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Ukrainians were brought to Hawaii to work on sugar plantations as early as 1897

By Marisa Yamane

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    HONOLULU (KITV) — Over the past week, Hawaii residents have been showing their support for Ukraine, with some folks having close ties to people in Ukraine.

Hawaii’s ties to Ukrainians actually date back more than a hundred years. The sugar industry brought in waves of immigrants, including a group of Ukrainians.

The sugar industry on the Big Island is long gone, but some of the buildings from the past remain. The Honokaa Heritage Center is located in the historic Botelho building.

“It definitely was a plantation community. We were surrounded by plantations here,” said Honokaa Heritage Center director Nicole Garcia.

While most of the plantation workers in Hawaii were immigrants from China, Japan, Portugal, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, there were also some from Ukraine, with the first wave arriving in 1897 and 1898 — about 600 people in all, according to historians.

“And they landed on Oahu and were dispersed after a few days to different plantations around the islands,” Garcia said. “They were told they were going to have a better salary here, that they’d get to homestead, they’d actually have land to farm on and wonderful weather, and everything would be a paradise here. Once they got here it wasn’t the case.”

Some ended up working on plantations on the Big Island, as described in the book “Hawaiian Ordeal: Ukrainian Contract Workers 1897-1910” by author Michael Ewanchuk.

“The first group in 1897 signed three-year contracts. The second group were five-year contracts, and they wanted out right away. The conditions were not what they thought and they wanted to leave, but it was illegal to leave once they signed their contract. So, many of them at the end of their contract left.

“They went to the mainland or went to continental U.S. or Canada, which was the preferred choice, and the ones that stayed actually homesteaded, down in the Olaa, Mountain View area, and there was actually a Ukrainian settlement,” Garcia said.

In fact, there is a road in Mountain View named after one of the Ukrainian immigrants — Pszyk Road.

“In 1906, Michael Pszyk and his wife Anna, who both came here as young teens with their families, purchased for $250 50 acres, and started clearing the land, clearing the area, it was all forested, cleared it and built a trail out to Volcano,” Garcia said.

The Honokaa Heritage Center did a Facebook post on this several days ago.

“The response to our small Facebook post has reached over 100,000 people, including people in Ukraine,” Garcia said. “I think it’s a unifying thing to see this kind of history and see that we’re all connected somehow. and people are paying attention to these world events and are concerned.”

There is not a lot of information about Ukranians in Hawaii during the plantation era.

Garcia is hoping their descendants will contact the Honokaa Heritage Center to share more stories and even photos to help preserve that piece of history.

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