During the late-nineteenth-century wave of immigration to the United States from Eastern Europe, the first Ukrainian immigrants to Oklahoma came from the western part of modern Ukraine. At that time the region was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and encompassed the area in and around the Carpathian Mountains, including the western part of Galicia, Bukovina, Transcarpathia, and other western territories. It was and is a region of many varied ethnic groups, including the Ukrainians, with their own language and customs. Ukrainian settlement in Oklahoma reflects the general pattern and periods of emigration from Ukraine to the United States, but in much smaller numbers.
Although it is impossible to determine when the first Ukrainian set foot on Oklahoma soil, it almost certainly happened at the beginning of the twentieth century. According to the U.S. Commissioner of Immigration, between 1901 and 1908 seventy Ukrainians listed Indian Territory as their destination at the port of entry. From 1909 until 1930 seventy-eight proclaimed Oklahoma as their goal. These numbers are not considered complete. In addition, the situation is complicated because U.S. immigration authorities registered entrants according to their country of origin (and citizenship), and therefore many Ukrainians were categorized as Austrians. Others may also have been listed as Russians, because part of Ukraine was held by the Russian Empire in the early twentieth century. Adding to the mix, many immigrants from Ukraine were ethnic Germans, now known as Germans from Russia, who had formed colonies there in the eighteenth century. Ukrainians settled in two general areas of Oklahoma.
These first immigrants pursued better economic conditions such as higher wages and employment, opportunity to acquire land, and also religious freedom and social equality. Practically all the early immigrants hailed from peasant backgrounds, and the majority of them were illiterate. They mainly belonged either to the Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church or the Russian Orthodox Church.
Some formed small farming communities around Jones and Harrah in Oklahoma County. In the county's 1910 census 238 persons claimed Russia as their place of birth, and another 545 claimed Austria. In the 1920 census twenty-six persons in that part of the county specifically identified themselves as having been born in Ukrainian Russia. In 1919 these settlers built the first Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Oklahoma, St. John Ukrainian National Greek Catholic Church, west of Harrah. The building burned in 1923 and in 1949. In 1950 the congregation blessed a new concrete-block church in Jones, the St. Mary of the Dormition Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Hailing from the Carpathian Mountains region, different groups settled in the coal-mining region of southeastern Oklahoma. Their settlement focused around Hartshorne in Pittsburg County, but others also lived in Coal, Latimer, and Atoka counties. In the 1910 census 379 Pittsburg County residents claimed Russia as their birthplace, and another 395 claimed Austria. Latimer County had the second-largest number, with 201 claiming Russia and 99 claiming Austria. By the time of the 1920 census those around Hartshorne still identified themselves as Russians, although they were of Ukrainian ethnic descent. In the 1920 census are 274 self-identified Russian-born persons in Pittsburg County, of whom 4 identified themselves as "Carpathian." Sts. Cyril and Methodius Russian Orthodox Church was a primary place of worship for these people.
Ukraine became one of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics after the Russian revolutions of 1917–18 led to the creation of the U.S.S.R. Oklahoma received more Ukrainians as a result of World War II. These individuals for various reasons chose not to stay in Soviet Ukraine and retreated with the German troops. Their journey to America often involved refugee camps and stops in other countries. Some women married American soldiers, thereby facilitating passage to the United States.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union and the August 1991 proclamation of independent Ukraine contributed to a larger exodus to Oklahoma. The composition of this latest group significantly differed from first immigrants. Although most of the reasons for leaving had not changed, with improvement of economic conditions being the cornerstone, the social profile is rather different. Many of the recent immigrants are professionals who obtained work contracts with the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, and other colleges and companies. Some are young people who came as exchange students and after finishing their studies, decided to stay. A few are women who married Americans. Others are members of religious denominations such as Pentecostal and Baptist that were oppressed during the Soviet years. For the most part, the people who arrived after 1991 are well educated, having at least a bachelor's degree. They are also from urban areas in the central and eastern parts of Ukraine, and therefore, predominantly rural Oklahoma, with its slower pace of living, in many instances has often served a transitional point rather than a new permanent home. The overwhelming majority of the recent Ukraine immigrants consider the Russian language their mother tongue.
In the U.S. Census of 1990, 1,969 Oklahoma residents claimed Ukrainian ancestry. At the end of the twentieth century Ukrainian names could be found among doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists, and other professionals. One of the most prominent individual Ukrainians is Dr. Steven Tkach, an orthopedic surgeon. Oklahoma Friends of Ukraine (OFU) was founded in 1993. It called for educational, cultural, and supportive activities related to Ukraine and also served as a resource of information about Ukraine's history, people, and customs.
Wasyl Halich, Ukrainians in the United States (New York: Arno Press, 1970).
Myron B. Kuropas, The Ukrainians in America (Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co., 1972).
Leon Tolopko, Working Ukrainians in the USA (New York: Ukrainian American League, 1986).
Vladimir Wertsman, The Ukrainians in America, 1608–1975: A Chronology and Fact Book (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana Publications, 1976).
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Mara Sukholutskaya, “Ukrainians,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=UK002.
© Oklahoma Historical Society.