The story of immigration from the Russian Empire is almost too complex to tell. In the 19th century, Russia was the largest country in the world—it reached from the Baltic to the Pacific, and covered substantial portions of both Europe and Asia.
The population of the Empire was extremely diverse and included the peoples of dozens of conquered nations— Belarussians and Ukrainians, Kazakhs and Bukharans, Uzbeks and Azerbaijanis. Issues of national identity were rarely clear. Borders were uncertain, the census was unreliable, and many of the subjugated nations clung to their own group identities, refusing to call themselves Russians.
To learn more about the ethnic diversity of the Russian Empire, visit The Empire That Was Russia.
By the end of the 19th century, this vast country was on the verge of an era of tumultuous change and suffered from overpopulation, widespread famines and political unrest. Many of the Empire’s peoples found it impossible to stay any longer and joined the great worldwide migration of the last decades of the century. Within a few decades, the Empire would be overthrown in a socialist revolution, then torn apart by years of war.
Three of the groups to join the exodus were the Russians, the Poles and the Jewish people of Eastern Europe. All three groups took different paths, but their journeys would soon bring them to America.