Ethnic Ukrainians currently make up around 2.3 per cent of Latvia’s population, according to 2016 official data The vast majority of Latvian Ukrainians are Russian-speaking and fall within the ‘Russophone’ category used by both Latvian officials and Russian civic groups. The majority of Ukrainians belong to mixed Russian-Ukrainian families and live in urban areas.
There were fewer than 2,000 Ukrainians in Latvia before 1939. A large number entered the country after 1945 and particularly after 1959 as construction workers. However, like other communities from elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, they began leaving Latvia in large numbers after 1991.
While proportionately more Ukrainians are non-citizens (54 per cent of the total Ukrainian population in Latvia), they share many concerns with Russians and Belarusians related to language and education.
Although the prestige of the Ukrainian language among Ukrainians may be somewhat higher than Belarusian among Belarusians, a similar dynamic of pragmatic reliance on Russian rather than conversion to Latvian/Ukrainian bilingualism appears to characterise the Latvian Ukrainian minority. Within both groups there are advocates of Russian-speaking Belarusian/Ukrainian identities challenging the notion that linguistic and ethnic identities must coincide. As Russian-speakers, Ukrainians have confronted the same problems of exclusion in the workplace and in education as Russians, although they are not targeted by anti-Russian political discourse in the same way.
However, reports suggest that over the past decade Ukrainians in Latvia have been turning away from the traditional practice of attending Russian schools. The flagship Ukrainian school in the country is the Riga Ukrainian High School, which is fully state-sponsored. A number of Ukrainian Sunday schools also exist. Yet there is no daily Ukrainian newspaper in Latvia, only periodicals, and no Ukrainian television programming. Like Belarusian, Ukrainian is limited to a weekly 30-minute radio broadcast.
Updated March 2018