Olga Kaczmar | The Tale of Ukrainian Migration

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

The first two Ukrainian settlers arrived in Canada in 1891 followed by tens of thousands until the start of World War I. Most Ukrainian immigrants of this period were identified on government records as Poles, Russians, Austrians, Bukovinians, Galicians and Ruthenians, arriving from provinces in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The vast majority of these immigrants settled in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. They are Canada’s 11th largest ethnic group, the world’s third-largest Ukrainian population behind Ukraine and Russia.

The second large wave of immigration from the Ukraine occurred after World War I. These immigrants were welcomed by the already established Ukrainian communities.

In 1914 Ukraine was divided between Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. When the Austrians controlled the southernmost regions to the Carpathian Mountains above Romania, they named this province Galicia [Halych], which was mostly populated by Ukrainians. 

Ukraine under Austrian empire

To escape Austrian oppression, many Ukrainians in the Galician district fled/immigrated to Canada, where they were allowed to own land, and build farms and businesses. Since they never considered themselves Austrian, they quickly accepted Canada as their national land, but unfortunately, their immigration papers rubber-stamped them as Austrians. Ironically, when Canada joined World War I, she rounded up all the “Austrians” as potential enemies and imprisoned them. During their confinement, Ukrainians were sent to build Banff National Park. Those who did not freeze to death in makeshift buildings lost their farms, businesses and families. 

The work program was so successful for Canada that officials didn’t release these prisoners until two years after the war ended. This is a disgraceful period in Canadian history and they didn’t want to acknowledge openly, repent, apologize, compensate nor honor those who built the park with a statue. The Canadian media refused to air a documentary on it. When backed to the wall, they aired it in the wee hours of the morning without any pre-announcement. Very few people saw it.

Migration to America

In Hungary, Ukrainians (then called Ruthenians) would labor 14 hours to earn 25 to 35 cents. The same wage could be earned in America for one hour’s work. In 1911 a miner’s daily wage, for example, was $1.98. Living austerely, the Ruthenian immigrant could establish a very modest home in America and perhaps even assist any family members who still remained abroad. He might go back for a while and then return again to the U.S. for more wages. Such enterprising personalities were named “birds of passage” by American immigration officials. When they were labeled strikebreakers, the Ukrainians joined and supported the unions.

Between the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 and 1919, the Ukrainian lands were cut up and changed hands so many times, this country didn’t know who to fight off.

In 1917 under Woodrow Wilson’s proclamation, Ukraine was taken from Austria and given to a new country of Poland. When the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (February 1918) was signed between Germany and Austria, the new Russian government, agreeing to split up Poland, the Ukrainian National Republic was recognized for a short time. However, by 1919, Ukraine was invaded by three armies: the communist Red Russian army from the northeast, the czarist White Russians from the southeast and the Polish army from the west. Between 1919 and 1923 U.S. treaties carved up Ukraine once again. With America’s blessing, Polish people did ethnic cleansing to rid ancient Ukrainian lands of Ukrainian people. 

Another treaty in 1923 allowed Russia to gobble up Ukrainian lands east of the Curzon Line. The Soviet Terror of the 1930s convinced Ukrainians there was nothing worse than Russian slavery. Under Stalin’s rule, in 1932-33, Ukrainian population loss was between 7 million to 10 million people due to forced starvation called the Holodomor. The Great Terror followed again in 1937 and 1938.

And in 1939 under the Non-Aggression Pact with Russia and Germany, more borders were scrambled. 

During World War II, Ukrainian slave laborers in Germany weren’t allowed to be classified as Ukrainians; they were listed either as Poles or Russians, so statistics are forever skewed. 

In 1946-47 Poland did ethnic cleansing called Operation Vistula. Those who claimed to be Ukrainian were pushed into Soviet Ukraine, then on to Siberia. Those who claimed to be Polish were pushed to the bombed-out territory once known as Prussia. 

Near the end of 1947, a U.S. emigration bill required every displaced emigrant to have a sponsor in the U.S. When not enough sponsors were found, in June 25, 1948, Harry Truman and Congress passed Public Law 774, the Displaced Persons Act, which provided for more than 200,000 DPs to enter the U.S. over the next two years. About 85,000 were Ukrainians. 

Because they were pushed to leave their beloved homeland, Ukrainians have the largest diasporas in the world. Ukrainians now live in 40 countries around the world: Ukraine, Russia, Siberia, Canada, Poland, U.S., Brazil, Kazakhstan, Germany, Argentina, Italy, Moldova, Belarus, Czech Republic, Uzbekistan, Spain, France, Turkey, Romania, Latvia, Portugal, Australia, Greece, Israel, United Kingdom, Estonia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Denmark, Paraguay, Austria, United Arab Emirates, Sweden, Slovakia, Hungry, Uruguay, Switzerland, Finland, Jordan and Netherlands.

Now there is rumor from the QAnons that Ukraine will be divided once again between Poland and Russia. 

Oh, Lord, will they ever leave Ukraine in peace?

Olga Kaczmar

Santa Clarita

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