Latvia despite somewhat far from Ukraine has always shared common connections with Ukrainian people. In the Middle Ages the Vikings or Varyags came down from river Daugava to river Dnieper to the Kievan Rus. The territory of Latvia and Ukraine were united within the Poland -Lithuania and the Empire of Russia. Some Latvians moved to rich Ukrainian lands to gain their own farming land. Many Latvian nationals were sent on military duty to Ukrainian lands. In the same matter the first Ukrainian people appeared in Latvian lands on 19th century.
Ukrainians served in Russian garrisons, students went to Riga Polytechnic Institute and various specialists and teachers. According to national census of 1897 1000 people called them as Ukrainians, most of them were from Russian army. On 1910 Ukrainian students in Riga Orthodox cathedral held a church service on the day of death of the Ukrainian writer Taras Sevchenko. This became a tradition until 1940. On 1911 first Ukrainian national organization “Gromada” (Alliance) was formed. Despite being short of members it had its own choir, dramatic ensemble and support cash desk. On 1914 Tsarist authorities forbid Ukrainians to celebrate openly the 100 birthday of Taras Sevchenko and the celebration was held privately at the Gromada office. Latvian organizations were invited also.
On 1915 the German army invaded the Latvian territory. The work of the national organizations were stopped. Factories were evacuated and the Riga Polytechnic institute was closed. Many Ukrainians were sent to Latvian rifleman battalions. After the February revolution of 1917 within 12th army stationed within Riga of whom many Ukrainians served, created their national organizations. The newspaper “Ukrainian voice”, the Ukrainian socialists-revolutionaries (esers), and the Ukrainian Rada of the 12th army with Aleksandr Blonsky as the leader. On May 6 the congress of the Ukrainian soldiers were held in Riga. A nationalistic goal was set to “Ukrainianaze” the 21 Corpus of the 12th army and send it to Ukraine. The congress ended with march trough the streets of Riga with Ukrainian songs. The Rada worked until January 1918 when most of the Ukrainian soldiers came back to homeland.
On November 20 1917 in Kiev the Ukrainian Peoples Republic was proclaimed. Ukrainians tried to make contacts with Latvian counterparts. From 1919 to 1921 a diplomatic and consular connections between UPR and the Republic of Latvia were established. On September 1 1919 the UPR Consulate in Riga begun its work. Consulate supported the Ukrainian refugees. Also the Ukrainian as well as Belorussian Peoples Republic citizenship served as a loophole for some who wanted to avoid serving in the Latvian army during the War for Freedom. Both national countries did not survive the Russian Civil War. In result on August 3 1921 a treaty with the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic recognizing its sovereignty was established. The treaty regulated the exchange of refugees and disregard any other form of government within Ukrainian SSR. Therefore all relations with UPR were canceled and their citizens within Latvia had to find a new citizenship. Ukraine was divided between Soviet Union, Poland and Romania.
Ukrainians in Poland had uneasy relations with the nationalist minded Polish government, in Romania the existence of the Ukrainian minority was officially denied. In Soviet Union at first the politics were quite friendly towards Ukrainian language, but after start of the Stalin’s collectivization it turned into national genocide or Holodomor killing at least 5 million people.
Latvia meanwhile has its one of the most liberal national minority policies. Jews, Germans, Russians and others enjoyed an autonomy in their schools and took part in politics. On 1925 there were 512 Ukrainians, on 1930 – 1629 and on 1935 1844. Most lived in Daugavpils district – 166, at Rezekne district and Liepaja 90. The rise of the Ukrainian numbers can be explained by the fact that first national census of 1920 counted Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians together as Russians, and also many who before were unaware of their nationality counted themselves as Ukrainians.
In contrary to vast masses of Russian and Belorussian peasants, the Latvian Ukrainians were city dwellers and middle class citizens. Most of them not born in Latvia, with good education worked as businessman and state employees. Some took important posts within Latvian Army like Captain Vladimir Romachenko in Topographical department. Andrei Cibulsky from 1919-1935 was deputy of the chief of the Riga Police District. Before 1934 some Ukrainians took part in Latvian politics, Latvian Tuberculosis hospital nurse Olga Markovich was active within Latvian Social Democratic Workers party, while Lubova Lejiņa within Latvian Farmers Party. Retired Riga District Court chief executive joined the Democratic Center on 1932. Some Ukrainian intellectuals like Jakub Kastiluk worked with the Belorussian culture society “Batyakaushina” and took lessons in the Belorussian schools.
From 1921 to 1922 the Ukrainian political refugee – emigrant committee was established but closed after the pressure from the Latvian Ministry of Interior Affairs. On 1932 a “Latvian-Ukrainian society”was established by Ukrainian nationals mostly business owners. On 1938 it had 111 members. On 1934 it established library and organized culture events. At the end of the 3oies the Latvian authorities wanted to limit the number of the national organizations and requested to join it with “Cultural contacts establishment with the nations in USSR”. It was never done as after the Soviet invasion the society was closed.
Soviet power restricted Ukrainian national life as much as other national minorities were repressed. On August 6 1940 the former leader of the Ukrainian political refugees Maxim Didikovsky and other past UPR representatives were arrested. Most people who had some connection with UPR were sent to Siberia or executed.
On 1943 Nazi German occupation made local cenus and counted 11339 Ukrainians within Latvia part of Ostland. The sharp increase was made because of deported Soviet prisoners of war and people sent on compulsory work. Nazi occupation had no special policy towards Ukrainians due to their small numbers. Captain V Romachenko on 1941 joined the anti-soviet partisans within Ventspils to fight against Red Army. Pyotr Abramchenko was one of the first to join self-defense unit to assist German invaders. It was because of the common belief that Germans will give back independence both to Ukraine and Latvia. Many Ukrainians were mobilized in Latvian Waffen SS Legion. At least 549 Soviet Ukrainian POW’s joined or were forced to join the German Army support service. Some Ukrainians took part in Soviet underground resistance.
During the Soviet occupation the amount of Ukrainians sharply increased. On 1959 294, 4 thousand, on 1989 92, 1 thousand making them 3,5% of the Latvian SSR population. This was because of the unrestricted immigration boosted by forced industrialization. Ukraine was devastated by Stalin’s genocide and WW2. Those who came from Eastern Ukraine deeply affected by Russification could not speak Ukrainian and only added to massive amounts of “Russian speakers” in Latvia. The Russification of the Ukrainians, Belarusians and Jews disguised as creation of “unified Soviet nation” with one common Latvian language left deep scars within Latvian society.
However, already on 1988 as the independence movement started the Latvian Ukrainian national cultural society “Dņipro” was founded. With the leadership of Viktor Prudiss and Volodomir Stroy the society had 300 members. The politically active Ukrainians joined in society “Slavutich” and the Ukraine patriotic organization “RUH” Riga branch for the first time in Soviet Union went to streets with the Ukrainian blue and yellow banner. The flag of Ukraine first flew in Riga before it appeared in Kiev.
Despite that large parts of the Latvian Ukrainians did not support the Latvian independence, 8 elected Ukrainian nationals within Latvian Supreme Soviet ranked with communists in who voted against the Declaration of the restoration of the independence. After 1991 24 thousand Ukrainians left Latvia for Ukraine and Russia. Ukrainian integration in Latvian democratic society was obstructed by the fact that large part of them became non-citizens. At first Ukrainian organizations made mistakes by cooperating with pro-Kremlin political parties. Gradually the connection with Latvia was established however it caused rift within Ukrainians as many still supported pro-Kremlin opposition. On 2006 the many Ukrainian national organizations joined within Union of Ukrainian Societies. On 2012 the Latvian Ukrainian Congress was formed as part of the World and European Ukrainian congress.
According to 2011 national census 45 798 Ukrainians are living in Latvia. However, only 1 774 people are using the Ukrainian language at their homes. That means that most of them use Russian language as the size of the Russian speakers greatly exceeds the size of the ethnic Russians. Many Ukrainians have very loose national identity and are still part of former “Soviet nation” with different national outlook. However, in last 20 years the connections with independent Ukraine has greatly increased. During the events in Ukraine the Latvian Ukrainian society and the Ukrainian Congress organized many support actions and showed support towards Ukrainian revolution. On March 2 2014 after Russian invasion in Ukraine the Ukrainian society organized anti-war protest gathered about thousand people most of them Latvians. This is a sign of a Ukrainian national revival and great support from Latvian society. As mainland Ukraine is under foreign invasion the more support and unity between Latvians and Ukrainians is essential to the survival of the both nations.
Jēkabsons, Ēriks. (2007) Ukraiņi Latvijā 19. gadsimta beigās – 1988. gadā. //Mazākumtautības Latvijā. Vēsture un tagadne. Rīga. 2007.
Dribins Leo (2007) Ukraiņi atjaunotajā Latvijas republikā. //Mazākumtautības Latvijā. Vēsture un tagadne. Rīga. 2007.