Local Ukrainians share family memories while raising funds for victims overseas

From left: Michael Gaber (Stephanie’s father), Stephania Gaber (Stephanie’s mother), her grandfather’s brother, her uncle’s two daughters, her grandmother Ahafia Rudiak and her grandfather Maxim Rudiak.

Stephania Gaber was born in the United States, but her mother, Stephania, father, Michael, sister, Donna (Dinusha), sister, Dorothy, maternal grandmother, Ahafia Rudiak, and grandfather, Maxim Rudiak, migrated from a small town outside Kyiv, Ukraine, in 1947, after World War II.

Ukraine was a poor country and America had its promises of fulfilling dreams, said Gaber, who now goes by Stephanie and is the Escapades producer at Brandywine Living Princeton.

Her grandmother had relatives in Manville, so the family arrived on Sept. 21, 1947, according to her immigration papers. If you had family in the United States you could get permanent residency and after two years you were granted American citizenship, Gaber said.

Her parents and her grandfather worked for Johns Manville, an insulation, roofing and building materials company in the town. Her father and grandfather built three houses and Gaber still lives on the same block.

Then, Michael and Stephania founded the M&S Bar & Grill in Manville, which was open from 1952 until about 1980. Stephania cooked Ukrainian food at the tavern, especially since Manville was a very Ukrainian and Polish area at the time, Gaber said.

Pierogi, stuffed cabbage, borscht and “a big jar of purple pickled eggs that everybody loved” were on the menu, Gaber said.

Their family traditions of their Ukrainian heritage included gardening.

“Both my grandparents were great gardeners in Ukraine. When they came to America they settled in Manville, built homes and built their own home as well. At least 80% of their backyard was a garden, full of every vegetable you can imagine.

“I still do a garden at home every summer on the same soil as they planted on because I live in the house my grandfather and father built. I have taken my garden skills to work as well and we now have a garden club (at Brandywine) with 16 residents called Can You Dig It. Last year we grew our garden and all the harvest went to the South Brunswick Food Pantry,” Gaber said.

Christmas Eve was an important holiday, when the family would eat fish, such as herring in wine sauce and sour cream sauce, and many other dishes and desserts – but no meat.

They handmade buckwheat, sautéed cabbage and had a lot of pierogies of potatoes and cheese and sauerkraut and mushrooms. Gaber’s favorite dessert was the poppyseed roll.

On Easter, her grandmother and mother would spend hours baking babka to give to everyone in the neighborhood, Gaber recalled. She still makes babka and ham and pickled eggs. The food would be blessed by a priest at church.

Gaber’s father’s brother and his family stayed behind in Kyiv – but unfortunately, with the current state of the Russian invasion, she has not been able to reach anyone. She is hoping they went to Poland to seek safety.

Gaber usually plans two fundraisers each year for the Brandywine residents to take part in, so it was natural that on March 30 she planned a charity sale with items made by residents that raised almost $3,000 that will directly buy food for Ukrainian refugees.

“When residents learned of the war going on in Ukraine, they felt very unsettled, especially residents from Ukraine and nearby countries. They joined together with (Gaber) to host a charity sale to donate the proceeds to Hope For Ukraine, located in Rowland, for humanitarian efforts in Ukraine,” Gaber said.

Items for sale included paintings of the Ukrainian flag and sunflowers, blue and gold potted pansies, T-shirts with the Ukrainian flag, and a Pray For Ukraine iron on.

There was traditional Ukrainian food for purchase, made by Gaber, such as pierogies, stuffed cabbage, Ukrainian honey cake and Ukrainian apple cake.

Overall, the community raised $2,863.20.

“My entire family is from Ukraine, so this really hits close to home for myself and the Ukrainian seniors at our community,” Gaber said. “They really like connecting with the community and like to be helpful always. They like to keep busy and I like to keep them busy.”

About two dozens residents helped out last month.
Gerry Nagelberg, 90, originally from Long Island, N.Y., said her mother-in-law came to the United States from Poland when she was 15.
“There wasn’t much of a life for her in Poland; that’s why she came here, but it was very difficult for her here,” Nagelberg said.
Nagelberg painted a Ukrainian flag, helped Gaber iron a shirt to sell, and did some planting.
“It was a wonderful experience,” she said.
She said that as a human being, to see other people suffering is heartbreaking.
“Our hearts go out to the people. They are suffering so much and there is so much destruction there (in Ukraine),” Nagelberg said. “We hope things will get better in this world.”
The former mother-in-law and father-in-law of Carol Corsan, 88, formerly of West Windsor, were from Ukraine, so Corsan’s children are of Ukrainian heritage.
“As with any of these horrible situations, you grieve for these people who have to go through this,” she said.
Cathy Richie, 93, who lived in West Windsor and Princeton, said she felt she had to do something.
“It really makes me feel great whenever I can help, whatever I can do. It just does something to you when you are able to help people and do something. It makes you feel good inside. You feel like you want to keep helping,” she said.
Though Gaber has never visited Ukraine, she still has hopes to go back to her family’s homeland.

“Someday I want to. Someday, I hope if and when. I pray every day for this war to end,” she said.

She said she shed a lot of tears looking through old family photos, including her grandmother’s immigration papers.
“It’s hard knowing what’s going on there now,” she said.
Brandywine Living Princeton is on the border of Princeton and South Brunswick.
Contact Jennifer Amato at [email protected]