A brief history of the Huddersfield Ukrainian community
This brief overview has been written by Michael Drapan and is a taster from his new book on the same subject.
The establishment of the Huddersfield Ukrainian community
Following an invitation from the British government to seek employment in sectors experiencing labour shortages caused by the Second World War, Ukrainians began to arrive in Huddersfield from 1947. The majority of these early ‘European Voluntary Workers’ had been interned in Displaced Persons camps since 1945, whilst a smaller number had been attached to farmsteads, largely in Germany and Austria. Over the next few years these new arrivals would be joined by over 50 veterans of the First Ukrainian Division who had been released from POW camps in Rimini and had been transferred to corresponding camps mainly in Scotland, Southern and Eastern England.
Attracted by the prospect of employment in a myriad of textile mills and engineering firms scattered across Huddersfield, Ukrainians joined together to officially establish a community in late 1948. This was as a result of Oleksander Kovalevskyj and Antonin Semerko becoming trustees of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain (Huddersfield Branch), with the latter being elected its first chairman in January, 1949.
Early days of the community
Although the community began with only 41 members this number increased to 230 by the late 1960s. With no central hub to act as an assembly point the first members would meet for holy mass as St Joseph’s R C Church at Aspley, in private houses or would rent out venues such as the Lindley Liberal Club, Lockwood Mechanics Institute and, in particular, the Co-operative Fraternity Hall. At these locations committee meetings, commemorative concerts, communal celebrations and social dances were held on a regular basis.
The first Ukrainian Club (AUGB) in Huddersfield
As the community expanded in number and newly formed committees were elected to represent the Ukrainian Youth Association in Great Britain and the Association of Former Ukrainian Combatants in Great Britain (1950 and 1951 respectively) there was a need for the community to purchase its own suitable premises that could act as a cultural centre and social club. In 1955 a large house at 156 Trinity Street was acquired when the community raised £650 in donations. This club would be the focal point of Ukrainian life in the town for the next ten years.
Life at the first (AUGB) Club
Having secured a permanent base of its own, members of the club were quick to set up a Ukrainian school in 1958, followed by a branch of the Association of Ukrainian Women in 1959. Small scale dancing, singing, drama and instrumental groups could now be formed with an ever growing number of Ukrainian children coming on board. Even large regional rallies of the Ukrainian Youth Association could be held across the road in Greenhead Park. However, larger concerts, celebrations and the annual Ukrainian Christmas ‘Sviat Vechir’ (Holy Supper) still had to be held at the Co-operative Fraternity Hall in the town centre.
The second (present) Ukrainian Club (AUGB) in Huddersfield
The first club at 156 Trinity Street had served its original purpose well but by the 1960s it was considered too small to cater for a rapidly growing membership, resulting in senior committee members searching for larger premises that could offer private grassed grounds and ample car parking space. Once again, with the help of community donations and loans amounting to £14500, a grand former mill owner’s villa that had previously belonged to the Armitage and Crowther families (local textile magnates) was acquired in 1965. Over the last fifty years this aesthetically pleasing grade 2 listed building has been renovated and developed to the point where it has (and continues to) regularly staged concerts, a variety of celebrations, memorials and special events for both members and the general public.
Life at our present club (7 Edgerton Road, Huddersfield)
Cultural, educational, political, sports and social activities have flourished at the club since it was opened. The Huddersfield Ukrainian Youth Orchestra, several choirs, singing and instrumental groups, folk dance ensembles, resident dance bands and sports teams have all been prominent in strengthening bonds and keeping the Ukrainian heritage alive, with members not just showcasing their talents internally but sharing them with the local and wider public. Grand concerts commemorating 50 years of the purchase of the club in 2015 and 70 years of the establishment of the Huddersfield Ukrainian Community in 2018 bear testimony to this.
As for the best examples of events where true Ukrainian traditions, culture, colour and spectacle are firmly on display one has to look no further than the annual ‘Blessing of Easter Baskets’ and the Ukrainian Christmas ‘Sviat Vechir’ (Holy Supper). The latter, in particular, has proved very popular for over 70 years and continues to attract a capacity attendance, including visits from Kirklees Mayors, Councillors and Members of Parliament. Additionally, camaraderie, socialisation and sporting prowess can be witnessed at the annual National Ukrainian Volleyball Tournament held on the club’s lawns. This summer gathering has been drawing in Ukrainians from across the country for more than thirty years.
Michael Drapan is a longstanding Chair of the Control Committee of the AUGB. He is a retired Headteacher and has recently completed a thesis on the History of the Huddersfield Ukrainian Community, 1948-2018, which is due to be published as a book in the near future.