On March 19th, 2022, a Pierogi and Borscht fundraiser at the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Jewett, NY, brought in thousands of dollars for the people of Ukraine. We spent some time in the kitchen with organizer Switlana Breigle, parishioners, and volunteers with deep connections to Ukraine. This fundraiser supports the efforts of the Ukrainian American Freedom Coalition, "providing material and logistic assistance to the Ukrainian people in need of help with humanitarian supplies." There are already plans underway for another event soon.
Photo by Megan Sperry.
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Today, a special edition of Kaatscast from St. John the Baptist Ukrainian church in Jewett, New York, where parishioners prepared fresh pierogi and borscht to raise funds for Ukraine. My name is Switlana Jokowi Breigle, and I've been a parishioner here my entire life, and I am the organizer of this fundraiser. My name is Milania Sitibi. I am a parishioner here for the St. John Ukrainian Catholic Church, and I've been here for over 30 years. And just then, a delivery from a community donor. Hi, I'm Mike Coraona; aka Mikey Flowers. Affectionately known, I'm in the flower business, but I donated the food for her to prepare. She's the angel. So I just, I went to work to make the money so she could cook it and do what she does. I mean, I don't have to tell you about the atrocities, what's going on, and the people here in the United States, let alone in Lexington, feel helpless. And then we have angels like this, doing what they can to raise money to send it abroad, and I just wanted to be a part of it. I'm sure just talking about it, it breaks my voice down to a different level. But I'm happy to be here and I'm happy to help. I asked Switlana about her idea for this fundraiser, and she was overcome by emotion. So the day that I saw Putin invade Ukraine, it it just really obviously affected me. I have family in [unintelligible] and the surrounding regions, and they haven't left yet, and I just felt very helpless; and I needed to do something and I'd like to feed people. So I decided to do this. I got permission from my priests to use the facilities. I'm also a trustee of the church. And the outpouring of the community is just makes me very humble because we were here till eight o'clock last night making pierogis and the amount of people that just came out and helped make the pierogis blew my mind. They are stuffed with potatoes, cheese and onions, and the dough is made especially for the pierogis. And after we prepare them, we boil them in water for about maybe seven, eight minutes until they rise, and then we cool them off, and then we put sautéed mushrooms on top, and then the side sour cream is always good. So pierogi is the Polish name right; and then varenyky? The Ukrainian name is Varenyky. The Polish name is Pierogi. But though no matter how you say it, they taste the same and they're delicious. I should eat less of them; but you know, I'm Ukrainian, so I have to, you know. Where'd you learn to make varenyky? My parents were born in Ukraine. I was born in America, but I speak Ukrainian. I write Ukrainian. I read in Ukrainian. I teach Ukrainian as well. My first phonetic was probably when I was like, six or seven. And we also have our traditional Christmas dinner, or Sviat Vechir is how we call it, where we prepare varenyky as a course. My grandmother was one of the original people who started doing the borscht and varenyky on Sundays after church, and it actually used to be up on the porch. It was a little kitchen with a little stove and my grandfather would boil the water do the varenyky. My grandmother would make a pot of borscht, and there was coffee and cakes and that's all they sold off the porch. And then they finished the whole down here and and here I am. She's putting a smile on my face because I distinctly remember as yesterday when I used to go to [unintelligible], which is Switlana's grandmother, and I used to ask for borscht and cheese to pass me a cup of borscht between the wooden posts of the of the deck and I was like thank you very much. So I remember that clearly. Now, borscht in the Catskills are tied together very much because people associate it with the borscht belts and Jewish tradition, but it's also Eastern European tradition. There's all different varieties. There's three different varieties of borscht out there right now. The one I made I make with heavy cream, which is how my grandmother used to make it. There's another one that has vegetables in it. And then there's another one called the plast borscht. Switlana's 13-year old daughter Adriana was preparing food alongside her mom, and we asked for her opinion on borscht. Um, I like borscht. I have mixed feelings about it, but I like it. Tell us more about your mixed feeling. Sometimes I like don't really want to drink it because it's hot and I like cold things. Is it like a soup or a drink? It is kind of like a soup, but it's more of a drink. It's kind of in between. What's your favorite type of pierogi? I like blueberry pierogis. My Baba used to make them a lot. So I used to eat them. So you like the sweet pierogis? Yeah. And not the savory ones? Yeah. And how do you feel about what's happening in Ukraine? I get scared sometimes, and even though like I haven't really met my family over in Ukraine, I still feel really bad for them and I hope they're safe. Tell us a little something about Ukraine and its people. It's beautiful. One of the reasons my grandparents came up here was because my grandparents are from the Carpathian Mountains, and this reminded them the Carpathian Mountains, so they bought land, built two houses, and we're up here, all the time. I've been to [unintelligible]. I've been to the Carpathian Mountains. I've been to the Capitol. It's breathtaking. And to see the destruction that's going on, I just I don't understand. I just don't get it. I haven't been there. But looking at this church, it transports you there. It feels like you're in Eastern Europe. But then again, the wood construction, the rustic construction also blends in beautifully with the landscape. It's kind of a magical view. The architecture of the church follows the types of churches you would find in the Carpathian Mountains. The church was built with no nails, posts and being like, this is what you'd call it. My grandfathers helped build the church. There was a doctor who had land next door, Dr. Makarevich, she donated the land to the church. You have the church up on the hill, the priest house, and then this is called the Girish Da. There's a hall upstairs. And in the summertime, they do concerts. And then you have the hall down here. And we also have a gallery upstairs again during the summer where people can buy beautiful paintings of local artists and Ukrainian artists. On the note of the concert that Switlana mentioned, my father started a music center of Greene County about 30 years ago. So we have concerts here during the summer, which you're all invited to, by the way, it's all classical concerts. I would love to. Is church service conducted in Ukrainian? It is. Although the priests does sometimes have his sermon, he does address it in English as well, sometimes, sometimes sometimes. But overall, it's in Ukrainian. Can you give a sense of the Ukrainian community in this region? There's a lot more people in the summer, because you have the people who have the second homes. During the winter months, there's like 15 people that come to church, but we're the ones that are here all the time. But during the summer, there's a lot more. I mean, if you ever drive by the church on a Sunday at 10 o'clock, and you see all the people that's that's our community, they come Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts. I mean, they all have second homes here. So. And a lot of them have, like myself, have been here their whole lives. So. What else can the community do to help? Pray. If they can donate money, there's a lot of organizations that people can donate to. So that would be helpful as well, and just have in your prayers. That's it. Because, you know, God is good. And I know that the soldiers have said that they feel the prayers. So, you have, you know, you have everybody. It's not just the soldiers, it's the citizens who are fighting. A lot of people fighting. There was a principle belay dancer who fought and lost his life. There was a husband that lost three of his family members. So it's just it's just, it's just very, very senseless and just cruel, absolutely cruel. They are targeting civilians and children. Kids have nothing to do with this. The Russian people believe not all of them, but a lot of them believe the Russian propaganda. Putin says that it's all a military exercise in Donbas. But why? Why attack the capital of Ukraine, which is Kyiv, if you're just saying that you're going to Donbas, which is another region in Ukraine, far away from Kyiv? He lies. And civilian targets? Absolutely. Absolutely. What do you feel about Zelenskyy? I love him. I've had people say to me that he shouldn't be there. And I said, 'Why?' He's standing with his people. That's every leader of every country should take note and follow in his footsteps. Could he just get on a plane and go to safety? Absolutely. It's him, his Parliament; you know, he's got all of his people with him fighting for freedom. I mean, Ukraine existed before Russia existed. So Russia just needs to just back off and realize that, you know, I mean, Ukraine's not only fighting for their own freedom, but they're fighting for democracy. And they're going to be an example for the rest of the world. So don't screw with us. Right on, sister. Everybody's just in shock about this. It's just unjustified, unprovoked, and we're dealing with a dictator that decided that Ukraine was always a part of Russia, that Russia and Ukraine is the same culture, the same language, the same tradition, which is not true. They are neighboring. But Ukraine was never part of Russia, never. It's a different language. It's a different culture. And we here are supporting our soldiers that are not just soldiers, they're civilians. They're regular people who are defending their country. So their patriotism is over the top. Their response to the war is just overwhelming. And I'm just very proud. I'm in the medical field. So I've been getting supplies and, you know, donating them to the various organizations that are sending them. I've had area hospitals give me supplies. So I'll do whatever I can to get what they need. If I could make Molotov cocktails and get them there, I would do that. And I have people who would really be willing to make them with me. So. The priests didn't give permission for that in the kitchen? He doesn't need to know. What we do in the kitchen stays in the kitchen, right? What they did in the kitchen, raised $14,392, which goes to the Ukrainian American Freedom Foundation, providing material and logistic assistance to the people of Ukraine. Make a donation at uaff.nyc. For more on St. John the Baptist Church, visit ukrainianmountaintop.org. And if you missed this round of pierogi and borscht, Switlana says another fundraiser is already in the works. Thanks to Megan Sperry who joined us on this podcast. Opening music was Prayer for Ukraine, performed by faculty of Culture and Arts at Yvonne Franco Lviv National University. I'm Brett Berry. Thanks for listening and join us next week for another episode of Kaatscast.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai / JL