Ukrainian Heartbeat in Northeast Minneapolis – Southside Pride
BY LYDIA HOWELL
The Ukrainian language belittled as a dialect, “little Russian”, or censored; a beloved folk musical instrument removed; prison or death for poets, artists and dissidents since the 1860s – all of these things were done to maintain Russian dominance over Ukraine. Whether under the tsars or under the Soviets, from Catherine the Great to Vladimir Putin, Russia claims Ukraine for itself, always wary of any assertion of an independent Ukrainian identity.
Since the 1880s, Ukrainians have come to northeast Minneapolis, often in the aftermath of war.
“For us, the Ukrainian Church is not only a religious center, it is also a cultural and community center,” says Jackie Pawluk, cultural chair of the board of trustees of St. Michael’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Outside, the church is plain brown brick, crowned with a dome. Inside, the ornate architecture shelters golden saints. Pawluk’s grandparents were part of the founding generation of the church in 1925. “It’s our home where we socialize with lots of activities. After the Second World War, our cultural heritage was threatened by the Soviet occupation. Immigrants here really try to preserve heritage and culture.
This preservation involved Ukrainian-American children and youth attending “Saturday School” to learn the Ukrainian language, as well as its poetry, crafts, folk dances, and music.
The Kramarczuks immigrated to Minneapolis in 1947 – Wasyl, who had learned sausage making from his brother, and Anna, who had a German business degree, opened their iconic Ukrainian restaurant and deli, Kramarczuk’s, in northeast and downtown border. Since 1954, they’ve been cooking Eastern European comfort food: dumplings (pierogi), cabbage rolls, giant meatballs, savory goulash, myriad sausages, and beetroot soup with breads and pastries like kolache.
Their son, Orest, who continues to run Kramarczuk’s, patiently explains Ukraine’s age-old struggle to exist: “It’s not just about not allowing the Ukrainian language, it’s about erasing the culture. It’s not about saving. It is a cultural genocide. He is trying to erase the Ukrainian people. His voice has a quiet power. “My parents and their generation tried to keep the culture alive because they feared something like what is happening now.”
As a young man, Orest went to Ukrainian Saturday school, as most young Ukrainian-Americans still do. “The tradition of Easter eggs was introduced over 100 years ago. Cultural gems have been preserved by the diaspora.
Under Soviet repression, the tradition of hand-painting Easter eggs with distinctive Ukrainian designs, called pysanka, was lost. Immigrants who run the Ukrainian Gift Shop, opened in 1947 in Minneapolis, continue the craft, sending creations back to Ukraine, renewing the tradition there.
Jackie Pawluk remembers those many Saturdays when we learned Ukrainian songs and dances, accompanied by instruments like the bandura. “The first wave of immigrants and the first generation [born here] are very in tune with the culture,” she says. “A lot of people here have family ties to Ukraine – cousins, siblings, relatives.” The Kramarczuks brought cousins and nieces here for college. Continuing a tradition familiar to all immigrant groups, they aided “the new Ukrainian Americans” by employing them in the restaurant.
The bandura, a large-bellied string instrument, merges the lute and the zither. Bandura’s songs express ideals of faith, truth, human dignity and freedom. From 1928, bandura musicians were persecuted by Stalin, who banned traditional songs and performances, culminating in the mass execution of 300 musicians in 1934 during Stalin’s imposed artificial famine (“Holodomor”) of 1932 to 1934, which killed millions of Ukrainians. . Arrests continued under Nazi occupation. After World War II, most of the remaining musicians left for North America, with a revival of bands since the 1950s. (www.bandura.org)
Observing that other Eastern European countries are next on Putin’s list, Orest Kramarczuk said: “Look what happened with this invasion: our country became the focus. It forces people to look at horrors and see how fragile rights and freedoms are and could be lost. His voice rises. “Putin tried to divide and conquer all over Europe. … The real strength of America is that people come here from all over the world.“
Ukraine’s incredibly fertile soil produces massive grain production, giving the country its nickname “Europe’s breadbasket”. Ukraine is also a major producer of oil derived from its national flower, the sunflower, which has recently become a symbol of its resistance to Russian invasion. This confirms the story of an old woman giving a handful of sunflower seeds to a Russian soldier and saying, “Put them in your pocket.” After you die, sunflowers will grow.
The stout-stemmed sunflowers, with their yellow faces facing the blue sky, are the perfect symbol of the Ukrainian people.
Learn more about Ukraine at www.historytoday.com.
The organization of humanitarian aid by the local Ukrainian community has inspired established organizations and the response of Minnesotans. A Light (formerly American Refugee Committee, based in Minneapolis, since 1979) brings medical supplies, warm clothes and 1,000 blankets a day to the Ukrainian-Polish border. Chef Jose Andreas’ World Central Kitchen, known for responding to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, feeds tens of thousands of people every day. Just as they went to Afghanistan to provide medical aid, Médecins Sans Frontières now works under fire from critics in Ukraine.
Find many local opportunities to help:
Alight, 615 First Ave. NE, Ste. #500, Mpls., MN 55413, https://wearealight.org
World Central Kitchen, 200 Massachusetts Ave. NW, 7th Floor, Washington, DC, 20001, www.wck.org
Doctors Without Borders USA, Attn: Emergency Relief Fund, PO Box 5030, Hagerstown, MD, (217)141-5030, https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org
Lydia Howell is a freelance journalist from Minneapolis.