In September 2013, I moved to New Haven, Connecticut, from my hometown of Horlivka in the Donetsk province of eastern Ukraine. Horlivka is equidistant between Donetsk and Debaltseve, the two cities where the brunt of the fighting has taken place. I grew up speaking mainly Russian, but am also fluent in Ukrainian, which I learned after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. While in Ukraine, I was an avid supporter of Ukraine’s independence from Russia and an advocate for cultivating stronger ties with the West. I considered myself a Ukrainian patriot in spite of myself.
In New Haven, I was eager to find and connect with local Ukrainians. One link led to another, and I was pleased to discover just how many Ukrainians, both U.S.- and foreign-born, lived within such close proximity—there are around 23,500 Ukrainian immigrants living in Connecticut and 148,700 in New York. That is not surprising, considering that the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States, at a population of roughly 961,100, is the second largest outside of the former Soviet Union. There are over 20 million Ukrainians living outside of Ukraine worldwide.
The diaspora is distinctive in several ways. For one, many in the group are preoccupied with historical victimization, a feeling that stemmed from the Soviet ban of Ukrainian in order to accelerate the assimilation of ethnic minorities. One of the oldest Ukrainian American publications, the New Jersey–based paper Svoboda (which means freedom), reprinted an article from The New Republic in May 2014 by Yale professor Timothy Snyder. In the piece, Snyder claimed that no other European country suffered more grief in its history than Ukraine, especially between 1933 to 1945 when Joseph Stalin’s iron rule and later, Nazi occupation made it “the deadliest place on Earth.” He also suggested that Ukraine and Europe had always had strong ties both historically and today. “Ukraine has no history without Europe, but Europe also has no history without Ukraine,” he wrote. “This seems still to be true today.”
Another unifying characteristic among some of the diaspora was an extreme anti-Russia sentiment, in both its