What do I love about America? There are many things, but my country's rich cultural diversity is at the top of the list. Walking the streets of any major city, you'll find immigrants from everywhere in the world, for the most part living together in harmony. A blended nation, where a person can speak about their nationality without anticipation of receiving a hostile reaction. A civilized society, where most people don't spit on or attack others simply because of their nationality, where brains don't immediately explode nor bile immediately flow from the mouth simply because someone is "Ukrainian" or "Russian." Honestly, I don't think anything about a person's country of origin when I meet them. It's of no relevance to me in daily life or interactions, because in the end all that matters to me is your actions. The way you treat me and other human beings in the daily course of life. Yet here on LJ an alternate universe exists, where people are trained to react and shout slurs, vulgar expressions and toss around tired insults when merely seeing the words "Ukraine" or "America". Such people can stop reading the post now, because it's simply a travel story about a normal immigrant neighborhood in the USA, not about politics. So, let's take a look at this section of Chicago, known as "Ukrainian Village"...
1. Some of my local friends told me about "Uki Village" and there is no mistaking when you enter the area because there are signs everywhere. As you can see by the cover photo, the area sits close to Chicago city center and the skyline is visible from most points. It's about a fifteen minute drive from downtown.
2. In an instant, advertisements and store signage switch from English to Ukrainian, or some other Slavic language. This region of Chicago has been Slavic since the early 1900's. But the largest population surge came from the mid 1940's - early 50's when many Eastern European refugees fled to America to escape the Stalinist regime. Today Ukrainian Village is home to many older Ukrainians and Eastern Europeans who share the neighborhood with younger professionals who have moved into this area of the city.
3. Local newspaper.
4. The blue and yellow Ukrainian flag hangs from most local business establishments, usually in combination with an American flag. I've always read that the colors symbolize wheat and the sky.
5. Blue and yellow color patterns are seen throughout Ukrainian Village. My Ukrainian friend tells me this translates to "Carpathy Bridge," likely a reference to the Carpathian Mountains or a Ukrainian football club with the same name. I don't understand the connection because the store sells office supplies.
6. Neighborhood thrift store. Can you see the writing on each side of the window? "Look" and "Oooh." :)) Generic advertising, but it still made me smile.
7. Housing accommodations in the neighborhood are very diverse. These are probably lower income apartments, but I can say much cleaner than typical Russian neighborhoods I've visited.
8. Apartment alleyway. However, notice all of the trashcans and bins for residents to dump their garbage? This is another thing that shocked me about Russia. Very few trash bins in public areas. In the apartment where I stayed, residents simply left their garbage bags in front of the building. I don't understand such nonsense. How hard is it to put a garbage bin in a residential area to keep the shared living areas free of foul smells and trash?
9. Some type of writing on the wall of the same apartment complex. Not sure what it says?
10. It appeared mostly older couples live in this area of Ukrainian Village. Below, local residents. I tried to speak with some of them, but unfortunately the ones I stopped didn't speak English and, as you all know, my Russian language skills are very poor. I simply can't find the time or energy to keep studying the language, when it's of no use to me in my professional life or even on this blog, where all of my Russian subscribers understand and communicate with me in English fine.
11. The older people in the neighborhood have recently been joined by young professionals (including doctors and lawyers) migrating to suburbia for cheaper prices and more living space.
12. I really like the decorative and colorful trim on this house. Neat and bright, a sharp contrast to the dull, depressive and gray Soviet structures which dominated in the homeland of many immigrants now living here.
13. But this one was my favorite. So cool with the growing vine/branches!
14. The area is home to a large number of Ukrainian and other ethnic restaurants. Here a Ukrainian buffet and coffee shop called "Old Lviv." I thought buffets were unique to America. Pay one price and eat all you want. I don't remember seeing any buffets in Russia or other Eastern European countries I visited, but maybe they exist? We ate at a few cafeteria type places in Russia that are similar to an American buffet, but we paid for each food item separately rather than one price for "all you can eat."
15. Traditional American cuisine also thrown into the local dining mix. Small burger and hot dog joint. Looks like I cut off the American flag in the photo, but here's an example of both the Ukrainian and American flag flying in harmony.
16. Ethnic supermarket. I'll write a separate post about a Ukrainian market I visited in the neighborhood. So if you're Ukrainian, or a lover of traditional Ukrainian foods or brands, be on the lookout for the post. :) Here again the blue and yellow stripes.
17. I suppose everyone needs spiritual or mental consulting at some point in their life. This place looked interesting but it was closed by the time I reached it.
18. For those preferring the more traditional spiritual outlet of church, Ukrainian Village houses two major and stunning places of worship. They both sit right in the middle of Uki Village neighborhoods. Pictured here is St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral. I always find these domed cathedrals beautiful, though I'm not religious and rarely find anything redeeming about organized religion.
19. The original church lot was purchased in 1911 for $12,000 and the Bishop blessed this cornerstone in 1913. The first liturgy was celebrated at St. Nicholas on January 7, 1915 - the date on which most Ukrainians celebrate Christmas.
20. There's also a religious school attached to St. Nicholas. On the weekend I visited, they were holding some type of yard sale to raise funds.
21. Decorative mosaic tiles at the entrance. I assume the Ukrainian on the mat says "Welcome" or something similar.
22. I don't know the significance of the year 1988 but the entryway is very artistic and colorful.
23. The cathedral stairs are steep. When I walked down, I was messing with my camera and fell. I've already told you I'm a very clumsy person, so I add another memorable fall to my list! :)
24. I met this lady walking by the church. She saw my camera, stopped and smiled. Who wouldn't want to photograph such a kind and pleasant face? She spoke almost no English.
25. I won't forget this lady or her purple hat. She told me in broken English that she's Polish but has lived in America a long time. Joyful and kind woman. Maybe she was simply lonely or longing for conversation, but she made a real effort to stop me and speak in broken English. It's a pity her language skills were lacking as I'm certain she has an interesting life story. Upon departure she touched my face, said "beautiful" and went on her way down the block. I did the same to her, returning the compliment.
26. I liked the second church, Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Parish, better because of the colorful mosaic. The church is newer and was constructed during the period of 1971 - 1973. A Minneapolis architect designed the church, employing the Byzantine style of 11th - 13th century Ukraine. Churches of this style are traditionally cruciform, with the alter facing the East. There's also a strong preference for circular patterns, thus the church is almost entirely devoid of angular designs. According to church literature, the mosaic at the entrance depicts "the Christianization of Ukraine."
28. Beautiful stone monument in honor of Patriarch Josyf Cardinal Slipyj, Founder of the Parish.
29. People often ask me about my trip to Ukraine. Unfortunately, I don't know where most of my photos are stored but I found a few taken in 2011 with my then crappy camera. One of the things I remember most about Kyiv are the golden domes you see when driving into the city. I visited many of the cathedrals, including St. Michael's and St. Sophia's. I also took a day trip to Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, where this photo was taken. The ugly fence ruins the scenic spot, but as you all know this is common in Ukraine and Russia. Enclosing everything with fences or barriers.
30. Since its foundation, Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Parish has pushed for adherence to and preservation of Ukrainian traditions. To aid the community in this endeavor, it built a large Ukrainian Cultural Center adjacent to the church. The Cultural Center is used by local residents, as well as national Ukrainian organizations such as The Ukrainian Congressional Committee of America and the Ukrainian Medical Association. Numerous art and dance organizations also utilize the facility. These young girls welcomed me to the Center.
31. Stairs leading up to the main area also had some nice wall art. I don't know if the people depicted here have any religious significance? Maybe some of my readers will know.
32. At the top of the stairs, I was greeted by a group of dancers. Very entertaining and festive. I eventually learned they're part of a well-known Ukrainian dance ensemble named "Hromovytsia." The dance troupe performs in America, Canada and numerous Eastern European countries.
33. They invited me to watch, as they continued to rehearse for an upcoming tour.
34. Ukrainian Village is a very artsy area, with numerous Ukrainian dance studios and art shops. Both modern and traditional dance - I saw one studio offering "Ukrainian breakdancing lessons." I'm not sure how this differs from the American version, if at all. There's also a Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art which houses various exhibits.
35. Like any neighborhood, sometimes you stumble upon strange things in Ukrainian Village. Where's the rest of the bike? :)
36. Simple statement. The ability to forgive - a great human trait. I'm not always so good at it.
37. I don't know this man's story. Maybe he's American, maybe he's an immigrant, maybe he's an illegal. In the end, it doesn't really matter. He's probably the same as most of us, pedaling his way through life - enjoying the good times along the way and trying to make sense of, or at least deal with, the chaos that sometimes accompanies it.
I love neighborhoods like Ukrainian Village, full of people who came to America as immigrants but now consider America home. I know some of my Russian readers now live in America, and have worked hard to achieve similar dreams. Maybe some of you hate it here and want to return to Russia or your native country? I don't know, but please feel free to comment. I welcome most immigrants into my country, and occasionally represent worthy applicants in asylum petitions and other immigration matters. Most simply want a better life for their family and are willing to work for it. It doesn't mean everyone who comes here is successful or happy, but I still believe in the American dream and have seen it fulfilled by some of my foreign friends who immigrated to America and are now U.S. citizens...to each their own. The main thing is to be content and happy, in whatever country you call home.
Later in the week I'll write about the Ukrainian deli/market I visited...