Yonkers, N.Y., is home to many Ukrainian immigrants and home to the Ukrainian Youth Center, which, despite its name, also has a full bar. It’s where Rostyslaw Slabicky is glued to the news.
“The mood right now is extremely apprehensive,” Slabicky says. “There’s part that’s fait accomplis, that Putin is basically doing what he wants and the entire world is basically standing by, not doing anything.”
Around the corner at a Ukrainian credit union, branch manager Maria Zakotiria says the U.S. must help Ukraine. She comes in each morning and finds her tellers reading the news.
“They either cry [or] go, ‘Oh my god, look what’s happened now, look what’s happening now,’ ” she says.
Zakotiria and her parents spent the middle of the 20th century fleeing Ukraine, becoming displaced persons and eventually settling in New York City in 1954. She grew up in the U.S., but her heart is in Ukraine, and when it comes to Russia’s actions and Vladimir Putin, Zakotiria does not hold back.
“Nobody could do this to another country,” she says. “Nobody. Unless he’s total evil, and I feel he’s total evil.”
A few miles north lives the Krebs family. Since 2006, William and Stefanie Krebs have adopted seven children from all over Ukraine. As dinner approaches, the kids play video games and piano. On the menu this night, traditional borscht.
Borscht runs deep. Stefanie’s father is first-generation Ukrainian, and William knows Ukraine well through the complicated adoption process. Many of their children still have relatives there.
William says there’s a lot of uncertainty, and like many Ukrainian immigrants in the United States, he wonders if Russia’s intervention in Crimea is just the beginning.
“If Russia gets away with this, will they push for a little more more of the pie,” he says. “It’s a country divided,” He says.
His kids have their own ideas. Patrick, 10, is ready to fight.
“When I grow up, I’m going and join the Marines and I’m going to go and teach the Russians a lesson,” he says.
But Stefanie says Patrick’s 9-year old brother, Peter, is just glad to be in the U.S.
“He said to me, ‘Mom, I’m so thankful that you got me out of Ukraine,” Stefanie says.
The Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn is home to many Russian and Ukrainian immigrants. On a recent frigid day, few wanted to talk politics. One man, Alex Sergei, thinks Crimeans want to be part of Russia.
“Everybody wants to go to Russia again,” Sergei says. “That’s like, statistics show.”
Gregory Davidzon, who owns a popular Russian-language radio station in the Northeast, hosts a talk show and says his listeners are very engaged in the conflict. The phone lines light up during his call-in shows, and he often runs unscientific polls of his listeners and finds they’re more split than he expected.
“I could say 65, 70 percent of people support Ukraine, and 30, 35 percent of people support Russia,” he says.
For those who support Russia, he says, few want war.
“Some people say, you know, Crimea, it’s a part of Russia historically,” Davidzon says. “Even they more concerned about intervention.”
But like many worried about escalation, Davidzon warns his audience that Crimea could just be the beginning. Who’s to say, he adds, that Alaska isn’t next?