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Brighton Beach Corner co-named "Ukrainian Way" in solidarity

8/24/22, 9:00 PM

Brighton Beach has never been a Russian district, in the United States this area is associated with Odesa – CEO of HUCUS Oleksii Prokopenko, initiator of the renaming of the Brighton Beach intersection to the Ukrainian way

On July 14, the New York City Council renamed the intersection of Brighton Beach Avenue and Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn to Ukrainian Way. #Bukvy talked to the initiator of the renaming, CEO of HUCUS Oleksii Prokopenko about reactions to such a decision and Russian propaganda narratives in the United States.

Who was the author of the idea and initiator of renaming the Brighton Beach intersection in New York to the Ukrainian Way?

One evening, I learned that the next day, New York Mayor Eric Adams would take part in the ceremony of raising American and Ukrainian flags in Manhattan. I decided to take this opportunity to talk to the mayor about supporting Ukraine. In my opinion, if a street or square, perhaps a park or part of the street at least, was called "Ukraine", then it would be a powerful signal and a symbol of support for Ukrainians. Manhattan already has a conditional "Ukrainian village and "Place of Taras Shevchenko", but the presence of Ukraine in the modern context is also important. And, in fact, I wrote a letter in the evening.

Was the renaming your private initiative?

That's right.

A letter personally from you?

A letter from me, but this idea of mine found support from friends and colleagues to whom I am very grateful, so it is correct to say that it was a joint community initiative.

Are communities Ukrainians in New York?

Ukrainians in the United States. I signed a letter from myself because the mayor's office had to communicate with a specific person. The next day, during the raising of the flag of Ukraine, the mayor's guard closed it so much that it was impossible to approach, but Ukrainian diplomats came to the rescue. I was helped by the Consul General of Ukraine, Oleksiy Ivanovych Golubov, who knew about my mission on this day. I managed to approach the mayor and under the cameras of all the media present there, convey the letter, announce what kind of letter it is and tell about this request on social networks.

How did the mayor react?

The mayor told me to hand over the letter to the profile commissioner, which I did. I demanded a business card from the commissioner to be able to remind myself and keep in touch. At this point, the first stage of the mission was completed.

Then there was the procedure that resulted in the renaming of the intersection?

It was a very difficult process in terms of American bureaucracy and political confrontations.

It is worth explaining that not all Brighton was renamed, the intersection, which was renamed, because there were different interpretations.

It was not the street, the avenue, the alley, the boulevard was renamed. The main intersection was renamed, adding the main name "Ukrainian Way" to it. This means that by co-naming, a name is added so that in the historical perspective the entire area is renamed. Brighton Beach is an ensemble of streets that consists of numbered streets and called Brighton Beach 1, Brighton Beach 2 and so on. But to rename the main intersection of Coney-Island and Brighton-Beach, this intersection was given the name Ukrainian Way. And it's all such a nail in everything that was associated with Brighton up to this point. But we Ukrainians still need to work here. With Google, for example. To give the name Ukrainian Way when searching at this intersection. We also need to work with various tourist pointers, and all the work ahead of us.

About bureaucracy – why difficult?

To rename, a subject of legislative initiative in the city council itself is required, which would initiate the renaming. This is a member of the City Council, in Ukraine it would be called a deputy of the New York City Council. It is important that the idea found support from the mayor, from the commissioners (deputy mayor in certain directions). A working group was created that developed an implementation mechanism. The subject of the legislative initiative was Inna Vernikova, a Ukrainian woman born in Chernivtsi. She lives in the United States and works as a deputy of the New York City Council (a member of the Republican Party). Inna did a lot of serious work, and it was she who lobbied the renaming on the commissions, as a result of which the decision was made unanimously. If there was no support for her, nothing would have happened.

What do you mean by confrontation?

It is believed that Brighton is an area in Brooklyn where people who emigrated from the Soviet Union to America lived at different times. It is also called the "Russian" quarter/district". Ostensibly local people identify themselves as "Russian", not Ukrainians. If this is true, then they must not be very happy about the appearance of an intersection called the Ukrainian Way.

Do they also probably have their representation in the city council, or influence on the authorities with whom they interact?

It must be said that in the States this area is associated with Odessa. Labels, such as the "Russian" area, which is "historically, originally Russian land" - are clichés of the Russian Federation and Russian propaganda, which like to appropriate not only the neighbor, but also impose their brand of territories located thousands of kilometers from Russia. If you delve into details, this area was controlled and will be controlled by immigrants from Odessa.

This area was mostly inhabited, indeed, by people from the Soviet Union, but the lion's part that came here were Odessa Jews who fled from repressions by the communist regime, starting from the 60s and 70s of the last century. Americans don't like to call this area Russian because it has nothing to do with Russia.

If only according to the narrative that "Odessa is a Russian city".

Of course, but again, we are modern people, Ukrainians, and Odessa is a Ukrainian city that has never been Russian.

"Odessa is a Russian city" is the Kremlin's methods, which unfortunately has a destructive effect on Ukraine.

I will give an example, when I worked as the head of the Department of Education in the Odessa region, in Odessa there was a book "Odessa is my hometown", in which it was clearly written that "Odessa is a city of the Russian Empire." All Kremlin narratives about Odessa are laid down in Ukrainian in black and white.

That is, a propaganda book for children was released in Odessa. There is a war in Ukraine, and we in schools in 2015-16 tell school-age children Odessa – Russian city.

How did the Ministry of Education allow this?

In fact, the Ministry of Education is a large structure that sometimes does not cover the details taking place on the ground. This book was a regional initiative and this subject was taught in optional form in schools in Odessa.

Did you do anything about it?

When the parents of the children turned to me, we, together with the volunteers, Tatiana Petrakevych, appealed to the then Deputy Minister, explained the situation and took the vulture of the ministry from this book. What I'm leading to, even in 2016, a Russian narrative from books often published for Russian money was implemented in Odessa schools, and teachers who understood or did not understand what they were doing.

So, Americans call this area "Little Odesa", and Russians say it is a Russian area. How do residents identify themselves?

Since in the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian language and its role were systematically destroyed by the authorities, many people spoke Russian. And when those people emigrated, they continued to speak Russian.

They still have an idea of the place where they lived, as it was formed by Soviet historiography.

Yes. Therefore, Brighton residents identify themselves as Russian-speaking Jews of Soviet-Ukrainian origin.

What was the community's reaction to the renaming of the intersection?

The decision to rename was made by the toponymic commission and members of the New York City Council, and everyone voted unanimously. The confrontation occurred when Russia and Russian media understood what was happening and that they had missed this topic, and that Ukrainians beat them on a field they consider their own. On the information field.

Didn't they expect that?

Of course, how could you expect that? Ambassador of Ukraine to the UN Serhii Kyslytsia, referring to American media, after the publication of this information, wrote a tweet about the renaming of Brighton to Ukrainian Way. But not the entire Brighton, but a certain intersection.

Since Russian media basically do everything through one place, that's why they read the same way. Therefore, they simply picked up this thesis and trumpeted the entire Russian-speaking eastern hemisphere that Brighton was renamed in honor of Ukraine. For us, it was already a victory, even the renaming was not necessary, because the Russians "tore" so much that the noise spread all over the planet.

Were there any consequences?

Yes. Russia, through controlled public organizations, whose names I don't even know, tried to disrupt this decision.

How exactly?

The pressure was on everyone and everywhere – on the part of the unbalanced Russian community, they are actually very not systematic here. What happened specifically is not known for certain, but Inna Vernikov, together with Ukrainian diplomats and her team, pressed this decision. We can say that they implemented the renaming because they attracted both Jewish organizations and local residents who supported this decision to support. Of course, there were also those who took a categorical position against the renaming. At some point, I even started receiving messages like "We will put a bust of Pushkin instead of a monument to you; We will show you what the Soviet Union is."

Who sent the message?

I don't know, these were Facebook accounts that I don't know. It was quite interesting because we understood that some catastrophic hysteria was taking place, but the decision was made and came into force after a while.

I want to say that about Ukrainian Way not just as the name of the street. Speaking about the Ukrainian Way, we must say that today this is a whole direction of work on positioning Ukraine in the world. That this is not just the name of a street or a corner of some, but that this is a full-fledged direction that Ukraine has set the world and world history as a new example, awareness and vision. You can also add that my colleagues at Ukraine Help Center sometimes joke that Ukrainian Way is also a logistics route that we built to delive goods. Cossacks walked on salt – the Milky Way, and Ukrainians of the world on the Ukrainian Way.


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