Image - Uruguay: Prosvita members in Montevideo (1941).

Uruguay [Уруґвай]. A country in southeastern region of South America (2018 pop 3,449,285), with an area of 176,215 sq km. Montevideo is its capital.

The Protestant New Israel sect (Novaia Izraelskaia Obshchina) that originated in Russia and fled religious persecution at home and came to Uruguay in 1913, founding the settlement of San Javier (department of Río Negro), very likely included a number of ethnic Ukrainians. Mass Ukrainian immigration to Uruguay did not commence until 1924–31, when several thousand migrants, almost exclusively from the Western Ukrainian regions of Volhynia, Polisia, Galicia, Transcarpathia, and Bukovyna, arrived. In addition a small number (approximately 50) of immigrants came from displaced persons camps after the Second World War. From the 1950s to the 1970s the community declined as a result of emigration, including to the Soviet Union (in response to the so-called ‘Return to the Homeland’ campaign that had come into effect in 1955). Estimates of the number of Ukrainians in Uruguay in 1938–40 have ranged from five thousand to ten thousand.

Approximately half the country’s Ukrainians settled in Montevideo, and most of the others in such departments as Río Negro, Salto, San José, and Paysandú. In Montevideo, a significant number of Ukrainians settled in the suburb of Villa del Cerro. Many of the Ukrainian immigrants were employed as laborers; a number were tenant farmers on the estates of wealthy landowners. Not many Ukrainians were able to establish themselves on the land owing to difficulties in gaining access to vacant tracts, but one group, largely from Volhynia, was able to found a colony in the department of Salto (Colonia Flores). Sometime after their settlement in Uruguay, a small number of Ukrainians became self-employed, establishing their own businesses and artisan workshops. By the turn of the 1950s students of Ukrainian origin were studying such subjects as agronomy and chemistry at university in Montevideo. At that time, a Ukrainian artist (landscape painter), Vasyl Rudyk, lived in Montevideo.

The first known Ukrainian organization was the Taras Shevchenko Workers’ Society (Ukrainske Robitnyche Tovarystvo im. Tarasa Shevchenka), which was founded in 1928. Others that followed included the Ivan Franko Ukrainian Cultural-Educational Society (Ukrainske Kulturno-Osvitne Tovarystva im. Ivana Franka), the Volia (Freedom) Workers’ Society (Robitnyche Tovarystvo Volia), the Lemko Society (Tovarystvo Lemko), and the Zaporizhia Society (Tovarystvo Zaporizhia). Three of the organizations (the Taras Shevchenko Ukrainian Workers’ Society, the Ivan Franko Ukrainian Cultural-Educational Society, and the Volia Workers’ Society) merged to found the pro-Soviet Ukrainian Cultural Centre (Ukrainskyi Kulturnyi Tsentr) in 1938. Members of the latter group participated in events organized by the Association of Aid to the Liberation Movement in Western Ukraine and Western Belarus.

In mid-1942 the All-Slavic Committee (ASC) was created in Moscow, and published a periodical (in Russian) called Slaviane, which was disseminated throughout the Americas. The ASC established its co-ordinating committee in Montevideo and in 1943 founded the Unión Eslava. This pan-Slavic movement affected a considerable segment of the Ukrainian immigration in Uruguay. During the 1940s, pro-Soviet Ukrainian organizations merged with like-minded Belarusian and Russian groups to found the Maxim Gorky Cultural Centre (Centro Cultural Máximo Gorki), which had branches outside Montevideo and maintained links with the USSR. In the late 1940s the Maxim Gorky Cultural Centre in Montevideo maintained a choir, a string orchestra, a youth wing, a ‘Russian-Ukrainian school,’ a medical care section, and a committee to aid orphans in the Soviet Union. That committee raised four thousand Uruguayan pesos that in 1948 were sent to the Soviet Union. The Maxim Gorky Cultural Centre branch in Villa del Cerro maintained an amateur theatrical troupe, a choir, and a charitable section to aid orphans. In Paysandú, a Slavic Union (Unión Eslava de Paysandú) existed, which offered music classes to its members and once or twice a month screened Soviet films. The Maxim Gorky Cultural Centre in Montevideo had its own building and its address today is listed (as the Centro Cultural Máximo Gorkiy) in the homepage of the embassy of the Russian Federation in Uruguay. A Maxim Gorky Cultural Centre also has existed in San Javier since the Second World War.

In December 1934 the Prosvita society was founded, and maintained strong ties with the Prosvita society of Buenos Aires, Argentina. One of its founders and most active members was Teofil Litoshenko (23 July 1903–25 December 1967), who hailed from the village of Nezhyn in the Chernihiv region. In 1939 Prosvita bought a lot for the purpose of constructing a community hall. The building was completed in 1946. Prosvita maintained a part-time school (ridna shkola). Among its achievements is the naming of one of the capital city’s streets for Ukraine. A Prosvita branch headed by Mykyta Okhrymiv, from Pidhaitsi in the Dubno area in Volhynia, is said to have operated for a while in Villa del Cerro. Prosvita’s last president is said to have been Pedro Seneshen.

In 1936 a group sympathetic to the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen’s Community (Ukrainska striletska hromada) in Buenos Aires, the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen’s Group (Hurtok U. S. Hromady v Montevideo), operated in Montevideo. Supporters of this group may have initiated the Vidrodzhennia society in Montevideo at the start of the 1950s, which modelled itself on the organization of the same name in Buenos Aires. Neither Prosvita nor Vidrodzhennia exist in Uruguay today.

For a long time Ukrainians in Uruguay were without religious institutions of their own. In 1948 the Prosvita society contacted the Basilian Fathers in Argentina, and the result was the establishment of a Ukrainian Catholic parish in 1952. The parish ceased to exist in 1967, when its priest, Fr. Ipatii Maika, died. Fr. Maika also conducted Catholic services for non-Ukrainians in Spanish, but according to the Byzantine rite.

The Ukrainian Orthodox community was organized around a church brotherhood in Montevideo, and visits were conducted by Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church priests from Argentina to Uruguay. Plans at the start of the 1950s to buy a plot on which to build a church do not appear to have materialized. Ukrainians also attended services of the Russian Orthodox Church

Ukrainians also were members of Protestant denominations. The only one known to have had a Ukrainian character is the so-called Ukrainska Presviterska Tserkva that was founded in August 1951 with the assistance of Pastor L. Buchak of Hamilton, Canada, and had the support of the American Methodist Church in Montevideo. This Evangelical-Baptist community was headed by Bohdan Povrutko.

Other Ukrainian organizations that were briefly active in Uruguay are the Committee to Assist the Ukrainian National Council and the Committee for the Struggle against Communism.

Since 1991 the government of Ukraine has maintained ties with Uruguay through its embassy in Buenos Aires. In 1990 Ukrainians formerly from Uruguay and other Latin American countries, who resettled in the Soviet Union in the latter part of the 1950s, founded a Hispanic Club in the city of Lutsk, Ukraine.

Serge Cipko

[This article was updated in 2019.]

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