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Once There Was a Village

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The book, Once There Was a Village, written by Yuri Kapralov, is an autobiographical tale of his experiences living in the ethnically diverse East Village of New York City. The story takes place during the late 1960s and early 1970s and most of the events occur around Thompson Square Park-- the center of Alphabet City.

Yuri Kapralov came to America after World War II, displaced from the Caucuses. He made the East Village home. In the book, he was adamant about what is the "East Village". His description was west of Avenue A. He describes the ethnic composition as ever changing, but for the later part of the sixties, was mostly divided into Puerto Ricans, Russians, Polish, Blacks, and Bohemians; the bohemians were further divided into black-and-white couples, students, left-over beatniks and hippies.

Kapralov describes how the area around Thompson Square Park and much of New York, during the late sixties and early seventies, became a dangerous place to call home. Crime was a daily occurrence brought on by the drug infestation and poverty typical of the location and era. People of the East Village were poor and disheartened by what they considered the New York Police Department's lack of protection.

In the late 1960s,although the East Village was overrun with crime, police officers were rarely seen east of First Avenue. Letters were written to the mayor and to newspapers requesting patrol officers in the area. The letters were either ignored or the authors were told the manpower was not available. Due to this situation, the Police become an object of hate. They never seemed to be there for protection against the ever recurrent muggings, robberies, and general violence against East Village citizens. The crime was so frequent that the residents began defending themselves with anything available and even resorted to buying illegal weapons. Many residents were caught with these illegally purchased weapons and arrested, further straining relations with law enforcement

The summer of 1966 saw the climax of the antagonistic relationship with law enforcement and residents. There were street riots on Avenues C and B. Cars were burned, stores were robbed and people were killed. That evening, the area turned into a War Zone during the evening east of Avenue B. The community had many different views of the events. The Russian immigrants, who were deemed by the writer to be "more racist", saw the events as evident of the Black and Puerto Rican people acting "out of control" and the neighborhood "going to hell". In contrast, many other ethic groups express desire to be out there taking a stand as well. The Tactical Patrol Force, a portion of the police force, was called in to put an end to the violence and, in full riot gear, killed and arrested rioters.

During one of the riots, several of the residents were held in a building basement. In this basement, Kapralov found a story written by an elderly immigrant, who had died a few months earlier. The immigrant tells a story of escaping from the Germans during World War II. The story was about a child, presumed the story's author, who was playing with friends in a field near his village. The child decided not to return to the village with his friends but, instead decided to climb a tree. From this tree, he watched as his whole family, his friends and all the villagers were killed and the village was burned to the ground.

The East Village apartments usually housed thirty to forty people. Often the residents would become close and celebrate birthdays, block parties or sit on the front stoop drinking and talking of times past. They would band together in times of turmoil, such as the riots and deaths. Kapralov was an artist. When he would have a show, the residents of his building would always attend and purchase his work. They acted as a support network for many who had no support otherwise.

Thompson Square Park was the place Kapralov took his child to play. He would play chess while she played. He considered himself to be quite skillful and talks of when drugs and drug dealers became a part of the park and chess game. Anything done in the park could result in a life or death situation. He explained how heroin was a prominent drug during this period and how sad it had become to watch relatively good kids drown in the world of drugs and crime.

One specific story involved



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