Ukraine – America’s Centuries-Old Anti-Russian Project

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


At the end of the 19th century powerful immigration from Western Ukraine to the US started. Here we use the term Western Ukraine in a modern sense.

The fact is that on this territory the people lived in poverty. When in the United States of America the mass construction of railroads and the extraction of coal connected to it started, the number of working hands started to be not enough. Agents of American companies rushed worldwide to look for poor countries that had a cheap labor force that wouldn’t be against moving to America. Coal magnates needed “Hunkies”“stupid” foreigners ready to work for a scanty payment as strikebreakers of working strikes. What was required was found in one of “the most poor regions of Europe”. They were met in America by whistling and hooting, stones and bricks were thrown at them for being strikebreakers – the helpers of the interests of American companies.

It is necessary to emphasise that this process didn’t affect Malorossiya, which at this time was a part of the Russian Empire. Immigration to the US came generally from Galicia, and also from Transcarpathia and Bukovina, which at that time was under Polish, Hungarian, and Romanian influence respectively. Moreover, the natives of these three regions clearly felt the difference between them in terms of mentality.

The first Ukrainians were American

At first emigrants didn’t call themselves Ukrainians. The majority saw themselves as Rusyns. I.e., Russian people, natives of ancient Rus. Some of them documented themselves as Austrians, Poles, or Hungarians. There are many testimonies about this. Being in the US, some of them remained Russians, some renamed themselves into Ukrainians, and the rest defined themselves as Rusyns.

The unification of Rusyns was ongoing in the United States over many years. In 1894 they even created two organisations: religious – Rusyns’ Catholic church, and public – the Russian National Union (RNU), something similar to the organisation of mutual aid that united Rusyns exclusively. Moreover, this organisation also had a political character from the very beginning. Then it was renamed into the Ukrainian National Association.

The fight over the name lasted for many years. A number of figures, including emissaries from the Vatican and Austro-Hungary, fought so that Rusyns changed their name and start to be called Ukrainians.

Here is how the newspaper of the Russian National Union “Svoboda” substantiated the need for Rusyns to refuse their name and to become Ukrainians, in an article entitled “Russian or Ukrainian” from November 6th, 1913.

“An eloquent symbol of the national immaturity of our people and the proof that the creation of the Ukrainian nation hasn’t yet finished is the fact that, not to mention the enemies of our national independence, in our national organism, even between its conscious supporters, there is no full accordance concerning the use of one general national name: either we say that we are ‘Ukrainians’, and that our nation is ‘Ukrainian’, or we again say, read, and write that we are ‘Rusyns’, and that our people are ‘Russian’. Some of us use both names without distinction, others are exclusively this or that… The traditional use in our schools of the terms ‘Rusyn’ and ‘Russian’ instead of ‘Ukrainian’ [noun – ed], ‘Ukrainian’ [adjective – ed] – although among the Ukrainian public in Austria there aren’t that many principal defenders of the old name and opponents of the new one – is an outdated truth that became anachronic in the present circumstances.

The fact that our school preserved the term ‘Russian’ hitherto is understandable. After all, not very long ago in Galician schools only two national names were known: Pole and German. It is only in the second half of the 19th century that elementary schools introduced a new name — Rusyn, having turned it from a confessional symbol into a national one … Full and clear ethno-cultural isolation from western neighbors turned out to be consequence of this. All of this was enough while the national life of our people still flickered within the boundaries of Austria. When it started developing in boundless open spaces between Bug and Kuban, and from there started to capture our Ukraine via its affiliates, the exclusively provincial character of the name that is so habitual to us came to light. Moreover, it caused confusion with the similar name of the neighbouring people to such an extent that due to the similarity of this name, representatives of these people started to consider us as a part of their own national organism, which only slightly differs from them… If we want to be one nation, with one language, then we have to use only one national name.

In order for this to happen we need to now introduce only one nationwide name in schools and in everyday life: ‘Ukraine’, ‘Ukrainian’ [noun – ed], and ‘Ukrainian’ [adjective – ed], and to use the old name only in historical works. It is precisely the historical character of the name ‘Russian’ that for some is an important argument for its preservation as a national name… The name ‘Russian’, besides the fact that it is used by our largest national enemy, also has that no less important shortcoming that it was used in Austria for a century as a confessional name identical with the concept of a Greco-catholic ritual… But the name ‘Ukraine’ and ‘Ukrainian’ excludes any misunderstanding in this direction, and suits us exclusively as a national name”.

In 1913 the 1914 calendar of the Russian National Union was published in America.

The 1914 calendar of the RNS in Latin with the “American circle” of eight Greco-catholic priests who headed the Russian National Union in order to turn it into the Ukrainian National Association.

Clockwise: Ivan Konstankevich, who in Shamokin renamed the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius into the Union of Rusyns in order to lay the foundations of the “character of Ukrainian nationalism”; Nestor Dmitriv, who settled in Mount Carmel, secretary of the RNS; Nikolay Stefanovich, who in 1895 organised a parish in Buffalo (New York); Ivan Ardan, who settled in the parish of New Jersey; Anton Bonchevsky (according to other data, Bonzevsky), who was the main leader of the RNS and headed the propaganda activities of the “Svoboda” publication; Stepan Makar, a confessor of the RNS; Pavel Timkevich, a parishioner of the church of St. Michael the Archangel in Yonkers (New York); Nikolay Podgoretsky, who took the place of Ardan when the latter moved to Oliphant in Jersey City.

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The Anti-Russian fight of American Ukrainians

Inside the RNS the hardened fight against the process of Ukrainisation was carried out in parallel with the interfaith standoff between the Uniates and Orthodox Christians. This fight, under the flag of the creation of an autonomous Ukrainian exarchate in the United States, was led by the “American circle”. Strictly speaking, as historians note, it is this circle that “turned Rusyns into Ukrainians via Americanisation, Ukrainisation, and political influence” on the basis of the ethno-national metamorphosis of Rusyns in America.

Eventually, the supporters of the Russian name and Orthodoxy found themselves in the minority in the organisation created by Greco-Catholics from Galicia. Having disagreed with Americanisation process, these people created their organisation, and in respect of religion they joined the Russian Orthodox Church in the US.

The first reformed Basilians and their priors. Dobromyl – the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria of the Austro-Hungarian empire, 1886. There, in the second row fourth from the right, Soter Ortinsky

The Americanisation of society and the non-preservation in it of some ethno-national character became the aim of the Catholic church in the United States. Dobromyl’s reform of 1882-1904 of Pope Leo XІІІ in every possible way helped to Americanise the Catholic church in the US, destroying the Galician Rusyns “as Russophiles”. In the US the Jesuit-basilian Soter Stefan Ortynsky de Labetz – an active fighter against Russophilia in Galicia, the Pope’s favourite who was given the bishop’s consecration – was appointed via the efforts of the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church metropolitan Sheptitsky.

Saint George’s brotherhood “Naddnepryansky Sokol” of the RNS in Philadelphia. In the first row in the center – the initiator of the creation of the society Kir Soter (the secular name of Stefan Ortynski de Labetz), the first bishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the US

With the help of Jesuits, illiterate and unfortunate Rusyn peasants turned into the Ukrainian patriots of the US. This guaranteed for the recent “Hunkies” the strengthening of their financial position through many American national programs and personal material support, including the monetary help that ensured the $500 payment for the funerals of the members of the organisation and their families – a sum that back then was fantastic for Rusyns.

The “Ukrainian Sokols” association of the RNS in Jersey City

These processes happened gradually.

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At first RNS changed its English name “Russian National Union” to “Ruthenian National Union”. But the main demarcation happened at the beginning of World War I, when the “Russian National Union” took an active anti-Russian position in the US, switched to Latin, changed its name, and started to be called the “Ukrainian National Union”. The Rusyns’ Catholic church exulted: at last, the community of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in America approved its true national identity.

American money for the creation of an independent Ukraine

It is noteworthy that during the February revolution in Russia the term “Ukrainians” was used for the first time officially in the United States. This was, in essence, the first usage of this term at such a level. The renunciation in 1917 of the Russian Tsar Nicholas II from the throne was used on the same day as a reason for the publication of the decree of the US President giving official force to the earlier adopted resolution of the US Congress on regular fund-raising, by and large for the creation of independent Ukraine. A part of these means – 100,000 rubles, which was big money at the time – was soon sent to the chairman of the just created Central Rada of Mikhail Grushevsky.

Due to the importance of the document of the American president, we will present it here in its entirety.

The US’ Ukrainian project “Ukraine for Ukrainians”

It is necessary to understand that the Ukrainian project in the United States was developed under the following ideologeme: Ukrainians in the US live in a free State, that’s why it is precisely they who must pull out Ukrainians from the structure of Russia and Austro-Hungary and to unite them into a separate State.

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Unlike the Ukrainian project of Austro-Hungary and the one that was created in Malorossiya, the Ukrainian project in the US is almost unknown. Although it should’ve been exactly on the contrary.

By the end of the 1890’s the people in Malorossiya had already definitively turned away from “Ukrainiphilia”. “The full insolvency… of any manifestation of Ukrainian national consciousness was revealed on Russian ground, and it wasn’t managed there to create the ground for any legal Ukrainianism via any reduction in Ukrainian requests or any ‘demarcation from the left’,” wrote Mikhail Grushevsky, summing up the “movement of political and social Ukrainian thought in the 19th century”. “And on the contrary, it developed in the most adverse conditions on Galician soil. They now put combined national radicalism at the heart of their activities, and it is on this ground that they are formed and evolve, mainly in the first years of the 20th century”. “There was no Ukrainianism at that period,” also affirms Miron Kuropas, the historian of Ukrainian immigration in the US. “In 1909 the most advanced Galician Rusyn priests were mostly Ukrainiphiles, especially those that arrived after 1890”.

No less important is the fact that on January 8th, 1923 the US newspaper of the Ukrainian National Association “Svoboda” proclaimed the slogan “Ukraine for Ukrainians, and nobody else” – this same slogan that Ukrainian nationalists carried out ethnic cleansing under during World War II.

“Only the Ukrainian National Association is an organisation in which all Ukrainians must stand.”

“The most conscious people united at the Ukrainian National Association … in order to obtain freedom for all the people.”

“The Ukrainian National Association has the strongest financial basis, which other organisations don’t have. The relatives of those who are provided for in Ukrainian National Association can rest assured that their post-mortem needs will be met.”

“The slogan of Ukrainian National Association is Ukraine for Ukrainians, and nobody else!”

This article was written on the basis of documents and seeks to liquidate some blank spots in the history of Ukrainian nationalism.

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