicago, in particular – a city she says is unique.
“Walk down any street and you will see Lithuanians, Americans, Irish, Italians, Greeks, Puerto Ricans… You see all these communities around. By working in a museum, you understand the quality of the city because the city is open to the world. I never feel like a stranger. I always said it was my house,” said Maria Klimchak.
Community Report Series
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