Story: Russians, Ukrainians and Baltic peoples

Page 2. Ukrainians and Baltic peoples

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Only when the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991 did many New Zealanders appreciate properly that the union had included many other nationalities besides Russian. The second largest Slavic group, the Ukrainians, had a long history of subjection before the Ukraine became independent in 1991.

There had been a few Ukrainians among the displaced people who came to New Zealand after the Second World War. In the 1990s there was a further small influx. The 1,350 people born in the Ukraine living in New Zealand in 2013 were enough to support a Ukrainian association in Auckland and a small club in Wellington. Contacts were maintained with the larger community in Australia, particularly through the Ukrainian Catholic Church for Australia, New Zealand and Oceania.

In the early 2000s there were very few immigrants in New Zealand who had come from other former Soviet republics, such as Belarus (201) and Moldova (84).

People from the Baltic states

The Baltic states – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – were occupied by Germany, and after the Second World War by the Soviet Union. But when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 they regained their independence. Fabian von Bellingshausen, the ‘Russian’ explorer who visited New Zealand in 1820, was born in Estonia.

Small numbers came from the Baltic states before the end of the Second World War. Karl Pallo, an Estonian engineer who arrived in 1929, succeeded in business. The father of another businessman, Woolf Fisher, who was born in Wellington in 1912, was a Latvian Jew. Alexander Astor, New Zealand’s leading rabbi for more than 40 years, had Latvian and Lithuanian parents.

‘Russian Jacks’

Barrett Crumen, who arrived from Latvia in 1912, was just one of several New Zealand swaggers (tramps) known as ‘Russian Jack’. This name was given to anyone on the road who had a thick accent. Another ‘Russian Jack’ who walked the roads around the Canterbury town of Methven was said to have been a ‘real Russian’ who had fled across Siberia, presumably after the 1917 Russian Revolution, and then jumped ship in Auckland.

People from the Baltic states came to New Zealand in significant numbers only after the Second World War, when they were preferred by the New Zealand government over other displaced persons. Between 1945 and 1956, Latvians in New Zealand increased from 65 to 538, Estonians from 45 to 240, and Lithuanians from 24 to 207. One Estonian who arrived in 1950 as a displaced person, Ortvin Sarapu, dominated chess in New Zealand for a full generation and was awarded an MBE for his services to the game in 1980. The New Zealand communities of all three nationalities were less than one-tenth the size of those in Australia. From the 1960s the groups slowly declined as the few new arrivals failed to replace those who departed or died. By 2013 the number of Latvians had fallen to 300, Lithuanians to 189 and Estonians to 141.

Like the Ukrainians, the small New Zealand communities of all three nationalities maintained ties with their Australian counterparts.

How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'Russians, Ukrainians and Baltic peoples - Ukrainians and Baltic peoples', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 28 May 2024)

Story by John Wilson, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 25 Mar 2015