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‘Veselka’ Review: Serving Up Support for Ukraine



You would be hard pressed to find a New Yorker unfamiliar with the name Veselka. The pierogi and borscht eatery, established in 1954 by a Ukrainian émigré, is a staple of the East Village, where its genial diner atmosphere — overseen by Jason Birchard, the founder’s grandson — draws everyone from university students to seasoned old-timers.

“Veselka: The Rainbow on the Corner at the Center of the World” pays tribute to the cultural landmark by taking viewers inside the restaurant during an uneasy period: Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Directed by Michael Fiore, the documentary establishes Veselka’s Ukrainian roots and then chronicles Birchard and his staff’s real-time campaign to support their besieged home country.

The film’s most stirring through lines revolve around the stories of employees, including Vitalii, a Veselka manager who convinces his mother to flee Ukraine and live with him in the United States. Seeking routine, Vitalii’s mother even accepts a position in the Veselka kitchen, where she finds others who speak her language, appreciate her stress and offer a measure of community.

Tugged along by superfluous narration (by David Duchovny), the film also documents the participation of Veselka workers in a variety of fund-raisers and symbolic appearances. These events are, admittedly, more exciting in principle than as documentary cinema. But even if some scenes want for energy, the compassion of the “Veselka” subjects — and its filmmaker — never wavers.

Veselka: The Rainbow on the Corner at the Center of the World
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes. In theaters.

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