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Russian Immigration to America after 1945 Essay

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Updated: Nov 28th, 2021


The first Russians immigrants reached America in early 1747 and initially settled in Alaska having come as fur traders. Following their settlement in the area, they brought about the Orthodox Church which became active in the region’s transformation and in 1795 the place became a colony of Russia. The first settlements were founded on Kodiak, an Alaskan coast island and they extended to the Alaska mainland Yakutat and Sitka. With increased tension between Britain and Russia, Russia sold its possession of Alaska to America in 1867 and moved southwards to California and Oregon while others moved back to Russia

Approximately 2.95 million Russians are in America according to the 1990 US census results while other sources say that 750,000 Americans have roots in Russia; 44% of these people live in the North East (Boston areas), 16% in the Midwest, 18% in the South, and 22% in the West (Russians and East Europeans in America, 2009 para 4). Today, the Russians immigrants are concentrated in the East like the Alaska area, and in major cities like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Detroit. Russians’ homelands have been described as two, the present day Russia is one and it includes the territory presently inhabited by the ethnic Russians. The second is the territory beyond Russia historically described as part of the Russian empire which was later known as the Soviet Union (Russians and East Europeans in America, 2009 para 5). Russian Americans are the first immigrants and their descendants originated from countries such as Baltic, Belarus, and Ukraine.

The Russians migration to America was forced by several factors and history has several immigration and emigration stories that Russians underwent. The Russian immigration to America can be seen in four different waves as explained in this paper. The third wave is described as the promise to America and was the wave that occurred after 1945, and the fourth wave known as the second exodus is illustrated as well as its effects and causes. The major Russian American achievements that have changed Americans have also been given and the Russian desire to preserve their culture is prominently seen in their habits and religious practices.

The first wave

The first wave of migration of the Russians was in the second half of the nineteenth century and during the early 20th Century before the First World War. This migration involved the Jews running away from the Pale Settlement. The Pale was a territory established in 1786 after division of Poland where the Jews were forced to move out. During this time the Jews practiced business for livelihood and they educated their children to the university level (Gibney, & Hansen, 2005 p.134).

They maintained strict orthodox doctrines and never allowed marriage between Jews and non-Jews. Some Russians immigrants were connected to the religion and they settled in Los Angeles and later moved to Willamette Valley in Oregon. The Molokans were known for their agricultural practices and religious practices of sobraniye, which was a religious service they attended regularly. Many of the Starovery settled in Oregon and Alaska (Hardwick, 1993 p.117).

The starovery are much known for their dressing in clothes reminiscent (the shirt, belt, and cross) of the eighteenth and nineteenth century at all times. They also practiced fishing and building of boats in their areas of residence. This was the migration termed as the freedom from religious persecutions which was the first to occur.

The second wave

Russia was mainly affected during WWI to an extent that the empire of tsarist became extinct in March 1917. A second revolution occurred in November 1917 led by the Bolsheviks and was headed by Vladimir Lenin. The revolution was opposed by majority of the population, which resulted in to a civil war. The 1917-1921civil war and revolution gave rise to the second wave of migrations of Russian to America. This period was characterized by violent insurgence, property destruction, and political radicalism in the Soviet Union forcing approximately 2 million Russian to flee (Thernstrom, 1980 p.833).

Estimates show that majority went directly to the US while others sought refuge in France and Germany. Majority were officials of government, the aristocrats, those who owned in industries, those who sold shops, education officials, advocates, soldiers, and the religious leaders and the rich and rulers of czarist (Hardwick, 1993 p.118). They sought jobs of their earlier professions in major cities such as New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and Boston. They continued to hide from the war and survive in the US although most of the poor were left and died in the war. This was referred to as the escape from revolution. In the end of the revolution the Bolsheviks won and in 1922 they created a new state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, also known as the Soviet Union.

The USSR proclaimed the establishment of communism globally, targeting the introduction of Bolshevik rule abroad, but many countries had fear for the rule, and hence the Soviet Union was separated from the rest of the world for almost 20 years. It was seen as directly related to the political upheaval at the time in the former Russian Empire (Hardwick, 1993 p.532).

Many Russian immigrants who included the military staff from anti-Bolshevik squads, nobles, religious leaders of the Orthodox Church, those who practiced business, artists, inventors, or peasants farmers moved out of Russian immediately after WWI. Whichever background they were from either non-Jewish (the majority) or Jewish, the refugees had the same thing in common they had a deep hatred for the new Bolshevik/communist regime in their homeland Russia, since they were opposed to communist Reds. The refugees later were known as the Whites.

The third wave

After the World War II, occurred in 1945, and then a third wave of immigration occurred. There were massive displacements from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Some migrated to the United States, others were taken to camps, while others escaped westwards away from the advancing Soviet Union army. All this was happening during the 1944-1945 period. Others that fled were the anti-Bolshevik Russians who had settled in the East parts of Europe like Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, and Baltic States that were taken captive under the Soviet Union domination after the Second World War.

The end of WWII saw western countries – US included – take repatriate all persons living in the western sides and who had roots in the Soviet Union. The military of the US and the European authorities worked together in the repatriation. 2 million Soviet Union residents were returned between 1945 and 1948. Their return was not safe and many were imprisoned while others were executed yet others exiled to Siberia. To evade such treatments, many refugees claimed to be from other Slavic nations but not Russia. Many Russian immigrants who participated in the third wave of immigration settled in America after WWII despite being victims of the widespread suspicion or perception that they were Soviet Union agents and spies (Russians and East Europeans in America, 2009 para 6).

These agents and spies had infiltrated the Russian emigrating community in America. There was a rise in an anti-Soviet mood in the whole region and this was led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, on Communist infiltration and they reached their peak in the early 1950s. Russians were generally seen as communist’s activists or sympathizers whether in Europe or North America. This made people fear to be associated with Russia or be known as being of Russian origin. These immigrants settled in large American industrial towns and cities like New York and Chicago, just like their East European immigrants. They ended up being engineers, educators, government employees and factory workers. This was referred to as the promise of America (Gibney & Hansen, 2005 p.533).

The third wave of emigration to the United States (1945-1955) was as a result of the World War II effects following the invasion by Germans who took control of their land to an extent of enslaving some Russians. Some of the immigrants stayed in refugee camps either in Germany or Austria. Finally they got a chance seek refuge in the United States. Approximately 20,000 of these Russian displaced people migrated to the US.

The fourth wave

This was characterized by struggles of conflicting ideas and political systems. Reasons given for the immigration from Russia were anti-Semitism, strict regulations of the way of life for the Russians, poverty and hunger, there was also widespread human right violations such as freedom of expression, freedom of worship and religious practices oppressions. This is referred to as the second exodus. The arrival of the Russians in the US has made Russian languages one of the frequently heard or spoken foreign languages on the streets and pavements of the American cities (Beauregard, 2006 p.45).

This fourth and recent wave of immigration to America has necessitated American students of Russian descent with opportunities to speak and use their native language in the United States. It has also given rise to a demand for trained social workers, secretaries, lawyers, doctors and other professionals with Russian language skills. This wave of immigration involved the immigration of the intellectuals and experts in various fields of technology and science. Statistics indicate that around most of the immigrants from the Soviet Union during the 1990’s were mainly academicians, scientists, professional and technical workers.

The fourth wave of immigration to the US started in late 1969 and was legal where the Jews had to move from the Soviet union to the US following a bilateral accord between the two nations, an era describes as the era of detention. The agreement was aimed at allowing major western super powers to start and continue investing heavily in the economy, culture, and social relationship with the Soviet Union which was their rival due to communism.

In 1990, 2,953,000 Americans identified themselves wholly (71.6%) or partially (28.4 %) of Russian roots, almost 44% have residents in the Northeast and to be specific, the Russian Jews concentrated in towns and cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston The Russian who were not Jewish and hailed from the Soviet Union and the “Carpatho-Rusyns went and established settlements in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, and also in states like Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Pennsylvania” (Russians and East Europeans in America, 2009 para. 4). Many other members of molokan, which was a Russian religious sect, went further and settled in states like California during the beginning of the twentieth century.

The immigrant Russian army, the aristocrats, teachers, lawyers, and inventors lived in cities and states like New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago while some of the Russians who had settled in farm rich areas started engaging in agricultural activities; such groups included the Don and Kuban Cossacks. Moreover, there was another group o f Russians that had moved from the Eastern territory of Russia and the Chinese Manchuria who moved and set base in the states of California, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

The impacts and cultural preservation

The Russian immigrants of the fourth wave were more inclined to living in cities and they mostly preferred to settle in the city of New York, following the footsteps of their predecessors. Moreover, Russians had established communities and habitats in small towns in states e.g. Brighton Beach in Brooklyn where they fondly practiced their culture. These waves of immigration brought some benefits to the Russian immigrants in the US. In 1939, only 19 American colleges taught or accepted Russian in their system but with the break of world war II Russians started to learn widely in American colleges. And in 1946 a number of academic institutions were teaching Russian. The decade of 1958-69 enrollments in colleges by the Russians doubled and in 1968 Russian language was taught in all the states.

Russian settlements that were seen to exist in the first two waves of immigration were predicted to be recurrent. In the last three decades increased immigration towards the states that were mainly populated by original Russians such as Florida and California has been common. There has been an increase in newcomers mainly from the Russian communities of the northeast. Several laws and acts have been involved in the management of the refugees since the waves started, which include; the Immigration Act of 1975, the Refugee Act of 1980, and the Immigration Act of 1990. Many of the Russian immigrants and their families and relatives have assimilated in the mainstream American life successfully, but few have resisted the American cultures holding on to their traditional life and culture.

Many of those who have maintained the old way of life are the orthodox Christians, Old believers and the non orthodox Molokan Christians. The immigrants as a whole have continued to speak and use the Russian language at home and even in schools where the languages are taught. Their dress code which is distinct and their religious based lifestyle of the immigrants help them maintain their social status from the rest of the American communities and cultures.

Russians in the US has been faced with several problems, the first being associated with communism which made them to keep a low profile. They have also been associated with organized crime. Many speculators and gamblers during the times of war had streamed to Russia and are believed to have played a hand in the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Some of the Russian immigrants have been associated with practicing illegal business and contraband contracts, and are mainly found in community areas such as Brighton Beach where the illegal transactions are carried.

The Russian Americans immigrants carried their traditions of food and they enjoy their cuisine of traditional dishes which include a variety of rich and tasty soups. The immigrants mostly felt out of place especially due to language barrier and most could not speak English thus limiting them to exclusively communicating with their immediate ethnic people, a scenario that led to the extension of English learning among the Russians. It wasn’t however easy considering that most pf the native Russian immigrants had strongly believed in their language and culture hence they saw it as a symbol of identity and therefore they were not ready to be detached from it. These were some of the contributions of the Russian language continuation in the United States and it is also claimed that Russian is the dominant language among the various Slavic languages available.

The Russians who migrated after the Bolshevik revolution were the most conservative and they preserved the original communication model that forms the root of the Russian language. This gave rise to two different Russian literatures which existed till when the “fall of Soviet Union which included the Soviet Union literature and the Russian literature” (Beauregard, 2006 p.46).


The Russian immigrants have been numerous in the American lands. The four waves of the immigration saw numerous Russians flee their homeland due to various reasons. These immigrants have led to growth and development of the Russian communities in the American cities, neighborhoods and towns. The Russians in America have not been left behind but have been involved in major economic, social and other changes in the country.

The major inventions in the US are associated with the Russians. People like, Sergey Brin born August 21, 1973, in Moscow, was a co-founder of Google, which is one of the largest internet company, Igor Sikorsky was a Russian-American pioneer who designed the first multi-engine fixed-wing aircraft, Vladimir Nabokov was a Russian novelist in the USA, Vladimir Zworykin was a Russian-American pioneer who invented television technology, Milla Jovovich Ukrainian-born American model, actress, musician, and fashion designer working with companies such as Revlon and Christian Dior, and Wonsal (Voronov) brothers, who established the American film company, Warner Brothers Entertainment which is a giant in the industry (6 Russian People Who Changed the USA, 2009 para.3). this makes the Russians who have made these contributions to be highly regarded not only in the US or Russia but also in the whole world since their impacts are felt far and wide.

The Russians have not been involved in the politics of the land but have been seen actively in the labor movements, technical fields and educational fields. The main reasons for immigration which may be economic hardships, political instability, or religious attacks or discriminations on future immigrants, should be checked so as to reduce the effects of people being displaced from their native lands. Peace is essential to end the fate of the refugees around the world.

Work cited

Beauregard, Robert A. . Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press. 2006. Web.

Gibney, Matthew J. & Hansen, Randall. Immigration and asylum: from 1900 to the present, Volume 3. California, ABC-CLIO. 2005. Web.

Hardwick, Susan Wiley. . London, University of Chicago Press. 1993. Web.

“Russians and East Europeans in America.” Russians and East Europeans in America. Web.

Thernstrom, Stephan. . London, Harvard College. 1980. Web.

”. 2009. Web.

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