Ukrainians in the United States

By George A. Miziuk

I. Background:

Ukraine, a former Soviet Republic, is a Christian, Slavic nation located in East-Central Europe, which is bordered by seven other countries and the Black Sea. It has a population of over 52 million residents and territory of 232,000 square miles. It is comparable in size to France.

View a Map of Ukraine within Europe (14 kb)

View a Map of Modern Ukraine (16 kb)

II. Early Pioneers:

While Ukrainian immigration to the United States did not start until the latter part of the 19th century, American historical records indicate that people with Ukrainian names were on the North American continent as early as the 17th century. Perhaps the first Ukrainian to arrive in the New World was Levrenty Bohun (also referred to as Ivan Bohdan), according to legend, a doctor who accompanied Captain John Smith to Jamestown, Virginia in 1608.

Records from the American War of Independence list names of Ukrainian volunteers who served in the Continental Army., but little is known about them.

The same is true of early Ukrainian settlers on the West Coast. These include Ukrainian kozaks (exiled to Siberia and Alaska by the Russian Czars), who helped to settle a colony near San Francisco called Fort Russ (today known as Fort Ross).

Reverend Ahapius Honcharenko, a native of Kyiv, settled in San Francisco where he published the Alaskan Herald, a bi-weekly newspaper.

Doctor Nikolai Sudzilovsky (later changed to Rusel) practiced medicine in San Francisco in the 1880's, moving to Hawaii in 1895. There, he helped to organize the Hawaiian Medical Society. In 1901 he was elected to the Hawaiian Senate and later became its presiding officer.

Despite these pioneers, there was no association among the Ukrainians in the United States until the immigration of the 1870's.

III. First Major Immigration: 1870-1899

Large scale immigration from Ukraine to the United States can be divided into four periods, the first from 1870 to 1899, representing the beginning of mass immigration. During this period the United States immigration records noted only the country of origin, and not the nationality of the immigrants.

Consequently, since the territory of Ukraine was divided between the empires of Austria-Hungary and Russia at the time, Ukrainian immigrants were listed as Russians, Austrians, or Hungarians, according to citizenship. This hinders an accurate count of the actual number of Ukrainian immigrants. Estimates of Ukrainian immigrants during this time period vary from 240,000 to 500,000 persons.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire abolished slavery in 1848, while the Russian Empire abolished slavery in 1861. The vast majority of Ukrainians at this time were former slaves that remained one of the poorest classes of farm laborers within these two empires. The promise of jobs in the New World was a great enticement to emigrate to America.

Thus, most of the first wave immigrants were the economic working class seeking jobs. They settled in the anthracite coal mining towns of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and in the farmlands of Virginia, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, and Texas.

The early immigrants had to resist the influence of pro-Russian and pro-Hungarian organizations, that desired to draw the Ukrainians into their own sphere of influence.

Ukrainian churches and social groups began to be organized in the U.S., with the goal of unifying and helping the community. The community leadership role of Ukrainian Catholic priests, such as Father Ivan Voliansky and Father Gregory Hrushka were crucial for the early immigrants.

The earliest Ukrainian American organization established in 1894, in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, was the Ukrainian National Association, which still exists today, headquartered in New Jersey.

IV. Second Major Immigration: 1900-1914

The second period of Ukrainian immigration began after 1900 and ended with the outbreak of World War I. Immigration during this period increased annually by thousands until it reached its peak in 1914 with a total of 42,413 Ukrainian immigrants. During this second period, approximately 250,000 persons arrived in the United States from Ukraine.

Ukrainian immigrants during this second period settled mainly in the large industrial cities such as New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit, and Chicago. They sought employment in these cities with major industries, such as iron and steel, glass, rubber, shoe, furniture, automobile, rail car factories, flour mills, and sugar refining plants. This was a change from the previous immigration which mainly sought jobs in the agrarian area.

In 1907, Bishop Soter Ortynsky was assigned charge of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the U.S. His arrival as the first such Bishop was hailed as a breakthrough by the Ukrainian American community. Unfortunately, the Bishop's influence created antagonism between the Ukrainian Catholics and Ukrainian Orthodox believers.

The community was fractured in 1910, when the Ukrainian National Association Convention was met with a proposal by the Bishop's followers to change the format and character of the membership to reflect a Catholic society. Two new fraternals were created as a result of withdrawal by disenfranchised members, and later another by the Bishop and his followers. With the death of Bishop Ortynsky in 1916, the healing process began among the different camps within the community.

V. Third Major Immigration: 1920-1939

During the period between the World Wars, immigration as a whole was restricted by the ''Red Scare,'' isolationism, and largely by the quota system. An estimated figure of between 20,000 to 40,000 Ukrainians arrived in the U.S. during the interwar time. Some historians claim that by 1930, there were some 568,000 Ukrainians in the U.S.A. The matrix of Ukrainian American organizations grew stronger as a result.

The class and character of Ukrainian immigrants shifted from economic to political as well.

The old Empires of east-central Europe collapsed in World War I. During the Russian Revolution, Ukraine declared independence on January 22, 1918. The rise of Communism within Russia - Soviet Union eventually led to the defeat of Ukrainian Armies and independence was lost in 1922.

Many Ukrainian families sought refuge abroad. Due to immigration restrictions by the U.S., many Ukrainians chose to immigrate to Western Europe, Canada, South America, and Australia.

In this time period, the Artificial Terror-Famine in Ukraine of 1932-33 took place, which was the work of dictator Josef Stalin and his Soviet henchmen, especially his NKVD (secret police) General Lazar Kaganovich. From 7 to 10 million native Ukrainians were deliberately exterminated during this genocidal act. Ukrainians in the U.S. sent aid to their countrymen, but it was refused by the Soviet Government. Another wave of executions in Ukraine and other parts of the Soviet Union was carried out in 1937-38 by Stalin.

VI. Fourth Major Immigration: Post World War II

In World War II, native Ukrainians found themselves caught between two evil Empires: Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Ukraine briefly declared independence on June 30, 1941 in the City of Lviv, but the Ukrainian leaders were arrested shortly afterward by invading Nazis. Later, the Ukrainians formed an independent militia (The Ukrainian Insurgent Army) which fought a two-front war.

A unique aspect of World War II was that many thousands of the previous Ukrainian immigrants eventually volunteered for service in the Armed Forces of the Allied country to which they immigrated, or in many cases, were already born a first or second generation citizen. Anecdotes have circulated in cases when a Ukrainian American, Canadian, British, or other Allied Force members met during the War and were able to express their mutual feelings of brotherhood.

At the end of World War II, there were about 4 million Ukrainian displaced persons in Europe. Some were ex-prisoners of War from the Soviet Army, some were actual survivors of Nazi Concentration Camps, but the vast majority were those forcibly taken from their homeland to Austria and Germany as laborers during the War, the victims of Hitler's theory of all Slavs being ''sub-humans.'' The Yalta Conference of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin resulted in many of these victims of the War being returned unwillingly to the Soviet Union to suffer furthur atrocities by ''Uncle Joe'' Stalin.

When the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 was enacted, some 85,000 Ukrainians found their way to America, peaking in the years 1949 and 1950. Many others immigrated to Western Europe, South America and Australia. The existing Ukrainian American organizations helped to integrate the new immigrants into American society by teaching them English and finding jobs for them.

VII. Ukrainian Americans Today:

According to the 1990 U.S. Census, there are about 750,000 Americans of Ukrainian descent. However, there were some problems with the methodology of the census, and individuals who used historical or geographic terms to identify themselves were counted with other groups. Many individuals identified their country of origin (such as Russia, Poland, or Austria) rather than their ethnic background. As a result, some demographers estimate that there are actually between one and two million Americans of Ukrainian background.

In the hundred years since the first major wave of Ukrainian immigration to the United States, Ukrainians have established a vibrant and dynamic community. As in most ethnic communities, the Church is the center of focus for most Ukrainians. The majority of Ukrainian Americans belong to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which has four eparchies in the U.S. (Philadelphia, Pa.; Stamford, Conn.; Chicago, Ill.; Parma, Ohio). A number of Ukrainians also belong to the Byzantine Greek Catholic Church, headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pa.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A., headquartered in South Bound Brook, N.J. has three eparchies in the U.S. (New York City, N.Y.; Parma, Ohio and Chicago, Ill.). Ukrainian Baptists belong to the All-Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Fellowship, based in Chicago. Ukrainians who live in areas where there are no organized Ukrainian churches often elect to join a Russian Orthodox or Roman Catholic parish.

Four major Ukrainian insurance fraternals exist to provide assistance to the community (Ukrainian National Association, Morristown, N.J.; Ukrainian Fraternal Association, Scranton, Penna.; Providence Association of Ukrainian Catholics, Philadelphia, Penna.; and Ukrainian National Aid Association, Chicago, Ill.). There have been talks of mergers among some of the Fraternals which may occur in the near future.

The establishment and growth of churches resulted in the creation of many other organizations to satisfy the expanding needs of the Ukrainian community. The community supports one major daily newspaper, five major weekly newspapers, over fifty bi-weekly or monthly periodicals and magazines, youth and student groups, scholarly societies, professional societies, veterans groups, women's associations, and many other social groups and local clubs.

While the larger U.S. cities generally have a wide variety of specialized interest groups, even many smaller U.S. cities and towns have Ukrainian Community Centers as the focus for social activity.

Both Ukrainian Republican and Ukrainian Democratic clubs have been chartered to promote their own candidates and interface with with both candidates and elected officials. A Ukrainian American Bar Association acts on behalf of the community-at-large when necessary to protect against defamation of Ukrainians.

Two Ukrainian American central organizations exist to synchronize activities of the community at large, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, and the Ukrainian American Co-ordinating Council. Competitive actions between these two bodies have caused some antagonism within the Ukrainian American community. Some organizations have chosen to remain independent of these two entities, but cooperate when necessary.

The World Congress of Free Ukrainians was established in 1966 to act as an International Body to represent Ukrainians throughout the World. Following Ukraine's independence in 1991, the body changed its name to the Ukrainian World Congress.

VIII. Milestones in Ukrainian American History:

In 1910, representatives of the Ukrainian American community met with President William Howard Taft to discuss their concerns about U.S. Census policy towards Ukrainians that year. Since then, community leaders have met with virtually every U.S. President, both Republican and Democratic, including Bill Clinton.

At the Chicago World's Fair in 1933, the Ukrainian Pavilion received wide acclaim for its design and content. It was the only Fair building in the nationalities group that was not sponsored by a national government. Soon afterwards, the community established a Ukrainian section in the Cultural Gardens in Cleveland, which included the work of sculptor Alexander Archipenko, who had exhibited in the Ukrainian Pavillion.

In 1968, a Ukrainian Studies Center was created at Harvard University in Boston. This milestone at such a prestigious institution included three separate Departments: History, Language, and Literature. Ukrainian Study Centers and Departments of Eastern European Studies have since been established at other colleges and universities.

On June 27, 1964, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower unveiled a statue of Ukraine's poet Taras Shevchenko in Washington, D.C. The event was witnessed by a crowd of over 100,000 Ukrainian Americans.

In 1974, President Gerald R. Ford appointed Professor Myron B. Kuropas, Ph.D., of Illinois University as a Special Assistant on Ethnic Affairs. This marked another milestone in the community.

Ukrainian advisors also report to the Governors of Illinois, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

IX. Ukrainian Contributions to American Life:

Ukraine's history is rich with stories of military warriors, from ancient Scythian horsemen, knights of medieval Kyivan Rus', to the Zaporizhan Ukrainian kozaks who fought against invading forces of the Ottoman Empire. Many Ukrainian Americans also chose the military as their career. Some of the more illustrious are: Gen. Steve Melnik, who led Strategic Air Command in the 1960's; Gen. Samuel Jaskilka, former Assistant Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1970's; and Army Major Gen. Nicholas Krawciw, who led the 3rd Infantry (tank) Division in West Germany in the 1980's. The service of Ukrainian Americans in the U.S. Armed Forces is represented by the Ukrainian American Military Association, and the Ukrainian American Veterans order.

With American emphasis on sports, many young Ukrainian Americans have excelled in hockey, football, baseball, and soccer. For their play in American Football, three Ukrainians have been enshrined in the NFL's Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio: Bronko (Bronislaw) Nagurski, Church Bednarik, and Mike Ditka.

In the later 1950's, the Boston Bruins hockey club had a famed ''Ukie'' line consisting of Vic Stasiuk, Bronco Horvath, and Johnny Bucyk. Bill Mosienko of the Chicago Blackhawks still holds the record for a ''hat trick'' in 21 seconds. In 1995, the New Jersey Devils captured the Stanley Cup Championship for the first time with the help of Ukrainian teamates Ken Daneyko and Petro (Peter) Sidorkevich.

In the world of stage and screen, one finds numerous Ukrainian Americans, among them being John Hodiak (Lifeboat, The Harvey Girls, A Bell for Adano), Nick Adams (Rebel Without a Cause, No Time for Sergeants, The Rebel), Mike Mazurki (It's a Mad Mad Mad World, Nightmare Alley, Donovan's Reef), George Dzundza (The Deer Hunter, No Way Out, The Butcher's Wife, Law and Order). Also famous is Oscar winning Jack Palance (Requiem for a Heavyweight, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Shane, Che, City Slickers), as well as his daughter Holly Palance (Ripley's Believe It or Not!). Alex Trebek, the host of Jeopardy and Concentration, is also of Ukrainian heritage.

In the music world, Melanie achieved success with popular adult music, while Joy Brittan graced the stages of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Paul Plishka and Andrij Dobriansky both perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera. Classic pianist Volodymyr Vynnytsky also plays the concert halls in New York City.

Ukrainian women have participated in American beauty contests. The best known are Melisa Metrinko (former Miss USA), Analise Ilchenko (former Miss USA-World), and Kaye Lani Rae Rafko (Miss America 1988).

X. Epilogue:

When the Soviet Union experienced economic and political collapse, the Parliament of Soviet Ukraine declared an Act of Independence on August 24, 1991. This Act was ratified by a nationwide popular vote of over 90% approval on December 1, 1991. Leonid Kravchuk was elected as the first president of modern Ukraine. In 1994, Leonid Kuchma was elected as the new president of modern Ukraine.

The independence of Ukraine was recognized by the United States with a statement by President George Bush on Christmas Day, 1991. On March 27, 1992, Roman Popadiuk, a Ukrainian American, was nominated as the first U.S. Ambassador to modern Ukraine.

The event of August 24, the peaceful renewal of Ukraine's independence, is cherished by Ukrainians throughout the World. Flag-raising ceremonies, proclamations, church services, lectures, concerts and other special events are usually scheduled to mark this day.

With Ukraine's declation of independence, Ukrainian organizations in the United States find themselves in a position where they must review their goals and set new priorities to serve the changing needs of the community.



George A. Miziuk is a former Commissioner (1994-97) of the N.J. Governor's Ethnic Advisory Council.
He also served as an Advisor (1991-94) to the N.J. State Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission.


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