Geographic Origins

Ukraine is in south-eastern Europe. It is bordered by Belarus, Russia, the Black Sea, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, the Slovak Republic and Poland.

History of Immigration and Settlement

The first significant wave of Ukrainians arrived in Australia during the years 1911 - 1915. These people were part of around 6,000 immigrants who came to Australia from the former Russian Tsarist Empire. Most settled in Queensland and New South Wales. During the First World War many served in the Australian Army.

In the years after the Second World War a large influx of Ukrainians came to South Australia.

Ukraine became the main area of conflict between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany after the latter broke the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression treaty, on 21 June, 1941. It has been estimated that nearly 6 million Ukrainians died as a result of the Nazi invasion. To break the flourishing Ukrainian independence movement the Nazis arrested and executed Ukrainian patriots or sent them to forced labour camps in Germany. At the end of the war many Ukrainians left their homeland to escape the re-introduction of Soviet control.

By the end of the Second World War there were around one million Ukrainian Displaced Persons in West Germany, Austria, France and Italy. Initially they were repatriated to the Soviet Union. In late 1945 over 200,000 Ukrainians were allowed to resettle elsewhere. More than 20,000 Ukrainians came to Australia as Displaced Persons under an agreement between the International Refugee Organisation and the Australian government. Approximately 2,000 settled in South Australia.

Like other Displaced Persons (DPs), Ukrainians were initially employed on two-year contracts with the Australian government in unskilled occupations. Ukrainian men were employed by the South Australian Railways, Engineering and Water Supply Department, and in various factories. Women were generally employed as domestics in hospitals. The majority of Ukrainians who came to Australia as DPs had formerly been farmers.

Today Ukrainian South Australians are employed in a range of occupations. Most of them live in the metropolitan area.

Community Activities

Initially Ukrainians who came to South Australia after the Second World War met informally in their leisure time. In May 1949 a group of Ukrainians formed the Ukrainian Association of South Australia to assist fellow Ukrainians who arrived at Woodside Migrant Hostel. This was the first Ukrainian organisation to be established in Australia.  Soon after it was founded Yednist, Unity, a Ukrainian language newspaper, commenced publication in Adelaide.

On June 8, 1949, a number of Ukrainian South Australians met at a railway builders’ camp near the West End Hotel to establish Homin, a male choir. Most of the men had sung in choirs in migrant camps in Germany or Austria. Everybody present knew the musical range of their voice and the section of the choir in which they should sing. Mr I. Polatajko had some sheet music. It was decided that Mr  J. Klish should be the choir’s director, since he had conservatory qualifications. Shortly after this Kolomyjka, a Ukrainian national dance ensemble was established under the direction of Mr A. Kravetskyj. Homin and Kolomyjka performed for the first time at the Adelaide Town Hall from 20 to 22 October, 1949, at a United Nations Festival. In 1956 Homin established a mixed voices choir.  

The Ukrainian Association became known as the Association of Ukrainians (AUSU) in South Australia. It purchased a block of land in Orsmond Street, Hindmarsh, in the early 1950s, and built a hall in 1955 named after Taras Shevchenko, the great Ukrainian poet. In 2018 AUSA celebrated 70 years and continues to follow the principles and traditions set by previous generations.

AUSA is governed by a management committee consisting of 13 members and overseen by an internal audit committee consisting of 3 members. It has six subcommittees and there are seven groups that operate directly under its auspices, ten incorporated associations and four church parishes.

In 1951 the South Australian Association established a Ukrainian school. At its peak in 1963 the Ukrainian Community School had 403 students and was the largest ethnic community school in Australia. In 1972 the Ukrainian school formed Hopak, a dance group. The Hopak is probably the best-known Ukrainian folk dance. It originated in central Ukraine. It has been described as ‘blending male vigour and agility with feminine grace and charm’.

Groups affiliated with the Association of Ukrainians in South Australia included the Ukrainian Youth Choir, Voloshky, which was founded in February 1988 under the direction of Mrs Iryna Halyk; the Kalyna, a senior citizens choir directed by Mrs Maria Chepak; and the Kashtan Ukrainian Song and Dance ensemble, which was established as a folk choir in February 1989 by Stefan Misiajlo. There was also an affiliated dance group of the same name under the choreography of Ms. Andrea Horkavson. The above groups no longer exist or have been renamed.

The Bandura Ensemble of the Association of Ukrainians in South Australia was established by Bohdan Sholkewych in 1973. The bandura has been described as a cross between a harp and a lute. It is an open-stringed instrument with 30 to 60 strings. The bandura originated in the fourteenth century. Originally there were six bandurists in the ensemble under the leadership of Ihor Kushnir, who also taught the instrument to students of the Ukrainian school.

Today Vodohray Bandura School Contact is a group of young musicians (aged 7 to 13) who continue the Ukrainian tradition of bandura playing by giving performances at local concerts and at external charity concerts.

Yellow Blue Bu (YBB) is a 6-piece global-fusion ensemble incorporating banduras, violin, guitar, mandolin, percussion and drums. YBB performs regularly at live music venues (eg The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Wheatsheaf Hotel, Gas Light Tavern, X Space Theatre etc). They have performed by invitation at WOMAdelaide and most major music festivals in Australia.

As of 2018, AUSA has its own dance school again. The Ukrainian Dance School Adelaide has several younger dance ensembles (aged 4 - 15). The older ensemble consisting of dancers aged 12 - 14 perform at major concerts and festivals. All revenue generated by the school (mainly through fees paid by parents) is reinvested back into the community and all assets (including costumes) belong to the community rather than to a separate legal entity controlled by a small group of individuals.

Volya Ukrainian Dancers is the main performing Ukrainian performing group. Consisting of 12 - 15 dancers, it is an adult dance ensemble that performs at a semi-professional level and is regarded as the best Ukrainian dance ensemble in Australia. Volya has performed by invitation at many ethnic community festivals and concerns. They have also performed in combination with Estudio Flamenco Dance Ensemble.

Since November 2017 Volya has held a weekly general dance fitness class for community members. These classes are designed for dancers of all levels (15 years and older), teaching the fundamentals of Ukrainian folk dancing within a fitness class.

Although the Ukrainian choir Homin no longer exists, the Berehenya Ukrainian Ladies Choir continues to promote Ukrainian culture and heritage through music, performing at various concerts and events.

AUSA houses and operates the Ukrainian Social Services Unit that cares for their senior citizens and contributes in many ways to community life. A grant from the Australian Government Department of Health under the Commonwealth Home Support Program allows Ukrainian Social Services to provide services to frail elderly clients living in their homes. Two part-time Community Care Workers are employed with a team of experienced long-standing volunteers.

AUSA operates the weekly ‘Friday Nights @ The Kozak Bar’ at their premises, Hindmarsh. Here members can eat and drink at good prices. Groups operating under the association’s auspices can use the premises free of charge.

Affiliated with the Association of Ukrainians in South Australia is a radio committee, established in 1975. The committee broadcasts on 5EBI FM 103.1 three times a week.  Two of the programs are broadcast in Ukrainian and one in English.

Over the past 70 years, and especially after the invasion of Crimea in 2014, AUSA has been active in fund raising for many Ukrainian causes, and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for these causes over the years.

The main highlights of the year for Ukrainian South Australians are Ukrainian National Day, Ukrainian Federation Day, Taras Shevchenko Day and the Fallen Heroes Concert.

Ukrainian National Day is celebrated on 24 August. It marks the proclamation of Ukraine as an independent nation on this day in 1991.

Ukrainian Federation Day, otherwise known as Sobornist Day, is celebrated on 22 January. It was on this day in 1919 that Ukraine declared its Federation. It is celebrated with thanksgiving ceremonies, cultural performances and social gatherings.

Taras Shevchenko Day is celebrated in March. Shevchenko was born in 1814. He belonged to a Ukrainian nationalist society and led a revival of Ukrainian language and culture. He was arrested by Russian authorities in 1847 and banished to Siberia for ten years. He died four years after his release. Cultural performances and poetry readings commemorate his heroic life.

The Fallen Heroes Concert is held in May. It commemorates the many Ukrainians who have defended their language and culture against foreign oppression.

Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox churches are inextricably bound with Ukrainian cultural life.  Ukraine became a Christian country over 1,000 years ago. In 955 AD Princess Ol’ha, the Monarch of Kiev-Rus, was baptised in Constantinople by the Patriarch, the head of the Eastern Church. In 988 Prince Volodymyr the Great converted to Christianity and insisted that his subjects did likewise. Henceforth Ukraine was a Christian country.

The first Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic priests, Father Petro Hrusheckyj and Father Dmytro Kachmar, arrived in South Australia in mid-1948. They organised parishes and the celebration of Divine Liturgy in 1949. In these early days the Orthodox community was assisted by the Australian Anglican Church, while South Australia’s Catholic community helped Ukrainian Catholic South Australians.

In present times the Ukrainian community is serviced by four church parishes in Adelaide.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Saint Michael is on Port Road, Hindmarsh. It was built between 1972 and 1974. Its arches and cupolas, domes, are reminiscent of traditional Byzantine architecture. The interior of the church is adorned with paintings of saints. Most of the windows are of stained glass. The main window depicts the church’s patron, Saint Michael.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church of Saints Volodymyr and Olga on Woodville Road, Woodville, was designed by Jaroslaw Wojevidka. It was built during 1963 and consecrated by Bishop Ivan Prasko on 8 September, 1963. Large interior panels in the church depict the life of Christ in neo-Byzantine style.

The site of the Ukrainian Catholic Church of Our Lady of Protection at Wayville was blessed in 1969. The church was consecrated by Bishop Ivan Prasko on 14 October, 1975. The design of its large metallic dome and buttressed walls is a reinterpretation of Byzantine architectural tradition.

The Parish of St Andrews Ukrainian Autocephalic Orthodox Church is at 420 Torrens Road, Kilkenny. The church was established in 2004.

The major festivals of the religious year for Ukrainian South Australians are the feasts of Easter and Christmas. 

Both Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox South Australians follow the Julian Calendar.

On Holy Friday Ukrainian South Australians bake paskhy, Easter bread. On Holy Saturday they prepare pysanky, Easter eggs decorated with wax and paints; krashanky, dyed eggs; prishky, fried meat pasties; and holubtsi, cabbage rolls. The most attractive Easter foods are placed in a koshyk, Easter basket, along with cheese, butter, horseradish, sausage, ham and salt. The koshyk is taken to Divine Easter Liturgy to be blessed by the priest.

Easter Sunday begins at midnight on Holy Saturday. Khrystos Voskres, Christ is Risen, a joyous and beautiful hymn of celebration is sung at this service. After their koshyky have been blessed the congregation go home to enjoy the contents at a family meal.

Catholic and Orthodox Ukrainian South Australians celebrate Christmas on 25 December in the Julian Calendar, which falls on 7 January in the Gregorian or standard modern calendar.

On Christmas Eve and on the three days after, kolyadnyky, travelling actors and choristers, visit Ukrainian South Australian homes and present a Vertep, a Christmas play interspersed with Christmas carols. This tradition was first presented in South Australia in 1950 by the Ukrainian school. Early kolyadnyky walked from house to house. Later they travelled on the back of Michael Leshiw’s Blue Ribbon Meat truck. Kolyadnyky carry a Zirka, a large paper Star of Bethlehem, which lights up and rotates as they sing. After the Vertep has been performed the kolyadnyky are rewarded with festive food, drink and small gifts at each home. After the Christmas Eve Vertep Catholic and Orthodox Ukrainians attend midnight Divine Liturgy.

Over the years several exhibitions promoting Ukrainian history, culture and heritage have been staged at the Migration Museum.

The Ukrainian Women’s Association staged an exhibition, ‘Ukrainian Embroidery in South Australia’ at The Forum, the Migration Museum’s community access gallery from 17 April until 5 June, 1988. The exhibition explored traditions that go back to ancient times yet are still maintained in South Australia today.  It included examples of embroidered geometric designs, which symbolise celestial bodies, and representations of plants and animals. The exhibition explained that Ukrainian embroidery differs from region to region and that each regional tradition’s distinct patterns, colours and stitches reflect that area’s particular natural environment.

In 1992 the Association of Ukrainians in South Australia staged an exhibition at the Migration Museum. ‘A Ukrainian Perspective’ was the third part in ‘Your Past Is What You Keep?’ This exhibition examined the notion that the kinds of objects people keep are often associated with important events and rituals that mark their journey through time. ‘A Ukrainian Perspective’ included exhibits of Ukrainian costume, musical instruments and religious objects.

Images of Loss and Sorrow: A Memorial Exhibition’ was held by the Association of Ukrainians in South Australia at the Forum, the Migration Museum’s Community Access Gallery from 3 December 1993 to 27 February 1994. This exhibition focused on the 60th anniversary of the Great Famine of the Ukraine. A plaque on the Museum’s Memorial Wall was unveiled in conjunction with the exhibition.

The Past and Present: 50 years of Ukrainian Settlement in South Australia’ was staged by the Association of Ukrainians in South Australia at the Forum from 29 March 1998 to 13 November 1998. Through photographs, artefacts and documents, this exhibition celebrated the 50 years since the arrival of the Displaced Persons from war-torn Europe. The display demonstrated how the first Ukrainians have maintained their culture and language as they endured the trials and celebrated the achievement of their migration.

On the 27 May 2018 the Ukrainian Women’s Association of South Australia held an exhibition titled ‘The Art of Ukrainian Wood Carving’ at their Hindmarsh premises. This event was part of South Australia’s History Festival. This was a magnificent exhibition of 60 or so examples of 20 and 21 century Ukrainian wood carvings. Many of the items had been brought to South Australia from the Ukraine via Displaced Person’s camps set up in Germany after the Second World War.

In 1988 Ukraine was under communist rule and forbidden to freely celebrate its millennium of Christianity. Ukrainian Christian South Australians marked the event with numerous celebrations. Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox South Australians combined to form the State Millennium Committee which organised events including a commemorative concert held on September 17 at Adelaide Town Hall. Ukrainian choirs, folk dancers, bandurists and pianists contributed to this event.

Organisations and Media

  • 5EBI Radio Programs
  • Association of Ukrainians in S.A. Inc
  • Church and Life (Cerkwa I Zytta), a weekly newspaper  is published weekly in Melbourne by the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
  • Croatian, Ukrainian and Belarusian Aged Care Association of S.A. Inc.
  • Free Thought (Vilna Dumka) printed in Sydney by Marko Shumsky (editor) is read in Adelaide.
  • Guardians of Sich
  • Parish of St Michael of the Ukrainian Autocephalic Orthodox Church, Adelaide
  • Plast, Ukrainian Youth Association (SA) Inc.
  • Ukrainian Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry SA Inc.
  • Ukrainian Australian Professional and Business Association Inc.
  • Ukrainian Catholic Church of Our Lady of Protection
  • Ukrainian Catholic Church of Saints Volodymyr and Olga
  • Ukrainian Collectibles Society Inc.
  • Ukrainian Community School Adelaide S.A. Inc.
  • Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Saint Michael
  • Ukrainian Senior Citizens Club of S.A. Inc.
  • Ukrainian Sports Club ‑ Lion
  • Ukrainian Women’s Association Inc.
  • Yevshan Ukrainian Arts Inc.


The 1981 census recorded that there were 1,838 Ukrainian-born people in South Australia.

The 1986 census recorded 1,748 Ukrainian-born and 3,971 of Ukrainian descent.

According to the 1991 census there were 1,515 Ukrainian-born South Australians. 2,831 people said that their mothers were born in Ukraine, and 3,204 that their fathers were.

According to the 1996 census there were 1,561 Ukrainian-born South Australians. This is marginally smaller than the second generation figure of 1,686. 

The 2001 census recorded 1,468 Ukrainian-born South Australians, while 4,626 people said that they were of Ukrainian descent.

The 2006 census recorded 1,222 Ukrainian-born South Australians, while 4,847 people said that they were of Ukrainian descent.

The 2011 census recorded 1,074 Ukrainian-born South Australians, while 4,805 people said that they were of Ukrainian descent.

The 2016 census recorded 925 Ukrainian-born South Australians, while 5,038 people said that they were of Ukrainian descent.

By Migration Museum

This article is part of the From Many Places project documenting the diverse cultural groups in South Australia. It is a project started by the Migration Museum in 1992 and continued in partnership today. 

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Courtesy of/Photographer:Bit Scribbly Design

Migration Museum

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