More than 100 folks lined an East Village block Saturday night time, ready to get into Veselka, the iconic Ukrainian diner that has turn out to be a focus for New Yorkers on the lookout for consolation meals and group as they gathered to share their fears, considerations for family members in Ukraine, and methods to assist.
They got here from town and the ‘burbs, wrapped in Ukrainian flags and sporting T-shirts they made touting the bravery of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, whose braveness and spirited combating towards an unhinged dictator and inconceivable odds are inspiring folks all over the place.
“I need ammunition, not a ride” — the phrases Zelensky mentioned when he selected to keep and struggle as an alternative of flee — had been on T-shirts made by David and Susan, who had been giving them away. They declined to give their final title as a result of they nonetheless journey to the area and had been apprehensive about being focused. Susan nonetheless has household in Ukraine, she informed The Post.
“It was just important for us to be here,” mentioned Susan, by way of tears. “There is very little we can do, but we wanted to be with people and eat the food I grew up with. It has been a difficult time.”
The crowds began coming the day Russia invaded Ukraine. “It’s been like this for days,” a supervisor mentioned.
“We’re just trying to keep up.” mentioned Jason Birchard, Veselka’s proprietor and the son of Tom Birchard, who took over Veselka, based in 1954, from his then-father in legislation, Wolodymr Darmochwai.
“Many of our staff members are Ukrainian. Everyone is up all night, talking to family members. Some are so distraught, they can’t even come to work. They are hanging by a thread, feeling so angry, upset and helpless,” mentioned Birchard, who has been working 16 hour days for the reason that invasion..
“Everyone is pitching in. Managers are working as cashiers and cooks are working seven days a week,” Birchard added.
Before the pandemic, Veselka was well-known for its 24-hour service, a spot the place late-night membership goers typically combined with early morning staff — all on the lookout for such consolation meals as pierogis to borscht.
“I’m surprised by the crowds, but then again, I’m not. It’s kind of like we’re everybody’s favorite living room and I am grateful and thankful for that,” Birchard mentioned, including that the restaurant has all the time served as a gathering level for the group throughout instances of troubles — together with 9/11, Superstorm Sandy, the Orange Revolution of 2005 and Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea.
But in the course of the pandemic, lockdown took its toll. For a time, it appeared that Veselka’s very survival was unsure. Now it’s again, although not fairly at 24-hour service once more. There’s even an outpost on the Essex Crossing meals market on the Lower East Side, and nationwide orders are despatched by way of Goldbelly.
Tanya, a 29-year-old Ukrainian-born medical technician, got here to the restaurant along with her accomplice, James, a 34-year-old pharmacist wrapped in a Ukrainian flag. They, too, didn’t need to give their final names — however simply felt it was “important” to be right here.
“And because the food is great,” added James.
“Veselka is a very symbolic, special place. I am still Ukrainian. My heart is always there. I try to support it as much as I can,” mentioned Tanya, whose household is at the moment in an space “surrounded by lots of Russians and tanks.”
For now, she mentioned the Russian tanks surrounding her household’s residence are out of gas and the “significant bombing” has stopped.
“But it was pretty bad,” she mentioned. “My family is still hiding in basements and the Russians were shooting at a kindergarten while kids were there and some died. My entire family is still in Ukraine, my parents, brother, uncles, aunts and friends.”
Tanya added that she didn’t perceive why Ukraine shouldn’t be half of the EU or NATO. “They have shown that they deserve it,” she mentioned.
Zelensky can also be calling for normal folks from world wide to come to Ukraine to struggle — just like the anti-fascist overseas volunteers who made up the International Brigades in the course of the Spanish Civil War, described in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.
American volunteers fought with the Kosovo Liberation Army in the course of the Nineties. So far, nevertheless, New Yorkers are usually not gathering at locations like Veselka to take up arms themselves — though they’re elevating money for the Ukrainian army.
“It’s very emotional,” Birchard mentioned. “They are calling for any able-bodied man born in Ukraine to come back and fight. Some of my staff have talked about it. So far, smarter heads have prevailed, but of course I will support them if they go.”
For now, Birchard is vetting what Ukrainian organizations to help.
Razom, a Ukrainian human rights group, is on the high of his record. Second is the Ukrainian protection ministry, which is elevating money to purchase weapons.
Birchard’s standard black and white cookies at the moment are in the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag and promoting out quick.
Susan, who lives in the suburbs, additionally defined why she felt compelled to dine at Veselka on Saturday.
“We came to Little Ukraine tonight to do something, to show some sort of support for the brave people of Ukraine, she said. “My husband and I printed a dozen shirts with President Zelenskyy’s statement: ‘The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.’”
She continued, “It gave us comfort to pass these out and listen to the stories of others who are worrying about family, friends and humanity. President Zelensky and his people are brave, fighting to live in peace and freedom. We pray this ends quickly, with the outcome of peace and freedom for Ukraine.”
But the folks coming to Veselka aren’t simply these with Ukrainian ties. They are all New Yorkers.