Ethnic Ukrainians from western Ukraine are known to have been in Australia as early as 1860. One of the best-known early Ukrainian arrivals was explorer, naturalist and ethnographer Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay who visited Australia in the late 19th century and was instrumental in the establishment of a Zoological Field Station at Watson’s Bay, Sydney.
The Ukrainian population in Australia remained small for many more decades, during a tumultuous period in Ukrainian history. Ukraine had been fought over and subjugated for many centuries because it was rich in natural resources. After World War I it was briefly independent, but by 1922 it was split between the Soviet Union and Poland. Two disastrous famines followed, and millions more died in World War II.
Large numbers of Ukrainian refugees
first arrived in Australia in 1948 as part of the International Refugee
Organization resettlement agreement. Other Ukrainian immigrants
arrived in Victoria on Assisted Passages. In 1954, when Ukraine-born people were first recorded in the census
, 4,678 were living in Victoria. This may understate the number of immigrants
from Ukraine as it is defined today, as some Ukrainians were represented in the census
under other nationalities such as the Soviet Union.
In 1991 Ukraine gained independence, and over the next five years the Ukraine-born population in Victoria increased for the first time in many decades, from 2,937 in 1991 to 5,370 in 1996. Many of these new post-independence migrants were young professionals in the fields of science, mathematics and computer technology. In 2011 Victoria had the largest Ukraine-born population in Australia, with a total of 5,872 people. While 66% of Ukraine-born in Victoria spoke Russian at home, 20% spoke Ukrainian.
Living predominantly around Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs, around half of the community are Christian, while 36% are Jewish. The majority of those in employment work as professionals, and are in the property and business services industry. Supporting the cultural heritage of the Ukrainian community today, are a range of organisations including the Association of Ukrainians in Victoria.