Ukrainian immigrants began coming to Cleveland in the 1870s to take jobs in the growing chemical and manufacturing sector. Many expected to work for a few years, save money and then go home to buy land. Inevitably, many more put down roots and instead America became their home. Over the ensuing decades, the immigrant community established small businesses—bakeries, meat stands, dairies, saloons, restaurants. They built churches and cultural centers. Subsequent waves of immigrants after World War I and then after World War II fled tyranny in the Old Country and came to America and to Cleveland seeking freedom. The “old immigrants” who had come for employment, welcomed the “new” political immigrants, opening the doors to their homes, businesses and cultural institutions. The course Ukrainian immigration took was similar, indeed the same, as that of other nationalities who together created our community’s magnificent social mosaic, best reflected in the West Side Market.


One of the post-World War II immigrants who came to Cleveland was Leonid Bachynsky. In 1952, he founded the Ukrainian Museum-Archives (UMA) in the Tremont neighborhood. The UMA is still here fulfilling its mission to preserve and share Ukrainian culture and the immigrant experience. Since its humble founding 64 years ago, the UMA has grown to encompass a campus with three buildings and a parking lot; and a world class collection of Ukrainian historical and cultural materials. In the past several years, officials from Ukrainian academic and government entities have been visiting the UMA to propose cooperation. In May, four officials from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum visited the UMA to view the collection and discuss a potential digitization project.

In the meantime, the UMA for years has been working with local schools to teach students about the immigrant experience. We’ve also worked with scores of scholars, researchers, novelists and other interested in Ukrainian Culture and immigration. They’ve come from as near as Cleveland State University and as far away as Kyiv, Vladivostok, Lyubliana and Krakow.

The UMA also hosts 4-6 exhibits annually. The current exhibit is “Politics and Ukrainian-Americans,” highlighting immigrant participation in the U.S. political process, starting with the path to citizenship. The exhibit, of course, is timed to welcome the Republican National Convention Cleveland in mid-July. It shows how Ukrainian immigrants became citizens more than a century ago and then participated in our electoral system by supporting individual candidates and either of the two major political parties.

Those who visit the UMA quickly realize that ours is not just a Ukrainian Museum, it’s an American Museum. Lost in the poisonous rhetoric of some in the 2016 presidential campaign condemning immigration is the historical reality that the United States is a nation of immigrants. America is the world’s oldest existing democracy, having held presidential elections every four years without interruption for the past 224 years. The exhibit at the UMA is designed to remind delegates and visitors to Cleveland that our city was built by immigrants and that we’re proud of that.

The Ukrainian Museum-Archives is located at 1202 Kenilworth Avenue, across the street from Lincoln Park. Hours are 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.