Analytical Brief, n.29, July 2023

The war in Ukraine has sparked significant divisions within the Western expert community, with some academic experts and foreign policy analysts, including notable figures such as John Mearsheimer and Henry Kissinger, attributing responsibility for the ongoing conflict to the United States and its perceived reckless policy of NATO expansion. According to this perspective, the U.S. has failed to acknowledge Russia's sphere of influence and neglected to address its legitimate security concerns. Critics of this position counter by pointing out that Ukraine is a sovereign state and its people have the right to decide their future within the international system. Both groups tend to overlook the intricate context of U.S. foreign policy formulation and hardly ever address the role of the ethnic lobbies as part of that process.

The United States, being a polyethnic state with a historical foundation laid by immigrants, operates within a complex political landscape where legislators, executive members, and media entities face constant pressure from diverse ethnopolitical lobbies. Within this milieu, the Ukrainian American lobby has been an active and influential political player in Washington D.C. since the conclusion of World War II. The Ukrainian diaspora and its affiliated groups have exerted considerable influence as active participants in the United States political landscape for several decades. Their engagement spans various facets, including shaping the Ukraine narrative, advocating for the "Ukrainian" agenda, and effectively advancing it to become a significant component of U.S. foreign policy.

Consequently, attributing the eastward expansion of NATO solely to consecutive U.S. presidential administrations would be an oversimplification. A notable instance demonstrating the impact of ethnopolitical factors on NATO expansion arose in 1997 when Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, expressing concern to Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene and Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, asserted that the enlargement of NATO was influenced by the pressure exerted by "ethnic voting blocks in the United States" in support of their respective causes.(1) While this dynamic was evident in the case of countries like Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, it is logical to assume that Ukraine's situation is subject to even more pronounced influence from such ethnopolitical interests.

But just as the US foreign policy toward Ukraine had been affected by the Ukrainian-American lobby, so was the domestic political landscape in Ukraine affected by the Ukrainian emigrant groups operating inside and outside Ukraine. In many ways, Ukrainian nationalist politics since 2004 (the Orange Revolution) and 2013 (Euromaidan) are the result of the influence exerted by these groups.

The Ukrainian Master Narrative

Before evolving into a geopolitical conflict, the Russo-Ukrainian discord should be understood as a conflict of narratives, characterized by clashes in meaning-making. For nearly eight decades the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States (and to a lesser extent in Canada) has played a crucial role in shaping the public perception of the “Ukrainian issue”. With limited information on Ukraine available to the American politicum and general public before WWII, the narrative of the Ukrainian national liberation struggle formulated primarily by émigré nationalists from Galicia became the predominant and accessible account of Ukraine's history and aspirations in the US. Since the Ukrainian Americans (and to an extent the Ukrainian Canadians) defined the agenda, they controlled it.

Their master narrative unfolds as follows: Ukrainians are ancient and freedom-loving people who have inhabited Eastern Europe since time immemorial. They boast a rich tradition of statehood and democracy, exemplified by the illustrious Kievan' Rus, which emerged as the largest medieval state in Europe during the 11th and 12th centuries with its capital in Kyiv. Despite succumbing to Mongol incursions in the 13th century, the Ukrainian state thrived in the Principality of Galicia also known as The Russian Kingdom. However, eventual entanglement first with Poland and later with Moscow resulted in the loss of Ukrainian statehood, independence, and liberty, as their land was colonized and their culture, traditions, and language were suppressed.

The resurgence of the Ukrainian people began in the 19th century, marked by the profound impact of the poet Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861), the progenitor of the modern Ukrainian nation. Another pivotal figure in this Ukrainian mythos is Mykhailo Hrushevsky (1867-1934), a historian instrumental in challenging the Russian imperial narrative that sought to assert the unity of all Orthodox people in the empire and establish direct continuity between Rus' and the Suzdalia-Muscovy-Russian Empire. Hrushevsky asserted that Ukrainians were the authentic heirs to the ancient Kievan’ Rus civilization through the Principality of Galicia, distinct from Moscow or modern-day Russians. In fact, he contended that Ukrainians constituted the genuine Russian ethnos, while Muscovites belonged to a different ethnic group altogether and were descendants of Mongols and Finno-Ugric tribes. According to Hrushevsky, Muscovites were usurpers, appropriating the name and history of the true Russians – the Ruthenians (the Latinized form of Russians). To counter this historical injustice, Ruthenians embraced the name «Ukrainians».(2) The actual «rebranding» of Ruthenians to Ukrainians took place in the last quarter of the XIX century and early XX century.(3)

Despite two attempts for Ukrainian independence in 1918-1920 and 1941-1945, these endeavors ultimately failed. Previously divided between Polish and Russian rule, after World War II, Ukraine found itself under the control of barbaric Russians, posing a grave threat to the world. Ukraine has consistently seen itself as an integral part of Europe (and the free world), while Russia has been perceived as an integral part of despotic Asia. With its liberation from Russian dominance, Ukraine now stands as the final bastion guarding democracy and free Europe from the Asiatic Russian horde.

Although this narrative is synthetic, originally it found most supporters and partisans among the Ukrainian nationalists in Galicia (Western Ukraine). The Ukrainian diaspora's persistent propagation of this narrative has been instrumental in solidifying and sustaining the Ukrainian national identity. This ideological message, carefully crafted and disseminated over time, remains a defining element in the ongoing dynamics of Ukrainian nationalism and its place within the broader geopolitical landscape.

The Ukrainian Master Narrative in the US

From the late 19th century until World War II, the initial two waves of Ukrainian immigrants made their way to North America. This first wave primarily consisted of agricultural laborers originating from the Austrian-controlled regions of Galicia, Bucovina, and Transcarpathia. Between 1899 and 1914, the number of arrivals reached over a quarter of a million. In 1909 there were approximately 470,000 first- and second-generation Ukrainian Americans in the United States.(4)

Of particular significance is the fact that a considerable portion of these immigrants hailed from the Austria-controlled region of Galicia, which had a noteworthy impact on the development of modern Ukrainian nationalism. The Galician brand of Ukrainian nationalism was eventually distinguished by its militancy and ethnocentricity. If initially (since1848) it was vehemently anti-Polish, sympathetic to Russia, and pro-Austrian in orientation, by the final decades of the 19th century, it evolved into an anti-Polish and anti-Russian stance, while still maintaining a pro-Austrian disposition.

The second wave of Ukrainian immigrants to North America occurred following the collapse of Ukraine's bid for independence in 1919. At that time, Western Ukraine (Galicia and Volhynia) was incorporated into Poland, while Eastern Ukraine became a Soviet socialist republic and joined the Soviet Union in 1922. This wave comprised approximately 12,000 refugees, predominantly consisting of representatives from the educated classes: intellectuals, artists, and politicians, including Ukrainian members of the Austrian and Galician parliaments.

Throughout the interwar period, Ukrainian nationalist political activities were concentrated in Europe, with the United States and Canada serving as rear bases, providing essential financial backing and volunteers when necessary.(5) North American diaspora maintained close ties with Ukrainian militants in Europe. In the summer of 1929, Yevhen Konovalets, a former Austrian officer and the progenitor of the Ukrainian Military Organization (UVO), later transforming into the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), visited the United States and Canada where encouraging discussions centered around fundraising efforts, OUN activities, and garnering general support for the Ukrainian cause. He encouraged his followers to establish Ukrainian veterans’ associations, which became the nuclei of nationalist community organizations like the Organization for the Rebirth of Ukraine (ODWU) in North America.(6)

In May 1940, following the Soviet annexation of Galicia and Volhynia, representatives of the four largest Ukrainian émigré associations in the US convened an “All-Ukrainian National Congress.” During this gathering, resolutions were passed that upheld President Roosevelt's foreign policy, denounced totalitarian aggression in Europe, and appealed for American support of the Ukrainian cause. In response to the pressing need for coordinated political activities of the Ukrainian diaspora, the Congress established a permanent committee known as The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America.

At the time, this Committee presented itself as the first and only body empowered to speak for over a million Americans of Ukrainian descent and claimed to be the most important single instrumentality in America for advancing the Ukrainian cause.(7) With this foundation, the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America began its efforts to engage in political lobbying and advocacy on behalf of Ukrainian interests, making its presence felt within the US political establishment.

Following the end of World War II, approximately 80,000 Ukrainians arrived in the US, including a significant number of members from the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and other staunch anti-Communist militants. During this period, the Ukrainian anti-communist and anti-Russian message resonated strongly with the US political establishment due to the backdrop of the Cold War. This climate provided fertile ground for the growth of the Ukrainian American lobby, which sought to assert its influence on US foreign policy toward Ukraine and broader geopolitical issues.

In 1949, Lev Dobriansky, a 31-year-old American-born Ukrainian academic of Galician descent, assumed the chairmanship of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. Under his leadership, the Committee's political lobbying efforts entered a new phase. Dobriansky, a passionate nationalist and anti-communist, harbored a strong animosity towards Russia. His tenure marked a shift towards the infiltration of government apparatus and elected bodies by the Ukrainian diaspora, aiming to establish "embedded lobbyists" who could promote their interests and exert influence on political discourse through the expert and media communities. This strategic approach allowed the Ukrainian American lobby to gain a foothold in various spheres of influence within the US political landscape, bolstering its ability to shape policy discussions related to Ukraine and its geopolitical implications.

In 1959, the United States took a significant step in advocating against communism by establishing the National Captive Nations Committee (NCNC), an organization dedicated to promoting the cause of nations under Soviet domination. As part of its efforts, the US government also introduced the annual Captive Nations Week, a period during which Americans were encouraged to examine the plight of these oppressed nations and reaffirm their commitment to supporting the just aspirations of the people living under communist rule. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a fervent anti-communist, called upon the public to closely study the circumstances of the Soviet-dominated countries and recommit themselves to standing in solidarity with the people yearning for freedom and self-determination. Lev Dobriansky played a pivotal role in lobbying for and developing both the National Captive Nations Committee (NCNC) and Captive Nations Week. He was instrumental in authoring the law that received approval from both houses of Congress, solidifying the establishment of these initiatives.

Dobriansky's efforts in the NCNC project were strongly supported by the US branch of the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations (ABN). The ABN was founded in 1946 by the controversial figure Yaroslav Stetsko, who had served as Stepan Bandera's deputy in the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (Bandera faction). Stetsko had previously collaborated with Alfred Rosenberg on a similar project. Within the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations, the OUN represented the largest contingent, with a majority of its members originating from Galicia. The ABN’s critique of the USSR equated it with Russia, depicting Soviet policies as a continuation of Imperial Russia's historical actions. They asserted that aggressive and destructive Bolshevism was a new manifestation of Russian imperialism.

Indeed, alongside figures like Yaroslav Stetsko and Dmytro Dontsov(8), Lev Dobriansky played a significant role in shaping the narrative that equated “Russian” with “Communist” and “Imperialist” for the general public in the United States. This narrative portrayed the Soviet Union as an oppressive and expansionist force that was intrinsically tied to Russian nationalism, history, and identity. In this way, Dobriansky and his counterparts played a key role in influencing public perceptions and political discourse, presenting a compelling narrative that aligned with their goals of advancing the cause of Ukraine and portraying Russia as a threat to freedom and democracy.

The Transformative Era

In the 1970s and 1980s, the influence of Ukrainian Americans in Washington continued to evolve and expand, marking a crucial period in the development of the Ukrainian diaspora's impact on US policies and perceptions related to Ukraine and the Soviet Union.(9) As Gorbachev started enacting his policies of Glasnost and Perestroika, travel restrictions to the USSR got looser. Ukrainian Americans started to travel to Ukraine. More and more communications channels were opening up. With them, Ukrainian nationalist messages started to reach a wider audience in Soviet Ukraine.

In 1991, the Ukrainian lobby in the US was instrumental in pushing President George Bush to recognize the independence of Ukraine (despite the fact that Bush did all that he could to keep Ukraine within the Soviet Union). One of the key facilitators of the negotiations between the Ukrainian American lobby and the Bush administration at that time was Roman Popadiuk, an Austrian-born Ukrainian and US Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Press Secretary for Foreign Affairs. In 1992, Popadiuk was appointed US ambassador to Ukraine.(10)

As Ukraine attained its independence, the Ukrainian diaspora redirected its efforts towards spreading its message within Ukraine and continuing to lobby the US government to support the newly established Ukrainian state. Numerous émigré organizations either established offices in Ukraine or maintained regular contact with Ukrainian state officials and civil society representatives.

The impact of the diaspora message became particularly evident during the ascent of Viktor Yushchenko to the presidency of Ukraine in 2004.(11) Yushchenko's presidency saw the rehabilitation of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its military wing, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). Through heroization, leaders like Stepan Bandera, Roman Shukhevych, and Yaroslav Stetsko were portrayed as brave freedom fighters who resisted Soviet oppression and championed Ukraine's national interests. This effort aimed to reshape the narrative surrounding nationalist groups, which had previously been associated with controversial actions during World War II. By presenting the OUN and UPA leaders as heroic and patriotic figures in the struggle for Ukraine's statehood, Yushchenko sought to rally support for his openly anti-Russian stance.

Diaspora messaging became evident during the February 2014 Euromaidan uprising when some participants, led by Galician nationalist activist Volodymyr Parasyuk, publicly rejected the agreement signed between President Yanukovych and the leaders of the Euromaidan opposition mere hours earlier. This refusal, equally endorsed by the Right Sector ultranationalist alliance, set off a chain of events, including the attack on the presidential headquarters, Yanukovych's departure from Kyiv, and ultimately, the Russian annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas.

The influence of the Ukrainian lobby in the United States was palpable in the March 2021 Atlantic Council policy paper titled “Biden and Ukraine: A Strategy for the New Administration.” This document, authored by academics, former U.S. diplomats, and government officials, provided a roadmap for President Biden's team to address Ukraine-related matters. The authors put forth several recommendations, including advocating for a substantial increase in military assistance to Ukraine, with an annual budget of $500 million. They also emphasized the importance of deepening Ukraine's integration with NATO and granting the country the status of a “major non-NATO ally under U.S. law.” Furthermore, the paper conveyed a strong message to Russia, warning that if it remains unyielding in Ukraine, the United States would consider further actions. These potential measures included establishing a permanent U.S. military presence at a Ukrainian training center located near the occupied territories and initiating a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Ukraine. (12) These policy proposals highlight the tangible impact of the Ukrainian lobby in shaping discussions and actions concerning Ukraine within the United States.(13)


To reduce the ongoing conflict only to power politics is an oversimplification of a complex historical and political issue. Narrative is not simply a re-presentation of some prior event; it is the means by which the status of reality is conferred on events. The entanglement of centuries-old ethnohistorical narratives is an important source of conflict and violence in Ukraine.

The Russian-Ukrainian war is increasingly resembling a civilizational struggle. While NATO expansion has been an important factor in the tensions, it is essential to consider the complexities of the situation. For instance, Norway, a NATO member, shares a border with Russia, yet its membership did not lead to armed conflict. Similarly, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania are also NATO members without causing military hostilities. Additionally, Finland's recent NATO accession did not result in armed confrontation. Therefore, it is evident that the conflict is not solely about the missile flight time from Ukraine to Moscow, as emphasized by Putin's remarks in June 2021.

Instead, at the core of this conflict lies the contentious issue of rightful inheritance of the civilizational legacy stemming from Ancient Rus. Putin's discourse in the summer of 2021, characterizing Ukraine's transformation into an “anti-Moscow Russia” alludes to this deeper issue.(14) From his perspective, Ukraine is seen as an integral part of Russia, while the Ukrainian people share a similar identity with Russians. This viewpoint posits that Ukrainians have been manipulated by Americans and their allies to the detriment of their ties with Russia. Putin’s mission is to reunite at least parts of Ukraine with Moscow, the true heir to the Ancient Rus heritage. This endeavor extends beyond conventional “Russian imperialism” contentions. Central to Putin's agenda is the reinstatement of Moscow's exclusive claim over the essence of "Russianness" and the safeguarding of authority over the etiological myth of “Russian civilization,” which has been contested by Ukraine.(15) This partly explains the persistent Russian preoccupation with the Ukrainian “Nazis”.

On the contrary, Ukrainians view Russians as civilizational usurpers, an Asiatic horde, akin to the Mongol horde that devastated Eastern Europe in the XIII century. The Ukrainian diaspora, supported by the United States and other Western powers, has played a significant role in perpetuating, reigniting, and spreading this narrative over the past eighty years. As the conflict unfolds, it becomes increasingly evident that underlying questions of identity, historical heritage, and civilizational legitimacy drive the tensions between Russia and Ukraine. The involvement of external powers and diaspora communities further complicates the situation and underscores the multidimensional nature of this war.


1. David M. Paul and Rachel Anderson Paul - Ethnic Lobbies and US Foreign Policy, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2009, p.1. The same year, Susan D. Fink, US military analyst, discussing the case of the US recognizing the independence of Ukraine, remarked that “the case of Ukrainian independence may indicate a shift in the U.S. domestic political process toward an increasing role for ethnic groups in the post-Cold War environment.” Susan D. Fink - From "Chicken Kyiv" to Ukrainian Recognition: Domestic Politics in U.S. Foreign Policy toward Ukraine, Harvard Ukrainian Studies, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, June 1997, Vol. 21, No. 1/2, pp. 11-61

2. Nikolai Kostomarov (1817-1885), a leading Russian-Ukrainian historian of the time from whom Hrushevsky borrowed key elements of his conceptual framework, wrote in 1861 that the names “Ukraine,” “Little Russia,” and “Hetmanate” were used in the 17th century, but have now become archaisms, He argued that these terms no longer encompass the entirety of the nation's scope but rather denote only local and temporary phenomena in its history.

3. For example, the Ruthenian National Association (RNS), formed in the United States in 1894, changed its name to the Ukrainian National Association (UNA) only in 1914.

4. Vic Satzewich - The Ukrainian diaspora. London-New York: Routledge, 2002, p.35

5. Notably, American Ukrainian volunteers actively participated in the armed struggle against Hungarian troops for the independence of the Carpathian-Ukrainian Republic in March 1939.

6. During World War II, UHO, ODWU, and UNA leaders were accused of Nazi sympathies and were called to testify before Congress. The UHO disbanded. ODWU and the UNA lost members.

7. The Story of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (1950-1951), Published by the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, New York, 1951, pp.6-10

8. The intellectual father of “integral nationalism”, a Ukrainian brand of fascism.

9. Lev Dobriansky played a significant role in the GOP's outreach efforts during the 1968 Nixon presidential campaign. Ukrainians historically aligned themselves with the Republican Party due to their perception of the Democrats' leniency toward Communism. Following Nixon's election, Ukrainian Republicans saw their influence grow. The Republican National Committee (RNC) established the Heritage Groups Council and created an ethnic affairs office within the party. The Ukrainian National Republican Federation (UNRF), representing councils in 20 states, received the esteemed Dwight D. Eisenhower Service Award in 1972. Concurrently, Taras Szmagala Sr., then serving as the director of Senator Bob Taft's Cleveland office, assumed the role of ethnic outreach director for Nixon's re-election campaign.

Dobriansky's standing and influence further flourished during President Ford's administration, as he actively engaged with Eastern European diasporas, including the Ukrainian community. This involvement earned him recognition as a key figure shaping policy discussions related to Eastern Europe within the US government. President Gerald R. Ford appointed Mayron Kuropas, of Ukrainian Galician descent, as White House special assistant for ethnic affairs. After Ford's tenure, Kuropas became a Legislative Assistant to Republican Senator Robert Dole.

Ukrainians were also represented on the staffs of Senators Taft (Ohio) and James Buckley (New York), all of whom were Republicans. In recognition of his service, Lev Dobriansky was appointed ambassador to the Bahamas by President Reagan. His daughter, Paula Dobriansky, achieved notable appointments in the government, serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs during both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Dobriansky as Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, a position she held until 2009.

10. Susan D. Fink - From "Chicken Kiev" to Ukrainian Recognition: Domestic Politics in U.S. Foreign Policy toward Ukraine, Harvard Ukrainian Studies, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, June 1997, Vol. 21, No. 1/2, pp. 11-61

11. Yushchenko's American-born wife, Kateryna, was a former student of Lev Dobriansky, further intertwining the diaspora's connection to the political landscape.

12. the-new-administration/

13. Ukrainian American experts who are all actively engaged in discussions on Ukrainian issues include Serhi Plokhy of Harvard University, Paula Dobriansky, former Deputy Secretary of State of the United States, Alexander Motyl, historian and professor at Rutgers University and Adrian Karatnycky, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center and former president and executive director of Freedom House, Walter Zarycky, formerly of New York University, Director of the Center for US-Ukrainian Relations (CUSUR).

14. Article by Vladimir Putin ”On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians“,

July 12, 2021.

15. The notion of a Russian civilization-state has become an integral component of the 2023 Russian Foreign Policy Doctrine. The concept of a civilization-state is meant to emphasize Russia’s distinctive cultural and historical identity and underscores the perceived significance of its civilizational heritage in shaping its foreign policy objectives