BRIGHTON BEACH — Residents and business owners in Brighton Beach — a community where Russians and Ukrainians have been living peacefully side by side for decades — are displaying their support for Ukraine in a variety of ways since the Russian invasion began Feb. 24.
For example, a recent protest on the boardwalk in this southeastern Brooklyn enclave drew a large crowd of demonstrators carrying Ukrainian flags.
But Bobby Rakhman, owner of the gourmet food store Taste of Russia, is showing his solidarity with Ukraine in a different way. The word “Russia” has been taken out of the name of the popular emporium — where food lovers have found all sorts of Russian delicacies for more than 30 years. In addition, the sign above the front door on Brighton Beach Ave. has been taken down and hasn’t yet been replaced.
“We just feel very, very bad about what’s going on in the Ukraine with all the families,” Rakhman told Currents News. “We have a lot of people from Ukraine working here. And they have families and kids and parents and we just started thinking we should take down the sign.”
Rakhman, who is Russian and came to the U.S. with his parents in 1971 when he was a child, said he wanted to avoid any misconceptions.
“We’re an international supermarket where we’re making and preparing different types of food, whether it’s Russian, Ukrainian, American food,” he explained. “So just because it says ‘Taste of Russia’ doesn’t mean that we’re supporting the war.”
Rakhman has decided on a new name for the store, but isn’t ready to reveal it just yet; a new sign will be put up and unveiled soon, he said.
The store is located in the heart of “Little Odessa,” the nickname Brighton Beach is known by, due to the large numbers of residents who immigrated from the countries that made up the former Soviet Union.
The name-change decision has been generally well-received, Rakhman said.
“We had people that actually came in and shook my hand and said, ‘Listen, thank you for taking down the sign,’ ” he added.
“All Ukrainians agree 100%,” said Phillip Borovskiy, who still has family back home. They are safe “for now,” he told Current News.
Other customers, mindful of the current crisis, understand why the name was removed.
“We feel bad, but it probably had to be done because now there are such problems in Russia and Ukraine,” said Mira Malkeyeva, who is Russian.
Malkeyeva said she opposes the war. “I’m pretty proud. And we’re all together — Russia, Ukraine, in the United States — all together. And we don’t want to fight,” she said.
Watching the events unfold in Ukraine from thousands of miles away is heartbreaking, Borovskiy said.
“It’s hard because part of you wants to go back to help out. I have a lot of friends who actually went back and are helping out. I have kids over here. You just pray every day,” he added.