Cuba. An island country in the northern Caribbean with an area of 109,884 sq km (on the island of Cuba, Isla de la Juventud, and several minor archipelagos) and the population of 11,193,470 (2019). Havana is its capital city. In the period between the two world wars, there was significant Ukrainian immigration to Cuba. Ukrainians formed a minority of the nearly 9,000 immigrants from Poland, most of whom were Jews, who had settled in Cuba prior to 1931. A few Ukrainian immigrants also came from Bukovyna controlled at the time by Romania. Although a 1925 estimate claimed that there were 6,000 Ukrainians in Cuba, it is more likely that the true number was closer to and perhaps under 2,000 individuals. This immigration had a strong transient character, for many of the immigrants had hoped to reach North America, where some had relatives, by way of the island. A number of letters by Ukrainian immigrants in Cuba published in the Ukrainian press in Canada and the United States painted a picture of intolerable conditions and desperate situations, even death, as part of the experience on (and off) the island. There are few concrete details on Ukrainian life in Cuba, but on the basis of the available information it is clear that Ukrainians were employed as labourers in such sectors as mining, public works, and agriculture (e.g., the sugar plantations). They were scattered across the island with groups in the copper mines of Matahambre in the province of Pinar del Río, the province of Camagüey (e..g., Central Vertientes and Francisco), and Havana. In addition, a group established itself in the district of Nueva Gerona in the Isla de Pinos, where they cultivated fruits and vegetables. Many of the Ukrainians resettled in Canada and the United States. After departures in 1923–27, the number of Ukrainians on the island, according to a report in the Lviv newspaper Ukraïns’kyi emigrant in November 1927, had dwindled to an estimated 800 individuals. The largest single group among the Ukrainians who remained dwelled in Havana, and it was in the Cuban capital that Ukrainian organizations were centred.

Sometime in the 1920s the Ukrainian Committee was formed, which in 1928 is said to have had over a hundred members. It had its own building with portraits of Ukrainian national figures and emblems (lion and trident) gracing the walls of the interior. The organization also maintained a library. There are no details concerning its leaders except about a certain Petrushak. A Ukrainian National Union of Cuba reportedly was organized in Havana on 5 March 1935, but was disbanded sometime during the years of the Second World War.

In 1927 an organization in Havana that was sympathetic to the Soviet Union called Zluka (Union) was formed. Embracing 118 people, it had a women’s branch, an active member of which was Maria Pater, who noted that the periodical Robitnytsia from Canada was received. After the overthrow of President Antonio Machado in 1933, Zluka was suppressed. On 1 November 1939 the Sovietophile Ukrainian-Belarusian Cultural Committee of Havana was formed. After the 22 June 1941 Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, the organization, which is said to have had up to 120 members, mobilized support for the Soviet war effort.

In 1938 the Polish ambassador in Washington, DC, Count Jerzy Potocki, estimated that 60 percent of the Ukrainians remaining in Cuba had obtained Cuban citizenship. Although there are reports of Ukrainians in Cuba in decades subsequent to the 1940s, the community appears to have declined, both in number and activity.

Between 1959 and 1991, Ukrainians participated in the range of exchanges between the Soviet Union and Cuba. After coming to power in 1959, Cuban leader Fidel Castro visited the Ukrainian SSR during trips to the Soviet Union.

Following the 1991 Ukraine’s Declaration of Independence, Cuban Foreign Trade Minister Ricardo Cabrisas and newly independent Ukraine’s Minister of State Anatolii Minchenko signed a trade pact on 22 December 1991 that called for economic cooperation and trade for the next three years. According to a Reuters News report of 23 August 2000, Ukraine has imported sugar, medical products, nickel, and tobacco from Cuba, and exported to that country laminated steel, machinery, tires, fertilizers, and grain. Among the most important aspects of the bilateral ties has been the treatment of Ukrainian children affected by radiation fallout after the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster. In March 2005 Ukraine’s Minister of Health Mykola Polischuk noted that 18,153 children have by that time been treated in Cuba. This assistance was recognized by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma during his visit to Cuba in June 2000 when he Fidel Castro with the Order of Yaroslav the Wise. The children receive treatment at the large sanitorium at José Martí Camp on Tarará beach, east of Havana. Ukraine has an embassy in Havana and Cuba one in Kyiv.

The homepage of the Hispanic Orthodox Diocese, which was incorporated with the Diocese of Donetsk and Mariupol (under Bishop Yurii Yurchyk) of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate (Western Rite), lists a parish and two missions in Cuba.

Koval, M. ‘Ukraintsi na Kubi,’ Vsesvit 6, no. 5 (May 1963)
Strelko, A. Slavianskoe naselenie v stranakh Latinskoi Ameriki (Kyiv 1980)
Kula, M. ‘Those Who Failed to Reach the United States: Polish Proletarians in Cuba during the Interwar Period,’ Polish American Studies 46, no. 1 (1989)
Lencyk Pawliczko, A. ‘Ukrainians in Cuba and Mexico’ in Lencyk Pawliczko, A. (ed.) Ukraine and Ukrainians throughout the World: A Demographic and Sociological Guide to the Homeland and its Diaspora (Toronto, Buffalo, and London 1994)

Serge Cipko

[This article was written in 2018.]

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