Ukrainian National Association

Ukrainian National Association (Український народний союз; Ukrainskyi narodnyi soiuz, or УНС; UNA). The oldest and largest Ukrainian fraternal benefit association in North America, known until 1914 as the Ruthenian National Association (Ruskyi narodnyi soiuz). It was founded in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, on 22 February 1894 by several local brotherhoods, which had seceded from the Union of Greek Catholic Ruthenian Brotherhoods because of its conservative, pro-Hungarian and pro-Russian policies. The purpose of the UNA was to promote unity and education and to improve the material security of Ukrainian families in the United States of America through life and health insurance. The initiative for an organization of this type came from Rev Hryhorii Hrushka and a group of Ukrainian Catholic clergy. Appeals first appeared in Svoboda (1893), which later became the paper of the UNA. The Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Shamokin constituted the original nucleus of the association. It was joined by Saint Michael’s Brotherhood (est 1885) in Shenandoah—the first Ukrainian organization in the United States—and by 11 other brotherhoods in the region. Later, brotherhoods in other states became branches of the association, and in 1906 its first Canadian branch was set up in Toronto. In 1990 there were 399 branches in North America.

Until 1910 the UNA was the only Ukrainian-American community fraternal association. That year an effort was made by Bishop Soter Ortynsky to give the association a confessional character. He spearheaded a resolution at the UNA’s national convention to change its name to the Greek Catholic Ruthenian Association (Hreko-Katolytskyi ruskyi soiuz) and to limit its membership to Catholics. The legality of the resolution’s adoption was successfully challenged by the UNA executive, and the group reverted to its former character. Before it had done so, however, a section of the UNA membership established a second fraternal association, the Ruthenian National Union (with the same Ukrainian title, Ruskyi narodnyi soiuz). It changed its name to the Ukrainian Workingmen’s Association in 1918 and then to the Ukrainian Fraternal Association in 1978. Ortynsky dropped his aspirations for control of the UNA and established a separate Providence Association of Ukrainian Catholics in America in 1912. Another rival fraternal association was established in 1914 as the Ukrainian National Aid Association of America.

Membership in the UNA has varied with the number of immigrants, the internal state of the Ukrainian community, and the insurance system. In 1894 the association had 439 members and assets of 220 dollars; in 1904 it had 9,000 members and assets of 46,000 dollars. Competition and changes in the fee schedule based on a theoretical mortality table adopted by the other fraternal associations led to a crisis in the UNA and a drop in membership in 1914–17 from 25,300 to 11,900. In the interwar period membership rose again: by 1946 UNA had 46,000 members and assets of 8.5 million dollars. With the influx of new immigrants after the Second World War membership almost doubled: by 1971 it had reached over 88,000. In 1988 there were 74,000 members and total assets of approx 60 million dollars.

As a nonpartisan organization the UNA reflects the general sociopolitical opinion of the Ukrainian community: it stands for democracy, Ukrainian independence, and allegiance to the United States of America. It has initiated some of the main projects undertaken by the Ukrainian community. It played a leading role in founding Ukrainian umbrella organizations, such as the American Ruthenian National Council (1914), the Federation of Ukrainians in the United States (1915), the Ukrainian National Council (1916), the Ukrainian National Committee (United States) (1918), the United Ukrainian Organizations in America (1922), and the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UKKA, 1940). It was instrumental in getting President Thomas Woodrow Wilson to proclaim 21 April 1917 ‘Ukrainian Day’ and permit a public collection in aid of the Ukrainian people. During the Ukrainian struggle for independence (1917–20) the UNA organized financial support for the Central Rada and the government of the Western Ukrainian National Republic, and in the interwar period it provided assistance for political and educational organizations in Polish-ruled Ukraine. After the Second World War it helped the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee (est 1944) resettle Ukrainian displaced persons in the United States. It supported the building of the Taras Shevchenko monument in Washington, DC (1964), and the establishment of the Ukrainian studies program at Harvard University (1968–73) (see Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute). As the largest Ukrainian organization in the United States, the UNA played a leading role in the UKKA: its president traditionally held the post of executive vice-president and from 1976 shared it on a rotational basis with the presidents of the other three fraternal associations. When the social consensus that had held the UKKA together fell apart at the 13th Congress of Ukrainian Americans (1980), the UNA and many other organizations seceded from the UKKA and established the Ukrainian American Coordinating Council (1983) as a new representative umbrella group.

The association’s paper Svoboda played an important role in the development of the UNA and of the Ukrainian community as a whole. Some of its editors, such as Rev Hryhorii Hrushka, Rev Nestor Dmytriv, and Luka Myshuha, had a strong impact on the shaping of Ukrainian-American attitudes. In 1933 the UNA began to publish The Ukrainian Weekly, and in 1954 the children’s magazine Veselka. It has also published 80 almanacs (by 1990), over 20 English books about Ukraine, and the two-volume Ukraine: A Concise Encyclopaedia (1963, 1971). The UNA has also funded the publication of a multivolume index of selected articles from Svoboda. The index is being published by the Immigration History Research Center of the University of Minnesota.

Soiuzivka, the association’s resort in Kerhonkson, New York State, is used not only for sports and recreation but also for educational activities. The cultural commission of the UNA, set up in 1956, plans its cultural and educational program. Each year the association distributes scholarships to Ukrainian students: in 1992 it granted 229 scholarships worth 124,000 dollars.

Since the earliest days of the UNA, its head office has been located in Jersey City, New Jersey. The supreme ruling body of the association is its convention, which meets every four years (32 by 1990). It elects an executive committee, an auditing commission, and a board of directors to run the association. The presidents of the UNA have been T. Talpash (1894–5), I. Glova (1895–8), Yu. Khyliak (1898–1900), Rev Antin Bonchevsky (1900–2), Rev M. Stefanovych (1902–4), K. Kyrchiv (1904–8, 1917–20), Dmytro Kapitula (1908–17), Semen Yadlovsky (1920–5), T. Hrytsei (1925–9), Mykola Murashko (1929–49), Dmytro Halychyn (1950–61), Joseph Lesawyer (1961–78), John Flis (1978–90), and Ulana Diachuk (1990–; the first woman president). Roman Slobodian served for over 50 years in various positions, including that of treasurer (1933–66).

Myshuha, Luka. (ed). Propam’iatna knyha vydana z nahody soroklitn'oho iuvileiu Ukraïns'koho narodnoho soiuzu (Jersey City 1936)
Myshuha, L; Drahan, A. (eds). Ukraïntsi u vil'nomu sviti: Iuvileina knyha Ukraïns'koho narodnoho soiuzu (Jersey City 1954)

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]

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