on the cover

On the Cover of New York Magazine: Tales From Little Ukraine

Welcome to the Ukrainian Festival, 1978. Painting by Yaroslava Surmach Mills. Illustration: Reverse painting on cellulose acetate. Rights and reproduction © Nik Mills. Courtesy of the Ukrainian Museum. Courtesy of the Surmach Family.

New York’s annual “Yesteryear Issue” celebrates the magazine’s 54th anniversary by paying homage to the East Village’s Little Ukraine. “The issue tells the neighborhood’s story through successive waves of immigration, and shows how the neighborhood retained its identity and culture,” says features director Genevieve Smith. “These stories are told through a deeply reported history by city editor Christopher Bonanos, as well as first-person accounts and archival photographs and illustrations.”

The issue is an excavation of the neighborhood’s — and the country’s — rich history. Bonanos says, “We all have Ukraine on our minds at the moment, and what’s striking about this little enclave is that it is both an artifact and a living community. The institutions along Second Avenue that got going in the 1940s and 1950s, during the postwar immigration boom, are now leaping into service to send relief back to the old country. But it’s also true that the neighborhood’s Ukrainian-ness has faded, and it’s valuable to record its texture and physicality while a lot of people still remember it well.”

Yaroslava Surmach Mills in the Surma store painting pysanky eggs in the mid-1950s. Photo: Myron Surmach Jr.

The cover features a painting by Yaroslava Surmach Mills (1925–2008), who grew up in the East Village (her father was the proprietor of Surma Book & Music Co.), attended Cooper Union, and became a well-known children’s-book illustrator in the 1970s. Her style is inspired and informed by Ukrainian folk art tradition, but her son Nik Mills notes in the issue: “To say she is a folk artist doesn’t cover it. You can’t cubbyhole her. You could call her a stained-glass artist, a children’s-book illustrator, a reverse glass painter, a master calligrapher, an icon-maker.” The cover image, showing the St. George church festival on East 7th Street, is from 1978.

On the Cover of New York Magazine: Tales From Little Ukraine