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The storied connection between the Ukrainian community and Northeast Minneapolis

Wards 1 and 3 in Northeast Minneapolis have been the center of the Twin Cities’ Ukrainian community since the late nineteenth century.

A woman wrapped in a Ukrainian flag at the Constantine Ukrainian Catholic Church for a service on Thursday, Feb. 24.
A woman wrapped in a Ukrainian flag at the Constantine Ukrainian Catholic Church for a service on Thursday, Feb. 24.
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig

The Ukrainian community of Minneapolis dates to the late 1870s, when Ukrainians began to leave eastern Europe to seek opportunities in the United States. Many of the Ukrainian men who arrived found jobs in the northeast part of the city, across the Mississippi River from downtown. The comparatively low cost of living in the area, also called Old St. Anthony, allowed Ukrainian mill laborers to live and start families in the same neighborhood in which they worked.

By the 1900s, Northeast Minneapolis had earned a reputation as a welcoming place for Ukrainian immigrants. Word of mouth, family connections, and rail routes all influenced their decision to stay in the city. When Marie Sokol, a young Ukrainian woman en route to Winnipeg, arrived in Minneapolis by train in the early 1910s, she discovered not only a boarding house that would take her in, but her own cousin already living there. As a result, she decided not to continue on to Canada. People like Marie who decided to stay were part of a population boom that supported the founding of Ukrainian businesses, social groups, and churches. Ukrainian Minneapolitans in Northeast established St. Constantine’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in 1913 at the corner of University and Sixth avenues, and the congregation of St. Michael’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church (formed in 1925) moved into a building at 505 Fourth Street in 1926.

When Joseph Stalin consolidated his power over the Soviet Union in the 1930s, his agricultural policies created a widespread famine called the Holodomor (death by hunger) that killed millions of Ukrainians. In response, Ukrainian Minnesotans launched cultural diplomacy efforts to organize relief, raise money, and promote awareness among non-Ukrainians. One such effort was led by the Ukrainian National Chorus of the Twin Cities, which put on benefit musical performances at St. Michael’s Church.

Nazi occupation and the Holocaust further devastated Ukraine in the 1940s. Refugees found temporary homes in displaced persons camps, but by the end of the war in 1945, many wanted to start new lives. University of Minnesota professor Alexander Granovsky visited the camps in those post-war years and recruited Ukrainians for jobs in the Twin Cities. Hundreds of people — particularly skilled workers like scientists and carpenters — accepted his offer to move to the North Star state.

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Once they had settled in Northeast Minneapolis, Ukrainians found ways to recreate their cultural traditions in their new home. Marie Sokol (by now married to Anthony Procai and known as Marie Procai) used tools and dyes available in the United States to make pysanky, traditional Ukrainian Easter eggs. In 1947, she and her daughter Luba opened a gift shop in their home that featured them. In part because of their efforts, Ukrainians in Minneapolis revitalized the art of making pysanky, offering them at community bake sales and introducing their children to the practice.

At about the same time, husband and wife Wasyl and Anna Kramarczuk arrived in the city with their family from the village of Pidhajci and started a sausage company, Kramarczuk’s, that offered traditional Ukrainian piroshky, meats, and breads. Their business thrived in the 1950s and 1960s and became a mainstay of Minneapolis food culture. Dmytro Mandybur, another former resident of Pidhajci, emerged as a community leader alongside the Kramarczuks. He founded a Ukrainian Credit Union and in 1964 organized a Ukrainian American Community Center (originally called the Ukrainian-American Home) that eventually found a headquarters at 301 Main Street Northeast.

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, political uncertainty in Ukraine prompted more immigration to Northeast Minneapolis. The trend continued into the twenty-first century, particularly after the Russian Federation invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014. In 2018, on the eighty-fifth anniversary of the Holodomor, Ukrainian Minnesotans held a commemorative event at the Ukrainian American Community Center to recognize survivors of the Soviet-era famine. The event inspired Zina Poletz Gutmanis, a second-generation Ukrainian American born in Minneapolis in 1966, to film oral history interviews that documented the memories of survivors’ relatives.

On February 24, 2022, the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine, triggering another humanitarian crisis. Ukrainian Americans in Minneapolis (and St. Paul) once again responded by writing petitions and organizing relief efforts, especially through the project Stand With Ukraine MN.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia