Credit: Anjali Pinto

Anna Tsymbaliuk, 31, works as a babysitter and takes ESL classes at Truman College. We met at her apartment in Edgewater, where she prepared syrniki, fried cheese pancakes, according to her mother’s recipe. Most people make them flat, but hers are spherical, like fritters. She insists they taste better this way. She served them with coffee. Starbucks doesn’t compare to Ukrainian coffee, she says, but Metropolis comes close.

In my country, you visit someone’s house and it’s eat, eat, eat!

I’m from Dnipro in Ukraine. I have been two years in the USA, in Chicago. I came here because my friend has lived here 11 years. She says, “Anna, please come,” because she knows about the situation in Ukraine, and when the war started, she said, “Anna, it’s dangerous to stay in Ukraine.” And, you know, I very quickly decided I’m coming to the USA.

Credit: Anjali Pinto

American people have houses and have trees, but for beauty, you know. For decoration. In Ukraine, if you have a house and space, you can grow potato, tomato, everything. And if you have a cow, you prepare it yourself, this cottage cheese [for syrniki]. And it’s amazing. My family did not live in the village. In the city, we don’t have cows. We live in apartments. We bought fruits, vegetables, everything in the market from the village, because it really tastes different. For example, one time I tried an [American] tomato or a strawberry. If you close your eyes, you never know. But when you try a real [Ukrainian] strawberry, it tastes like a strawberry. For me, [American] tomatoes, cucumbers, I know it’s organic, but it’s the same. It’s fresh, but it doesn’t really taste like cucumbers. I remember one time when I just came to America, and I was speaking with my mother, and I said, “Mom, the apple doesn’t have a smell.” You eat, but you don’t know if it’s really food or chemistry or something. In Ukraine, I never thought about it. Once I bought cherries in Indiana, from farmers. Oh, my god, it’s really cool, it’s really cherry, you know? Farmers markets are good in America. But you need to go somewhere.

I really miss food prepared by my mom. It’s not important what’s prepared. It’s important who prepared it for you. In America, you can find everything in the world. Everything I need I can find. There’s a lot of Russian and Ukrainian shops. Do you like cottage cheese? OK, you have it. It’s maybe a little more expensive than similar food. But I want good Ukrainian chocolate, I want Ukranian coffee. It’s a little expensive, because they bring it to America.

I go shopping in Ukrainian Village. There are three or four shops. This cottage cheese is at Fresh Market and Shop & Save. I love Shop & Save because it’s European. Polish, I think. At Shop & Save you can find the fish for shuba [a layered salad with beets and salted herring], you can find pickles. In Ukraine, you don’t just pickle cucumbers, also tomatoes, mushrooms, everything. You put them in containers, maybe three or five days you wait. I don’t do that here. But one time I tried tomatoes prepared from a special recipe from my mother, but just one time, because it needs a lot of time.

Credit: Anjali Pinto

But American food? I love it! I like burgers, I like fries. I like chicken fingers and cheese sticks. I don’t prepare it at home. I don’t know how traditional American burgers are made, or fries. I go out. Because I really enjoy it. In Ukraine, we just had McDonald’s. But now I know in Ukraine, they have a lot of American restaurants. It’s very popular. It’s just started. People show pictures on their Instagram. It’s so funny.

In America, you can find all cultures prepared, and I love it. You say, OK, today Chinese. Then Italy, pasta and pizza. It’s amazing. Every day you can eat, whatever you want. Just go on the Internet, say “OK, I want this.” In Ukraine, you can find Italian, but just one restaurant. It’s a little place, but it doesn’t have more dishes or examples.

I’m really sad when I don’t prepare breakfast for myself, because I don’t have time to prepare it. But I love it. Maybe if I’m not working, I’ll prepare it. But if I’m not working, I don’t prepare it, because I can’t afford it. [laughs] It’s a joke. In Ukraine, I prepared my meals every time because, you know, it’s expensive to go to a restaurant. In America, it’s expensive to prepare it yourself. It’s not just money, it’s your time. You need to go shopping. You to spend time finding everything. If I want cottage cheese, I need to go to Shop & Save. If I want bread, I can’t find a normal bread at just one place. I don’t like this, how to say, mushy bread. OK, you bring it, you prepare it, and after you eat, you clean it up. Or you have ten dollars, you go in Mariano’s where everything’s prepared. You just take it and sit and eat. It’s ten or 15 minutes. One year, I prepared all my food every day. And now, you know, I have pizza. I make salad if I have vegetables. But if I don’t have time, or I’m very late coming home. . . What changed in my life? I’d like it if someone would prepare food for me.

Credit: Anjali Pinto

Just my mom is still in Ukraine, because I’m alone in my family. My father died one year ago. I’m very, very sad. I miss my mom. She’s safe, because the war continues not very close to my city. But I love it in America. Really. The people, the culture. I like everything. Because every time you look and you find a difference. I love the very good roads. Because in my country, oh my god, you drive, and one moment you need a repair because there are big, big holes. You cannot drive. I love grass. I love trees. Everything is very pretty, you know.

[If mom came to visit] I would go to Ukrainian restaurants, Tryzub in Ukrainian Village. And they have one Ukrainian restaurant in Bolingbrook. I don’t remember its name. My friend is Lithuanian, and she lives near this Ukrainian restaurant. Every time guests come in, they go to this Ukrainian restaurant. She likes it because the borscht is amazing.

One time I worked with Lithuanian and Moldovan people. They don’t have syrniki. And I prepared it one day for my friends. They said, “Oh, it’s amazing!” Now they prepare it too.

Credit: Anjali Pinto

There’s one place where people just speak Russian and Ukrainian, in shops, in the bank. People who don’t want to learn English make Ukraine in America. It’s like how everybody comes in and makes a little country in America. I think when you come into America, you need to speak English and understand American traditions. I like Ukrainian traditions, but I don’t want to be in Ukraine because I live now in America. If you like Ukraine, why do you live here? Go to Ukraine, speak Ukrainian with Ukrainian people!

You know, I just want to see my mother. If she comes here, I don’t want to go back [to Ukraine]. If she can’t, I think I’ll try to go back. But no, I like America. I like everything. Every country has positives and negatives, but this country has more positives than negatives, for me.   v