According to the caption, this photo documents a political meeting of Ukrainian American women in 1938. What was it about? Politics in their homeland? It was before the start of the Second World War, but after the Great Famine of the early 1930s that killed millions of Ukrainians. Of course, they could also have been discussing local affairs in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania.
I found this photo as a way to talk about the horrific war in Ukraine. It’s difficult to convey my fear and sorrow as someone who has spent most of her adult life studying the old Soviet Union. My archives were in Moscow, which means I know a lot of Moscovites. Everyone of them opposes the war. Why aren’t they out on the streets, you ask. Because they know what the government can do to them. Where would you be if protests led to jail and risked your very livelihood? Even those who took the mild step of signing petitions against the war have lost their jobs. I have grave doubts that any even the most draconian sanctions will lead to regime change. In fact, I see no happy ending to this conflict for either country—and I fear it will last years. I am heartsick. In the meantime, I am doing what most people are doing—sending money to help Ukraine
But let’s turn to these cheerful older Ukrainian American women out for an evening of political discussion a few years before their homeland was turned into a major battlefield of the Second World War. Skirts were already getting shorter in 1938, but this older set had not taken to the style. The woman on the left might be wearing an embroidered shirt—an emblem of Ukrainian identity. We can only see the dark coat of the woman on the right. However, the smiling woman in the middle decided on a cheerful printed dress that looks like a variation on polka dots. Is she getting out her knitting or her lipstick?