Clustered in what became known as “Displaced Persons (DP) camps”, Ukrainians rapidly formed unique self-governing groups and activated numerous cultural and other organizations. The notion of self-supporting cultural organizations (with no objections from the prevailing government) had been conceived during the period of Polish and Austro-Hungarian occupations of Ukrainian territories. Those that were organized in the DP camps later became springboards for organizations that are active today in the Diaspora. The time spent in the DP camps was effectively a “boot camp” for Ukrainians migrating to the West. Prof. Subtelny summed up this effect in his opening remarks: “We [the Ukrainian Diaspora] would not be here if it were not for the DP experience.”
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The 200,000+ ethnic Ukrainians who remained in the West were a diverse group coming from all walks of life. About 120,000 of them were forced laborers brought from Ukraine to work in German and Austrian factories or on farms. The rest were, as Prof. Subtelny put it, an “urbanized, educated intelligentsia.” Of this latter group most were Galician political activists with others being East bank Ukrainian activists, all working for an independent Ukraine: Petliurists (followers of Ukraine’s first president, Symon Petliura), Banderites (followers of Stepan Bandera), Melnykites (followers of Andrij Melnyk), Ukrainian monarchists (supporters of Hetman Skoropadsky), and other politically motivated Ukrainians. Further, many were students who had come to Germany or Austria before the war to pursue higher education, while others were family members of the Galicia Division soldiers who fought against the onslaught of the communist armies.
After the war the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA) was deployed throughout Europe for the purpose of restoring order in the ravaged areas. DP facilities were quickly arranged in former German military barracks, labors camps and schools, although UNRRA was surprised to discover that as many as 2 million displaced foreigners remaining in Germany and Austria had no intention of returning to their native lands. Eventually (~1947), UNRRA turned operations over to the International Relief Organization (IRO) which managed the overwhelming task of resettling the DP’s. Initially, UNRRA resisted the idea of all-Ukrainian camps, but later relented under pressure from the already organized community leaders. Of 700 DP camps as many as 80 were for Ukrainians. The camps ranged in size from populations as large as 6,000 to as small as 500.
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The camp population was relatively young – 75% in the 18-35 range. About one-half of the youths joined an organization. 60% of the adult population was involved in at least one organization, and 70% of the women had joined a women’s group.
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Cultural life in the camps thrived. Public events from 1946 to 1947 in the American zone alone included some 1820 plays, 1315 concerts, and 2044 lectures. There were 49 choirs and 34 drama groups. Each camp had 2 or 3 events staged every week. One noteworthy positive effect was that the less educated were exposed to a rich cultural life that they would not otherwise have experienced in Ukraine.
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One of the most unique formations within the camp system was the school system set up by and for Ukrainians, and accomplished completely without assistance from UNRRA. 1500 Ukrainian educators, a “surfeit” of professional teachers, found themselves in the post-war free zones. Beginning with the kindergartens of which a total of 70 were created, the system grew to include 102 elementary schools, 30 high schools, 43 trade schools, and 2 universities.