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BELARUSIANS

BELARUSIANS. Belarusians (White Russians), from Eastern Europe, have settled in Cleveland at least since the last decade of the 19th century. Since U.S. immigration authorities did not recognize Belarusians as a separate ethnic group, immigrants coming to America during the last decade of the 19th century and the first 2 decades of the 20th century were listed as Russians, although, for the most part, they were actually Belarusians and Ukrainians. Belarusian immigrants often referred to themselves as "tutejshy," which in Belarusian meant "local"; one estimate is that 2,000-3,000 Belarusians in Cleveland derived from the tutejshy, most of whom came between 1894-1905. As many Belarusians did not have a clear sense of who they were ethnically, they often joined Polish or Lithuanian Roman Catholic churches, while others gravitated to Eastern Orthodox parishes, invariably headed by a Russian priest. Numerous Eastern Orthodox churches, including ST. THEODOSIUS RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL, were built largely by Belarusian rather than "Great Russian" immigrants.

Belarusian activities prior to World War I were isolated and sporadic. An attempt was made to organize a fraternal insurance association and bylaws were published. One group tried to establish a Grodno-Vilna Brotherhood in 1913, but it also was short-lived. Belarusian immigrants who came to Cleveland following World War I tended to be more visible. A number lived in the neighborhood of W. 14th St. and Professor Ave. During this period, some Belarusians became associated with the Communist party, as it was the first political group to recognize Belarusian ethnicity. During the mid-1920s, when the Belarusian Socialist Hramada was being crushed in Poland, the Communists increased their activities among Belarusian Americans. Because the Cleveland Belarusian community sprang, for the most part, from the regions of Grodno and Vilna--areas where the Hramada was especially active--the appeal was strong and, not infrequently, effective.

Belarusians who had established ethnic organizations in Chicago in the 1920s made organizational attempts in Cleveland as part of an active outreach program. Individual Belarusians participated in the fraternal activities of other Slavic groups in Cleveland, especially the UKRAINIANS and CARPATHO-RUSSIANS; but the Belarusian community did not really form its own organizations until after World War II, when a new wave of Belarusian immigrants arrived. In many respects, these immigrants differed from those who had arrived earlier--they were political immigrants and were conscious of their Belarusian heritage. The majority were farmers from the western regions of Belarus; a few families were from Eastern Belarus. By 1950 there were over 100 new immigrants; by the mid-1950s, there were over 1,000 new Belarusian immigrants in Cleveland, making the post-World War II community of Belarusians in Cleveland about 2,500-3,000. The first Cleveland Belarusian organization was a chapter of the Belarusian-American Assn. of New York City, established in 1950. It sponsored cultural and social programs, helped members find jobs, aided Belarusians in Europe, and was involved in political activities promoting an independent Belarusian state. Other local organizations affiliated with the association are the Belarusian-American Youth, Belarusian-American Veterans, Women's Auxiliary, Women's Ensemble, "Vasilki," and a dance group.

Belarusians coming to Cleveland after World War II were almost entirely EASTERN ORTHODOX. Some joined existing Eastern Orthodox jurisdictions; however, others established a new parish, the Mother of God of Zyrovicy, Belarusian Autocephalic Orthodox Church, in 1951 in the TREMONT area. The new church building on W. 25th St., consecrated in 1960, became the center of all social and cultural activities of the community. In the 1980s the parish signed an agreement with the RIVERSIDE CEMETERY Assn., which set aside a separate section at the cemetery where a Belarusian monument was erected. In the 1960s and 1970s, many Belarusians moved beyond the city limits, especially to Strongsville, where the community acquired sizable property and established a cultural and social center, "Polacak," to contain a research library, archives, and ethnographic museum.

The Cleveland Belarusian community became energized during the late 1980s and 1990s by newly established contacts with the homeland, which proclaimed its independence in 1991. The convention of Belarusians of North America at the Labor Day of 1990 became in fact a worldwide gathering of Belarusians. During the opening ceremony of the then newly constructed Community Center, Polacak, in Strongsville, a large delegation of Belarusians and dignitaries from the homeland and from over half a dozen other countries took part in the celebrations. Since then numerous delegations from Belarus visited the center and have maintained contacts with the community. Frequent visitors to the center are representatives of the Belarusian Embassy in Washington, DC. The community also became very active in providing assistance to the Chernobyl victims in Belarus. In 1991 the community initiated its own periodical, Polacak.

Vitaut Kipel

Belarusian Institute of Arts & Sciences, Inc.


Kipel, Vitaut. Belarusian Americans and Their Communities in Cleveland (1982).

Byelorussians in the U.S. (Ethnic Forum, Kent, 1989).

Kipel, Vitaut. Belarusians in the U.S. (1993).