Belarusan americans

by Vituat Kipel


The Republic of Belarus is a newly independent country which, prior to August 25, 1991, was known as the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. Since 1922 it had formed part of the Soviet Union. Geographically it is located in what is virtually the center of Europe, occupying 80,154 square miles (207,600 square kilometers). It is bounded by Poland to the west, Russia to the east, Ukraine to the south, and Lithuania/Latvia to the north and northwest. Its flag has two horizontal stripes, one red and one green, with a vertical thin margin of red and white embroidery. The capital city is Minsk, and the official languages are Belarusan and Russian.

The country's population is 10.5 million, with 80 percent Belarusans, 13.2 percent Russians, 4.1 percent Polish, and 2.9 percent Ukrainians, the rest comprising Tatars, Jews, and Gypsies. More than 3 million Belarusans live outside Belarus, especially in Russia, Ukraine, Canada, and the United States. About 80 percent belong to the Eastern otrhodox Church; another 15 to 18 percent are Roman Catholic; the remainder are Catholic (Byzantine Rite), Baptist, Old Believer, Muslim, or Jewish.

Because the Belarusans' ethnic territory is divided among several neighboring states, it is difficult to present a clear picture of a Belarusan state, nationhood, and historical development. Part of the confusion stems from terminology. As political concepts, the terms "Byelorussia," "Byelorussian," and since 1991, "Belarus" and "Belarusans," are all relatively new. For most Americans, the term "Byelorussia" was not known until the end of World War II, when the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic became a charter member of the newly forming United Nations. Prior to World War II the terms more familiar to Americans were "White Russia" and "White Russians" or "White Ruthenia" and "White Ruthenians." The term "White" in these various formulations is simply the literal translation of " byelo- " or " byela-. "


The tribes who were the antecedents of present-day Belarusans began to organize into individual principalities around such cities as Polotsk, Smalensk, and Turov as early as the ninth and tenth centuries. During the twelfth century these principalities moved closer, forming a unified structure and establishing the core of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which became an important political power as a commonwealth in eastern Europe over the next several centuries. As these Belarusan principalities gave rise to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Belarusan became recognized as the official language of this state. The city of Navahradak, in the earlier period, and the city of Vilna, in the later period, served as the capitals of this large, multinational, influential state.

Gradually the Grand Duchy of Lithuania came under the strong cultural influence of Poland. The upper strata of society became dissociated from the broader mass of the population, in part, by embracing Roman Catholicism, largely accepting the Polish forms of Catholicism, which in turn created religious inequality and social unrest. These factors destabilized the Grand Duchy, weakening it militarily and politically. Meanwhile in the east, the state known as Muscovy grew stronger and began its expansion westward. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Muscovy moved into the territory of the Grand Duchy and farther west into Poland.


The beginnings of Russian domination over the Belarusan territories go back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when the easternmost parts of Belarus were incorporated into the Russian Empire. Then, in a series of successful advances, Russia invaded and annexed the core of ethnic Belarusan lands in 1772, 1793, and 1795. Russian policies toward Belarus were uncompromising in their call for the territories to undergo Russian acculturation. Such Russification was systematically justified and encouraged. This approach remained vigorous through the reigns of successive tsars and the decades of the Soviet regime.

The nineteenth century witnessed an active implementation of Russian policies in Belarus. The term Belarus was abolished and replaced by the deliberately vague geographical concept, "Northwest Territory." The use of the Belarusan language was outlawed and all communication was ordered to be exclusively in Russian. Beginning in the 1830s the government adopted a policy of forced deportation of Belarusans to the northern regions of the Empire. Uprisings in Belarus in 1831 and 1863 to 1864 provoked policies of unprecedented harshness regarding Russification, exploitation of the land, and oppression of the populace. The result of these policies was the reduction of Belarus to the status of a colony; it was denied its own governmental bodies and was supervised in all things by appointed administrators. A further result was the creation of an enormous surplus of the local labor force which, in turn, caused a large wave of emigration. Thus, beginning with the last two decades of the nineteenth century and into the early years of World War I, hundreds of thousands of Belarusan peasants migrated out of their homeland to Siberia and the United States.

Although the Russian administrators exerted considerable effort to uproot any characteristics of Belarusan separateness—political or cultural—an ethnic awareness among Belarusans began to emerge toward the last quarter of the nineteenth century. From there on, the revival in self-awareness gained in numbers and in strength. In 1902 the first Belarusan political party, the Belarusan Revolutionary Hramada, was established. This was soon followed by numerous cultural and religious organizations, publishing groups, and a teachers' union. However, the real impetus for a widespread revival of Belarusan consciousness and development of a mass movement was the appearance of Belarusan-language newspapers: first, the short-lived Nasa Dola (1906), and then its successor, Nasa Niva (1906-15), both published in Vilna. This latter newspaper played a particularly important role in assembling the most active leaders of the Belarusan intelligentsia.


The high point of Belarusan political activities during the pre-war period and the World War I years was the convening of the all-Belarusan Congress in December 1917 in the capital city of Minsk. The Council, elected at this Congress in 1918, adopted a resolution declaring the independence of Belarus in the form of the Belarusan Democratic Republic. This new democratic state was short-lived, however. Bolshevik armed forces interrupted the Congress and overran the Republic.

The Bolsheviks moved quickly to catch up with the national aspirations of the people. On January 1, 1919, they proclaimed the Belarusan Soviet Socialist Republic (abbreviated as the BSSR). This event had a positive influence on the general populace as the leadership of the newly established Belarusan Soviet Republic improved the economy, political administration, educational system, and cultural life. Many Belarusan emigrants from Western Europe and the United States returned to their homeland. Unfortunately, according to the terms of the Treaty of Riga, signed in 1921, a significant part of Belarusan ethnic territory was given over to the new Polish state.

Belarusan national life in both halves—the eastern, under the Soviets, and the western, under the Poles—flourished during the early and midtwenties. In both areas there were hundreds of Belarusan schools, publishing houses, and other expressions of cultural life. The Belarusan national movement reached its peak in eastern and western Belarus during the 1920s.

Uncomfortable with the growth of the Belarus national movement, Polish administrators in the middle of the 1920s began to curb Belarusan political activities, close Belarusan schools, outlaw Belarusan-language newspapers, and harass their religious communities. By the beginning of the 1930s the Belarusan movement in Poland had been totally crushed, with its leaders either imprisoned or emigrated—primarily to Soviet Belarus. The systematic persecution of nationally conscious Belarusan in Soviet Belarus began several years later. Soviet Belarus experienced several waves of intermittent purges, the peak years being 1930, 1933, and 1937 to 1938. The official explanation for these pogroms was that the party was struggling with the "National Democrats," i.e., with the Belarusan intelligentsia and nationally democratically minded citizens.

The major parts of the Belarusan nation—the Belarusan Soviet Socialist Republic and Western Belarus—were reunited into a single state in September 1939 when Soviet troops occupied the eastern part of the Polish state. The occupation of Western Belarus by the Soviet armed forces proved costly to the Belarusans: thousands of Belarusans were deported to Siberia, numerous leaders were shot, and all Belarusan activities were suppressed.

The German Wehrmacht occupied Belarusan territory within a few weeks after the beginning the German-Soviet War, on June 22, 1941. A number of Belarusan political leaders cooperated with the German occupiers, but any hope of new political freedom under German rule was dashed by the spring of 1944 when the Soviet army advanced westward and occupied Belarusan territory.

World War II devastated Belarus. Over nine thousand villages, two hundred towns, and approximately six million Belarusans were lost. The territory of Belarus was once again balkanized. Parts of Belarusan ethnic territory were included in Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, with the largest portion given to the Russian Federation. Hundreds of thousands of Belarusans were resettled in Siberia, while thousands of others emigrated as a result of the war. Almost two decades would pass before Belarus could heal the material wounds resulting from World War II.

Surprisingly, despite the denigration and mistreatment of Belarusan culture, a sizable segment of the population and the intelligentsia resisted Russification. A powerful revival process became evident by 1985. Belarusan schools began to open, the Supreme Soviet adopted a Constitution proclaiming the Belarusan language the official language of the Republic, and numerous societies fostered a new esteem for the language and culture. The national revival also led to the emergence of the Belarusan Popular Front, a national political movement functioning as a democratic opposition party in the parliament of the republic. Although Belarus became an independent state in 1991 by seceding from the former Soviet Union and recorded some progress on the path toward democracy and free market economy, the election of Alexander Lukashenko as president in 1994 marked a turn toward increasing international isolation. Lukashenko's government decimated its opposition and the free press while enforcing a policy of harsh discipline and strict centralism. In an attempt to reintegrate with Russia, Lukashenko signed the Community of Belarus and Russia treaty in 1996 and the Union of Belarus and Russia in 1997.


Some believe that the earliest Belarusan immigrants in America settled in the Colony of Virginia in the early 1600s. The reason is that Captain John Smith, who became the first Governor of Virginia in 1608, had visited Belarus in 1603. In his True Travels, Captain Smith recalls that he came to "Rezechica, upon the River Niper in the confines of Lithuania," and then he narrates how he traveled through southern Belarus, as Zora Kipel related in her article ( Zapisy, Volume 16, 1978). Thus, it is possible that Smith brought Belarusans with him to Virginia, together with Polish or Ukrainian manufacturing specialists.

Mass emigration from Belarus began slowly during the final decades of the nineteenth century and lasted until World War I. At the outset emigration from Belarus was directed toward the industrial cities in Poland, to Riga, St. Petersburg, the mines in Ukraine and Siberia, and later, to the United States. Libava and northern Germany were the main points of departure while New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore were the main gates of entry to the United States. Unfortunately for the Belarusan immigrants, their ethnicity was not properly registered when they arrived. They were routinely registered as Russians (having Russian Imperial passports and being of the Eastern Orthodox religion) or as Poles, if they were Roman Catholics.

Belarusans who arrived in the United States after World War I were predominantly political immigrants, mainly from western Europe and Poland. They numbered only a few thousand persons but were able to found several Belarusan organizations. A few Belarusans, mainly the children of Jewish Belarusan marriages, came to the United States between the late 1930s and the end of 1941.


Belarusans arrived in sizable numbers in the post-World War II period, from 1948 to the early 1950s. During this period about 50,000 Belarusans immigrated to the United States; for the most part, they were people with "displaced person" status who had left Europe for political reasons. They represented a very broad spectrum of the Belarusan nation, sharing one trait in common: fervent anti-Communism. The great majority of them were nationally conscious Belarusans filled with the political resolve to reestablish an independent democratic Belarusan state, the Belarusan Democratic Republic. They came from a variety of countries, the majority of them from West Germany and Austria, but many from Great Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, and other countries in South America and north Africa. These lands had been their first stop-overs after the events of World War II had prompted them to leave Belarus. These immigrants represented several distinct categories: former prisoners of war of the Polish and Soviet armies; former emigres who had left Belarus shortly after World War I or in 1939, when the Soviets invaded Poland; persons who had worked in Germany during the war as Ostarbeiters; refugees who had fled Belarus in 1943 or 1944; and post-World War II defectors and dissidents.

Emigration waves from Belarus during the 1980s and 1990s have been relatively small as compared with previous waves. People have emigrated for various reasons: political, economic, and filial (to reunite with families). Most of these immigrants are of Jewish Belarusan background. The political and economic situation in Belarus in the mid 1990s suggests that immigration should continue and increase in size, especially by individuals who are rejoining family members in the United States.

Because official databases in the United States are unable to provide accurate numbers of Belarusans entering the country, widely varying figures have appeared in print. Attempts have been made in Belarus by various researchers to calculate the number of Belarusans emigrating to the United States. On the high end, Belarusan researchers count between 1 and 1.5 million while the Belarusan Institute of Arts and Sciences (U.S.) computes between 600,000 and 650,000. The 1980 U.S. census counted 7,328 but the 1990 census tallied only 4,277. Such large discrepancies might be resolved somewhat by the 2000 U.S. census unless this variance is due to decreased identification with Belarusan ancestry.


Since no one mapped the distribution of Belarusan immigrants to America when they arrived, it is impossible to reconstruct precise settlement patterns. Only general outlines are possible. The criteria for distribution and settlement tended to be based on the availability of unskilled jobs, proximity to landsmen, and the decision of the sending agent as to which port in the United States the immigrant should be sent. There is evidence of Belarusan settlement all over the United States, from Alaska to Florida, with the greatest numbers concentrated in the states between Illinois and New York. Belarusan population tends to be heaviest in industrial cities and mining regions. For the majority of immigrants, their first stops were New York City; Jersey City, Bayonne, the Amboys, Passaic, Newark, South River, and other small towns in New Jersey; cities such as Cleveland and Akron in Ohio; and Gary, Indiana, Chicago, Illinois, Detroit, Michigan, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A smaller number of Belarusans went to farms in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

Acculturation and Assimilation

The Belarusan American Association, together with a number of other groups, developed a system of supplementary secondary schools in Belarusan communities where the American-born generations receive education in the language, culture, and religious traditions of Belarus. The task of representing Belarusan culture at various venues throughout the United States has been assumed by choirs, theatrical groups, musical and dance ensembles. One such dance ensemble, located in the New York metropolitan area, is headed by Dr. Alla Romano, a faculty member at the City University of New York. This group, Vasilok, has performed widely and often in the United States as well as in the Bielastok region and in Belarus itself.


Many customs with roots in Belarus (some of which are shared with neighboring Slavic nations) are observed by Belarusan Americans. Belarusan customs typically interweave elements of nature, especially agriculture, with pagan and Christian components. Most customs are related to the calendar, ceremonial events, and games. Although the life styles of our modern, technological age are not conducive to maintaining many of these folk traditions, it is remarkable how many of them have survived. This is especially evident when one examines the 36 volumes on Belarusan ethnography published as Bielaruskaja Narodnaja Tvorcasc by the Academy of Sciences in Minsk, Belarus, between 1977 and 1993.


Cuisine plays an important role in manifesting the hospitality, cordiality, and friendliness implicit in the traditional Belarusan greeting, "A guest in the house is God in the house." Since Belarus is located in the forest, grain, and potato belts of eastern Europe, Belarusan cooking reflects the riches of the land. Favorite dishes include a wide variety of grains, a diversity of mushrooms, meats, and many kinds of fish dishes. There are, of course, a number of items which Belarusans share in common with their Slavic neighbors: halubcy (stuffed cabbage), borscht, and kaubasa (kielbasy). One popular comestible well known to many Americans is the bagel. The traditional bagel comes from the town of Smarhon in the northwestern part of Belarus. But unquestionably the most famous food of Belarus is the potato. The Belarusan housewife has close to 100 ways of preparing potato dishes for every occasion.

Traditional dishes include draniki (fried potato pancakes) and babka (oven-baked, mushed potatoes and lard); various sauces such as mochanka (made from mushrooms) and poliuka which accompanies bliny (another variety of potato pancake) or meat dishes; soups such as zatirki combined with meatballs or dough balls; and desserts such as kisel' (fruit jellies).


The most visible and expressive Belarusan folk art is found in national apparel, where the predominant colors are red, white, black, and occasionally green. Symmetric and geometric designs are the most common features of Belarusan decorative patterns.

There are distinct patterns, designs, and materials for men and women. A woman's holiday dress of homespun material consists of a white linen blouse, always ornamented with embroidery or a woven design; an apron, usually of white linen with embroidery; a long pleated skirt of colorful woolen material; a vest, laced or buttoned in the front, often with slits from the waist down; and a headdress. The man's costume is composed of linen trousers and a shirt. The shirt is long, always embroidered, and worn with a hand-woven belt or sash.


Scholars trace the origins of Belarusan music to pagan times. A national characteristic is the tendency to form instrumental groups. Every village in the home country has its own musicians and that pattern has been replicated in the United States, with virtually every Belarusan community having its own orchestra. The most commonly used instruments are the violin ( skrypka ), accordion ( bajan ), cymbals, pipe ( dudka ), and the tambourine.

An important part of the Belarusan musical heritage is the huge repertoire of songs, suitable for every occasion, including birth, marriage, death, entering military service, the change of seasons, work, and leisure. Belarusans sing solos, duets, and harmonize in ensembles and choirs. The rich and elaborately lyrical songs which form the basis of Belarusan folk music have a special appeal for Belarusans. Singing is often accompanied by one or more instruments, very often the husli (psaltery). The lullaby is especially popular in Belarusan families. Generations of children have grown up learning the lyrics to these songs sung to them by their mothers and grandmothers.

Dancing has similarly enjoyed a millennium-long life span in Belarus and this tradition continues in America. Belarusan folk dancing is characterized by the richness of its composition, uncomplicated movements, and small number of rapid steps. Folk dances are often accompanied by song expressing the feelings, work habits, and life style of the people. Ethnographers have identified over one hundred Belarusan folk dances, many of which are performed in America. The legacy of song and dance is an aspect of the native culture that is shared by both old and new immigrants, transcending chronological barriers.


Holiday seasons are filled with traditional Belarusan practices and customs. The Christmas season, for example, includes many unique customs. One of the most cherished and carefully preserved traditions is the celebration of kuccia, a very solemn and elaborate supper on Christmas Eve. Twelve or more dishes are prepared and served. Each dish is served in a specific order, with a portion set aside for the ancestors. The pot holding the kuccia (a special barley confection) is placed in the corner of the room, under the icons. After the family says grace, the kuccia is the first course served. Another widely observed custom is the decoration of the Christmas tree with hand-made Belarusan ornaments. As a rule, the entire family takes part in the ceremony, with the oldest family members contributing most of the craftsmanship. Caroling, an old Christmas tradition, is solidly maintained by Belarusan Americans both of the older and younger generations, with the latter employing this custom as a means of fundraising for organizational purposes.

The Easter season is another occasion for the observance of many traditional customs. The season begins with a period of fasting, followed by Vierbnica (Palm Sunday), and a competition of flower bouquets. Following the Easter Liturgy, the priest blesses colored eggs, sausage, babka (special Easter bread), and cheese. An Easter breakfast, Razhavieny, is held in the parish hall where traditional foods are served. Easter Sunday is given over to visiting friends and relatives, and to playing various games, such as cracking the Easter eggs.

The most widely observed sanctified feastday is that of St. Euphrosynia of Polacak, the Patron Saint of Belarus. Her feast day, May 23, is traditionally celebrated by all Belarusans. Belarusan Americans also have a special devotion to St. Cyril of Turov, whose feastday falls on April 28. The Mother of God of Zyrovicy is the patroness of many Belarusan churches. Her patronal feast is May 20. Other church-related customs and anniversaries observed by Belarusan Americans are the Smalensk Marian icon, Adzihitrya (Guide), observed on August 10, the Feast of Pentecost/Whitsunday, and the Feast of All the Saints of Belarus (the third Sunday after Pentecost). Belarusan Roman Catholics observe the feast of Our Lady of Vostraja Brama in Vilna on November 16; and St. Mary of Budslau on July 2, among others.

Non-religious holidays include: March 25, which celebrates Belarus's independence from Russia in 1918; August 25, celebrating the second independence from the former Soviet Union (1991). Both are important to Belarusan Americans, many of whom came immigrated due to their desire to be free of communist rule.


Among the Belarusan crafts that are widespread in the United States are woven rugs and embroidered table covers and bedspreads. Hand-woven belts and embroidered towels are perhaps most prized. Towels have particular significance because of the numerous solemn occasions when they are employed—weddings, christenings, and adorning icons. Belarusan American families have dozens of towels for all types of events. Pottery, straw incrustations, and woodcarving are also popular age-old Belarusan crafts practiced throughout the United States. These items are typically adorned with simple geometric designs and are put to more practical uses, rather than kept as objets d'art.


The Belarusan language is a part of the East Slavic group of languages which includes Ukrainian and Russian. The language of Belarusan Americans has specific features. In everyday use many Americanisms have entered the Belarusan language, but are often so assimilated to the lexical and phonological patterns of Belarusan that they do not seem foreign to the language. A peculiar phenomenon is the language of thousands of Belarusan immigrants who came prior to World War I. These people claimed to speak Russian but were in fact speaking a Russified Belarusan, often with the admixture of Yiddish words. Unfortunately, because of the lack of language professionals working for the U.S. Census, this melange of languages stemming from a Belarusan base was recorded as Russian.

Family and Community Dynamics

The modern Belarusan American family no longer interacts in these fashions for the most part, but during the 19th and early 20th centuries, the following characteristics were common. The Belarusan family was a large, communal group. Incorporating distant relatives or even strangers, the family was held together by the work each contributed to the farm rather than by blood relationships. Most often the father or grandfather acted as family head. He assigned the men jobs and acted as trustee for the family property, which was collectively owned. Some of the family leader's authority remains. At family gatherings, for example, the head sits in the place of honor, with the other men grouped by rank around him.


Widespread and recognizable, traditional Belarusan surnames include Barsuk, Kalosha, Kresla, Savionak, and Sienka. Belarusan surnames are often based on geographical origin, e.g., Babruiski, Minskii, Mogilevskii, Slutski, Vilenski. Many others derive from baptismal names, e.g., Jakubau, Haponau, Kazimirau, or such diminutives as Jakubionak and Hapanionak. The most typical Belarusan surnames are those with the suffixes "ovich" or "ievich," such as Dashkievich, Mickievich, Zmitrovich. Others derive from occupations, e.g., Dziak, Hrabar, Mular.


After World War II Belarusans began to establish their own distinct churches in America. The majority of Belarusan immigrants were of the Eastern Orthodox faith. The formal organization of Belarusan Orthodox activities dates from 1949 to 1950, when parishes began to be founded as parishes of the Belarusan Autocephalous Orthodox Church (BAOC). Organizational work for the BAOC began in North America under the guidance of Archbishop Vasil, who established his residence in New York City. Archbishop Mikalaj of Toronto has become the Primate of this jurisdiction, which includes parishes in the states of New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and Michigan. Several Belarusan parishes in Illinois, New Jersey, and New York are within the jurisdiction of Archbishop Iakovos, the Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch for North and South America. The BAOC conducts an extensive school program and is involved in providing aid to Chernobyl victims. The liturgical services are conducted in Belarusan.

Belarusan Catholics of the Latin Rite have not formed parishes of their own in the United States. Consequently, Belarusan American Roman Catholics have devoted themselves to civic activities within the Belarusan Orthodox communities, while occasionally enjoying a visiting Catholic priest of Belarusan descent. Belarusan Catholics of the Byzantine-Slavic Rite (Uniates), organized their own parish in Chicago, primarily through the efforts of two Belarusan activists, Rev. John Tarasevich and his nephew Rev. Uladzimir Tarasevich.

Politics and Government


The idea of Belarusan statehood and separateness began to surface in non-Belarusan publications such as the newspapers Novyi Mir, Russkii Golos, and Novoye Russkoye Slovo. These Russian American newspapers not only published materials of interest to Belarusan immigrants, but wholeheartedly supported Belarusan independence and the establishment of Belarusan ethnic organizations. In these ways—contacts with the homeland and through the printed word—the concepts of national separateness, national self-awareness, and Belarusan independence were communicated to the Belarusan American immigrant communities, inspiring them to come together and form specifically Belarusan ethnic organizations.

The political activities of Belarusan groups consist mainly of lobbying various political groups and individual political leaders to support the idea of a democratic and independent Belarusan state. The Belarusan American Association is a champion in this undertaking. For more than forty years this group has written thousands of memoranda and visited hundreds of legislators at all levels, soliciting political support for Belarus's movement for independence. During the past 20 years, under the leadership of Anton Shukeloyts, this organization has achieved an outstanding record of support for political dissidents and for the Belarusan National Front in the homeland.

Individual and Group Contributions

Several Belarusan Americans have made noteworthy contributions to American society and to the Belarusan community. An early attempt to form a Belarusan landsmen's circle was made by Dr. Aleksandr Sienkievich and some of his friends in Baltimore, Maryland, between 1910 and 1912. Although he recognized the need for such an organization, he soon became involved with the anarchist movement in the United States and was lost to the Belarusan movement. Viable Belarusan organizations were established in Chicago in the 1920s by such people as Anton and Jan Charapuks, Jazep Varonka, Rev. John Tarasevich, Makar Ablazhej, and a number of others who maintained contact with the Belarusan national movement in the homeland. Varonka, in particular, had already distinguished himself in Belarus by serving as the prime minister of the Belarusan National Republic before coming to the United States in 1923. He also started the first Belarusan newspaper in the United States, The White Ruthenian Tribune (1926) and pioneered radio broadcasts in the Belarusan language (1929).

After World War II, several Belarusan Americans distinguished themselves, including: Jan Zaprudnik (1927– ), author of books on Belarus and Belarusans in America, former editor of Radio Liberty (Belarus section), and specialist in ethnic groups in the former Soviet Union; Zora Kipel (1928– ), author and assistant Chief of Slavic Division at the New York Public Library; Galina Rusak, artist and professor at Rutgers University; Tamara Staganovich, a leading artist; and Natalla Arsiennieva (1902-1997), a prolific poet.



Bielarus/The Belarusan.

A monthly Belarusan-language newspaper, established in 1950 by the Belarusan American Association, that chronicles the Belarusan presence in the United States and promotes the idea of Belarusan independence.

Contact: Jan Zaprudnik, Editor.

Address: 166-34 Gothic Drive, Jamaica, New York 11432.

Telephone: (908) 247-1822.

Fax: (908) 418-9838.

Bielaruski Dumka.

A semi-annual publication, with Belarusan and English text, dealing with politics, cultural events, and art in the United States and abroad.

Contact: Joseph Leschanka, Editor.

Address: P.O. Box 26, South River, New Jersey 08882-0026.

Bielaruski Moladz.

Quarterly publication intended for young Belarusans; includes materials on history, culture, and heritage preservation.

Contact: Raisa Stankevich, Editor.

Address: PO Box 1123, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08903-1123.

Telephone: (212) 380-2036.


Publishes new writings in Belarusan literature, art, history, poetry, and book reviews.

Contact: Vitaut Kipel, Editor.

Address: Belarusan Institute of Arts and Sciences, 230 Springfield Ave., Rutherford, New Jersey 07070.

Telephone: (201) 933-6807.

Fax: (201) 438-4565.

Journals include Belarusan Thought (South River, New Jersey), Polacak (Cleveland, Ohio), and Bielarusan Review (Torrance, California).

Organizations and Associations

Immigrants arriving after World War II were anxious to establish organizations that would promote Belarusan consciousness and maintain their heritage here. They were active and vocal proponents of an independent Belarusan state and an independent Belarusan religious community. Among the first secular and religious organizations established by these immigrants were: United Whiteruthenian American Relief Committee, headquartered in South River, New Jersey (established in 1949); Belarusan American Association, Inc. (established in New York City in 1949 and chartered in Albany, New York, in 1950); the Byelorussian American Youth Organization (established in Cleveland, Ohio in 1951 and affiliated with the Belarusan American Association); the Belarusan American Congress Committee (established in 1951); the Belarusan American Academic Society, a student organization (established in 1951); the Association of Bielarusians in Illinois (established in 1953); several dozen women's organizations, veterans, various professional groups (physicians, poets, and writers); the Belarusan American Union (established in New York in 1965); and other smaller youth groups, such as scouts, YMCA groups, and several religious societies. These Belarusan organizations offer social, political, cultural, educational, recreational, and religious programs and activities. Over the past 40 years or more, about one hundred new Belarusan groups have been formed in dozens of states. These diverse organizations share two common characteristics: their anti-Communist stance; and their commitment to the goal of an independent and democratic Belarusan state.

The following is a list of some of the more prominent Belarusan organizations:

Belarusan Institute of Arts and Sciences.

Reference and documentation center for Belarus, its history, literature, arts, and more, as well as on Belarusan Americans and their accomplishments in the United States. Maintains a collection of more than 5,000 books and periodicals.

Contact: Vitaut Kipel, President.

Address: 230 Springfield Avenue, Rutherford, New Jersey 07070.

Telephone: (201) 933-6807.

Fax: (201) 438-4565.

Belarusian Congress Committee of America (BCCA).

Provides information about Belarus and Americans of Belarusian descent; supports the development of independent Belarus.

Contact: Russell R. Zavistovich, President.

Address: 724 West Tantallon Drive, Fort Washington, Maryland 20744.

Telephone: (301) 292-2610.

Fax: (301) 292-8140.

Belarusian-American Association in USA.

Established in 1949. Concerned with Belarus history and political events, Belarusan American history and achievements, Belarusan American publishing activities.

Contact: Jan Zaprudnik.

Address: 166-34 Gothic Drive, Jamaica, New York 11432.

Telephone: (908) 247-1822.

Fax: (908) 418-9838.

Byelorussian American Women Association (BAWA).

Aims to preserve national identity, cultural heritage, and traditions.

Contact: Vera Bartul, President.

Address: 146 Sussex Drive, Manhasset, New York 11030.

Telephone: (516) 627-9195.

Byelorussian American Youth Organization.

Established in 1950, with members between 15 and 35 years old, its aim is to preserve Belarusan language, culture, and heritage. Sponsors folk dances and student scholarships.

Contact: George Azarko.

Address: PO Box 1123, New Brusnwick, New Jersey 08903.

Telephone: (732) 560-8610.

Sources for Additional Study

Belarus: Then and Now (series). Minneapolis, Minnesota: Lerner Publications, 1993.

Byelorussian Cultural Tradition in America. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University, 1983.

Cardasco, Francis. "Byelorussians" in Dictionary of American Ethnic History. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1990.

Kipel, Vitaut. "Byelorussians in the United States," Ethnic Forum, Volume 9, Nos. 1-2, 1989, pp. 75-90.

Zaprudnik, Jan. Historical Dictionary of Belarus. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1998.

User Contributions:

calvin vladyka
A good source of information on Belarus, many esoteric facts and truisms re 'White Russia'.
Dennis Spath
I'm interested in providing biographical information about Fathers Chrysostom and Vladimir Tarasevich relating to their citation in the excellent Wikipedia Article about Eastern Catholic (Uniate) Churches. I knew and loved them both for their work Christ the Redeemer Church on the Northwest Side of Chicago; worked very closely with Father Vladimir in the early to mid 1960's. I've written to St. Procopius Abbey for their assistance fleshing out their academic background and formation as bi-ritual Benedictine Monks...involvement with the Chicago Area Belarus Community. I was there when their President in exile visited from Paris...had too much Vodka that evening...while one of the younger parishoners at the table translated the impassioned and moving speeches! I would appreciate any info you may be able to provide.
i am the granddaughter of people who supposedly came from vilna and belarus during the early 1900's. do you have an archives where i could look up anton borsuk, born in 1865 and olga albanovich born on marh 25, 1886.
I am a great great grandaughter of Aaron and Cohen of Minsk with the same story. I need a list of survivors (1906) or people that fled. I'd like to find any family relatives there. That would be a miricle.
Seth Dubowsky
I am currently researching my family genealogy. Also a great grand child of someone from Belarus, the area near Minsk. To Borsuk and Michelle . . . records are difficult, there are many mis-spellings of family names, and it requires some detective work. My great grandfather came in 1906, so I am in the same time frame as you. US Census records are helpful. Also, passenger lists for Boston, New York, Baltimore harbors. Ellis Island has an excellent web page with all their available records. Any help I can render or information we can share would be great. Don't give up on your search!
I am looking for any information on a small town called Pesowa or Pesona. I have found records of my great grandmother's arrival with my grandfather in 1913, and have this as their place of origin. Family name was originally Dubofsky. Thank you.
Mary Lubanski
I am searching for assistance for my son Kevin Lubanski. He is attending Coastel Carolina in South Carolina. His father passed away November 2007. His dad served in the Army 1977- 1980. Jay (Kevin's dad) was born in Belarusia. I wanted to know if there were any Grants or scholorships available to students with Belarusian decent.
Retta Sell
I have hit a brick wall trying to find immigration data on my Grandfather, but I have this piece of paper written by him, sometime around 1910, he immigrated sometime after 1905 and no later than 1909, Since he and my grandmother were married in 1910. I have searched Ellis Island, and Ancestry using any and all different spelling of our name. I sent a request to INS using the information I had and they were unable to find anything except the form he completed in 1940 when all legal immigrants were required to register. I had high hopes that if he had changed the spelling of his surname then I would have it to research. But was nothing on the form to indicate a different spelling, it did state however, that his point of immigration was Galveston, and I have searched that data base and found nada. So this brings us to this point, I have had some individuals look at this note, that he wrote, and all say it is not Russian, even though, all the census records indicate he is Russian, anyway, after reading the article above, I feel I may be onto maybe finding some information. I would love to send a copy to you just on the chance that you or someone may be able to provide something for me. Please email me an address to send it. Thank you for your consideration.
mike stanley
the Belarusian artist Nicolay Paskevich is now featured in Wikipedia. there is also a video posted on Utube that covers a trip to Minsk that includes a reception at the National Museum where some of his work is featured.
To borsuk: do you know there region they were from? There is no one genealogy database, so you need to inquire into specific archives...
To michelle: I recommend getting in touch with one of the Jewish communities in Minsk
To Seth Dubowsky: there is a small town in the south of Belarus called Пясова (Piasova, russian.: Песово). Perhaps that's the one?
To Retta Sell: if you publish the note or your email, I can help you out with translation. Alternatively, you can also ask r/translator reddit community
Lisa Agoglia
My father was born in minsk in 1937.We dont know much about his birth parents...father died in the war and his mother died from a disease. He was in an orphanage with his older brother before he got adopted unfortunately my father passed away when I was 12. Is there any way to research by using his adopted parents names of researching our background. Are we russian or belarusian??
My mother's parents immigrated to the USA from the Belarusian city of Nesvizh. My grandfather Aleksandr Gerasimovich arrived in America in 1912. My grandmother followed in 1914. I was fortunate to inherit some immigration documents related to my grandparents as well as finding information about them in US immigration archives. As Mr. Kipel stated in this article many Eastern Orthodox Belarusians such as my grandparents that arrived in America with Imperial Russian passports of the Tsar were recorded as Russians. In my grandparents case the city of their birth Nesvizh was annexed to Poland from 1921-1939 and in later US immigration documents my grandparents were recorded as Polish. Many ethnic Belarusian immigrants to America in this era were misidentified as being Russian and/or Polish. Their true ethnic identity as Belarusians was not recorded as such by the US government. It is sad that my grandparents were unable to return to Belarus after leaving there in 1912 and 1914. They both died in America without ever seeing their parents or siblings again for the remainder of their lives.

I was fortunate to be reunited with my grandmother's relatives in Belarus starting on my first visit there in 1993. They were very helpful in informing me of my grandmother's family history up to a certain point. I was able to visit my grandmother's parents' graves at the cemetery in Nesvizh. My grandmother's sisters are also buried nearby in the Nesvizh cemetery. Unfortunately I have been unable to locate any of my grandfather's relatives or locate his parents' graves. I have no information about them other than the family surname of Gerasimovich.

It is my understanding there is the National Historical Archives of Belarus located in Minsk that has some information about births, deaths, marriages etc from the 18th and 19th centuries. It is my hope to find more information about my Belarusian ancestors using some of the data I already have about them. I think I would have to hire a professional Belarusian genealogist with experience researching the National Historical Archives of Belarus.

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