I would be very wealthy if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me about my last name. When I was a kid, it used to annoy me, but as I grew up I learned to love it. It’s different, hard to pronounce, and the best part is that it’s Ukrainian.

I am half Ukrainian because of my father’s side of the family. Ukrainian culture has always been a part of my life. From food, sayings, and stories of my great grandparents, my childhood memories are filled with teachings of Ukrainian culture.

I grew up in New Jersey near the shore. Originally, they lived in New York (the Ukrainian section of Brooklyn). They then traveled to northern New Jersey and stayed there for a long time. Following their marriage, my parents decided to move to the southern part of New Jersey. My dad’s father, who is 100% Ukrainian, helped them find a place in a cozy little beach town. There were no Ukrainians, however. How did we fix this? Well, read on and you’ll find out.

If you haven’t seen the attack on the country of Ukraine, turn on your TV. It is terrible to see what is occurring in the country of Ukraine right now. My heart goes out to those fighting for their lives and freedom. In support of Ukrainian culture, here are 5 things about my upbringing as part Ukrainian in America.

  • 1. We Have A BIG Family

    Growing up, I was taught that family is everything. To this day, I still believe that. We have a large Ukrainian family. It’s wonderful that when my parents moved and no one was in the town, everyone on my dad’s side moved with them. Apart from my brother, I might have been the only kid in town who had all of their cousins within a five-mile radius. All of my cousins lived in the same town, starting with my first cousin, then my second, and then my third. I loved it. The family parties we had were some of my favorite memories because we always had someone to play with. I loved having my family around for all kinds of things, like birthdays, camping trips, and this insane New Year’s party every year. Growing up, I didn’t realize that we had our own little Ukrainian community.

  • 2. Christianity

    I grew up in an Orthodox Christian Church. I attended Sunday school, had my communion, had confirmation, and went to church on Sundays. Christianity is a big part of Ukrainian culture. In New Jersey, there was even a Ukrainian church (where they spoke in nothing but Ukraine) and it was a good two-hour service. When my great-grandmother left Ukraine she was 17 years old. Her sister passed away in 2021. The church St. George was the church, my Ukrainian grandmother, Jean was married in. She and my grandfather were married on October 5th, 1957. One thing everyone in our houses had (and still has) was a cross above the door. My grandmother of course provided me with one for when I moved here to Charlotte. When my great-grandmother left Ukraine she was 17 years old. Her sister passed away in 2021.

    My Cross

  • 3. You Have Two Christmases

    When you are part Ukrainian, you have two Christmases. Traditionally in America, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th. In Ukraine, Christmas is also celebrated on January 7th of the new year. The reason being is the Orthodox Catholic church. They use a different calendar called the Julian calendar. We left our Christmas tree up until this date.

    Christmas 2022

  • 4. The Food is Delicious and Everywhere!

    There is no life without food. I still get asked 3-5 times when I visit any of my Ukrainian relatives if I am hungry and if I want something to eat. We had a lot of Bapka, pierogies, kalbaski, chicken kiev, beets, and sauerkraut in our Ukrainian culture. My favorite is the perogies. One time I made my grandmother’s pierogies and it took me the whole day. In the end, I made about 50 pierogis, filling three bags full and I think grandma’s recipe was designed to feed the whole village. However, the process left me having much more respect for my grandmother for manufacturing these things once every month and putting so much love into doing it.

    My Attempt at Grandma's Pirogies - Lex Paige

    A couple of weeks ago I made this big fancy dinner which included some homemade mashed potatoes. Conveniently, our local grocery store was having a sale on bags of potatoes, 5lbs for $2! Well, that was fine and dandy but it left me with about 4 ½ lbs. of potatoes...

  • 5. Vyshyvanka was Everywhere

    Vyshyvanka is a Ukrainen pattern. It was everywhere and on everything. Most of the time it covered the blankets, plates, accessories, and pillow shams. I have quite a few pieces with Vyshyvanka on them. Many Ukrainian families have their own patterns too. Here are a few items from our Zarycki family below.

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