Historically Ukrainian-British relations go back to the previous century. Ties were forged mainly as a result of groups arriving on local shores because of war and political instability in Eastern Europe.
The first documented evidence of Ukrainians in the UK is traced to the beginning of the 1900’s when a group of 100 families settled in the Manchester area just before the First World War. The second significant group arrived at the end of the Second World War, mainly as POW’s from Germany and Poland.
Most Ukrainian migrants in the UK have settled in the Greater London Area (approx. 70%), Manchester (10%), Bradford and Nottingham. However, there are also communities in Scotland and elsewhere. They come, generally, from the western part of Ukraine – areas such as the Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv and Ternopil.
Ukrainians in Today’s UK
No definite figures exist of exactly how many Ukrainians live in the UK today. According to the 2011 UK census approximately 21,000 Ukrainian born residents were living in the UK at that time, and in 2013 a figure of 26, 452. That, of course, excludes any figure of those who are born here every year. Some estimates place the total number of Ukrainians currently living in the UK at anything between several tens of thousands and 100, 000.
After the breaking up of the USSR things changed rapidly as far as migration goes, also because of the Ukraine’s 1991 independence from the USSR. Quite a number of those who work in the UK today send money to family in the home country – it is estimated that £11 billion leaves the UK for migrants’ home countries. Some of that is sent to Ukraine too. Most parents try to ensure their children receive a better education than they themselves were afforded. In the main today’s young British Ukrainians hold university degrees and levels of education similar to that of the national average.
As is the case with many immigrant groups, the Ukrainian community is also experiencing a measure of uncertainty about their future in the wake of the Brexit vote. For now most adopt a wait-and-see attitude.
Most belong to the Greek Catholic Church. Through their churches and community centres they preserve their history and language, music and folklore, which they pass on to their British born children. One of the methods to tell old stories about their history is by using the bandura, a traditional music instrument.
Through organisations such as InterNations young Ukrainians are invited to take part in activities organised by expats to get introduced to others in a similar situation, i.e. those looking for friendship and wanting to ‘’get connected’’.
The AUGB (Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain) is an organisation that helps to develop and promote the interests of Ukrainians who live in the UK. There are 28 local branches of AUGB across Britain. Other organisations include The Association of Ukrainian Women and The Association of Ukrainian Teachers and Educators to promote teaching of the language, history and literature. This year, for the first time, a Ukrainian music festival will be held in Manchester to celebrate Ukrainian roots music, as much for Ukrainians as for those interested in celebrating some of the culture of this group of immigrants and their history. Online access to the bilingual Ukrainian-English newspaper Ukrayinska Dumka keep people informed about events in the homeland.
Community schools for Ukrainian children, 6 years and older, encourage parents to enrol their kids for Saturday morning classes in order to learn and get in touch with their Ukrainian heritage. Various schools offer these classes and they can be found, among others, in Bradford, Coventry, Leicester, London, Manchester, Nottingham and Wolverhampton.
A few Influential Ukrainians in the UK
- Born in Kiev in 1979 Sergei Baltacha Jr is a former footballer with ties to Petershill, Millwall and St Mirren as a left back. He started out at Dynamo Kiev before moving on to the senior leagues in Scotland. He retired from football in the 2005/2005 season. His sister Elena played professional tennis for Scotland. She died of liver cancer in 2014.
- Alexander Temerko, who received British citizenship in 2011, is an influential businessman in the energy sector. He is also a great supporter of the Conservative Party and is often quoted in publications such as the Financial Times, The Observer and the Moscow Times.
- Marina Lewycka is a well-known novelist with Ukrainian ties. Her works, which include titles such as ‘A Short History of Tractors in Ukraine’, ‘Two Caravans’ and ‘We Are All Made of Glue’ have often been nominated for literary prizes such as the Man Booker Prize.
- Born of Ukrainian and Yugoslavian descent Peter Solowka is well-known in music circles. He was previously involved with The Wedding Present as their guitarist – these days he is a member of the band The Ukrainians.
- Lew Grade (25 December 1906 – 13 December 1998) was born as Lev Winogladsky with Ukrainian family ties. Dancer, talent agent and impresario – he was all of them. He received British citizenship in 1912.
It is true that immigrants initially may feel themselves, to a large extent, alienated from the people in their adopted country. However, as time goes by and newcomers experience greater assimilation into their new communities, they too start to feel themselves more and more integrated, and especially the next, the younger generation. It is no different for Ukrainians in the UK.