Russian community in US faces backlash as war continues

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Some establishments claim to be victims of discrimination and threatening messages.

Ukrainian American Erica Koyfman says people are attacking her family’s business because it has the word “Russia” in the title.

“People say, ‘We’re going to boycott your store,’ ‘We don’t want to buy from your store,’ ‘We don’t want to support a company that supports Russia,'” Koyfman said. “It’s not fair. … He gets criticized for having a name in his store and people say, ‘You support Russia,’ but you don’t.”

Fearing reprisals, his uncle, a Jew of Ukrainian origin, changed the name of his company from “Taste of Russia” to “International Food”.

The company is in Brooklyn’s “Little Odessa”, which is an enclave of immigrants from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and other post-Soviet states, all Russian-speaking.

“There was no Russia or Ukraine then,” Koyfman continued. “It was the Soviet Union. Everyone was the same. Right now everything is separate and divided more than it should be. And it’s not fair to those who came to one side or the other. We don’t blame the people of Russia. We blame the leader.

Pavlo Dankanych emigrated from Ukraine to Argentina, where he lived for over 20 years. Although he speaks Ukrainian, he prefers to speak Russian. In Brighton Beach, he once faced discrimination for speaking in his preferred language.

“They asked me where I was from. But it’s normal for people to say Russian, even if they’re from Ukraine. So I said ‘Russian’. They told me that my president was an assassin, things like that until I clarified that I was Ukrainian,” Dankanych said. “They started asking me why I speak in Russian, I should speak in Ukrainian. I know how to speak in Ukrainian, but I’m not going to because someone tells me that I have to.”

History professor Bradley Woodworth says the current situation echoes the uprising against the Muslim community after the September 11 attacks and against the Japanese during World War II.

“There is a rise in anti-Russian sentiment,” Woodworth said. “It was all essentially irrational thinking that just because someone spoke a language or perhaps had deep family cultural ties to another part of the world that somehow they sounded like a violent government did.”

Woodworth says anti-Russian sentiment will likely continue to rise.

“We are only at the beginning of the effects that not only this country, but the whole world will feel as a result of these horrific and violent actions,” he said.

AXEL TURCIOS: Are you afraid that these threats or messages addressed to your store will become a reality?

Erica Koyfman: Absoutely. Everything is possible. Yes, we are afraid because we don’t know what they are capable of doing.

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