LANSING - It was a beautiful day to drive in the Mississippi River Valley en route to Lansing, Iowa, last Sunday. The sun was sparkling off the ice, and waterfowl were congregating in the open water.
The occasion was a ‘Ukrainian Favorites and Culture’ open house at Lansing Office Works, put on by Ukrainian Lesya Ryzhenkova and her family just after the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The location, ‘Lansing Office and Kitchen Works’ is the location of an innovative small business started by Maryann Baldwin to ‘foster entrepreneurship’ and small business development in the community.
“Lesya is a member of our organization, and we are helping her realize her dream of starting ‘Ukrainian Village,’ a restaurant offering Ukrainian food in Lansing,” Baldwin explained.
Ryzhenkova and her family earned a reputation for their Ukrainian cuisine last year in a free-will donation fundraiser for the Ukraine war effort in March of 2022, shortly after the beginning of the Russian conflict.
Through their efforts, the family has raised over $20,000 to pay for critical aid for those from her hometown, Myronivka, about 60 miles to the south of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.
“My mother and sisters are all here in America right now, but my 55-year-old brother is in Ukraine, fighting with the army,” Ryzhenkova explained. “The money we raised here in America has helped to purchase drones, night vision goggles and medical supplies for those from our hometown that are fighting for Ukraine.”
People interested in donation to Lesya Ryzhenkova’s ‘Ukrainian Relief Fund’ can send checks to the Kerndt Brothers Bank “ Ukrainian Relief Fund. “ They can deposit to the fund, or can send a check made out to Lesya Ryzhenkova to P.O. Box 323, Lansing, Iowa ,52151, or drop it at the Good Life Gallery in Lansing, Iowa.
At the event last Sunday, Lesya was joined in preparing and serving food, singing and dancing by her mother Olga, sisters Zina, and Tanya, and friends Natasha and Michael.
Ryzhenkova has continued to offer open house events on Sundays, letting the community experience the cuisine, music and dance of her country.
“When you come into this space, for three hours you will be in Ukraine,” she told the clapping, smiling crowd. “You can take three hours to come and enjoy the music, the food and the culture of Ukraine.”
At the event last Sunday, the large crowd of participants was treated to Borscht, a Ukrainian beet and vegetable soup, Holubtsi – Ukrainian stuffed cabbage, ‘Mom’s Cutlets’ – beef patties with oatmeal, onion and garlic, Vareniky – dumplings stuffed with cabbage, Varenyky - dumplings stuffed with mashed potatoes, Pelmeni – Siberian dumplings filled with ground beef, onion, garlic and butter, Mlyntsi – Ukrainian pancakes stuffed with pork, and Mlyntsi – Ukrainian crepes stuffed with Nutella.
A surprise addition to the fare was a Ukrainian ‘moonshine,’ a distilled alcoholic beverage flavored with cilantro, rose hips and oak bark. The brewer, friend of the family Michael Kolsrud, said he learned to make the beverage from Lesya’s mother Olga, and that another variation of the recipe is flavored with cherries.
“My Dear Native Village”
Where the Ross and Rosava run into the Dnieper
Between them there lies my dear native village
And there a white house sits on the edge of the village,
Where mother so sadly is out looking for me…
And Mother looks out for me every day,
Already the apple trees have dry broken branches,
And the apple trees bloom white beneath the window,
Like Mother’s temples, gray now for a long while
Oh, Mother, dear Mother, don’t you worry so,
Ah – it is better you look up at the bright sky,
There the cranes bring in for you the spring,
And I with them on a white wing will fly in!
Where the Ross and Rosava run into the Dnieper,
Between them there lies my dear native village,
And there a white house sits on the edge of the village,
Where Mother so sadly is looking out for me.
During one haunting and heartfelt song, sung by Lesya and her mother, Olga was observed to be in tears. Lesya explained that this was because the song was one frequently sung in Ukraine, and it reminded her mother of happier times with her family all together and their community flourishing.
Olga came to America just before the war broke out in early 2022, and has been unable to return to her home. She has five children, 13 grandchildren and multiple great grandchildren, and worries about the future they will have.
“We want to thank so much the American people, the American government, and the American president for all the help you have given Ukraine,” Olga said.
Since the war began in February of 2022, the Biden administration and U.S. Congress have directed more than $75 billion in assistance to Ukraine. This includes humanitarian, financial and military support according to Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German research institute.
Last week, to mark the one year anniversary of the start of the Russian invasion, U.S. President Joe Biden visited Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.
Lesya seemed very happy to have her mother safe with her in America.
“Wherever your mother is, that will always be home for you,” she said. “It’s wonderful to have my family with me, and thank God my brother is alive.”
Another business in downtown Lansing helping to share Ukrainian culture is the Good Life Gallery and Frame Shop, owned by family friend Michael Kolsrud. In the gallery, one can see beautiful beaded paintings created by Olga, and access full service framing.
One will immediately notice the business when driving through town because of the Ukrainian flag flying proudly in front of it, and the messages ‘Glory to our Heroes’ and ‘Glory to Ukraine’ in the front windows.
“Lesya’s mother was making the beaded paintings in her home, and selling them at craft shows,” Kolsrud explained. “But we had no way to frame them, and no place outside of the home to display her art.”
It all came together when Kolsrud approached his friends John and Judy who owned the frame shop about framing for Olga’s pieces. The business owners told him they wanted to retire, and asked him to purchase the framing equipment. Later, Kolsrud also bought the building from them.”
“Even though I’ve owned the building and equipment since 2019, we’re really still just getting going,” Kolsrud said. “We started in 2019, but then COVID hit, and so we’re hoping to really kick things off in 2023.”
One of the beaded paintings displayed in the gallery depicted a tranquil stream, surrounded by a green meadow and birch trees. According the Kolsrud, the painting contained 52,795 beads and had taken Olga 87 hours to bead.
The shop also sells traditionally made Ukrainian Easter eggs, made by Olga and her family.