Ukrainians in the United Kingdom – persons originating from Ukraine, and others of Ukrainian ethnicity, settled permanently in the United Kingdom or staying temporarily in the country, as well as their descendants who live in the UK and regard themselves as being of Ukrainian heritage.

History of immigration

Information on the presence of Ukrainians in the UK before the end of the nineteenth century is limited and consists only of isolated examples. In the early 1630s, while on an educational tour of Western Europe, the future Ukrainian statesman Yurii Nemyrych is reputed to have attended lectures at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. In the second half of the eighteenth century there were many Ukrainians among various groups of individuals who came to the UK from the Russian Empire, including officials of the Russian embassy in London, chaplains and unordained assistants of the Russian church under the protection of the embassy, and students. Ukrainian chaplains of the embassy church included Yefrem Diakovskyi (from 1765 to 1768), Andrii Samborskyi (1769-1779) and Yakiv Smyrnov (1780-1840). Viktor Kochubei, Vasyl Malynovskyi, Andrii Nazarevskyi, Ivan Smyrnov and other Ukrainians were attached to the embassy. In 1761-1767 the future eminent scholar Semen Desnytskyi studied at Glasgow University, where one of his mentors was the economist Adam Smith. In the 1770s and 1780s a number of Ukrainians studied medicine in Edinburgh, and in the same period several Ukrainians were sent to England to study English agricultural practices. In the second half of the nineteenth century, and at the beginning of the twentieth, Ukrainians who lived or stayed temporarily in the UK included: the political activists Agapius Honcharenko (in 1860-1861), Serhii Podolynskyi (1872) and Serhii Kravchynskyi (1884-1895), the co-founder of the international Theosophical Society, Helena Blavatsky (1887-1891), the economist Mykhailo Tuhan-Baranovskyi (1892) and one of the instigators of the 1905 rebellion on the Russian battleship Potemkin, Opanas Matiushenko (1906).

The first sizeable group of Ukrainians to arrive in the UK came from the Austrian crown land of Galicia at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, as part of the “first wave” of migration from Ukraine, and settled in Manchester. By 1912 this group numbered approximately 500 people, most of whom subsequently re-settled in North America or returned to Galicia. In 1933 the community numbered about 150, including children born in the UK.

In 1911-1914 the political activist Vladimir Stepankowsky lived in London. In 1919-1923 diplomatic missions of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UNR) and of the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic (ZUNR) operated in London, and in the 1930s several representatives of Ukrainian political movements were active in the city: in 1931-1940 the Ukrainian Bureau was managed by Vladimir Kaye (Kysilewsky) who had links with the Ukrainian National Democratic Alliance (UNDO); Volodymyr Korostovets represented the hetmanite movement; the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists was represented by Eugene Lachowitch (1933-1935) and Stephen Davidovich (1938-1941). In 1939 Danylo Skoropadskyj, son of Pavlo Skoropadskyi, settled in London. Apart from the political activists, in the inter-war period several Ukrainian students, mainly from Canada, which already had a large Ukrainian émigré community, came to study in the UK.

Ukrainians first came to the UK in larger groups in the 1940s. These were mainly serving or former members of various World War Two armies, and displaced persons and refugees. In the first half of the 1940s over 10,000 Ukrainians were based in the UK as part of Canadian and US military forces engaged in the war. These were mainly descendants of Ukrainians who had previously emigrated to North America. After the war most of them returned to Canada or the USA with their units. During the war about 1,000 Ukrainians, citizens of pre-war Poland, came to the UK as members of the Polish Armed Forces under British command. Most of them arrived in late 1944 or early 1945, though a small number came in the early 1940s.

After the war some 33,000-35,000 Ukrainians arrived in the UK in three main groups. In 1946 between 3,000 and 5,000 were transferred from Italy to the UK as part of the Polish II Corps (the “Anders Army”) in which they were serving. In May and June 1947 around 8,500 former soldiers of the Galicia Division, who at the end of the war had surrendered to the British army in Austria and were interned in Italy, were transferred to the UK. In 1947-1949 some 21,000 Ukrainians recruited from displaced persons (DP) camps in continental Europe, mainly in Germany and Austria, came to the UK as part of the European Volunteer Workers (EVW) scheme. Subsequently the EVWs were allowed to invite close relatives to join them from the DP camps, and by the end of May 1950 the Ukrainian EVWs were joined by around 410 adult dependants (mainly spouses or parents) and 450 children, most of the latter being born in the DP camps. After the closure of the EVW scheme in 1950, the immigration of Ukrainians to the UK rapidly declined.

Among the post-war Ukrainian immigrants to the UK there were considerably fewer women than men – a ratio of approximately 1:6. Consequently, in 1955 some Ukrainian men in the UK began to invite women, with a view to marriage, from the former Yugoslavia (some areas of which had a significant Ukrainian population). From the following year similar invitations were extended to Ukrainian women from Poland. As a result, by 1975 about 1,500 Ukrainian women had come to the UK from Yugoslavia and Poland, and others continued to arrive in later years.

From the end of the Second World War until the mid-1980s, during which time emigration from the USSR was severely restricted, only an insignificant number of Ukrainians came to the UK from Soviet Ukraine. This number began to increase at the time of the liberalisation of the political system in the Soviet Union in the second half of the 1980s. Many of the new arrivals came at the invitation of British institutions from which they received research grants. After Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991 and the dissolution of the USSR it became much easier to leave Ukraine. The adverse economic situation in the country at that time led to the “fourth wave” of migration from Ukraine to various parts of the world including the UK, and this continues to the present. Some people stay temporarily in order to earn money and then return to Ukraine, while others remain or plan to remain in the UK for the long term. Other newcomers include ethnic Ukrainians from other countries of Eastern Europe, particularly Poland. There are no comprehensive statistics on the total number of Ukrainians who have come to the UK since 1991. Estimates vary from several tens of thousands to 100,000 or more, including undocumented immigrants. Between 1998 and 2007 a total of 6,350 Ukrainian citizens were granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

In addition to those Ukrainians who have at various times migrated to the UK from Ukraine or other countries, many persons of Ukrainian descent have been born in the UK, the largest group being the descendants of post-World War II immigrants. Ukrainians in the UK can, therefore, be considered in terms of three main groups, between which there are significant differences with respect to their socio-economic and demographic characteristics, and their involvement in organised Ukrainian community life: post-World War II immigrants, descendants of post-World War II immigrants, and migrants from independent Ukraine.

Post-World War II immigrants

Excluding those in the Canadian and US armed forces stationed in the UK, during and immediately after the Second World War approximately 34,000-36,000 Ukrainians came to the UK. Most of them settled permanently, but some remained for only a short time. Around 700 Ukrainian EVWs, mainly men, soon returned or were deported to the countries from which they had arrived. Many people, after a relatively short stay in the UK, migrated onwards to countries such as the USA, Canada, Argentina and Australia, and eventually around 8,000-10,000 left the country, mainly in the first half of the 1950s. Allowing for some early deaths, the number of post-war immigrants remaining in the UK in the mid-1950s was probably in the range 22,000-27,000. Thereafter their number has been naturally decreasing, the number remaining in 2008 being probably no greater than several hundred persons aged mainly between 80 and 90.

At the time of their arrival most of the immigrants were aged between 20 and 30. About 25% were of an older age, including some parents who had come to the UK with their children or joined them later. Very few were under 20. Most of the immigrants originated from Western Ukraine which was under Polish, Romanian and Czechoslovak rule before the war. Others came from pre-war Soviet Ukraine. At the end of the 1940s the largest numbers of Ukrainians were in Scotland and eastern England, where agriculture was a major industry sector. Others lived mainly in the industrial areas of northern and central England. At the beginning of the 1950s most of those in the agricultural areas migrated to industrial centres, which led to the creation of large concentrations of Ukrainians in several parts of England. Relatively few (no more than 1,000) remained in Scotland. Several hundred settled in southern Wales, and only an insignificant number in Northern Ireland. In all, Ukrainians settled in over 80 towns and cities around the UK, the largest communities being in Manchester, Bradford, Nottingham and London.

Among the post-war immigrants relatively few had completed their secondary education. Most had limited educational opportunities in their homeland before the war, or else their education was disrupted by the war. Moreover, in the case of the EVWs, the requirement was mainly for workers to fill unskilled jobs, so there was no incentive to recruit better educated people. Many of those who did have a higher education, notably former officers of the Galicia Division, emigrated to other countries after a short stay in the UK. Some of the immigrants enrolled at universities in the UK. In the mid-1950s some 2% of the Ukrainians in the UK had completed their secondary education, and about 0.5% were educated to a higher level.

At first, most of the immigrants lived in camps or hostels. Over half of the males were employed in agriculture or coal mining, while women worked mainly in cotton or woollen textile mills or in domestic service. After their release from EVW obligations, most of those who initially worked in agriculture moved to industrial areas and found work in sectors such as textiles. Better paid jobs were beyond the reach of most of the immigrants, mainly owing to a lack of the required qualifications and because of opposition from trades unions. In the 1950s around 80% were employed as manual workers. In later years the situation remained broadly similar: most of the post-war immigrants were still in unskilled or semi-skilled jobs. Those who achieved higher education qualifications generally found appropriate employment as teachers, lecturers, doctors, dentists, engineers, etc. Some established their own small businesses. Arriving in the UK with few or no possessions, most of the post-war immigrants subsequently achieved a satisfactory, or above satisfactory, standard of living: the majority, for example, became homeowners.

On arriving in the UK most of the post-war immigrants were unmarried. Eventually almost all the women and some 60% of the men married. The women generally married Ukrainian men, but only a minority of the men could initially marry Ukrainian women because of the disproportionately small number of the latter. As mentioned above, some men married Ukrainian women from Yugoslavia or Poland. Many others married Scottish, Irish or Welsh spouses (relatively few took English wives), or women of other nationalities who came to the UK after the war, e.g. Italian, German, Austrian or Spanish.

Despite the difficulties associated with settling in a foreign country and the pressures of assimilation, most of the post-war immigrants retained their Ukrainian identity. After residing in the UK for 5 years the immigrants could apply for British citizenship. Initially, however, few Ukrainians did so: most retained the hope that the political situation in Europe would soon change and it would become possible to return to an independent Ukraine. Even in later years, when the likelihood of this became ever more remote, only a relatively small proportion of Ukrainians opted for naturalisation as British citizens.

The post-war Ukrainian immigrants created a diverse network of community organisations. Most nationally conscious Ukrainians became involved in the life of the community through, for example, church attendance, membership of various organisations, participation in performing arts groups, social activities, etc. Funds were raised for causes such as the purchase of community and church buildings, upkeep of organisations, etc. Many people gave their free time to run the various organisations, at both local and national levels, to teach in Ukrainian Saturday schools, lead choirs and dance groups, etc. Most of the immigrants continued to use the Ukrainian language in addition to learning English, and generally aimed to pass on their Ukrainian national identity and language to their children.

Descendants of the post-war immigrants

Although, as mentioned earlier, about 450 children of EVWs came to the UK in 1947-49 from continental Europe, the majority of the first generation of descendants of post-war immigrants were born in the UK, mainly in the 1950s and 1960s. This generation consists partly of children whose parents were both Ukrainian, and partly of children of mixed marriages, in which, as a rule, the father was Ukrainian and the mother non-Ukrainian. Members of this generation themselves subsequently married either other children of Ukrainian immigrants or non-Ukrainians. Consequently, the ethnicity of their children, who began to be born mainly in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and that of subsequent generations, has become ever more diverse.

While many children of the post-war immigrants continued to live in the same towns and cities as their parents, others settled elsewhere in the UK or, in some cases, emigrated to other countries. This led to a greater dispersal of Ukrainians around the UK and a consequent weakening of Ukrainian communities in some localities.

The post-war Ukrainian immigrants generally aimed to ensure that their children made the most of their education in the UK. On the whole, the children attained higher levels of education than their parents, and it has been estimated that the proportion who went on to complete degrees at universities or other higher educational establishments is at least as high as the UK national proportion. Many students obtained doctoral degrees. The range of occupations and professions pursued by the post-war immigrants’ descendants is broadly the same as in British society as a whole.

As a rule, those born in the UK acquired British citizenship at birth, while those who were born in the DP camps and came to the UK with their parents generally also became British citizens later. While bringing up their children as typical members of British society, most immigrant parents also aimed to bring them up with a commitment to their Ukrainian heritage. To some degree they succeeded, particularly if both parents were Ukrainian. Many British-born Ukrainians have become involved to a greater or lesser extent in the organised activities of the Ukrainian community, though with each new generation the overall level of participation is declining. Familiarity with the Ukrainian language varies significantly: some are quite fluent in the language; others can communicate effectively in Ukrainian, though not necessarily with complete grammatical accuracy; many are not familiar with the language at all. Some British-born Ukrainians who did not learn the language at home, or did not gain an adequate knowledge of it, take courses in Ukrainian as a foreign language.

Migrants from independent Ukraine

Most of the Ukrainians who have come to the UK since Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991 have been relatively young people of working age, with roughly equal numbers of men and women. Although they have originated from all parts of Ukraine, the majority have come from the western part of the country, especially the Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv and Ternopil oblasts (regions). Most of them, perhaps more than half, live in London, with the rest dispersed thoughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The newly-arrived Ukrainians fall into several categories, depending on the circumstances of their arrival in the country and their status. Broadly speaking, however, there are two main groups: those with regular immigration and employment status and those with irregular status. Those in the first group are employed in a wide range of occupations, from academic or highly skilled posts to unskilled jobs. Most of the undocumented immigrants work in unskilled or semi-skilled jobs in sectors such as agriculture, food processing, construction, catering and domestic work, even if they have higher educational qualifications and previously worked in higher-level jobs in Ukraine.

The recent migrants from independent Ukraine differ significantly from the post-war immigrants and their British-born descendants in terms of life experience and world outlook. As a consequence of this, they have generally not become involved in the life of the established Ukrainian community, albeit with some notable exceptions. However, many of the new migrants who live in or around London regularly attend Ukrainian church services. To a lesser extent this also applies to other towns or cities where such services are held. Some of the migrants send their children to Ukrainian Saturday schools or help with the teaching. Some have become members or supporters of established organisations. On the whole, however, the recent migrants tend to rely on their own informal social networks, with a minority becoming members of newly established organisations.

Roman Krawec


Petryshyn, W. R., ‘Britain's Ukrainian community: A study of the political dimension in ethnic community development’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Bristol, 1980)

Dobriansky, M. D., ‘Great Britain’, in Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 2, editor-in-chief V. Kubijovyč (Toronto-Buffalo-London, 1988), pp. 87-91

Jenkala, M., ‘Ukrainians in the United Kingdom and Ireland’, in Ukraine and Ukrainians Throughout the World, ed. by A. L. Pawliczko (Toronto, 1994), pp. 292-307