Home from home: inside a Ukrainian community in rural Brazil

The descendants of Ukrainian immigrants who moved to Brazil's Paraná region

10 September 2015

The history of Eastern European migration is long and complex, and sometimes the traces of communities who relocated ages ago appear suddenly in unexpected places. Photographer Cicely Salamunes documented one of them: a Ukrainian settlement in the southern Brazilian state of Paraná. “Every once in a while, I take a short car trip to the rural areas of Paraná, to a small city called Prudentópolis”, she says. “It was built with the help of the first Ukrainian immigrants who arrived here in the late 19th century, lured by promises from the Brazilian government. Most families came here with nothing besides their clothes and dreams and settled down on this piece of land that later became the city”.

Salamunes slowly gained the trust of the town’s inhabitants, partly due to the fact that her boyfriend (who appears a few times in the photographs) had some distant relatives there. More than just documentation, her shots create an atmosphere which transcends continents: the light, landscape, colours and symbols remind the viewer of Ukraine. The atmosphere is charged with a nostalgia reminiscent of Tarkovsky’s films, perhaps due to the high concentration of memories and traditions being passed on through the generations there.

“These people still speak their language, though in a very archaic way, and the majority of them work in agriculture. They celebrate Ukrainian holidays, go to the church where the liturgy is conducted in Ukrainian, wear traditional vyshyvanka, Ukrainian embroidered shirts”, Salamunes adds. “They have reached probably their 5th generation already, so almost all of them are Brazilians as well. They were born here and some of them have never left the country, let alone gone to Ukraine. All they have is a picture that sometimes doesn’t correspond to the reality of Ukraine nowadays, and the traditions their parents passed on to them. Being Brazilian too has a huge influence on them; they speak Portuguese besides Ukrainian, watch Brazilian television, listen to Brazilian music, the children go to Brazilian schools. But as a community and city built by Slavic immigrants, they do their best to preserve their culture”.