How Did Ukrainians End Up in the USA?

How Did Ukrainians End Up in the USA

This column is a part of a series of articles about Ukrainian culture and history. Our mission is to be your guide to the language, culture, and history of your Ukrainian ancestors. So follow us and learn more about your roots.

Large-scale emigration from Ukraine to the USA can be divided into four migration waves:


Ukrainian immigrants near a church in North Dakota

The First Wave: Late 19th to early 20th century (1890 1914)

According to immigration statistics, 260,097 immigrants came from Ukraine to the U.S. during 1899 – 1920. These immigrants were recorded mainly as “Ruthenians”. Some immigrants from Ukraine were registered as Russians or Austrians. The biggest challenge in analysing the First Wave is that Ukraine did not exist as an independent country, and its territory was divided among several countries.

Одні з перших українських емігрантів до Америки – баптисти І.Сипченко, Г.Кузений, І.Юхимів та Ю.Сич.

One of the first Ukrainian Baptists-immigrants to the U.S.

Most first immigrants worked as strikebreakers or “scabs” in the Pennsylvania mines. The majority came from western Ukraine. They left their families searching for prosperity, travelled to some ports in Europe and then were packed into steerage on ships for the long journey to America.

Ukrainians settled in urban villages near other Slavs, Poles, Jews, and Slovaks, seeking a sense of community. Their lives were mainly concentrated in the neighbourhood of Orthodox or Eastern Catholic churches.

Unlike the Ukrainian Canadians, few of the early Ukrainian Americans farmed.

Священик А.Гончаренко серед читачів редаґованої ним у США газети «Свобода». 1901 р.

Priest A. Honcharenko among the readers of his newspaper “Freedom” (“Свобода”) 1901 р.

The Second Wave: interwar period (1922–1936)

 About 15,000 Ukrainians came to the U.S. during the period between World Wars. These people were mainly political and ideological refugees who were seeking asylum from the Soviet Union. They were mainly nationalists who wanted to save their families.

Ukrainian family on the way to the states (53)

Ukrainian family on the way to the States

It was the Great Depression in the U.S. from 1929 to 1936, and there were restrictions towards immigration which noticeably decreased the number of incoming Ukrainians.

The Third Wave: post-World War II (1945 1953)

The majority of the Third Wave immigrants came as displaced people and prisoners of war from the refugee camps in Germany, Austria, Belgium or the U.K. Most people couldn’t come back to Soviet Ukraine because they were treated as deserters at home.

The size of this migration wave is estimated at 80,000. Many intelligent and well-educated immigrants made a significant impact on Ukrainian diaspora life in the U.S.

The Fourth Wave: economic immigration (1989 – present)

 This wave started in 1988, three years before the country’s independence. This emigration was triggered by an amendment that intended to allow religious minorities, mainly Jews, to emigrate from the Soviet Union.

With the independence of Ukraine, the Iron Curtain fell, and Ukrainians could legally migrate.

Starting in 1998, persons of Ukrainian nationality became the dominant component of this migration wave. Many settled in places with few or no Ukrainians. The main reasons were a willingness to improve their quality of life or family reunion.

With the beginning of war in Donbas, some researchers even say about the Fifth Wave of immigration because there are still many people coming to the States.

Tell us a story of your family immigration if you have one. Our next post will be about famous Ukrainian Americans. So subscribe and don’t miss it!

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