Volume 75, Number 18 | September 21 - 27, 2005

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel

Above, Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko greets Ukrainian-Americans — including East Village resident Rosa Lojko, at right, whose hand the president kissed shortly after this photo — on E. Sixth St. at the Ukrainian Museum; below, St. George’s School elementary students wearing traditional Ukrainian garb are excited to see Yuschenko.

Orange crush on Yuschenko at Ukrainian Museum visit

By Jefferson Siegel

The East Village’s Ukrainian community turned out in droves last Friday to welcome the new democracy-championing president of the Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko.

Yushchenko was in New York with dozens of other world leaders for the opening of the 60th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Yushchenko had planned to visit two locations in the East Village, stopping first at St. George’s Church on E. Seventh Street. But because of time considerations, that visit had to be cancelled. And although he arrived several hours later than scheduled at the museum, the delay gave the crowd time to grow in numbers and anticipation.

Sister Theodosia, principal of the elementary division of St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic School across from the museum, stood serenely near a group of very animated students. “We’re excited that he’s coming to visit,” she said. “We hope he enjoys this visit.”

Groups of students from both divisions of the school lined the entrance to the museum, many clutching bouquets of flowers. “We went to cheer for him when the Orange Revolution was here and we went to the embassy,” said 18-year-old Olya Gnatovych, a student in the academy division of the school. “We have to support him.”

Last year Yushchenko came to power in a dramatic election that brought thousands into Kiev’s Independence Square waving orange flags and camping in freezing weather until a runoff election was conducted. Yushchenko’s opponent, Viktor Yanukovych, eventually lost and the country cheered a democratically elected government.

Recently, though, the Orange Revolution is not looking so rosy. Early this month Yushchenko dismissed most of his government, including his popular ally Yulia Tymoshenko. And with allegations of improper campaign funding by a Russian billionaire there are even whispers of impeachment.

None of this controversy was evident on Friday. Mimi Holtzman rushed up from Delancey Street when she heard Yushchenko was coming. “I haven’t got any Ukrainian ancestry but I just had to come up and see, because after what he went through, I think he’s the iron man,” she said. “I applaud him.”

There were frequent updates on the president’s arrival time. He was being interviewed by Larry King, he was at Ground Zero, he was meeting with the mayor. Students from both the elementary and academy divisions of St. George’s kept darting into the street, looking for any sign of Yushchenko’s arrival. Many were dressed in intricately embroidered shirts and blouses, a traditional Ukraine accoutrement. The embroidered garments bear unique characteristics from each region of the country. Historically they were sewn during Easter week to be worn on the holiday. On this day they were proudly worn for a greeting.

Shortly before 7 p.m., several cars and S.U.V.’s rolled to a stop outside the museum and the president emerged to cheers of “Yu-shchen-ko!” Rather than rushing inside, Yushchenko spent several minutes greeting people on both sides of the entrance. He shook hands, kissed women, bowed to some with his hands clasped in front of him and even held up a child, eliciting more cheers.

Yushchenko spent a half-hour inside the recently built museum, touring exhibits and holding a press conference for the Ukrainian media. At one point, the waiting crowd outside spontaneously started singing the Ukrainian national anthem, bringing smiles to even the burliest security guards.

East Villager Rosa Lojko, like everyone, was thrilled. “I lived here 60 years. I never thought I’d live to see my president,” she said. Not only did she see him close up, Yushchenko took her hand and kissed it.

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