Latvian Belarusians and Ukrainians are, respectively, the third and fourth largest ethnic groups in the country. The communities have similar history, most notably in regard to the second half of the twentieth century.
Belarusians have lived in south-eastern Latvia for several centuries. Trade connections over the shared river Daugava date back to Medieval period. Similarly, there have always been small Latvian communities in Belarus. Latvian Belarusians still form a considerable proportion of the population near the border of Belarus. There were up to 37 thousand Latvian Belarusians before World War II.
Today Latvian Belarusian community has grown three times because of massive migration during the Soviet period (1944-1991). Thus, there are 80 thousand Belarusians, but for many of them ethnic affiliation is more a matter of ethnic roots than of identity. Only a fifth of Belarusians retain knowledge of their native tongue. They rarely speak the language in the family, since most Belarusians live in mixed families where the Russian language dominates. Rīga hosts a small Belarusian language school, as well as several cultural societies. Belarusian cultural societies are found in Rīga, Ventspils, Daugavpils and Liepāja.
Latvia is home to 60 thousand Latvian Ukrainians, half of which speak Ukrainian. A thousand lived in Latvia in 1897 as soldiers or students at Rīga Polytechnical Institute. The rest settled in Latvia during the Soviet times. Today, half of Latvia’s Ukrainians live in Rīga, the others being dispersed across other cities. Rīga hosts an Ukrainian secondary school, whose graduates are equally fluent in Ukrainian and Latvian. Latvian Ukrainians are the second best educated community after Latvian Jews, however have the least rate of naturalization. The majority of Latvian Ukrainians live in mixed Ukrainian-Russian families.
Latvian Ukrainians promote their culture through the Latvian Ukrainian Union and the Cultural Society „Dnipro” (after the biggest river in Ukraine). Latvian Ukrainian children’s choir is also named „Dnipro”. Ventspils, Rēzekne, Liepāja, Daugavpils and Vangaži host Ukrainian cultural centres.
© Latvian Institute 2015