The brutal invasion of Ukraine going on as I write has riveted our attention. This is felt especially hard if you are part of Youngstown’s Ukrainian community, many of whose families came to this country within the last hundred years or so. Ukraine is a country rich in resources that has been contended for by most of the great powers of central and eastern Europe over the years–Austria-Hungary, Poland, Russia, Germany, the Soviet Union, and after 31 years as a sovereign nation, Russia once again. And when they had the chance, in the 1890’s, early 1900’s, and after World War II, many emigrated to the United States, including to Youngstown, which has one of Ohio’s largest Ukrainian communities (Parma’s, near Cleveland, is the largest).
The earliest Ukrainian immigrants, Stefan Motko in 1885 and George Gleazy in 1887 moved here from Lupko in western Ukraine. By 1909 there were 150 families in the area, all having come to Youngstown via Ellis Island. Many worshiped at St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church on Salt Springs Rd, although the majority of parishioners there were Slavic. In that year, plans were made to build Holy Trinity Ukrainian Church, located at 525 W. Rayen Avenue. The parish was established in 1909 and the building erected in 1911. Parishioners took out second mortgages on their homes to help fund its construction with the three domes that identify the church as Byzantine rite. a marble altar with a fresco portraying the Last Supper and stained glass windows portraying the four evangelists. A few years later, a social hall was built across the street.
There are two parts of the Ukrainian community that reflect the religious and political history of the country. Western parts of the country were controlled at various periods by Catholic countries while Russians connected with the Orthodox Church controlled the east. In 1922, a small group of these Ukrainians on Youngstown’s west side met to form a parish. Divine Liturgies were first performed in homes. In 1924 land was purchased on N. Belle Vista and Russell and the church was dedicated in 1925. In 1939 they began construction on a new church in the Ukrainian church dedicated in 1946 as Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church. I passed this church many times over the years but didn’t notice the beauty of the building and was never inside–a deep regret as I saw pictures of both the outside and inside as I worked on this article. I probably went to a few wedding receptions at the social hall across the street however!
The early immigrants were from peasant and urban poor backgrounds and worked in laborer positions in the mills and related industries, buying homes and emphasizing the importance of education. Their children and grandchildren became doctors, lawyers, and other successful professionals. The later wave, from the 1940’s were more highly educated professionals fleeing Communism and helped energize the Ukrainian Congress Committee in Youngstown. This advocacy organization is still on the forefront nationally in its advocacy for Ukraine.
Youngstown’s Ukrainian community enriched our city at every level and continues to do so. I’ve heard the heartache and anxiety of my Ukrainian friends. It feels too easy to say I stand in solidarity with Ukraine when there are people standing in the way of approaching tanks. Whatever we suffer economically from sanctions seems trivial beside what this country faces. Perhaps the best we can do when we see our Ukrainian neighbors is to ask how they are doing, stop to really listen, and give them a hug. Long live Ukraine!
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!