Californians, along with the rest of the world, are watching in horror as the Russian invasion of Ukraine unfolds. And while this war may look quite distant, it has particular impact for thousands of residents in our state. California’s Ukrainian community is one of the largest in the country: the state is home to almost 60,000 immigrants from Ukraine, second highest in the country (after New York with 75,000), according to data from the American Community Survey from 2016 through 2020. About one in six Ukrainian immigrants in the US resides in California.
Regionally, the Sacramento metropolitan area has more immigrants from Ukraine (20,000) than any other metropolitan area of California (Los Angeles metro has 17,000 and the Bay Area is home to 14,000). Sacramento ranks first in the nation in the share of its population that are Ukrainian immigrants, and has the fourth highest number of Ukrainian immigrants of any metropolitan area (after New York, Chicago, and Seattle).
Historically, the flow of immigrants from the former Soviet republics, including Ukraine, to the United States occurred at two critical times: 1) the late 1800s to the earlier 1900s, before the formation of the Soviet Union; 2) and from the late 1980s into the 1990s, with the dissolution of the former Soviet Union. The first wave of immigration led to 1.6 million foreign-born residents in the US in 1910 from countries that would form the Soviet Union, up from only 31,000 in 1880. The second wave saw the number of foreign-born residents from the former Soviet Union increase from 404,000 in 1990 to 905,000 by 2000, with slower but persistent increases leading to 1.3 million by 2020.
Among former Soviet republics identified in census data, the number of immigrants from Ukraine (362k) ranks second nationally after Russia (417k); in California, the number from Ukraine (58k) ranks third after Armenia (77k) and Russia (70k).
Fast facts about California’s Ukrainian community:
- Ukrainian immigrants in California tend to be highly educated – over half (55%) have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 34% of other California adults ages 25 to 64.
- Labor force participation rates (77% among 18 to 64 year olds) are similar to those of other Californians (76%). Unemployment rates are lower (4.6% versus 6.1% over the 2016-2020 time period).
- Most speak either Russian (58%) or Ukrainian (28%) at home, but almost all (96%) speak at least some English. Over half are proficient in English (56% speak English very well or speak only English).
- The vast majority report Ukrainian as their primary ancestry (78%), with 15% reporting Russian.
- Citizenship rates are high. Most are naturalized citizens (71%), compared to 55% of other immigrants in California.
The Ukrainian community in California is active in providing support to refugees and the war effort. These communities could also serve as a locus to resettle a new wave of refugees from the war. That wave is of unprecedented size, although the share that will resettle to the US is highly uncertain at this point. PPIC will continue to monitor the effects of the Ukraine war on California and its residents.