My Russian identity in a time of crisis


Illustration by Caroline Jacoby

Sandra Koretz, News Editor

Russian melodies and whispers escaped through the open doors as the smell of my grandma’s authentic Russian cooking seeped out of the house. Rich bowls of borscht and blinchiki welcomed me as I walked into the house. 

Although my parents grew up in modern-day Ukraine, they lived under the Soviet Union and therefore considered themselves and our family Russian, as did most of their friends and neighbors. But as the Russian invasion has escalated, I’ve come to reject my Russian identity. I’ve decided to embrace my Ukrainian heritage because that is my family’s true origin.

My mom grew up in the small beach town of Odessa, Ukraine. For the first 11 years of her life, she hid her Jewish identity in fear of religious persecution, and in 1988, she immigrated to the U.S. as a religious refugee. My father lived in Lviv, Ukraine before immigrating to the U.S to pursue a career as a doctor—a career that had been far more difficult to obtain as a Jew living in the Soviet Union. 

One night, I came home to my parents huddled around our kitchen table, where they stayed for hours, watching live footage of Russian convoys invading their hometowns, displacing and killing Ukrainians. They looked on as their hometowns were taken over by Russian forces. 

Most of the world has supported Ukraine throughout Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked attack on the nation. Neighboring countries have accepted over two million refugees, with other nations imposing sanctions against Russia and sending military equipment to Ukraine. Locally, I’ve seen neighbors come together and crowds gather on the corner of Ventura Boulevard and Laurel Canyon to protest Russia’s actions.

On a personal level, I also find myself embracing my Ukrainian roots as the conflict rages on. I have watched with pride as my Ukrainian-American community has rallied around Ukraine, organizing supply drives and fundraisers to help families. I have watched my dad translate Ukrainian medical records for young children who were evacuated from Ukraine to St. Judes Children’s Hospital. And while I watch Russia bombing children’s hospitals and blocking aid sent to starving families, I find more reasons to fully denounce my Russian identity.

Three weeks ago, I would not have thought twice about calling myself Russian. But in the wake of this tragic invasion, I have given greater thought to my identity. Just like the people who fight tirelessly against the war from Russia, I will now proudly call myself Ukrainian.