Anna Zhuk’s Interview as told to Allegra DePasquale

Living in Kiev was miserable for the parents of Anna Zhuk, who faced insufferable persecution because of their Jewish heritage. They decided to join their relatives in the United States, to escape the travails of daily life in Ukraine. What actually happened when they flew to New York would end up altering their lives, and subsequently Anna’s life, forever.


Life in Kiev

I was born here but my parents came from Kiev, Ukraine and um, well, my dad had a pretty rough time there with my grandparents, or his parents, and his sister, or my aunt. They had a really rough time there because they were Jewish, and in light of the whole World War 2, they would get treated really badly. My dad told me one time how he was just a little kid and he was happening to go through this street, and there was this group of teenagers there, and they just started beating him up because of his, well he looked Jewish, he had curly hair and everything like that, and so he was crying and everything and managed to escape. He found two police officers on the next block and he said, “Um you know those kids were beating me up!” and the officers asked why, and he was like, “Because they said I’m Jewish!” and the police officers were like, “Are you not?” So yeah, it was a very, very heavy atmosphere for them to be in and so in general it wasn’t a good place.

Unexpectedly Moving to New York

They had relatives in America, my grandparents’ relatives anyway, that were always recommending they come over; they also had a place in Denver that they were volunteering my parents to come to but then after the whole process of getting permission, because there’s a huge process to do that, they finally came to America. What happened was they first landed in New York for a layover to Denver. They came to New York and there was this lady that they met there from this agency, I don’t remember the exact details, but she was like, “Okay well, you know, time to get out of the airport!” and they were like, “Wait, what? We’re supposed to be going to Denver!” and so turns out that my relatives that had supported our, my family’s way there, kinda just vanished and all the living space, refrigerator, everything that they had promised vanished, so they had no choice but to get out of the airport and then find some kind of way to live in New York.

 First Few Weeks in New York

      First thing they did was to go in a very cheap motel in New York. It was overrun by drug dealers, all the great kinds of people. They went there for several weeks trying to decide what to do. My aunt and uncle were the first people to move out of it, to Brooklyn, and once they did that, my parents followed suit. There was like a Jewish immigrant agency that helped people who were Jewish get established in New York. They were super helpful with that and they helped my parents arrange the living space, help them learn the language. My dad had already had experience as a computer engineer back in Russia, or Ukraine rather, so when he came here he was able to get a job at I think Citibank. I’m not sure if that was his first job. They wrote some kind of short article on him and a few other employees saying how good they are and how they just came from abroad. He made a really hard effort to learn English, to get out there and network. They first lived on Ocean Ave and Avenue X I think, which is like not too far from where we live now, Sheepshead Bay. So it was like their first apartment and everything like that, and yeah so that’s how they came here and started living in Brooklyn. All my family is here, at least all of my dad’s side, which is the side of the family that I’ve known for my entire life, but I know that my mom has her sister and my cousin in Ukraine, who we send clothes to all the time. We send a lot of stuff to them. I think that, at least from what my dad was telling me, how bad the conditions were for him and my dads side of the family, especially cause my grandparents had survived the holocaust, they were completely fine here, I think. So yeah I think they were just glad to have escaped the tensions, persecutions they had faced in Russia.

Growing Up As The Child Of Immigrants

     It hasn’t been difficult for me to balance my Russian and American identities, I don’t feel, because, um well, it was actually pretty funny cause I used to be more fluent in Russian than I was in English and I was placed in an ESL class for elementary school. I would always, like, not understand what was happening. I think it was only really my youth, but then now its like some people tell me I have an accent, I don’t recognize it, but other than that I don’t think it gets in the way of anything. In fact it just kind of brings people together. I definitely met a lot of Russian people in high school and we kind of stuck together, and it was just like, I don’t know what it is about it, I guess that bond over culture and language and just understanding each other from how we grew up, so yeah funny thing it brings us together. I haven’t visited Ukraine, because of what my dad was telling me about his whole life story, I’ve been kind of, I don’t know, I don’t really want to visit. I would love to in a way because it’s where my roots are, where my culture is supposedly, but just the conditions there are not ideal, especially now with the whole Crimea and um, yeah, it’s just not a good atmosphere right now for traveling.

Old World Culture in the New World

We still have traditions that both are Jewish, like for Hanukkah, like eat the apples with honey, but we also have the Russian part of it, which is like for example, pasuchka, we get together for Passover, and we have a very specific, I don’t know how to explain this, it’s like a raisin cake with sprinkles and frosting on top, okay, yeah, hahaha I don’t want to get into too many foods, but yeah a lot of dinners together. A lot of my culture is in food. It’s not too bad, hahaha. Oh and also going to the banya, which is a sauna. As much as I don’t want to visit Ukraine, or Russia, I definitely want to upkeep some traditions. It’d be pretty sad for me to not carry on some of the things that my grandparents do, my parents do, so yeah I definitely want to relearn the language and pass it on.