‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Ukrainian Village

Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne designated Ukrainian Village an official neighborhood in 1983. Tucked into Chicago’s West Town community area, it has long been an enclave for Ukrainian-Americans and other Eastern Europeans. 

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Today, the neighborhood’s main corridor on Chicago Avenue is bustling with Ukrainian-owned businesses, shops and restaurants.

Interactive map: More from our community reporting series

As a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine looms, residents in the neighborhood are feeling the impact acutely. Many have family still living in Ukraine and feel limited in what they are able to do to help them.

“People in the community because we have such a large immigrant population, they are very concerned, and they are hurting very much. Probably more so because they’re not there. They see it from a global perspective,” said Lydia Tkaczuk, board president of the Ukrainian National Museum. The organization has been in the community for nearly 70 years, preserving Ukrainian heritage.

Video: Watch our full interview with Lydia Tkaczuk

Ukrainian-Americans living in the U.S. today largely immigrated in four waves — at the end of the 1800s, after World War I, after World War II and in the ‘90s after Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Taras Drozd has lived in Ukrainian Village for about 60 years, and he takes pride in what the area has to offer.

“The stores, social service agencies, medical professionals that are here. You can do everything you want with a Ukrainian sense, with a Ukrainian language, Ukrainian understanding of what motivates you and how you go about business,” Drozd said.

Over the years, Ukrainian Village — also referred to as “Ukie Village” — has changed as new developments, restaurants and shops — without Eastern European connections — have moved in.

“Before the neighborhood changed it was kind of like a bubble where anyone that would come in would feel like maybe they are back in Ukraine, or maybe they didn’t have to assimilate as much as they do now,” said Ulyana Dmytriv, operations manager at Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art.

Dmytriv says the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art is working to keep the area’s cultural heritage in the neighborhood.

The organization started as an underground collaborative in the ‘60s and ‘70s for Ukrainian artists to exhibit their works.

“They had all these works of art and nowhere to show it. So they were going to different galleries but no one was taking them seriously. They had a different idea of what modern Ukrainian art looks like. So they started their own coalition. It started as this small underground art collaborative,” Dmytriv said.

Several Ukrainian churches serve as centerpieces of the community — especially as tensions with Russia heighten.

St. Nicholas on Sunday kept its doors open 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 threatened us with a war. It’s just absolutely unjust and unfair,” Kushnir said.

Pavlo Bandriwsky is the vice president of Illinois’ division of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. The organization works to connect Ukrainian groups around the country, primarily to promote cultural heritage and to advocate for a strong relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine.

Recently, the group has been organizing around the crisis in Ukraine.

“Should the war escalate it is projected that anywhere from 5 to 8 million refugees could result, primarily women and children. So we’re talking about serious displacement. We’re talking about serious death. We’re also talking about catastrophic devastation. Millions of dollars of damage to infrastructure, hydroelectric plants, roads, bridges and the like,” Bandriwsky said.

He says the U.S. needs to enact “hard-hitting” sanctions now — not after an invasion.

Video: Watch our full interview with Pavlo Bandriwsky 

Crisis Abroad, Impact in Ukrainian Village

Yaryna Klimchak is among those with family in Ukraine — she was supposed to leave Thursday to visit her new goddaughter there.

Instead, she heeded President Joe Biden’s warnings to stay away, and canceled her trip for now. 

“For the baptism I’ll be watching virtually for sure. And of course, I will still support that girl her whole life. That’s still that connection there even if I can’t be there physically. I do plan to go back hopefully in the summer when things slow down. Of course, we’ll see how things shake up and hopefully the west will be there to support so things can become calmer with time,” Klimchak said.

Her relatives live in the western part of the country — closer to Poland than to Russia — and she says they aren’t panicking. But they are making contingencies.

“What happens if the water gets cut off? What happens if the gas is gone? What happens if we have no more electricity? How do we sustain the population? How do people continue to thrive every single day?” Klimchak said.

She was 3 years old when she moved to Chicago with her brother and parents. They were part of the most recent wave of immigrants, who came to the U.S. as religious refugees after Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Her mother, Maria Klimchak, says they had only two suitcases when they moved to the U.S.

“It was a dream to be a nice American citizen, but to never forget about Ukraine,” Maria said.

She is now curator of the Ukrainian National Museum of Chicago, a position that she says allows her to celebrate her two homes: the Ukraine and the U.S. —- Chicago, specifically — a city she says is unique.

“Walk any street and you will see Lithuanian, American, Irish, Italian, Greek, Puerto Rican ... You see all those communities around. Working in a museum you understand the quality of the city because the city is open to the world. I never feel like I am a foreigner. I always said this is my home,” Maria Klimchak said. 

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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