Russians of Cleveland from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

Written by Dr. John J. Grabowski

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RUSSIANS – The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

RUSSIANS. Cleveland’s Great Russian community has never been very large. Even in the 1980s, it was difficult to accurately estimate the number of Great Russians in the area, because many ethnic groups, such as the BELARUSIANS and CARPATHO-RUSYNS, have derived from regions under the control of Tsarist Russia or the Soviet Union and have thus been enumerated as Russians or are popularly considered Russians by the general populace. Even the city’s preeminent “Russian” symbol, ST. THEODOSIUS RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL, was built not by Great Russians but by Carpatho-Russians. Indeed, in the 1980s all of the Russian Orthodox churches in the region had mixed congregations that probably included Great Russians. Great Russians began arriving in the city in small numbers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Those who came before World War I were largely political refugees, often of a radical bent, who were at odds with the tsarist government. Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, the nature of Russian immigration to Cleveland reversed entirely as former supporters of the tsar came to constitute the major portion of the local Great Russian immigration. Even with the impetus of the revolution, the city’s Russian community is estimated to have consisted of only 5,000 persons at most by 1932.

No real Great Russian neighborhood evolved in Cleveland, although a small community could be found near E. 30th and Woodland Ave. by 1912. Its focal point was the radical Russian Workingman’s Club. The tendency of the Russians to scatter throughout the community was strengthened by the nature of the postrevolutionary immigrants, who tended to be skilled and highly literate and therefore able to assume employment and residence in various sections of the city. Organizations within the new group of immigrants were few. Some did gather atHIRAM HOUSE social settlement. A Russian Circle was begun at the Intl. Institute of the YWCA in the 1930s; the 64 Russians enrolled at the YWCA lived in areas as diverse as LAKEWOODPARMA, and CLEVELAND HEIGHTS In the 1930s, the city did have a branch of the liberal national organization the Russians Consolidated Union of Mutual Aid. Several local organizations started by the Soviet Union in Cleveland during the 1930s, including the Friends of the Soviet Union at E. 55th and Euclid and the Russian American Institute in the Erie Bldg., may have appeared Russian to the general onlooker, but they failed to garner any membership from the local Russian community. Instead, they, like the radical Ukrainian Labor Temple in the TREMONT area, tended to attract American radicals or those from ethnic groups such as the HUNGARIANS and UKRAINIANS. Given the difficulty of, emigration from the Soviet Union, Cleveland’s Great Russian population received little replenishment until the 1970s, when, by virtue of international pressure and agreements between the USSR and U.S., a number of Russian Jews migrated to the U.S. and to Cleveland. Many of them took up residence in the Jewish community of Cleveland Hts. and, because of their numbers and language, formed what could be considered a Russian-speaking community, with much of its activity centered in the COVENTRY VILLAGE BUSINESS DISTRICT. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, a renewed immigration began from all areas of the former communist state. This led to an increased flow of Russians of all faiths, Jewish, Orthodox, and Protestant, to cities such as Cleveland. As of this writing, the nature of the Russian population of Cleveland continues to evolve and that population is now larger than at any time in the city’s past. Over 1,300 people of Russian birth lived in Cleveland and Cleveland Heights in 1990 while over 30,000 local residents claimed Russian as their primary ancestry in the census of that year.

John J. Grabowski

Western Reserve Historical Society

Telberg, Ina. “Russians in Cleveland” (Master’s thesis, WRU, 1932).


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