Ukraine (Україна) is the second-largest country in Europe, after Russia. It has a population of 41.2 million, making it the eighth-most populous country in Europe. The nation’s capital and its most populous municipality is the ancient city of Kyiv. What’s now Ukraine has been inhabited by Homo sapiens since at least 32,000 BCE. The Ukrainian People’s Republic was founded in 1917. From 1922 until 1991, it was part of the USSR.
There are, as of 2019, about 1,009,874 Americans of Ukrainian ancestry. Outside of Europe, Canada has the largest Ukrainian population. The American states with the largest populations of Ukrainians are New York, Pennsylvania, and California, which is home to roughly 83,125. The American cities with the largest populations of Ukrainian Americans are New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Los Angeles is also home to a neighborhood called Little Odessa, named after Ukraine’s third-most populous city, although the enclave is mainly home to Jews, many of them Russian rather than Ukrainian. It’s usually spelled “Odesa” (Одéса) by Ukrainians.
UKRAINIAN LOS ANGELES
The first substantial wave of Ukrainian immigration was between 1890 and 1914 and consisted mostly of economic migrants. A second wave followed between World Wars I and II. During War War II, a third wave of Ukrainians arrived as refugees. The current, fourth wave was the first to settle, in larger numbers, in California rather than cities in the Middle West and Northeast. From 1990 to 2006, California’s Ukrainian population grew from 54,141 to 94,044. In Metro Los Angeles, during the same period, the population increased from 21,398 people in 1990 to 26,456. Today the region is home to roughly 34,000, about two-thirds of whom were born in the US and one-third abroad. About 67% of Ukrainian Angelenos speak English at home, about 25% speak Russian, and about 6% speak Ukrainian.
I’ve had a few interactions with Ukrainian Angelenos and Ukrainians in Los Angeles. There used to be a Ukrainian bartender at Mr. T’s Bowl, although her name escapes me now. I think it was at a Make-Up show at the Troubadour that I sort-of danced with someone I’m fairly sure was Milla Jovovich (she left, without having introduced herself, in a limousine). In 2015, I went to Royce Hall to see Tuvan band, Huun-Huur Tu (Хүн Хүртү) and the other group on the bill, DakhaBrakha (Давати-Брати) are from Kyiv. Finally, one of my good friends since college, Natalya Brusilovsky, was born in Ukraine and came here with her family as refugees.
One of the most obvious indicators of the Ukrainian presence in Los Angeles is the number of Ukrainian churches with their (often) gold domes and three-barred crosses. Christian Ukrainians follow, for the most part, either the Ukrainian Orthodox Church or the Ukrainian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church. There are two Ukrainian Orthodox Churches: Saint Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Los Angeles in Echo Park and St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Virgil Village. There’s also a Ukrainian Catholic Church, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church. All three were founded in the 1950s.
Although estimates vary widely, there are hundreds of thousands of Jews in Ukraine. Jewish communities have existed in what’s now Ukraine since the era of the Kievan Rus’ (9th century to 13th century). In the Ukrainian People’s Republic, Yiddish was one of the three state languages alongside Ukrainian and Russian. Today, according to the World Jewish Congress, Ukraine’s Jewish community is the fifth largest in the world. In 2019, Ukraine elected a Jewish comedian, Volodymyr Zelensky, to the presidency. That the Ukrainian Jewish population has also borne the brunt of numerous bouts of antisemitic violence will come as a surprise to no one. There have been numerous pogroms since at least the 1821 anti-Jewish riots in Odesa. Thousands of Jews were expelled from the Russian Empire in 1915. Over a million Jews were killed by Nazis during the German occupation of Ukraine. Many Ukrainian Jews left in the wake of the collapse of the USSR.
Angelenos of Ukrainian Jewish ancestry are many and include among them widely recognized figures like Armand Hammer, Bob Dylan (né Robert Allen Zimmerman), Calvin Klein, Danny Kaye (né David Daniel Kaminsky), Dustin Hoffman, Ed Ames, Elmer Bernstein, Herb Alpert, Katey Sagal, Lenny Kravitz, Leonard Bernstein, Leonard Nimoy, Maya Deren (née Eleonora Derenkowska), Mel Brooks, Mickey Cohen, Mila Kunis, Otto Preminger, Richard Serra, Roseanne Barr, Sid Caesar, Stan Getz, Steven Spielberg, Sydney Pollack, Walter Matthau, William Friedkin, and Zev Yaroslavsky.
UKRAINIANS IN HOLLYWOOD
The most prominent Ukranian Angelenos are those who’ve worked in Hollywood, appearing in front of the camera on films and television. They include (in addition to the aforementioned Angelenos of Ukrainian Jewish ancestry) Alex Meneses, Alla Korot, Amy Seimetz, Anastasiia Catz, Anna Sten (née Anna Petrovna Fesak), Anthony Atamanuik, Chris Zylka, Danika Yarosh, Erika Eleniak, George Dzundza, George Montgomery (né George Montgomery Letz), Holly Palance, Jack Palance (né Volodymyr Palahniuk), John Hodiak, John Spencer (né John Speshock Jr) Kiril Kulish, Larisa Oleynik, Lizabeth Scott (née Emma Matzo), Matthew Montgomery, Mike Mazurki, Natalie Wood (née Natalie Zacharenko), Nick Adams (né Nicholas Aloysius Adamshock), Taissa Farmiga, Traci Lords (née Nora Louise Kuzma), and Vera Farmiga.
OTHER UKRAINIAN AMERICANS
Other Angelenos of Ukrainian ancestry include filmmaker Andrii Korotun, artist Anya Dikareva, animator Diana Anpilohova, musician Dorian Rudnytsky, model Eugeniia Gul, hairstylist Evgenii Masko, political activist Harold Willens, model/singer Kristina Mezhynskaya, photographer Larysa, dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy, travel photographer Maria Tkachenko, artist Margo Tumashyk, artist Marko Kharmyshev, musician Misha Molove, photographer Olya Helga, television writer/activist Olga Lexell, designer Roman Protoliuk, professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, make-up artist Tetiana Kazak, animator Volodymyr Peter “Bill” Tytla, and artist Yulia Gasio.
One of my favorite Ukrainian Angelenos was Nudie Cohn. Nudie Cohn was born Nuta Kotlyarenko (Нута Котляренко) in Kyiv on 15 December 1902 when Ukraine was still part of the Russian Empire. He was sent to the US to escape the pogroms when he was eleven years old. After marrying Helen “Bobbie” Kruger, the couple moved to Southern California in the 1940s. As the head of Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors, Nudie created so-called “Nudie suits,” which sort of looked like imaginatively cartoonified and rhinestone-bedazzled traje de charros. They were popular with Western, Country, and Country Rock musicians and worn by the likes of Dale Evans, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Gene Autry, George Jones, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, Michael Nesmith, Porter Wagoner, Roy Rogers, Tex Williams, and many others. His shop, Nudie’s of Hollywood, was located in North Hollywood. Nudie died on 9 May 1984, in Burbank.
UKRAINIAN CUISINE AND RESTAURANTS
The tastiest cultural offering of Ukraine is, of course, its cuisine. There are not a whole lot of Ukrainian restaurants in Metro Los Angeles but there are a few that serve Ukrainian dishes, usually alongside others from Armenia, Russia, and other former Soviet Republics. They include EuroAsia, Grandma’s Deli Babushka, Kashtan, Robert’s Russian Cuisine, Traktir has some Ukrainian dishes and Odessa Grocery has some Ukrainian items. There is also Ukraina Delicatessen, which is straight-up Ukrainian.
There are several local Ukrainian organizations.
The Ukrainian Culture Center (UCC) is home to the Chervona Kalyna Ukrainian Folk Dance Troupe, the choir, Kobzar, and the language school, Ridna Shkola of Los Angeles. UCC also hosts several annual events, including the Annual Pysanka Festival, Holodomor remembrance events, the Taras Shevchenko Annual Commemoration, Ukrainian Independence celebrations. The organization formed in 1940. In 1961, it moved into Jensen’s Melrose Theatre, where it’s been ever since. The UCC also publishes a magazine, Visti,
The California Association to Aid Ukraine (CAAU) brings Ukrainian doctors to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and sends medical equipment to Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA), a national organization, has a branch in Los Angeles. Branches of UCCA provide support for Ukrainian democracy and supports cultural, educational, and humanitarian programs that emphasize Ukrainian American heritage.