Ukrainian Americans

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Date: 2017
Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life
From: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life(Vol. 2: Americas. 3rd ed.)
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Culture overview
Pages: 4
Content Level: (Level 4)

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Ukrainian Americans

For more information on Ukrainian American history and culture, see Vol. 5: Ukrainians.


Few Ukrainians immigrated to the United States before 1865. At that time, however, Ukraine was divided between Russia (eastern Ukraine), Austria (western Ukraine), and Hungary (Transcarpathia). The Austrians were fairly supportive of Ukrainian identity and gave the Ukrainians a certain amount of autonomy. The Russians and Hungarians, on the other hand, were very oppressive. The first wave of Ukrainian American immigrants journeyed to the United States to escape the oppressions of their foreign rulers. Most were poor farmers from Transcarpathia.

Official immigration records list only 67,218 Ukrainians entering the United States between 1899 and 1906, and 187,058 between 1907 and 1914. This is certainly a low count, however, because Ukrainians were not listed as such until 1899 (most were called “Ruthenians” instead), and even after 1899, many were mistakenly recorded as Poles, Slovaks, Hungarians, or Russians. It is estimated that closer to 500,000 Ukrainian Americans were living in the United States by 1914.

About 85 percent of these first-wave Ukrainian immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. As poor farmers they lacked job skills relevant to the industrialized United States, and their lack of English-language skills presented another roadblock to success. Most therefore worked as low-paid unskilled laborers. A large number took jobs in the coal mines of Pennsylvania because the wages were higher due to the dangerous nature of the work. Many were injured, became sick, or even died in the mines.

The second wave of Ukrainian immigration to the United States occurred between 1920 and 1939. The numbers were much lower during this second wave because of new immigration laws in the United States that placed quotas on the numbers of immigrants allowed in, and because the newly formed Soviet Union forbade emigration. Only about forty thousand Ukrainians entered the United States during this period. Most of these second-wave Ukrainian immigrants settled in cities of the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest, such as New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago.

Ukrainian Americans

In 1948 the United States passed the Displaced Persons Act, allowing people who had been displaced by the destruction of World War II (1939—45) to immigrate to the United States. Many Ukrainians took advantage of this opportunity, creating the third wave of Ukrainian American immigration. Some eighty-five thousand Ukrainians entered the United States under this Act, most of them to escape Soviet rule. These third-wave immigrants were generally much better educated than previous Ukrainian immigrants to the United States. They also were more likely to have lived in cities in the Ukraine, so they had Page 613  |  Top of Articlemore experience with the industrialized urban world. Thirdwave Ukrainian Americans adjusted much more quickly and easily to American life than did earlier immigrants.

The Ukrainian National Republic declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and became a recognized nation of the world a few months later. A fourth wave of immigration to the United States began at this time, as Ukrainians were once again free to leave and needed money to help build up their newly independent country. Most fourthwave Ukrainian Americans moved to the United States hoping to earn money to send back to Ukraine and eventually to return themselves.

As the Soviet Union collapsed, more former Soviet citizens emigrated to find a better, more prosperous life elsewhere. Of all former Soviet emigrants in 1993, 38 percent were Ukrainians migrating to the United States. Many moved under the auspices of the Lautenberg Amendment, passed by US Congress in 1989, which makes it much easier to claim refugee status.

According to the American Community Survey, 968,754 Ukrainian Americans were living in the United States in 2013. The states with the largest populations of Ukrainian Americans were New York (133,200), Pennsylvania (113,688), California (101,929), and New Jersey (68,736).

Because Ukrainians lacked a cohesive national identity for so much of their history, their cultural identity became centered on the Ukrainian Church. The Ukrainian Catholic Church follows the Byzantine Rite, rather than the Latin Rite followed by earlier Catholic immigrants to the United States. Ukrainian Catholics set up their own churches when they arrived in the United States. By 1898, fifty-one Ukrainian Catholic Churches had been established in the United States.

Around the start of the twentieth century many Ukrainian Americans began converting to Russian Orthodox because Ukrainian Catholic churches were not available in their communities, and Russian Orthodox was closer to their Byzantine Rite than were Roman Catholic churches. So Ukrainian Catholics in the United States petitioned the Pope for a Ukrainian bishop to serve in America. The Pope finally agreed, and in 1907, the first American Ukrainian Catholic bishop was appointed. In 1913 the Catholic Church set up a separate jurisdiction for American Ukrainian Catholics, and by 1914, 206 parishes were established in the United States.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church grew more slowly in the United States. Orthodox Ukrainian Americans began gathering together for worship in Chicago in the early 1900s. An American Ukrainian Orthodox archbishop was appointed in 1924, and by 1932, thirty-two parishes were established in the United States. As of 2016, ninety-one Ukrainian Orthodox parishes existed in America.

In 1892 a group of Ukrainian Protestant farmers started a church in Yale, Virginia. Other Ukrainian Protestant farmers settled in North Dakota, and by 1914, North Dakota had more Ukrainian Protestant farming communities than any other state in the United States. Ukrainian American Protestants belong to a variety of denominations including Presbyterian and Baptist.

In addition to traditional religious holidays (Christmas, Easter, etc.) and common American holidays (Thanksgiving, Independence Day, etc.), Ukrainian Americans also celebrate Ukrainian Independence Day on January 22, and Taras Shevchenko Day on March 14.

Ukrainian Americans maintain their ethnic identity through their various churches and through cultural and other ethnic organizations. Dozens of these organizations operate in the United States, including insurance clubs, credit unions, sports clubs, political associations, and women's leagues. These organizations were originally established to help Ukrainian immigrants adjust to life in the United States. They then became concerned with providing opportunities for subsequentgeneration Ukrainian Americans to learn about their Ukrainian heritage and maintain their Ukrainian identity. In the modern era they have focused on providing for aging Ukrainian Americans and lobbying for government funding and services, as well as supporting the development of democracy in the Ukraine.

The two main umbrella organizations for Ukrainian American associations are the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) and the Ukrainian American Coordinating Council (UACC). The UCCA was founded in 1940 and grew to encompass more than fifty associations. In 1983, however, supporters of the Liberation Front took over the organization, prompting twenty-six associations to leave. Those twenty-six groups joined with thirty others to form the UACC, defining themselves as more moderate and “American oriented,” in contrast with the UCCA, which had begun to focus heavily on independence efforts in Ukraine.

The first Ukrainian American all-day school (kindergarten to eighth grade) was established in Philadelphia by the Ukrainian Catholic Church in 1925. By 1947 eighteen all-day Ukrainian American schools were operating in the United States. Most Ukrainian parishes also had weekday afternoon or Saturday morning classes in Ukrainian language and culture. Some Ukrainian American high schools and junior colleges were established in the 1930s.

Saturday heritage schools are run by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Educational Council of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. These schools offer an eleven-year study program in Ukrainian language, culture, history, and literature. The Ukrainian Research Institute founded in 1968 at Harvard University offers doctoral programs in Ukrainian studies, publishes Ukrainian-studies books, and has a large Ukrainian library.

Ukrainian Americans are proud of their cultural heritage and encourage their children to learn traditional folk dances and folk songs. Bandura (the national musical instrument of Ukraine) schools exist throughout the United States. The Ukrainian National Chorus toured the United States in 1922– 23, with great success, and introduced the now-classic Christmas carol “Carol of the Bells” to American audiences. Shortly after their highly successful tour, the entire chorus emigrated to the United States. Other Ukrainian American musicians include opera stars Paul Plishka and the late Andrij Dobriansky—both rose to fame with the Metropolitan Opera Company.

The best-known Ukrainian American actors are the late Jack Palance (born Walter Jack Palahniuk) and the late Leonard Nimoy. George Dzundza and the late actors Anna Sten, John Hodiak, Nick Adams (Nicholas Adamchok), and Mike Mazurki found success in the acting world. Sculptor Alexander Archipenko and painter Jacques Hnizdovsky were renowned Page 614  |  Top of ArticleUkrainian American visual artists. Ukrainian American literature is still, for the most part, written in Ukrainian by firstgeneration immigrants and known only to other Ukrainian Americans.

Although early Ukrainian immigrants to the United States were generally uneducated and worked as low-paid unskilled laborers in America, subsequent generations (and more recent immigrants) have increased their levels of education and are now well represented in all of the major professions. Many rose to the top of their respective fields, such as Igor Sikorsky, the late founder of Sikorsky Aviation Corporation. Ukrainian Americans are also well-represented in government from the local to the federal level. Mary Beck was the first Ukrainian American woman elected to public office and served on the Detroit City Council from 1950 to 1970; she died in 2005. In the world of science, Ukrainian American geneticist Theodosuius Dobzhansky was instrumental in discovering the great variety of genes, especially recessive genes, in human society. He also won a number of book awards for his scientific works before his death in 1975.

Two Ukrainian American soccer teams, the Ukrainian Nationals of Philadelphia and the New York Ukrainians, played in the national championships during the 1960s. Many individual Ukrainian Americans have also been successful athletes, including retired hockey player Walter Tkaczuk and late players Terry Sawchuck and Dave Balon. Football players include George Andrie, Bill Malinchak, George Tarasovic, the late Bronko Nagurski, the late John Maczuzak, and the late Don Chuy. Probably the best-known Ukrainian American athletes, however, are retired football player and coach Mike Ditka and Sasha Cohen, who won an Olympic silver medal in figure skating.

Ukrainian Americans gather in front of the White House, urging President Obama to take tougher action against Putin's involvement of Russia in the Ukraine, Washington, DC, May 2014. Ukrainian Americans gather in front of the White House, urging President Obama to take tougher action against Putin's involvement of Russia in the Ukraine, Washington, DC, May 2014. © B CHRISTOPHER/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO. © B CHRISTOPHER/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO.

Summer camps, called Taboruvannia, are very popular with Ukrainian American children. Thousands attend these camps each summer to learn about their Ukrainian heritage and enjoy the company of other Ukrainian American youngsters. Taboruvannia come in many varieties, including educational/recreational, sports, music, and other types of camps.

Ukrainian American women continue to do traditional embroidery, but perhaps the most loved Ukrainian folk art in America is the painting of Ukrainian Easter eggs, known as pysanka (pysanky). Classes in traditional egg-painting techniques are offered across the United States, and many craft stores carry the necessary materials.

Problems in the Ukrainian American community stem almost entirely from divisions within the community, particularly between fourth-wave immigrants and those who immigrated to America in earlier waves. Many fourth-wave Ukrainian Americans tend to see their time in the United States as temporary, so they are not interested in becoming involved in Page 615  |  Top of Articlethe Ukrainian American community. Some established Ukrainian Americans from earlier waves of immigration resent the new immigrants for their lack of interest. The fourth-wave immigrants also tend to head for California and the Pacific Northwest, where jobs are more plentiful, rather than settling in established Ukrainian American communities. The prevalence of the Russian language during the Soviet era means that many of the fourth-wave immigrants speak Russian rather than Ukrainian; this upsets many of the earlier immigrants, who wonder why they would choose to speak the language of their oppressor.

Crimea, a traditionally Ukrainian landmass, broke away from Ukraine and declared itself Russian in 2014. This caused a small-scale civil war between citizens who considered themselves Ukrainian and those who considered themselves Russian. Many Ukrainian Americans feared that the conflict would evolve into a full-fledged war between Ukraine and Russia. The two nations eventually entered into a temporary peace agreement, which was extended through 2016.

Religious conflict has also increased because many of the newest Ukrainian immigrants are Protestant or Jewish, rather than Catholic or Orthodox like the majority of earlier immigrants. As the church has always been the center of Ukrainian cultural identity in America, these religious differences make it difficult for new immigrants to fit in with the earlier Ukrainian American cultural establishment.

Perhaps the most heated argument today among Ukrainian Americans is the legitimacy of the newest wave of immigrants. Some Ukrainian Americans feel that no one should leave the new Ukrainian National Republic. Rather, they believe those who are there should stay and support it in its fledgling growth. They also question the refugee status of many of the new immigrants, because Ukraine is now an independent state, no longer subject to any oppressive foreign rule. However, few Ukrainian Americans have returned to Ukraine to give their support to the new republic, so the new immigrants question established Ukrainian Americans' right to criticize them for leaving.

The new independence of Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union created economic problems that resulted in a high unemployment rate, particularly among Ukrainian women. Approximately 75 percent of the unemployed in Ukraine are women. These desperate economic straits have prompted many women to leave Ukraine for better opportunities. Unfortunately, this makes the women vulnerable to traffickers who use skillfully constructed deceptions to trap them into slavery. An estimated fifty thousand women from Southeast Asia, Latin America, and former Soviet bloc countries, including Ukraine, enter the United States illegally each year. About half of them end up working in sweatshops, while the other half are forced into prostitution. From 1988 to 1998 some four hundred thousand women younger than thirty left Ukraine to work in the sex industry in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North America. A burgeoning market for Ukrainian brides also exists. Young women imagine that a wealthy American man will marry them and solve all their problems. Some of these alleged marriage agencies are actually fronts for sex traffickers. Even the agencies that are legitimate promote false expectations among the desperate Ukrainian women who often find that circumstances are not what they had hoped once they arrive in the United States.

Ukrainian American organizations such as the Ukrainian National Women's League of America are part of the expanding global effort to push for recognition of the sexual exploitation of women. The subject has been put on the national agenda in the United States, largely through the efforts of Ukrainian American organizations. Concerns about this criminal activity transcend the divisions between Ukrainian Americans and promote cooperation between Ukrainian and American groups.


Black, J. L., and Michael Johns. The Return of the Cold War: Ukraine, the West and Russia. London: Routledge, 2016.

“Our Services.” Ukrainian Educational and Cultural Center. (accessed July 7, 2016).

“People Reporting Ancestry.” 2009–2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. American Fact Finder, US Census Bureau. (accessed June 30, 2016).

“Place of Birth for the Foreign-Born Population of the United States.” 2010–2014 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. American Fact Finder, US Census Bureau. (accessed June 30, 2016).

“Ukrainian: Selected Population Profile in the United States.” American Community Survey, 2013. (accessed July 7, 2016).

Ukrainian American Coordinating Council. (accessed July 1, 2016).

Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. (accessed August 4, 2016).

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“Ukrainians in the U.S.” Embassy of the Ukraine in the United States of America. (accessed July 7, 2016).

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3648200232