Bulgarians in Ukraine

Image - A Bulgarian folk festival in Odesa oblast.

Bulgarians in Ukraine [болгари; bolhary]. The borderlands separating the Ukrainians and the Bulgarians in the prehistoric period, the Princely era, and then during the period of Moldavian principality have not yet been adequately investigated, particularly because segments of the Ukrainian and Bulgarian nations have been Romanianized, and the territories of both groups have undergone profound changes owing to colonization.

The present Bulgarian communities in southern Ukraine were established by people fleeing religious, national, and social oppression south of the Danube River by the Ottoman Turks. Bulgarian migrations were connected with the Russo-Turkish wars, in which the Bulgarians helped the Russian army, and with Russia’s desire to settle the southern steppes of the so-called New Russia as quickly as possible. The first colonies of Bulgarian immigrants appeared in Ukraine in the second half of the 18th century. In 1752 the Russian government recognized the Bulgarian settlements in Novomyrhorod and Vilshanka on the Syniukha River (on the territories of the Serbian Hussar Regiment of the New Serbia). In 1764–9, in response to an appeal by the Russian government encouraging foreigners to settle in Russia, a small group of Bulgarians settled near Kyiv on lands of the Kyiv Epiphany Brotherhood Monastery, and other groups settled in the Chernihiv region. In 1769–91 there was an increasingly large influx of Bulgarians into Bessarabia (Izmail, Kiliia, Bendery, Akkerman, Reni, Chişinău). Russian landowners brought in Bulgarians to cultivate their steppe estates. In 1790 a sizable Bulgarian contingent joined the Boh Cossack Army (abolished in 1817), and its members were later settled in Kherson gubernia near Bobrynets and Voznesensk.

After the Treaty of Iaşi (1791) some of the Bessarabian Bulgarians moved to Tyraspil, Nyzhni Dubosari, Hryhoriopil, and Odesa. The period of most vigorous colonization was 1801–12, when the Russian government took a particular interest in the fate of the Balkan nations. Bulgarian refugees in this period settled south of Odesa, near Mykolaiv, and near Teodosiia in the Crimea. Others settled in southern Bessarabia and came under the protectorate of the hospodars of Moldavia. The total number of Bulgarian settlers was about 24,000 in 1819. The Bulgarians’ desire to organize a separate Bulgarian Cossack host in southern Bessarabia was left unrealized by the Russian authorities. The last mass migration of Bulgarians into southern Ukraine occurred in 1830–4. By the mid-19th century there were 92 Bulgarian settlements in Ukraine, with a total population of 75,000 in 1844 (constituting 3.3 percent of the population of Bessarabia gubernia, Kherson gubernia, and Tavriia gubernia).

When, according to the Paris Peace Treaty of 1856, almost half of the territory of Bessarabia, which was settled by Bulgarians, was ceded to Moldavia, the Russian government resettled about 30,000 Bulgarians in 1861–2 along the Sea of Azov coast in the Berdiansk and Melitopol regions. These settlers were joined by Bulgarians from beyond the Danube River. Part of the Bulgarian population of the Melitopol region moved to the Kuban and Transcaucasia in the 1860s. The Russian government gave the Bulgarians various concessions and aid, and they proved to be good farmers, gardeners, and vintagers.

According to the 1897 census, there were 63,000 Bulgarians in the territories constituting the Ukrainian SSR in 1938. According to the 1926 census, there were 92,000, and 111,000 in all of the USSR. Ninety-six percent lived in the countryside. Most of them (50,000) were concentrated in the Melitopol region, where in the 1920s there were two Bulgarian national raions—Kolarov and Tsaredariv. The main center was the village of Preslav, where a Bulgarian teachers' seminary had been in operation since 1875. Smaller Bulgarian concentrations were found in southwestern Ukraine: in the okruhas of Odesa (19,000) and Pervomaisk (7,000), in the Crimea (11,000), and in the Kuban (1,000). The Bulgarians lived in more or less compact colonies: 76 percent lived in 40 exclusively or almost exclusively Bulgarian rural soviets. In the 1920s the language of instruction in elementary schools was Bulgarian. According to the 1927 census, 72.5 percent of Bulgarian children in Ukraine studied at Bulgarian seven-year schools, and 12.4 percent studied in Bulgarian and in another language. The Ukrainian branch of the Tsentrizdat publishing house published textbooks and popular literature in Bulgarian. An official newspaper, S’vetsko selo, was published in Bulgarian. After 1933 the nationality policy changed, and the Bulgarian raions and schools were abolished.

There is a large Bulgarian colony centered in Bolhrad in southern Bessarabia, on the border dividing the Ukrainian and Romanian (Moldavian) ethnic territories. According to the 1897 census, 102,000 Bulgarians lived there; according to the 1941 census, there were 179,000; and in 1970 there were an estimated 200,000. This area now belongs to Odesa oblast, except for the northern part, which belongs to Moldova.

The number of Bulgarians in the Ukrainian SSR according to the 1959 and 1970 censuses is shown in the table. According to the 2001 census there were 204,574 Bulgarians living in Ukraine. The Bulgarian population continues to be predominantly rural. In 1970, 67 percent of Bulgarians lived in the countryside (73 percent in 1959 and 94 percent in 1928). In 2001 58.7 percent of Bulgarians in Ukraine lived in the countryside.

Today most of the Bulgarians in Ukraine live in Odesa oblast. In 2002, 150,683 or 73.7 percent of the Bulgarians lived there, constituting 6.1 percent of the oblast’s population. 27,764 Bulgarians lived in Zaporizhia oblast, 5,614 in Mykolaiv oblast, and 20,513 in all the other oblasts.

Of the 238,217 Bulgarians in the Ukrainian SSR in 1980, only 162,693 (68.3 percent) indicated Bulgarian as their mother tongue, 67,980 (28.5 percent) indicated Russian, and only 6,787 (2.9 percent) indicated Ukrainian. Fifty-nine percent indicated that Russian was their second language, while only 7.3 percent indicated the same for Ukrainian. The Russification of Bulgarians was being hastened by the lack of Bulgarian schools, publications, cultural-educational institutions, and so on, in the Ukrainian SSR. Bulgarian schools, community organizations, and publications were introduced in independent Ukraine, but the effects of the earlier Russification processes remained visible. In 2001 only 64.2 percent of Bulgarians in Ukraine indicated Bulgarian as their mother tongue, 30.3 percent indicated Russian, and only 5 percent indicated Ukrainian.

Skal'kovskii, A. Bolgarskie kolonii v Bessarabii i Novorossiiskom krae: Statisticheskii ocherk (Odesa 1848)
Muzychenko, A. ‘Byt bolgar-poselentsev Feodosiiskogo uezda,’ Etnograficheskoe obozrenie, 43 (Moscow 1895)
Titorov, I. B"lgarite v Bessarabii (Sofia 1905)
Derzhavin, N. ‘Bolgarskie kolonii v Rossii (Tavricheskaia, Khersonskaia i Bessarabskaia gubernii),’ Sbornik za narodni umotvoreniia i narodopis, 29 (Sofia 1914), 2 (Petrograd 1915)
Bernshtein, S. ‘Bolgarskie govory Ukrainy,’ Naukovi zapysky Odes'koho derzhavnoho pedahohichnoho instytutu, 1 (Odesa 1930)
Naulko, V. Heohrafichne rozmishchennia narodiv v URSR (Kyiv 1966)
Demidenko, L. Kul'tura i byt bolgarskogo naseleniia v USSR (Na materialakh kolkhozov Bolgradskogo raiona Odesskoi oblasti) (Kyiv 1970)
Dykhan, M. Bolhary-politemihranty u sotsialistychnomu budivnytstvi na Ukraïni v 1924–1929 rr. (Kyiv 1973)

Oleksa Horbach

[This article was updated in 2020.]

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