Since the war erupted in her homeland, Svitlana Geras, who has worked behind the counter at the Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop on Manhattan Avenue here in Greenpoint, has anguished.
Svitlana, who comes from Ternopol, Ukraine is raising two sons aged eight and ten when she is not serving donuts. Her mind these days is anxious, full of thoughts of her mother, cousins, godson, and even her ex, the father of her boys, who is somewhere in Ukraine.
Though her kids are here with her in New York, the family had to cancel a planned trip home this summer to Ukraine because of the fighting, and the boys share her anxiety about the war.
Svitlana’s gentle face and polite service is familiar to any Greenpointer who has been to Peter Pan since she began working there six years ago. The only Ukrainian woman behind the counter there, Geras, nevertheless, has endeared herself to the Polish women and other staff at Peter Pan, thanks to her work ethic and sweet disposition. Her boss Donna Siafakis, the owner of Peter Pan, said that she could not think of one negative thing to say about Svitlana in her six years working behind the counter.
Though her hometown has so far avoided much of the destruction of other Ukrainian cities further to the south and east, Svitlana grieves for her people who have lost everything. “Innocent people shouldn’t suffer,” she says. Svitlana’s heart aches for the hundreds of thousands of mothers and their children who cannot escape the fighting. “These people have no food or water, and there is no escape corridor for them,” she explained. “The Russians shoot at ordinary people on the street who often become the victims of war.”
Svitlana also said that she feels real pain at the thought that more than a million of her fellow Ukrainians have been forced to flee as refugees often with nothing other than the clothes on their backs. She told me that for her the worst part of the refugee crisis is that so many of those forced to flee are mothers and small children.
A Ukrainian Orthodox Christian, Svitlana’s prayer is that the war will end soon and that everyone can go home to peace, but she does not trust Putin, claiming he is “unpredictable.” Recently the Governor of New York, Kathy Hochul, came to worship at her parish St. George’s on the Lower East Side.
Svitlana claims that Russia always wanted to control Ukraine, but assures people that Ukrainians love their country deeply. She said that there is a long tradition of fighting for Ukraine as their grandmothers and grandfathers expelled the Nazis in the Second World War. Svitlana said that although Ukrainian men are strong and will fight to the death to protect their homeland, the reason she was confident that Ukraine would win had nothing to do with men.
“Though our men are strong, we Ukrainian women are even stronger,” she said, claiming that the strength of Ukraine’s women was the real reason why Ukraine would prevail.
Svitlana urged people to give generously to help the million and a half Ukrainian refugees, which you can do so through this link here.