History of the Ukrainian Community in Manchester

Anecdotal evidence places Ukrainians in Manchester as early as 1893 and even earlier in the North-West, but with no evidence of the foundation of any community groups during these years. The first documentary evidence of Ukrainians in Manchester was confirmed by an entry in the Aliens Register in Salford of J. Koyetsky from Brody, Ukraine in 1897. Some 100 families settled in Manchester prior to WWI and in the post war years a community centre was established. An Information Centre was founded in London and religious and cultural links established with Manchester. In 1931, Bishop Andriy Sheptytskiy and Fr. Josyf Slipyj, both of whom in turn in later years became head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, made a notable pastoral visit to Manchester.

During WWII the Manchester community centre in Brideoak Street, Cheetham Hill was complemented by Allied Canadian soldiers of Ukrainian descent who enriched Ukrainian life in Manchester. Towards the end of WWII and after cessation of hostilities, a large number of Ukrainians (mainly displaced persons from camps in Germany) arrived in Manchester and the surrounding towns. Ukrainians were integrated into the UK as European Voluntary Workers, while Ukrainian POWs from the Polish and German armies were also demobilised and settled in the Manchester area as well as other parts of the UK.

The size of the Ukrainian community in the late 1940s was up to 10,000 persons in the Manchester area with 3,000 of them in Manchester alone. The community integrated with the early migrants at the community centre in Cheetham Hill, North Manchester. A Ukrainian Catholic congregation was established at St. Chad’s RC Church in the 1930s, which continued until the Ukrainian Catholic parish became established at its present location on Bury Old Road at the Dormition of Our Lady Church. The Manchester Branch of the Association of Ukrainians in GB (AUGB) was established during this time as well as a Ukrainian Womens’ Organisation (OUZh), a Ukrainian Youth Organisation (CYM), Plast (Ukrainian Scouts) and a Ukrainian Former Combatants Organisation. The cultural life of the community was enhanced in 1949 by the formation of a choir (Homin) and a folk dance group (Orlyk). A Ukrainian Saturday School was founded in 1954 through which passed thousands of second and third generation Ukrainian children and which still operates today as a supplementary school offering nursery, child and adult educational services. In Whalley Range, South Manchester, two community centres were opened in the late 1940s and early 1950s and an Orthodox Ukrainian church was consecrated to fulfil all denominational and social needs. A large integrated community was established which catered for Ukrainian religious, cultural, social and welfare needs.

The current centre on Smedley Lane was purchased in 1963 and extended in 1968 by the addition of a two-storey Concert Hall that included a restaurant, classrooms and a dance practise room. In the 1990s the South Manchester community centres were incorporated into the North Manchester Cultural Centre but the Ukrainian Orthodox church is still serving the Orthodox congregation to this day from South Manchester in Plymouth Grove.

The cultural life of Manchester was greatly enhanced by the formation of the Homin male voice choir and the Orlyk dance ensemble in 1949. These two cultural artistic groups promoted Ukrainian song and dance not only in Manchester and the North West but nationally and also internationally when participating in touring festivals in Europe and America. Both groups have appeared at the International Eisteddfod at Llangollen and won first prizes in their categories. Their ultimate accolade was tours of their native land of Ukraine in the early 1990s. The Petro Dnistrovyk junior School of Dancing was established in the 1970s, catering for the 5-15 age group that is a focus and root for future generations. During the late 1970s our Ukrainian Youth Association choir Rusalka Dnistrova was established which likewise gained national and international recognition. At the same time the youth association dance ensemble Podilya was formed. During the 1990s the mixed choir Vidrodzhenya was formed and enjoyed national recognition.

The Manchester community was a haven for many cultural and social concerts, which invited national and local politicians and community leaders as well as Ukrainian politicians and folk groups from Ukraine to share in the Ukrainian community spirit. Ukrainian community leaders take part, lead and host many inter-ethnic community events and set an example of harmony in the community. In the immediate community the Cultural Centre was a model neighbour and was an example of community life day or night. Our policy of sharing our facilities with other native and ethnic groups has always been a rewarding experience.

On February 2nd, 2005 our Ukrainian Community Centre suffered a tragic fire which destroyed our Concert Hall. Our Ukrainian community vowed to replace the Concert Hall and is now finally in March 2007, formally applying for Planning Permission to rebuild the Concert Hall and re-establish our Cultural Centre.

Today, Manchester Cultural Centre provides most of the facilities of the past but at a reduced level. Nevertheless it provides facilities for the main community groups of AUGB, the social Club Dnipro, the youth organisation CYM, the Womens’ Organisation, the Saturday School, the Ex-Servicemen’s Organisation and the Pensioners Lunch Club. On the cultural side dance groups Orlyk, Podilya (CYM), junior dance group and the choir Oberih are fully active. On the recreational level AUGB provides facilities for keep fit clubs. At a wider community level the centre provides a venue for Scots Guards and Pipers, Italian and other ethnic communities. Family events such as christenings, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and wakes currently continue for local and wider ethnic groups.