excerpts taken from The Ukrainians in Rhode Island by Rt. Rev. John J. Mowatt
Although American historical records indicate that there were people of Ukrainian origin on the North American continent as early as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was in the years from 1870 – 1914 that the first large-scale immigration of Ukrainians to the United States took place. The majority of immigrants came from the western provinces – Galicia and the Carpathian regions of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. They came from small towns and villages such as: Bibrka, Skalat, Brody, Zbarazh, Berezhany, Radehiv, Rusiatyn, Ternopil, Rohatyn and Yavoriv. For the most part, they were peasant farmers who were not able to make a decent living on their small farms and could not afford to purchase more land at home. Other motives for migration were discontent with their lack of national identity, the promise of high wages and steady employment, the prospect of free homestead land and to escape high taxes and poor living conditions. The new arrivals often wrote home to encourage others to follow, and Ukrainian immigrants usually settled in those areas where their relatives or friends were already living. A heavy influx came to work the coal mines of Pennsylvania. That state and New York received the largest percentages of early Ukrainian immigration, but sizable Ukrainian communities developed also in New Jersey, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
During the 1870’s Ukrainian immigration was sporadic, but from the 1880’s to World War I the influx was continuous. In 1899 estimates of the number of Ukrainians in the United States ranged from 200,000 to 500,000, with the lower figure being the more plausible one. From 1899 to 1930, a total of 268,311 Ukrainian immigrants entered the ports of this country. However, they were listed as ”Ruthenians,” “Rusins,” or “Russniaks.”
Rhode Island received 2,041 of this total and undoubtedly others came prior to 1899 however instead of being identified by their ethnic background they were identified by nationality so many Ukrainians were listed as either Austrian because they came from that part of the Ukraine which was under the Austro-Hungarian Empire or Russian because they came from that part of Ukraine which was under the Russian Empire. The state’s peak year was 1913 when the total number of immigrants was 337. This is especially true for the city of Woonsocket where the 1920 census classified 6.1 percent of the population as of Austrian stock.
The first arrivals to Rhode Island were mostly men, who settled in the localities of Woonsocket, Manville, Central Falls, Providence, Pawtucket, and Crompton. They were young, eager, venturesome and ready for new horizons. The mills employed them in the least desirable jobs and the lowest pay and they climbed the job ladder very slowly.
Between 1920 and 1939 no more than 40,000 Ukrainians immigrated to the United States. Most of them came from those parts ruled by Poland, since very few Ukrainians were permitted to immigrate from the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic after 1920.
The next large influx of immigrants took place in the post-World War II period. This immigration was composed mostly of families and individuals who had left Ukraine during the war (many were in forced-work camps in Germany or in other occupied territories) and who refused to return to their homeland under Communist dictatorship. In the beginning of 1948 there were approximately 250,000 Ukrainian displaced persons in Western Europe. Under the Displaced Persons Act passed by Congress in that year, some 85,000 of these Ukrainians entered the United States. In 1952 another 33,000 were admitted, and 8,000 more arrived in 1955.
The post-World War II immigration brought new and young families into Rhode Island. This influx did much to strengthen and renew the existing Ukrainian – American communities.