Mixing Borscht With Politics

Russian immigrants in a New York community breathe a communal sigh of relief at end of coup

COOL wind was blowing on what the local immigrant community calls ``Odessa Beach,'' but the maps call Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Despite the wind, it was still warm enough for hearty Russian men to be sunbathing on the boardwalk while they played dominoes and talked about topic No. 1: the turmoil back in Russia.

When the anti-Yeltsin protesters took over the Russian parliament, Oleg Naumcenko says he called his brothers in St. Petersburg only to find out ``everything is quiet.'' His wife, Tatyana, cried for two days.

``It makes you very nervous,'' Mr. Naumcenko says while sitting outside the Gastronom Moscow, a luncheonette.

In fact, the apparent swift end to Russia's turmoil has prompted a communal sigh of relief from America's largest concentration of Russian immigrants. ``I think now things are better than OK since this small war is finished,'' says Felix Sverglin, who sells Russian language books from a streetside table.

It's not surprising that the brief conflict is dominating conversations in a community writer Neil Simon made famous with his Broadway play ``Brighton Beach Memoirs.''

There's still plenty of Yiddish spoken, but the new immigrants are Russians, attracted to a location that many say reminds them of Odessa on the Black Sea.

Homesick Russians can go to the Moskow Restaurant for green borscht and Siberian pelmani, dough stuffed with meat. They can send their children to the Schostakovich United Music School and can buy their bread at the Kiev Bakery. Their news is in Russian from the ``Novoye Russkoye Slovo'' (New Russian Word) newspaper. And, they can stroll down the boardwalk talking politics.

As two men pass, there is a fragment of conversation. ``They said: `What's needed is to shoot the people in the parliament,' '' Naumcenko translates.

Half a dozen men gathered outside the Atlantic Cafe can be heard talking of ``communists.'' One man, dressed in a black leather jacket, wants to know why the United States is sending so much money to Russia. ``It's not good for America. Give the money to American people,'' translates a man wearing a New York Giants hat.

Most of the Russians say they support Russian President Boris Yeltsin. ``I think parliament is no good; Yeltsin knows best,'' says Nikolai Shevtsov, who moved to Brooklyn from Kiev only two months ago. For some, it is a reluctant support.

``I never did like Yeltsin,'' says Anna Galinka, who says she did not trust him. ``Now I think he is better,'' says Ms. Galinka, who moved here from Tashkent a year ago. But others wish Mikhail Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union, were back in power. ``Yeltsin, he destroyed the Soviet Union,'' says Natasha Zaborska, who came from Odessa three years ago. She has adapted quickly to the West: She is wearing a Chanel T-shirt and a lot of makeup.

For some of the residents, the problems of Russia are second to their own concerns. Nikolai Shevtsov is searching the ``Novoye Russkoye Slovo'' for work. He is wondering how he can get a Social Security card so he can support his wife, Oxana, and six-month-old baby, Eva.

Not all the immigrants are concerned about what happens to Russia. ``America is my country now,'' says a young woman in a restaurant. ``If tanks were attacking Congress, then I would have strong feelings.''

However, some of the residents agreed that what was happening back in Russia was bad. ``Russia is going in the garbage,'' says Monik Baketou, who moved to Brooklyn 17 years ago. To illustrate, he kicks some trash into the gutter. ``Russia,'' he explains.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.