A brief history

The history of Ukrainians in Great Britain can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century, when a group of Ukrainians, bound originally for America to start a new life there, landed in Liverpool, and began their new life around the city of Manchester instead. Through the 1920s and 1930s, there were Ukrainian diplomatic missions in Great Britain, but a large influx of Ukrainians came with American and Canadian armed forces who were stationed in Britain during the Second World War. The expatriate military personnel spent time during the war years providing support and assistance for ethnic Ukrainians who arrived in the UK via diverse routes, including as members of the Polish Armed Forces who fought with the allies in Europe.

Ukraine itself had been torn between the German and Soviet armies. Thousands of Ukrainians had been forcibly taken to Germany to work, while others had fought in German units, with the Romanian and Hungarian armies and even with the French Resistance. At the end of the war, with Ukraine under Soviet rule, Ukrainians ended up as Displaced Persons (DPs) in refugee camps in Germany and Italy. Between 1947 and 1950, after registration and screening, they were awarded European Volunteer Worker status and some 21,000 came to work in Britain.

Initially, Ukrainian migrants were accommodated in camps all over the country and worked on local farms. In the camps, they organised themselves and established educational programmes, choirs, folk dance groups, drama groups and even orchestras. The Ukrainian Relief Association, based at 218 Sussex Gardens in London, headed by Colonel Panchuk (a Canadian-Ukrainian), provided support and welfare services to those who needed it.

By autumn 1945, the resettled Ukrainian community was ready to organise itself and the idea of a national Association was born. The inaugural meeting of AUGB was held in Edinburgh on 19-20 January 1946 and set itself three main tasks:

  • To represent the membership and the Ukrainian community generally
  • To act on behalf of the community in dealings with the authorities and the host community in the UK
  • To work with similar Ukrainian community organisations around the world.

A key principle of the Association was that of mutual support and assistance. The vast majority of Ukrainian settlers had no family, so the community became an extended family for them. Members contributed 1/- (a shilling, 5p in decimal coinage but worth much more then) a week to a mutual aid fund which helped individuals and families in need. A lasting example of the practical application of the mutual aid philosophy was the Association’s Sydenhurst residential home, which was bought in 1949 through donations from members, to provide a home and light agricultural work for those Ukrainians who were too badly wounded or shell-shocked to find work, and who risked deportation.

In 1947, the needs of the Ukrainian community had outgrown Sussex Gardens, and the Association of Ukrainians bought 49 Linden Gardens, which is still the Association’s headquarters today. In 1949, the library from Sussex Gardens was transferred to Linden Gardens, and is now a highly respected reference library, with the largest collection of diaspora publications in Europe. Ukrayinska Dumka was first published in 1945 (initially called "Nash Klych") and was the only Ukrainian-language newspaper in the UK until it ceased publication on 1 July 2017. Many other periodicals and books were published over the years.

From 1948, special interest groups were established, including the Association of Ukrainian Women and the Association of Ukrainian Teachers. As Ukrainians left the camps and settled in industrial towns and cities all over the country, they began to establish churches and community centres so that they could maintain their cultural and religious traditions, and pass these on to their children.

From those beginnings, the Association has seen many changes, particularly with the long-awaited independence of Ukraine in 1991 and its steps towards democracy and full integration with Europe. It has seen and welcomed the arrival of a new wave of Ukrainians to live and work in the UK and has tried to embrace the different needs of young people who are of Ukrainian descent but also British. While the Association has also developed and adapted, it remains true to its roots, promoting the interests of the Ukrainian community and welcoming everyone who wants to be a part of Ukrainian community life.

Participants at the inaugural meeting of AUGB in Edinburgh 1946

Choir at Silsden Hostel 1948