Ukrainian National Museum of Chicago

Chicago ranks among the top three cities with the largest Ukrainian population in the United States.  The first Ukrainian immigrants came to Chicago during a wave in the late nineteenth century, but three more waves of immigration followed throughout the twentieth century.  Many Ukrainians settled in a western area of Chicago, which is now known as Ukrainian Village.  Although several Ukrainian churches are still there, most Ukrainians are now dispersed throughout Chicago and its suburbs, and are no longer concentrated within a single neighborhood.

Ukrainian Village has two Ukrainian museums.  The first is the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, which was founded in 1971.  I have never visited it.  The second is called the Ukrainian National Museum and was founded in 1952.  I have visited the latter one.  It is located across the street from the gorgeous Saints Volodymyr & Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church, and primarily displays Ukrainian arts and crafts, in addition to some snippets of Ukrainian history.

The museum’s arts and crafts exhibits include a variety of Ukrainian clothing, dishes, etc.  They also contain a variety of beautiful pysanky.  Pysanky are specially decorated Easter eggs.  First, the yolk is removed from the egg through a tiny hole, and then the remaining eggshell is intricately decorated with colorful dyes.

A significant portion of the museum discusses the Ukrainian famine or genocide of 1932-1933, known as the Holdomor.  During that time, Ukraine belonged to the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Joseph Stalin.  In accordance with his Communist ideology, Stalin attempted to bring all of Ukraine’s farmland under governmental control.  Many famers resisted giving up their land, and were therefore sent to prison camps in Siberia.  Because the farmers did not reach their required governmental quota of grain, Stalin punished the people by removing all of their remaining produce.  Ultimately, between 4 to 10 million Ukrainians died as a result of the man-made famine.  During this time, Stalin also attempted to discourage the use of the Ukrainian language, and destroy Ukrainian nationalism. 

The museum describes the Holdomor using newspaper clippings, photos, and signs.  Additionally, on the day when I visited the museum, a historian/staff member walked around the museum answering questions that visitors may have had regarding the exhibits.  She recommended that we watch the 2017 film Bitter Harvest, which dramatically portrays the Holdomor.  It did a decent job of describing what happened.  As of 2020, less than 40 countries acknowledge that the Holdomor was a genocide, while Russia continues to deny that the deaths were intentional.

The Ukrainian National Museum typically hosts different events throughout the year (when there are no pandemics).  It also maintains a library and archives, which are available to researchers upon appointment.

Sources and Further Reading

Bitter Harvest. Directed by George Mendeluk. Los Angeles, CA: Roadside Attractions, 2017.

“Chicago’s Ukrainian Village.” Ukrainian National Museum. https://ukrainiannationalmuseum.org/chicagos-ukrainian-village/ (accessed July 19, 2020).

Hrycack, Alexandra. “Ukrainians.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1279.html (accessed July 19, 2020).

Kiger, Patrick J. “How Joseph Stalin Starved Millions in the Ukrainian Famine.” History Channel. April 16, 2019. https://www.history.com/news/ukrainian-famine-stalin (accessed July 19, 2020).

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