March 15: Remembering Ukrainia, North Dakota
Ukraine has known war in recent years; and this European nation has rarely known true independence. The Ukrainians, as a Slavic people-group, have their own language and culture. However, due to Ukraine’s great natural wealth, it has been predominantly been ruled by Russia.
Numerous Ukrainians, for economic and freedom reasons, immigrated to America from the 1890s onward. About 5,000 Ukrainians came to North Dakota.
The first contingent arrived in western North Dakota in 1896, becoming farmers in Billings and Stark Counties, bringing their distinctive ethnic traditions with them.
In 1906, a large group settled in Billings County. Led by Mr. Dmytro (AKA “Metro”) Repetowsky, they established homesteads near the North Branch of the Green River. Soon thereafter, their community became known as “Ukrainia,” with a post office in Joe Malkowsky’s general-store, where Malkowsky became Postmaster.
An older version of the name Ukraine, “Ukrainia” means “frontier” or the “borderland” – between Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Poland.
The Ukrainian-Americans who founded the place they called “Ukrainia,” raised their children in their homes on outlying farmsteads. One of the children of the community was born on this date, in 1910. William Kordonowy attended country school, and in 1928 he married Pauline Syminow. They lived near nearby Fryberg, until Pauline’s death in 1971. William remarried in 1972 to Josephine Piotrowski, and they moved to Belfield. William Kordonowy died in 1989, having worked as a farmer and carpenter for 40 years.
When Kordonowy and his fellow Ukrainian-Americans lived near Ukrainia, their central focus was on St. Demetrius Ukrainian-Catholic Church, built in 1905-1906. That church burned down in 1928, and was rebuilt in 1930.
The 1930s Depression-years brought drought and poor crops, forcing a number of the people off the land. The population declined so steeply that Ukrainia’s store and post-office buildings got moved to Belfield.
With winter’s snows and seasonal rains making the roads to church impassable for 3-to-4 months of the year, the church was also relocated. In 1949, it was moved fourteen miles from Ukrainia to its present-day location along U.S. Highway 85, north of Belfield.
Today, the onion-domed St. Demetrius Ukrainian-Catholic Church stands as a picturesque landmark along the highway, nestled among hundreds of trees planted from the 1950s onward, a testimonial to Ukrainian faithfulness and perseverance.
Dakota Datebook by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, Retired MSUM History Professor
- William Nick Kordonowy, N.D. Certificate of Death, State Department of Health, (Date of Birth: March 15, 1910), May 4, 1989. “William Nick Kordonowy,” U.S. Find a Grave Index, Ancestry.com, birth and death dates. “W. Kordonowy,” Bismarck Tribune, May 7, 1989, p. 15.
- Mary Ann Barnes Williams, Origins of North Dakota Place Names (Washburn, ND: Bismarck Tribune, 1966), p. 31.
- Mark Kinders, “Ukrainians Started Out Simply,” Bismarck Tribune, February 16, 1982, p. 53.
- William C. Sherman, Prairie Mosaic: An Ethnic Atlas of Rural North Dakota (Fargo: N.D. Institute for Regional Studies, 1983), p. 21-22.
- Theodore B. Pedeliski, “Ukrainians,” in William C. Sherman and Playford V. Thorson, editors, Plains Folk: North Dakota’s Ethnic History (Fargo: NDSU Institute for Regional Studies, 1988), p. 261, 262, 267-272.
- Michael Bobersky, “The Role of the Church in North Dakota’s Ukrainian Communities: A Personal Memoir,” North Dakota History 53, No. 4 (Fall 1986), p. 28-32.
- Christopher Martin, “Skeleton of Settlement: Ukrainian Folk Building in Western North Dakota,” Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, Vol. 3 (1989), p. 96.