Our Review


                         Rating:  NR`

                          Length: 1:46

           Release Date: February 23, 2024

Jeanne: Filmmaker Michael Fiore has written, directed and produced a powerful documentary, VESELKA: THE RAINBOW ON THE CORNER AT THE CENTER OF THE WORLD, about the legendary Ukrainian restaurant, Veselka, located at 2nd Avenue and East 9th Street in New York City. Veselka means “rainbow” in Ukrainian and it’s an appropriate name for the place where so many New Yorkers of all ethnicities have gathered over the years to share the most delicious food one can imagine. And now it has become a refuge for Ukrainians who are dealing with the ramifications of the war raging in their homeland.

Founded in 1954 in the Little Ukraine neighborhood in the lower east side of Manhattan by refugees Volodymyr and Olha Darmochwal, Veselka was originally a candy store/newsstand. Eventually Ukrainian soul food like pierogies, stuffed cabbage, potato pancakes, blintzes and borscht, among other delights, were sold in the adjacent luncheonette.


The restaurant has remained in the family with Darmochwal’s son-in-law, Tom Birchard, taking over, and now his son, Jason. Veselka has gone through several expansions, though there have been periods when it was questionable it would survive. In the mid-1970s, the construction of the Second Avenue Subway, which was later canceled, almost caused Veselka’s demise. And of course, the pandemic was also a trying time. But the allowance of outdoor dining helped save this neighborhood institution, along with the support of steadfast New Yorkers.

And now Veselka has become a “beacon of hope” where people can show their support for the citizens of Ukraine --- and the staff at Veselka, many of whom still have loved ones there. Jason and his Ukrainian employees have worked tirelessly since the war began in February 2022 to do as much as they possibly can to send aid to Ukraine.


Jason has done a Herculean job of helping his employees by lending money to those who are in need and sponsoring relatives who want to emigrate to America. He treats them like family, especially one young man, Vitali, who has become like a son to Jason.


When Vitali brings his mother to NYC for a break from the war, Jason gives her a job in the kitchen. He is totally invested in the restaurant and his workers --- doing all he is able to keep their spirits up, sometimes to the detriment of his own family.


Narrated by David Duchovny, who does a marvelous job, Fiore’s homage to Veselka is a moving tribute to a family dedicated to helping others. This remarkable establishment also happens to be one of my favorite restaurants in New York. If you’ve never been, it is a must during your next visit. And if you live in NYC and haven’t experienced it, you now know a place where you can get the BEST food --- and give aid to those suffering in war-torn Ukraine.

Opinion: Strong See It Now!

David: A special restaurant in Manhattan’s lower east side has been a thriving and important part of the Ukrainian community since 1954. Now celebrating its 70th anniversary, Veselka’s owners and staff have raised over half a million dollars to aid with the Ukraine war efforts. This timely and moving story is the focus of a new documentary, VESELKA: THE RAINBOW ON THE CORNER AT THE CENTER OF THE WORLD.


Veselka’s renowned borscht, pierogies and other sumptuous foods have drawn steady streams of customers for these many years. But as important as the restaurant’s ability to provide authentic staples for the citizens of Little Ukraine in New York City, perhaps its greater achievement is providing jobs for its largely Ukrainian staff, many of whom struggle to communicate in English.


This is particularly important to Vitali, a manager of Veselka, when he succeeds in bringing his mother to America during the war which began in 2022 after years of separation. She is soon hired by Veselka’s owner, Jason Birchard, which affords her the much-needed sociability with her fellow Ukrainians while she’s in the U.S. Another long-time employee beseeches Jason to sponsor his relatives so they can emigrate from war-torn Ukraine --- and he readily agrees.


Other nuggets of the Ukraine-NYC connection include a visiting baseball team from Ukraine to play in New York against the NYPD. Unfortunately, the crowd turnout is far less than expected --- and hoped for. In one brief moment, a man is seen wearing a T-shirt that says “Puck Futin”. If you’re an Ohio State football fan you can immediately see the obvious resemblance to the “Muck Fichigan” slogans all over Columbus --- but as an OSU grad, I digress.


NYC’s mayor, Eric Adams, pays a visit to Veselko and while he appears to be sympathetic to the Ukrainian cause, there are times when he seems more interested in waving to admirers who spot him seated in the restaurant. His mugging for the crowd seems a bit disingenuous when we consider the upheaval that Ukrainians have suffered since Putin’s invasion.


As Americans not directly involved in a war or its impact on civilized people, we take for granted things many Ukrainians are now without, like food, water, electricity, cell service or internet connectivity. In addition, they must cope with bombings, widespread destruction of life and property, not to mention the constant blare of warning sirens.


Yet those who have come to the U.S. to escape are fervent in their desire to return to their homeland. This is never more evident than through the eyes of Veselko’s staff, whom the restaurant owners treat like family.


And actor David Duchovny, a native of Little Ukraine, serves as narrator for VESELKA: THE RAINBOW ON THE CORNER AT THE CENTER OF THE WORLD. This is definitely a worthwhile film --- written, directed and produced by Michael Fiore.


Opinion:  Strong See It Now!