As we grapple with the question of possible influence by Russian President Vladimir Putin over Donald Trump, I became curious about our Russian-American neighbors. Growing up in New York, one couldn’t avoid the influence of the millions of Poles, Jews and other Eastern Europeans who had fled their czarist or communist rulers, but retained an abiding love for Russia’s people and culture.   

Thankfully, Capitol Hill is home to the Russian Cultural Center on 19th Avenue, which hosts music, chess and dance events. According to board member Carol Sotnik, everyone is invited to their “Maslenitsa” festival on Sunday, Feb. 12, featuring blini (pancakes) with caviar, salmon, herring and sour cream, plus live entertainment. Both the center and St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral on 13th Avenue also host annual bazaars in the fall.

Other nearby outposts of Russian cuisine include Dumpling Tsar in the 12th Avenue Arts build-ing and the “Piroshki on Madison” cafe near Swedish Medical Center. Carol also suggested trying the Friday evening dinners served at the Polish Home on 18th Avenue ( for a related cuisine.

Russians also perfected the hot/cold steam bath known as the banya. Banya 5 in South Lake Union is the nearest local one; cleaner and more modern than those I’ve visited in New York.  Check out their special rates before 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The coming months will likely reveal much more about any Trump-Putin axis, but let’s not fall into the simplistic Cold War mentality. Rather, let’s recognize how much we have gained from them.

We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our Red Army allies in World War II, whose huge sacrifices were decisive. Even the Space Race rivalry paved the way for discoveries in technology, science and astronomy that define today’s world.

Our music, theater and dance owe much to the works of Tchaikovsky, Chekov and Diaghilev.  Tolstoy is said to have influenced Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence. And eve-ry campus Marxist has read their Lenin or Trotsky, while their Libertarian rivals counter with the ideas of Ayn Rand or Arthur Koestler. 

The Russian people have been confronting totalitarianism with courage and culture for centuries, and have much to teach us. And when we get tired, some piroshkis, vodka and an afternoon at the banya is just the thing to renew us.

Steven Beck, a New York transplant since 2015, is a retired city planner and occasional English teacher. “Seattle-ized” is his column about adjusting to life here.