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European Voluntary Workers [Європейські добровільні робітники] – persons from continental Europe invited by the British government in 1946-1951 to work in the United Kingdom in sectors experiencing labour shortages as a result of the Second World War.

Of several schemes established for the recruitment of EVWs, the largest, in terms of numbers of workers, was the Westward Ho! scheme approved in 1946. It involved the recruitment of men and women of predominantly Eastern European origin, including Ukrainians, from displaced persons camps (see below) in, mainly, Germany and Austria. Recruitment began in the spring of 1947, and Ukrainians were among the first nationalities from which recruits were sought. The selection process involved interviews and medical inspections, and the applicants were obliged to sign an undertaking that they would work only as directed by the Ministry of Labour and not change their place of work without official approval.

Preference was given to those who were willing to accept unskilled manual jobs, as well as to those who had experience of certain types of skilled work or were suitable for training in such work. Preference was also given to applicants who had no dependants with them in the camps, or who were willing to leave any dependants behind until it became possible to bring them to the UK.

Most of the Ukrainian EVWs came to the UK in the second half of 1947 and the first half of 1948. The final arrivals were in 1949. According to official statistics, a total of 20,912 Ukrainians came to the UK as EVWs (16,194 men and 4,718 women). In addition, a number of their dependants were admitted to the UK: 411 adults (36 men and 375 women) and 451 children (260 boys and 191 girls). Shortly after arriving, about 700 Ukrainian EVWs, mainly men, chose to return, or were deported, to the countries from which they were admitted. In the autumn of 1948 the number of Ukrainian EVWs increased when most of the former soldiers of the Galicia Division (8,128 persons), who had arrived in the UK in 1947, were released from prisoner-of-war status and engaged as workers under the EVW scheme.

The EVWs were accommodated in hostels close to their place of work. They received the same wages and were employed under the same conditions as British workers. To a certain degree, however, they were subject to discrimination, especially in industries in which the trades unions were strong. Foreign workers were often barred from positions of responsibility or skilled jobs, and in some cases there were agreements between unions and employers that foreign workers would be the first to go in the event that redundancies were required.

According to statistics on the initial placements of EVWs of all nationalities recruited from Germany and Austria, men worked mainly in agriculture (52%), coal mining (19%) and domestic service in hostels, hospitals and other premises (9%), while women were employed mainly in cotton mills (38%), domestic service (34%) and woollen mills (16%). The former soldiers of the Galicia Division, who were employed mainly as agricultural workers upon their arrival in the UK, continued to work in this sector after their transfer to EVW status.

Initially there was no limit placed on the time for which EVWs were obliged to work as directed by the Ministry of Labour. In July 1950, however, the ministry decided that, from 1 January 1951, EVWs who had lived in the UK for at least three years could apply to be released from the restriction relating to choice of employment. As a result, the workers gradually came to benefit from the same employment rights enjoyed by their British counterparts.

Displaced persons and refugees in post-war Europe

These were persons of mainly eastern European origin who, during the Second World War, were forcibly displaced or fled from their countries of origin and at the end of the war were to be found in Western Europe (various official definitions of the terms “displaced person” and “refugee” were used by international organisations at different times during and after the war).

At the end of the war there were over two million Ukrainian displaced persons and refugees in Western Europe. The overwhelming majority were persons forcibly conscripted to work in Germany. Other categories included intellectuals and political activists who fled from Ukraine during the war to avoid Soviet repression, Ukrainians in the Red Army who were captured by the Germans and survived until the end of the war, and members of the Ukrainian nationalist movement and other political prisoners released from German concentration camps at the end of the war. They were provided with temporary aid by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), which was also concerned with the repatriation of displaced persons to their countries of origin. The main wave of repatriation (both voluntary and forced) took place in the summer and autumn of 1945.

At the end of the mass repatriation effort there remained in Western Europe about 220,000-250,000 Ukrainians who did not wish to return to the Soviet Union or to other East European countries in which pro-Soviet regimes were being established. Most were in Germany and Austria, with small numbers in Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, the Netherlands, Norway, France and Sweden. The majority were accommodated in displaced persons camps (see below), while others (about 10% in 1947) lived elsewhere.

After the UNRRA’s mandate ended in 1947, it was succeeded by the International Refugee Organisation, which existed until 1952. Its mandate allowed for the resettlement of displaced persons and refugees in countries willing to accept them. Ukrainian organisations in various countries became involved in the resettlement effort, including the London-based Central Ukrainian Relief Bureau and the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain. Of the 220,000-250,000 Ukrainian displaced persons and refugees in Europe at the end of 1945, over half emigrated to the USA or Canada, while others settled in South America, Australia or various countries of Western Europe.

Displaced persons camps

Most of the displaced persons lived in camps administered by the UNRRA (1945-1947) and the IRO (1947-1952). In mid-1947 there were 733 camps in Germany, 21 in Austria and 8 in Italy. Substantial compact groups of Ukrainians lived in about 125 of the camps, many of which were exclusively Ukrainian. In about 60 camps there were groups of over 500 Ukrainians, the largest (2,500 to 4,500) being in camps in Germany near Regensburg, Hannover, Heidenau, Mittenwald, Augsburg and Munich.

The camps became the setting for a wide range of Ukrainian educational, cultural, religious, political and social activities. In many of the camps there were primary and secondary schools, higher-level educational establishments, vocational courses, workshops, choirs, theatre groups, other performing arts groups, parishes of the main Ukrainian churches, branches of various community and political organisations, publishing houses, etc. Many lectures, concerts, theatre performances and other events took place, and a large number of books and periodicals were published.

Roman Krawec


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Vernant, J., The Refugee in the Post-War World (London, 1953)

Isaac, J., British Post-War Migration (Cambridge, 1954)

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