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Svoboda and the making of the Ukrainian American, 1893-1914

The article below was originally published in the 1983 UNA Almanac

by Dr. Myron B. Kuropas

Prior to 1914, few emigres from Ukraine called themselves “Ukrainians.” During the first 20 years of immigration, they generally identified with a particular region in Ukraine, calling themselves “Lemkos,” “Boykos” and “Hutsuls.” By about the mid-1890s, however, most of the older immigrants had come to call themselves “UhroRusyns” (Hungarian Rusyns) if they were from Transcarpathia (CarpathoUkraine) and “Rusyns” if they were from Galicia.

While almost all Rusyns in America shared the same religio-cultural heritage upon their arrival, their ethnonational development was influenced by different national streams. A few Rusyns became “Hungarians” in America. Others became “Slovaks”1 or “Poles.” The vast majority, however, became “Russians,” “Rusyn-Ruthenians” or “Ukrainians.”

The first national stream to successfully nationalize a sizable segment of the Rusyn American community was the Russian. The initial reticence of America’s Roman Catholic hierarchy to recognize both the ecclesiastical legitimacy and autonomy of the Rusyn Greek-Catholic Church led to a number of clerical defections to the Russian Orthodox Church. The most dynamic dissident was the Rev. Alexis Toth, a former Catholic canon from Priashiv, who became a fiery proselytizer on behalf of Orthodoxy. Thanks to Toth — and the Holy Synod in Russia which provided both financial and moral support — some 20 percent of the Rusyn American population joined the Russian Church and eventually became Russian in national sentiment and orientation.

In the meantime, a fierce battle was being waged for the ethno-national loyalty of the remaining Rusyns between the largely Magyarized Uhro-Rusyn clergy, on the one hand, and the increasingly Ukrainian-oriented Rusyn clergy, on the other. The battle ended m a draw, with some 40 percent of the original Rusyn American population remaining Uhro-Rusyn and an approximately equal number becoming Ukrainian.

Three institutions were involved in the “making” of the Ukrainian American: the Catholic Church, the Ruskiy Narodnyi Soyuz (now called the Ukrayinskyi Narodnyi Soyuz — Ukrainian National Association) and Svoboda. This the story of the role of one of those institutions.

From Rusyn to Ukrainian

The making of the Ukrainian in America, i.e. the metamorphosis of the emigre from Ukraine from a Rusyn religio-cultural identity to a Ukrainian ethno-national identity, took place during a span of some 30 years. An examination of the name charges of the Ukrainian National Association between 1894 and 1915 accurately reflects the chronology of this transformation.

The original English name of the UNA was the Russian National Union. Moreover, the Rev, Hryhory Hrushka, the first editor of Svoboda, advised all of his readers not to be ashamed to say “Ya ye Ruskyi — I am Russian.”2 For the first, six years of its existence. Svoboda advertised itself as a “Russian” newpaper. In 1899, it became a “Little Russian” publication.3 In 1904, it was billed as “Ruthenian” (Little Russian)4 gazette, remaining so until 1906 when it began to identify itself simply as “Ruthenian.”5 The UNA, meanwhile, officially changed its name to “Little Russian Union” in 1900.6 It was not until the 13th UNA convention in 1914, that the name was officially changed to Ukrayinskyi Narodnyi Soyuz in Ukrainian and the Ukrainian National Association in English.7

Origins of the UNA

Following the demise of the original Greek-Catholic Union organized by the Rev. Ivan Voliansky in 1887, Rusyns began to join other benevolent societies, the most popular choice being Jednota (Unity), a Slovak fraternal. Concerned lest their people adopt a Slovak ethnic orientation, a group of Rusyn priests gathered in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., in February 1892, and gave birth to the Greek-Catholic Union (GCUj. Viestnik, the GCU organ, made its debut that same year. Differences between UhroRusyn and Galician Rusyn priests concerning the ethnic orientation of the GCU emerged at the 1893 GCU convention and soon after it ended, four priests from Galicia, the Revs. Ivan Konstankevych, Theofan Obushkevych, Poliansky and Hrushka met in Jersey City, N.J., to discuss the formation of another Rusyn fraternal and to promulgate the idea in Svoboda, a Rusyn periodical founded by Father Hrushka on September 15, 1893.8 On November 1, 1893, an article titled “We Need a National Organization” appeared in Svoboda:
“Just as the fish needs water, as the bird must have wings, as the thirsty need to drink and the hungry need bread, just as every one of us needs air, so do we Rusyns scattered across this land need a national union that will embrace each and every Rusyn no matter where he lives…

“It is clear then that in unity there is strength, and it is not easily defeated. Therefore, let us unite brothers, voluntary exiles from our native land, our fatherland, let us come closer together and get to know each other better, and take a closer look at our poverty, our want, our shortcomings, our needs… “Nowadays, it is only with extreme difficulty that we manage to build a Rusyn church here and there, and we really must beg for the money. Wouldn’t it be better if we had our own national fund and helped those churches? A new Rusyn generation is rapidly growing up here in America, but who is to provide a good future for the Rusyn youth? What will happen if this youth grows up without knowledge of the Rusyn language, Rusyn history, and Rusyn religion?…

“Come what may, we are bravely calling on the Rusyn people: Have faith in our idea!… Wake up and see who is your brother and who wishes you well. You have eyes, look at what is happening around you, how you are being abused and ignored, and how only your work, bathed in sweat and blood, is appreciated by those who care solely for their own pockets. They get rich on your ignorance, stupidity and helplessness while you, poor man, rot deep in the mine, or like an ox, pull trucks in the factory, slaving for everybody but yourself: for the lawyers, for the Jews, and for the debts that vou left behind in the old country. But when you become ill and die in pain, your friends must beg for money among your own people so that your sinful body is not thrown to the dogs but buried in a Christian way with a cross on your grave humbly awaiting the day of resurrection…

“If your fellow-Rusyns fail to respond to our call and if they neglect this important and burning matter, they will have given a sad account of their spiritual maturity and determination. But we do not believe that…our people will raise their mighty voice and Rusyns everywhere will say: We need the Ruskyi Narodnyi Soyuz, we must get to know each other better, we must be united, we must work together to improve our lot in this new land.”9

A constituent assembly of the proposed new organization was called for February 22, 1894, in Shamokin, Pa. In a subsequent article titled “It Has Come To Be,” Svoboda wrote:
“On February 22, 1894, on the day when all America celebrates the birthday anniversary of the great Washington, fearless fighter for liberty and the rights of man, Rusyn priests, delegates of the Rusyn brotherhoods and Rusyn patriots from many areas, assembled at 9 a.m. in the Rusyn Church in Shamokin, Pa., to ask God’s help in launching this all-important project — the founding of the Ruskyi Narodnyi Soyuz.”10

The first executive included: Theodosius Talpash of Shamokin, president; Michael Yevchak of Wilkes-Barre, vice president; the Rev. Konstankevych, secretary; and Ivan Glova of Excelsior, Pa., treasurer. In addition, 10 advisors, all laymen, were elected as well as four auditors, all of whom were clergymen.11 Significantly, the latter included the Rev. Alexis Toth, who was already associated with the Russian Orthodox Mission, the Rev. Hrushka, who was to adopt Orthodoxy in 1896, the Rev. Gabriel Gulovych, who was to join the Uhro-Rusyn camp, and the Rev. Theofan Obushkevych, who later joined the Russophile contingent.

In 1894, the UNA had 439 members and assests of $220.35. By 1912, there were 14,917 UNA members and the organization could boast of assets of S140,530.64.12 The GCU in contrast, had approximately 32,000 members and some $400.000 assets in 1912.13

The American Circle

With Uhro-Rusyn priests outnumbering Galician priests in 1894 by a margin of almost eight to one, the future of a separate Rusyn-Ukrainian fraternal society was hardly auspicious. The arrivial of the so-called “American Circle,” a group of ethno-nationally enlightened Galician priests in the mid1890s, however, changed the odds. From that moment on, the fortunes and the future of the Rusyn-Ukrainian stream improved dramatically.

The circle was established in 1890 by seven Lviv seminarians, all close personal friends who vowed to: (1) take up their pastoral duties in the United States; (2) remain celibate in order to be free of family obligations and to avoid friction with the Irish-American Roman Catholic hierarchy; (3) organize the Rusyn community in America along Rusyn-Ukrainian ethno-national lines.14 Politically active in Galicia, circle members were sympathetic to the ideals of the Ukrainian Radical Party, a socialist group which included, among others, the venerable Ukrainian poet Ivan Franko. 15

The first members of the American Circle to leave Galicia was the Rev. Nestor Dmytriv who arrived in the United States in 1895 and settled in Mt. Carmel, Pa., where he became pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul Church. That same year two more members of the circle arrived — the Rev. Mykola Stefanovych, who after a few months in Buffalo, N. Y. pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Pittsburgh; and the Rev. Ardan, who settled in Jersey City. In 1898, three more circle members made their appearance — the Rev. Antin Bonchevsky, who took up his duties at Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Ansonia, Conn.; the Rev. Stephen Makar, who took Father Ardan’s place in Jersey City when the latter came to Olyphant, Pa. The last member of the circle to emigrate to America was the Rev. Paul Tymkevych, who came here in 1898 and settled, after a time, in Yonkers, N.Y., where he was pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Church. The circle was later enlarged when Father Kostankevych joined the group.16

If a single group of individuals can be credited with the making of the Ukrainian in America, it is the American Circle. Composed of unusually competent, highly motivated, and militant individuals, it was the American Circle that led the Rusyn-Ukrainian fight against Latinization, Russification and Magyarization in the United States. They were in the forefront of the struggle to establish an autonomous Rusyn eparchy in America. They helped establish the Ukrainian National Association, took over its leadership, and moved that organization away from its initial Russophile orientation. Under their leadership, the UNA became involved in the establishment of Rusyn-Ukrainian reading rooms, enlightenment societies, cultural enterprises, youth organizations and ethnic heritage schools. Most significantly, members of the American Circle edited Svoboda for a period of 12 years (1895-1907) and established the UNA gazette as the primary vehicle of Americanization, Ukrainianization and political action in the Ukrainian ethno-national camp.

Svoboda as vehicle of Americanization

“My people,” Father Tymkevych once told an American writer, “do not live in America; they live underneath her… What my people need most is leaders, leaders to form themselves upon, leaders to give them a standard of ambition.”17 Both the leadership and the standard were provided by Svoboda , especially durin g tha t period when Father Dmytriv (1895), Father Makar (1897-1900) and Father Ardan (1900-1907) were editors.

Almost from its inception, Svoboda was aware of the dearth of intellectual leadership in the Rusyn American community and the fact that the only educated Rusyns were priests. In an article titled “The Future of the Rusyns in America,” Svoboda commented:

“The future of the Rusyn people in America and their national existence depends, upon the priests…Uhro-Rusyn priests are interested only in making money and in returning to the old country…There are only four priests from Galicia and they are working as hard as they can…If there were at least 10 such priests, the future of the Rusyn immigration would be far brighter.”18

A major problem that had to be solved was adult illiteracy, a handicap which Svoboda addressed early in its existence. In reply to the question “Can An Older Person Learn to Read?, ” Svoboda responded with an emphatic “yes” and stated:

“Of all places, a man here in America without the ability to read cannot advance…Instead of playing billiards in saloons, buy yourself a Rusyn alphabet book from Svoboda and find someone to teach you the letters…Within a month you’ll do it yourself…Let’s go, Rusyns, try it.”19

Subsequently, Svoboda, in cooperation with the UNA, published a “Self-Teacher and Dictionary for American Rusyns”20 and in 1900 began to print a Ukrainian-English dictionary and fact sheet on its pages.21

Initially, Svoboda projected an optimistic view regarding life in the United States. Describing America as a land where “everyone has the freedom to learn and to write and to become enlightened through books,”22  Svoboda was critical of the apathetic attitude of some Rusyn Americans. “Let’s remember that in America’s the motto is “Pomahay Sobi Sam” — “Help Yourself,” Svoboda declared on a number of occasions.23 Pointing to Rusyn indifference as the main cause of Rusyn backwardness in the United States,24  Svoboda would often appeal to Rusyn pride:

“Negroes have seven colleges, 17 academies and 50 high schools in America. And what do Rusyns have? Seven layers of lazy skin.”25

Comparing Rusyns to Slovaks in America Svoboda declared: “Hey, brother Rusyns! Our brother Slovaks already have a national home, schools, a hospital an d a printing press…and we don’t even have enough to send a student for a higher education…whose people are we?”26

Drunkenness, a common problem among Rusyn coal miners, was also condemned: “Some may ask, “Is Svoboda forbidding us to drink or what?” Hold on! We don’t say that a man not drink for his health, for his own money; but to get drunk and lie on the road like a pig in the mud, against that we take our stand…”27

“Don’t waste money,” 28  Svoboda urged the Rusyn worker, “read, read and read…it is very important. 29 “Some people say that if Rusyns had their liberty,” wrote Svoboda, “how nice life would be…we take the opposite view… Our people don’t need liberty. First they must have enlightenment and schooling.”30 Rusyns “need schools.”31

Critical of Rusyn reticence to become active in American life, Svoboda declared that “American life and the life of the American Rusyn are two separate worlds”:

“It is clear that we are American because we live on American soil, we eat American bread…We are Americans for the purpose of sending that dollar to the old country…We are American also in order to buy a keg of beer and a quart of whiskey for that dollar.”32

“Let’s Americanize ” through self-improvement, urged the UNA gazette. “Let’s be critical of that which is bad in America, but by all means let’s take advantage of that which is good.”33

The problems inherent in generational differences were also considered by the UNA organ. In the American milieu, Svoboda advised, the admonition “it must be so because I command it” was an improper educational technique to use with American-born children who had come to expect a more reasoned approach from their authority figures.34 But Svoboda was also aware of the other extreme , the son or daughter who justified disobedience on the basis of “American freedom.” A two-part series of articles titled “American Boy ” was written by the Rev. Makar condemning a young man who informed his parents that he was aware of the rights guaranteed by the American Constitution, that “this is not the old country” and that since he was now of age, he was no longer obligated to pay heed to parental advice. Such boys, concluded Father Makar, more often than not, begin to associate with bad company and many “end up in jail.”35 In an effort to reach the younger elements in the Ukrainian population, especially those in the elementary grades, Svoboda inaugurated a series of children’s stories in the English language which appeared regularly beginning August 22, 1900.36

Finally, there was the problem of family desertion, an issue which Svoboda once addressed as follows:

“…a trial was held involving Vanko Koralia, accused of polygamy. Vanko left his wife in Galicia, came to America and got married in Jersey City a second time and later, in…Michigan, a third time. He was arrested because wife #2 accidentally discovered the existence of wife …”

“Later, after serving his sentence, Vanko returned to his fatherland, found his house, his fields, his trees, his Mary, and his children which, unfortunately, instead of two now numbered four.37

1. Oscar Handlin, “The Uprooted,”New York, 1951, p. 188.
2. Initially, Father Hryhory Hrushka, Svoboda’s first editor advised Rusyns to say “I am Russian” in the English language largely because it was more acceptable than “Hungarian” — the appellation adopted by Uhro-Rusyns priests — and because it was an ethnic designation with which Americans were familiar. As long as Hrushka remained with Svoboda his orientation was more Rusyn-Ukrainian thai. Russian. In 1896, however, the founder of Svoboda left the Catholic Church, joined Father Alexis Toth’s movement, and became a Russian Orthodox priest in Old Forge, Pa. A year later he founded Svit, a periodical published by an Orthodox fraternal established by the Russian Orthodox Mission. Returning to Ukraine, Father Hrushka eventually renounced Russian Orthodoxy and was accepted back within the Catholic fold.
Bachynsky, p. 436. Julian Bachynsky, “Ukrayinska Immitgratsiya v Ziednanykh Derzhavakh” (Lviv: Julian Bachynsky and Alexander Harasevych, Publishers, 1914).
3. Svoboda (February 19, 1899).
4. Svoboda (January 7, 1904).
5. Svoboda (January 11, 1906).
6. Svoboda (March 3, 1900).
7. Nicholas Muraszko, “Konventsiyi U.N. Soyuzu” (Conventions of the U.N. Association) “Jubilee Book of the Ukrainian National Association,” ed. Luka Myshuha, Jersey City, Svoboda Press, 1936, p. 220. Also see: Svoboda (January 19, 1915).
8. Antin Dragan, “The Ukrainian National Association: Its Past and Present, 1894-1964,” Jersey City, Svoboda Press, 1964, p. 15. See also: Bachynsky, pp. 313- 314.
9. Cited in: Dragan, pp. 15-17.
10. Svoboda, March 1, 1894; cited in: Dragan, p. 27.
11. Ibid.
12. Dragan, p. 163.
13. Bachynsky, p. 330.
14. Ibid, p. 292
15. Ibid., p. 434.
16. Ibid., pp. 292-293.
17. Balch, pp. 419-424. Emily Greene Balch,- “Our Slavic Fellow Citizens” (New York, Charities Publications Committee, 1910, pp. 419-424.
18. Svoboda (November 21, 1894).
19. Svoboda (April 20, 1894).
20. Svoboda (April 27, 1894).
21. See: Svoboda (March 22, 1900) and subsequent issues.
22. Svoboda (June 6, 1894).
23. Luka Myshuha, “Yak Formuvavsia Svitohliad Ukrayinskoho Immigranta v Amerytsi” (The Development of the Ukrainian American Outlook), “Jubilee Book of the Ukrainian National Association,” op. cit., p. 106.
24. See: Svoboda (October 17 through November 21, 1895).
25. Svoboda (July 6, 1896).
26. Svoboda (December 7, 1889).
27. Svoboda,(December 1, 1893), Also see: Svoboda (November 23, 1899).
28. Svoboda (December 15, 1893).
29. Svoboda (March 23, 1894).
30. Svoboda (March 30, 1894).
31. Svoboda (March 1, 1894).
32. Svoboda (January 29. 1903); cited in: Myshuha, 112.
33. Myshuha, op. cit., p. 107.
34. Myshuha, op. cit., p. 105.
35. See: Stephen Makar, “American Boy,” Svoboda (December 7 and 14, 1899).
36. See: Svoboda (August 22, through December 27, 1900).
37. Svoboda (March 2, 1896). Cited in Myshuha, op. cit., p. 68.

Published in “Ukrainian Weekly” on September 11. 1983

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