A tribute to Ukraine and my ancestors

The raw beauty of my country illuminated in honor of the inhumane Russian genocide.


Staff photo by Roxanne Boychuk

A few photos from my childhood showing Ukrainian dance, scouts, traditional clothing, riots, donations, my family and my friends.

I went into pre-school unfamiliar with English, speaking strictly Ukrainian. Eventually I caught onto English, but for a while my sister would tattle on me to my mom in English so that I wouldn’t know what she was saying. That was my childhood: being Ukrainian. The most surprising part is that my parents are not from Ukraine. My parents were born and raised in Brooklyn and Queens, solely American soil. However, every single one of my grandparents escaped to the United States from the Soviet Union. All of them are Ukrainian immigrants. Many Ukrainian-Americans are like me: second-generation kids who are fluent in Ukrainian. It’s because as Ukrainians, we often have so much pride in our culture that it becomes a prominent aspect of our lives, whether we are immigrants or not.

Being Ukrainian is the center of my life. All of my friends know that the culture is something I love to share with others. If you ask me to make you Ukrainian food or play you Ukrainian music, I will be more than willing to make you a bowl of borscht and play you some Ruslana. It’s the one part of my life that I identify with the most, and I even plan on getting a Ukrainian tattoo in order to honor Ukraine. The tattoo will be a tryzub with sunflowers growing around it; the tryzub is the symbol of Ukraine, and the sunflower is the national flower. Essentially, I feel more Ukrainian than American. I bleed blue and yellow. 

Ever since I was little, I would practice reading, writing and speech in Ukrainian school as well as studying our history. And from what I learned, Russian aggression has always been a problem for the poor citizens of Ukraine. Every year in Ukrainian school, we would sit in the auditorium in the dark and watch a documentary about the Holodomor genocide that happened in the 1930s. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, it was when Joseph Stalin, the dictator of the Soviet Union, took all the food out of Ukraine and closed the borders off so that nobody could leave and no food could be imported. Millions of Ukrainians starved to death. I’ve seen the nauseating images, the gruesome acts of the Russian government and been told the story over and over again. This is why the community stays so strong; We are constantly reminded of the struggles of our people.

One day I went to my grandmother and asked her why she left Ukraine if she loved it so much. She told me the story of how she had to escape to the U.S. from the Soviet Union under Stalin’s rule. She told me about their planned execution for her father, the many places she had to hide in, the time she dressed up as a peasant to cross the border safely, how she didn’t see her father for two years and how she ended up at a refugee camp. I then understood why she encouraged me to join Ukrainian scouts and dance: it’s because she didn’t have a choice but to leave her home country, and she wanted it to live on for as long as possible before someone tried to erase the Ukrainian culture. 

Unfortunately, that time has come. Putin and the Russian government have launched a full-scale invasion, a war in order to erase us. Although I tried to explain that it wasn’t the same and that it was considered offensive, I often heard people comparing me and my language to Russian descent. Oftentimes it wasn’t even their fault because they didn’t even know Ukraine was its own nation. However, this may be the first time that the world has joined along with us, and it’s an amazing feeling. We’ve been talking about Russian aggression for years, but now everyone is finally recognizing us as an independent country. It’s foreign to us, but it’s what we’ve been wanting for years: to be heard.

A couple weekends ago I was helping at a donation drive at my Ukrainian Center in East Hanover, and the turnout almost brought me to tears. People from all over, even those who aren’t Ukrainian, were coming and bringing clothes, food and medical supplies to donate. Ukrainians have collected a massive amount of strength against the Russian government due to the world’s fuel of hope.

Even with Ukraine’s heroic and brave nature, it is important to remember the genocide that is being committed as you read this article. I am aware that people are irritated by the rise in gas prices, but personally I do not mind paying a few more dollars if it’s done as a result of attempts to save Ukrainian lives. In fact, it has always been a rule in my household to never buy Lukoil gas because of its ties to the Russian government. So although the gas prices may be higher, it is important to understand how much international economic sanctions will affect the Russian economy and military in attempts to aid Ukraine in the long run. The news I have been hearing and seeing is infuriating and there’s nothing I want more than to protect the children, women, men and elderly, and tell them that everything is going to be ok. That help is coming. That they are safe. As Americans, we have to do the absolute most that we can without being able to physically grab their hands and take them to safety. 

I recently assembled medical kits with the other scouts, and there are many ways you can help too. You can start by raising awareness and donating to organizations such as Razom for Ukraine, the Ukrainian Red Cross, the Voices of Children Foundation and Sunflowers for Peace. Most importantly, support the Ukrainian spirit so that it can stay alive for as long as possible. 

Non-Ukrainians need to understand what it means for our voices to finally be heard after talking about Ukraine’s issues for years on end. We feel acknowledged and loved. In times like these, no amount of support goes unnoticed. The Ukrainian national anthem when translated states, “We will lay down our body and our soul for our freedom,” and I think this speaks for itself. Ukraine will live on. Слава Україні.