An enraged Ukrainian man stabbed a compatriot for speaking Russian at a Brooklyn bar in a booze-fueled spat that’s now being investigated as a hate crime, The Post has learned.
Andrii Meleshkov, who was born and raised in Eastern Ukraine and has a Russian mother, said he was at Signature karaoke bar in Sheepshead Bay celebrating a friend’s birthday last Monday when Oleg Sulyma, 31, sat down at his table and started hurling “profanities” at him and his buddies.
“You look Russian,” Sulyma, who is Ukrainian, sneered, according to prosecutors.
Meleshkov, a 36-year-old truck driver who left the Eastern Europe locale and moved to Brooklyn in 2015, insisted that he was Ukrainian but Sulyma didn’t believe him.
“We switched to Ukrainian in order to calm him down but it was getting him more and more agitated and he started asking us to translate words to prove that we’re Ukrainian,” Meleshkov told The Post.
Sulyma demanded Meleshkov and his friends say the word “Palianytsia” — a type of Ukrainian domed bread — that native Russian speakers have difficulty pronouncing because of its combination of vowels and consonants, according to prosecutors and Meleshkov.
“If you get it wrong, I’ll have my way with you,” warned Sulyma, according to prosecutors.
Meleshkov, whose parents are currently hiding in a basement in Zaporizhzhia to escape the Russian army’s onslaught, said the word as he attempted to pay the bill and leave but Sulyma just kept getting “angrier and angrier,” the alleged victim claimed.
Prosecutors say Sulyma grabbed two beer bottles that were on the table, smashed them together and turned toward Meleshkov and threatened: “I’m getting ready to kill you.”
“He grabbed sharp shards of glass from the broken bottles and he started advancing towards us and we realized that he’s serious and he’s going to start to slash us,” Meleshkov recalled.
“Everything happened in the blink of a moment. I thought that I was going to quickly get up and push him away and run away but then he lunged and I felt that he hit me in the neck.”
Meleshkov “realized something horrible had happened” when he saw blood streaming down his arm from slash wounds to his cheeks, ears, temple and neck that eventually required 17 stitches.
“I was screaming to call the police and the medics … everything was covered in blood and it was just insanity going on,” he recalled.
“I got lucky … the paramedics told me it’s my second birthday because the wound that was on the left side on the neck, it came really close to the carotid artery.”
Meleshkov took Sulyma to the ground and then “sat on top of him,” putting his elbow on his neck to stop him from attacking while he waited for police.
Sulyma, a construction worker who’s lived in Brooklyn for more than 12 years, was hit with felony hate crime charges and a slew of other raps, including menacing, harassment and criminal possession of a weapon.
But Sulyma’s attorney Arthur Gershfeld insisted at his arraignment last week that he’s also a victim and could’ve been “killed.” He said Meleshkov and his buddies left him intubated in the hospital.
“The simple fact of the matter is, this is a disputed argument between people and my client bore the brunt of it. He was the one who was pummeled, he was the one that was beaten up by three people and he was the one who sustained a collapsed lung, multiple stitches to his lip, multiple stitches to his eye, bruising all over his body,” Gershfeld said in court, according to a transcript of the proceeding.
“Had it not been for a friend that covered my client, then [Meleshkov] and his friends would have probably killed my client.”
Gershfeld later told The Post that his client’s injuries don’t make sense if Meleshkov was just defending himself and said Sulyma was in the hospital days longer than his alleged victim.
Hate crimes against Russians, or those who are perceived to have an allegiance to the country, have spiked globally since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, data shows.
About 30% of the Ukrainian population speak Russian as their first language.
While the scourge is predominantly impacting Europe, a smattering of cases has been reported across North America, according to Professor Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
“The research shows … when there’s a conflict and violence overseas, we end up seeing reverberations here in the United States” in the form of hate crimes, said Levin, a former NYPD officer.
“We’re not talking a great wave yet and we’re really waiting for more data to come in … it’s a trickle but the longer these conflicts go on, the greater the chances that we’ll see an increase.
“The story is that we’re seeing it at all when in the past they were virtually non-existent.”
Levin said a combination of anger, stereotypes, a “hot-button war” and the presence of someone who appears associated with a conflict is the “perfect storm” that leads to acts of hatred.
“A dose of machismo along with the alcohol never ceases to help the evil move forward,” he added.
Meleshkov said he was left “distraught” over the incident and still can’t grasp that he was attacked for looking and speaking a certain way.
“I recommend to all the hot-headed people who are itching to fight to go to southern Ukraine to prove their uncompromising position,” Meleshkov said.
“Not in a Brooklyn restaurant, but on the battlefield.”
Additional reporting by Snejana Farberov and Joe Marino