Brighton Beach’s Mood May Be Sign of Times for Ukraine

New York City is home to 600,000 people of Russian descent, many living alongside the 80,000 people who identify as Ukrainian in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.

While we point out a dramatic rise in antisemitism in this issue, we are also seeing an emergence of cancel culture against many Russian people because of the brutal invasion of Ukraine ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

This has included a rise in incidents of vandalism against Russian churches and businesses.

This recent rash of Russophobia harkens back to the Sinophobia crimes and assaults against Asian people in early 2020 after COVID-19 was traced back to Wuhan, China. We also saw similar circumstances being waged against Muslims and mosques after the attacks on 9/11.

The dramatic reactions to global events here in the melting pot of America cannot be tolerated.

We are also starting to see signs of backlash against Russian people — famous pianists, orchestra conductors, and ballet groups being forced to cancel performances — simply because of where they come from, not their political views.

It’s also spreading across social media, where Russians are increasingly being put under pressure to denounce Putin’s actions, while many of these people still have family and friends in the homeland.

Catholics should intervene to keep people from fanning the flames of discrimination. The passage in John 15:12 quoting the Lord Jesus as telling his disciples, “That you love one another, as I have loved you,” should be the philosophy that rules the day for Catholics.

In Brighton Beach, there’s the story of Bobby Rakhman, a Russian and the owner of a gourmet food store, who took down the business’s sign, Taste of Russia, from in front of the store, where it had hung for 30 years.

Rakhman did this to show his solidarity with his Ukrainian customers. He is in the process of giving his popular emporium a new name, without the word Russia, which will be unveiled soon.

This is the kind of act that John’s gospel speaks about. Love for his customers led Rakhman, who arrived in Brooklyn from Russia more than 50 years ago, to put brotherhood over nationalism.

The U.S. and other NATO countries have imposed economic sanctions against Moscow to hinder its army’s resources and to contain their hostile efforts against the Ukrainian people and their assets. But such actions are also damaging the lives of common Russian people with hardships the same people who have no power to change the onslaught by Putin’s government.

The generosity of spirit being shown in the Diocese of Brooklyn could provide a blueprint for the world on how to deal with this border war. Let Brighton Beach Avenue show the world that Russians and Ukrainians can live in harmony and turn the other cheek.

It’s certainly a sign of the times in Brighton Beach.