People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. Ukrainian Americans

About the Ukrainian Americans in the U.S. including where they are from, why they left, how many there are, famous Ukrainian-Americans and more.


Where They Came From: When Ukrainian immigration began in the 1870s, the Ukraine was occupied by the Russians and Austrians. Most of the early immigrants left Ruthenia, a province in southwest Austria. Later immigration came from the western Ukraine, which was alternately held by Poland and Russia.

Why They Left: In the 18th century, Russia divvied up the Ukraine with Austria. Russia, for its part, tried to eradicate Ukrainian culture and prohibit the use of the Ukrainian language. Austria was more lenient toward its Ukrainian provinces of Ruthenia and Bukovina, but it subjected them to exploitation by Polish and Hungarian nobles who snatched up all the good land not already owned by the Catholic Church. Therefore, immigrants who left between 1875 and 1914 were fleeing Russian persecution and Austrian impoverishment.

After the Russian civil war and a Polish invasion crushed the Ukraine's bid for independence (1917-1920), Ukrainians escaped the new repressive measures leveled against their nationalism. A quarter of a century later, many Ukrainians in Nazi camps chose to come to America rather than return to their Soviet-held homeland.

Where They Settled: Most Ukrainians settled in Pennsylvania, in the coal areas. In 1935 more than one out of every three Ukrainians were Pennsylvanians. But many, particularly after W.W. I, settled in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Detroit, the mining regions of West Virginia, the industrial areas of Ohio, and the textile centers of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Smaller agricultural colonies settled in Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Hawaii.

Numbers: Until 1899 all Ukrainian immigrants were listed either as Austrians or Russians. However, one scholar, Vladimir Wetsman, estimates that by 1914 there were 350,000 Ukrainians and their descendants in America. After W.W.I, another 125,000 Ukrainians came to the U.S. Today, there are about 2 million Americans of Ukrainian descent.

Their Story in America: Large-scale immigration began about 1875. It fell generally into four periods. The first ended in 1899 and was characterized by immigrants who were divided by religious and national differences. The majority were Greek Catholics and Ruthenians. The rest were Carpatho-Russians and members of the Russian Orthodox Church. Not until 1885, when Father Ivan Volansky, a Catholic priest, organized Ukrainian-American religious and social life, did they become a distinct ethnic group.

The second period, 1900-1914, was a stepping up of earlier Ukrainian immigration. Most of these Ukrainians were Catholic peasants from Ruthenia, largely poor, dispossessed, and illiterate, who were brought in to work as scabs in the Pennsylvania mines around Shenandoah and Pittsburgh. As strikebreakers, they were severely resented and sometimes attacked by American workers. They were also victims of wholesale fraud that landed them in near servitude in the well-guarded bituminous mines of West Virginia and, in one case, the sugar plantations of Hawaii.

After W.W.I, the third wave came, Ukrainians uprooted by Polish and Russian occupation. Many were professionals and political fugitives whose attempts to gain Ukrainian independence had been harshly crushed. But this period of immigration was short-lived, because U.S. immigration quotas went into effect. An average of only 96 Ukrainians a year were allowed to enter the country from 1930 until W.W. II.

The last wave lasted from 1945 to the mid-1950s, when Ukrainian refugees came to America from Germany, with the aid of Ukrainian and Catholic relief agencies. Again, most of these immigrants were professionals, skilled laborers, or educated farmers.

The Ukrainians brought to America a rich religious and cultural heritage. Ukrainian Catholicism is particularly strong, with its attendant relief and educational societies. Easter egg painting, an old Ukrainian tradition, has become a popular, recognized American art form.

Famous Ukrainian Americans: Actress Sandra Dee (Alexandra Zhuk); actors Nick Adams (Adamschock), Jack Palance (Palaniuk), and John Hodiak; football great Bronislaw "Bronko" Nagurski; hockey players Terry Sawchuk and Bill Mosienko; Igor Sikorsky, who designed and built the first direct-lift helicopter.

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