Ocean County Organizations Stand United With Ukraine

Students of the Lakewood Estonian School perform to the music of the guitar by Ulle Bucholz. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  JACKSON – As disturbing news continues to be reported about Russia’s unprovoked invasion of the Ukraine, area organizations recently came together to show their support for that troubled nation.

  Members of the Lakewood Estonian Association, Latvian Community of New Jersey and New Jersey Lithuanian Community assembled for an evening of Baltic culture, solidarity and support. The fundraiser was held at the Lakewood Estonian House based in Jackson.

  The evening showcased cultural pride through dance and song. Speeches were given in support of the people of the Ukraine and noted the injustice they are facing.

Dancers Livita Makseliene, Kamile Makselvyte, Loreta Mastauskiene of Jackson and Simona Jasinskas, of Toms River pose dressed in traditional attire. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  Another cultural aspect of the evening’s event was the menu of food which included native specialties such as borscht (beet soup), stuffed cabbage with potatoes, kielbasa with sauerkraut and pierogies, cepelinai (large potato dumplings) with sour cream, plus meatballs with mushroom gravy.

  The event began with the American anthem and continued with the “Kepurine” a welcome dance by the Lithuanian folk dance group Viesala. Members included Livita Makseliene, Kamile Makselyte and Loreta Mastauskiene of Jackson and Simona Jasinskas of Toms River. They were each dressed in traditional attire.

  Makselyte shared her view with The Jackson Times about the suffering in the Ukraine prior to their performance. “It is terrifying, especially for us, to see what is happening.”

  Ivan Khopity and his 3½-year-old son Maksym wore matching t-shirts that said “I Stand With Ukraine” and featured the flag of the Ukraine. They came out to support the event.

  “We live far from here. It was a one-hour drive. We are Ukraine. We want our kids to remember everything,” Khopity said.

  Master of ceremonies Vida Anton of Jackson noted that proceeds from the admission fee would go to Ukraine relief. She added that some of the child performers that would take to the stage had already danced in East Brunswick and this marked their second performance of the day.

  Dance groups also included the Nadiya Dance School led by director Nadiya Lemega, the Ukranian ensemble Vodorhay Chernomaroshka from the Nadiya Dance School based in Trenton, the Georgian Dance Group, the Ukrainian Children’s Choir, Latvian entertainer Krister Leya and Simona Smirnova playing kanklés.

  “We are here together today in community – in solidarity – for at this time Ukrainians are stripped of these God given rights, human rights to learn, to love, to grow and to be Ukrainian in each and every single way. This barbaric war has brought nothing but hell on Earth to a free people,” Vicar Ivan Kavoleff said before the Ukrainian anthem was played.

A large crowd watches one of several musical performances held during a recent fundraiser at the Lakewood Estonian House which is located in Jackson. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  Anna Maria Kukuraza, “the mom” of the ensemble Kalina, presented her group that shared “their gifts of Ukrainian culture through dance and their national costume. There is a very large Ukrainian community in New Jersey. We have schools, cultural centers and churches. Of the more than one million Ukrainian Americans living in the United States, over 73,000 have made New Jersey their home.”

  “Our culture is very bright and diverse and we try to preserve and pass along our cultural heritage to our children. Ukrainians are very hospitable people,” she said, noting offerings of bread and salt “which signifies that we wish you health and prosperity.”

  Estonian Consul General Kaira Kunka of the Estonian consulate, New York City addressed those assembled, “it should be clear to all of us that there should be no business as usual or no business at all until Putin pays for his crimes against humanity. We are supporting the refugees who have already arrived in our country. We are doing all we can to offer them shelter and a safe environment. Long live Ukraine.”

Ivan Khopity, joins his 3-year-old son Maksym sporting matching shirts in support for Ukraine people. (Photo by Bob Vosseller)

  Tinton Falls resident Olena Lenczuk is a Ukrainian and she also attended the event to support those of her native country. “My parents came here after World War II in 1950. They lived through the invasions of Stalin and Hitler. Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Estonians have a common ground of what they endured during World War II. They faced the same oppressors.

  “That’s what brought me to be here. I know Ukraine will prevail. They can’t give up. They were a democracy and they want to be a democracy. They should be supported. They sent help to us during 9/11,” she added.

  Ukrainian speaker Marina Vlasiuk wore a blue and yellow a dress, her nation’s colors. “I want to say thank you to everyone. It is very important to our people. My mother and father are in Ukraine right now. Our soldiers are fighting right now. I thank you for supporting them and our people.”