Bringing Community Together for Ukraine in Bushwick, Brooklyn


Becca Siegel

– VOL. 14

On a recent spring night, Bushwick Venn Neighbors attended a Dig In event series dinner in support of Ukraine. The dinner was organized in collaboration with Varenyk House, a local Ukrainian restaurant, and featured a fundraiser to support Ukraine, bringing an awesome event together with meaningful, community-wide impact.

This event was spearheaded by Igor Kallash, a Bushwick Venn Neighbor, and Nathan de Paz, a Venn Neighborhood Manager. A celebration of food and culture, the event also raised funds for Razom, an organization dedicated to humanitarian relief and recovery in Ukraine. The name means “together,” in Ukrainian, and in that spirit, Razom finds strength and purpose in what they call the “enormous potential of dedicated volunteers around the world.”

Venn interviewed both Igor and Nathan  to get the behind-the-scenes details of how this event came to be.

Venn: How was this fundraiser dinner different from other Dig In series events?

Nathan: Normally, when we do Dig In dinners, it’s a small group of 10-15 Neighbors, gathering to have dinner and hang out. At a prior dinner, we tried a new format in which we invited a nonprofit to join us. This time, we posted the Ukraine dinner on Eventbrite, and opened it up to the Neighborhood. So, this dinner was open to many more people than just the Neighbors from Venn. It was open to the public.

Image of Varenyk House Dinner to Support Ukraine

Neighbors from across Bushwick and Ridgewood joined to support a local restaurant and global cause.

Venn: How did partnering with Varenyk House bring a sense of community to this event? 

Nathan: Varenyk House, as far as we can tell, is the only Ukrainian establishment in Ridgewood/Bushwick! I had recently seen a write-up about it in the New Yorker, talking about how it was accepting donations and offering vareniki (little dumplings) in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. At the same time, Igor had suggested that we have Neighbors go there to try it out. I said, “Why don’t we go ahead and have our next Dig In dinner catered by Varenyk House?” And he said, “Sure, why not? That’s easy enough.” For both of us, it was the best way to give authenticity to the intention of supporting Ukraine. This place could connect us to what’s going on, through food. 

Venn: What were the best parts of this event?

Nathan: The best part was our connection. We were able to connect with a nonprofit that’s helping Ukraine. For our fundraiser, we were lucky enough to have someone from Razom come to the dinner and talk about what the organization is doing. We were able to hear where our funds were going, with full transparency on what the fundraiser was for. 

Image of Varenyk House Dinner to Support Ukraine

Leaders from Razom, a local organization dedicated to humanitarian relief and recovery in Ukraine,  spoke to neighbors during the event.

Venn: What was the ultimate Neighborhood impact from this dinner? 

Nathan: For a lot of the attendees, it was their first time trying Ukrainian food. For me, it was great to see Igor’s Ukrainian heritage. For me and for what we do at Venn, it was cool to be able to connect with someone in the neighborhood [who is actually from Ukraine], and connect with what was important.

Venn: How did you choose which organizations to involve and support?

Igor: We looked for something local, because that’s what Venn is all about. It’s about getting involved with the community. There aren’t many NY-based organizations to choose from, so we went with Razom. This organization specializes in medical equipment, and it recently got involved in buying drones and supplies for the Ukrainian military.

Image from Varenyk House dinner to support ukraine

Igor Kallash, a Venn neighbor, spearheaded the event. 

Venn: How was this fundraiser and dinner a true “neighborhood” event?

Igor: It was very similar to any potluck dinner for the Bushwick area, with eating and having conversations, but this time, we decided to make the fundraiser a part of the event, because there’s a crisis.

Venn: How do you feel about the impact of this Venn neighborhood fundraiser event? 

Igor: There were two Ukrainians there–me, and the woman from Razom. For everyone there, it was more effective through being able to hear our stories and experiences, and getting to talk with us. It made people care about the problems going on in Ukraine.