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Ukranian Migration to Pittsburgh

Ukranian Migration to Pittsburgh

by Larry Ciptak

from Out of This Kitchen: a History of the Ethnic Groups and Their Foods in the Steel Valley


In an attempt to break a long strike in 1877, a Pennsylvania coal company agent went to Ukraine to recruit mine laborers, promising high wages and steady jobs.

The conscripts said good-bye to their worried relatives. Upon their arrival, the courageous men–unaware that they were to be used as strike breakers–were met with hostility from the strikers, many of whom were "old immigrants." Riots and "accidental" deaths soon became commonplace in the land that was promised to yield its riches to the non-English speaking men.

Nevertheless, within a few months their families were receiving letters–and American dollars–from the men. Migration from Ukraine continued, and between 1899 and 1930 268,311 Ukrainians settled in the United States–nearly half of them in Pennsylvania.

Hopes that they could return to a free Ukraine were dashed when, at the end of World War I, their homeland was divided between neighbors Poland, Czechoslovakia, Russia and Romania. Ninety percent of the Ukrainians remained in America.

After the war Ukrainians migrated en masse to western Pennsylvania, the result of a reign of terror under Bolshevik and Polish rule. Most settled in industrial centers and mining communities, taking jobs as manual laborers. To supplement their meager incomes–an average laborer made 30 to 32-cents an hour in 1922–they took in boarders, at the average rate of $5 a month.

The industrial towns where the majority of Ukrainians settled are Pittsburgh, Homestead, Ambridge, Johnstown, Butler, New Castle, McKees Rocks and McKeesport, and virtually all mining communities have a Ukrainian population. In 1934 there were 115 western Pennsylvanian communities that sustained formal Ukrainian organizations.