After almost two weeks of ongoing violence against Ukraine, some of Brooklyn’s southern-most communities are still reeling — among them, the staff and patients at Coney Island Hospital, where roughly 25 percent of its 3,400 employees are of either Russian or Ukrainian descent.
On Sunday, Mayor Eric Adams, flanked by fellow elected officials and community activists, visited the hospital and other institutions in Brooklyn’s predominantly Ukrainian neighborhoods to show support. At the Ocean Parkway hospital, the former Brooklyn Beep spoke with leaders and staff to express the city “stands with them.”
“Bombs may be dropping on Ukraine, but the impact of those explosions is being felt here in our community,” Adams told press during the March 6 visit. “We are united here and we’re going to do our share to help the people of Ukraine the best way we can possibly help them.”
As of March 7, there were 406 recorded civilian deaths and 801 injuries as a result of the conflict, according to a statement released by the United Nations.
Southern Brooklyn is home to one of the largest Ukrainian populations outside of eastern Europe, with the Brighton Beach neighborhood earning the nickname “Little Odessa” due to its population of immigrants from Ukraine, Russia and other ex-Soviet territories.
At Coney Island Hospital, the issue hits home.
“Some staff members are having a hard time getting hold of people, some have lost their homes,” said Svetlana Lipyanskaya, CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island. “Our patients are struggling with the same thing, so they’re coming into our emergency rooms and our doctor’s offices for their medical issues, but they’re bringing this pain with them and so we’re really trying to be supportive to them as well.”
The hospital has provided resources for staff to decompress and cope with the unfolding humanitarian crisis. Two wellness rooms, where staff can stop in for a break and access support services, opened in the last week.
“I think we’re going to be seeing this for a very long time because — no matter what happens there today, tomorrow, there’s a humanitarian crisis that will last for quite some time,” said Lipyanskaya, who herself was born in Ukraine. “To say that a quarter of the staff has been affected would be very much an underestimate because we are seeing that even those who are not from there are affected by what’s going on with their coworkers.”
In an interview with Brooklyn Paper, the hospital head said employees can request leaves of absence, but the overall response she’s been getting is that those affected prefer to be working, rather than focusing on the news.
Resident Nurse Lada Svis said her family, who remains in Ukraine, is discouraged from fleeing to the United States because their visas would not allow them to stay for long.
“They are trying to escape to other parts of Europe because they want to go back to Ukraine,” she said.
During Adams’ visit to southern Brooklyn, he also stopped by the Sea Breeze Jewish Center, where neighbors collected donations to be flown to war-affected sites. He also met up with members of the Brighton Beach Business Improvement District in an effort to embrace Ukrainian business owners and employees, still working to make ends meet while war rages on in their home country.
The mayor was joined Sunday by newly elected councilmembers Ari Kagan and Inna Vernikov. Kagan, who represents Coney Island, immigrated from Belarus in 1993, while Vernikov, whose neighboring district in Sheepshead Bay also includes a large number of Ukrainian immigrants, immigrated from Ukraine.
The same day, not far from Adams’ solidarity tour, Brighton Beach residents gathered on the Riegelmann Boardwalk at Brighton 6th Street for a pro-Ukraine rally, where hundreds held up signs, and donned the yellow and blue colors of the Ukrainian flag to show support.
On Friday, March 4, more than 150 gathered in front of the Amalgamated Warbasse Houses in Coney Island to stand in solidarity with Ukraine. That rally was hosted by Kagan, and was attended by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, state Sen. Diane Savino, and Vernikov.