Russians and The Eastern Europeans
In the 2000 Census, 51,192 Queens residents identified
themselves as being of Russian ancestry, 10,306
Ukrainian, and 4,164 people claimed Lithuanian.
(Earlier censuses lumped all different Soviet
republics under the heading of “Russian.”)
Sections of Forest Hills and Rego Park and, to
a lesser extent, Kew Gardens and the Rockaways,
have evolved into mini-Moscows, with Russian language
filling the air, and Cyrillic lettering widely
visible on the streets.
Bukharan Jews, an offshoot of Middle Eastern and
Persian Jewry dating from the 6th Century A.D.,
consider themselves socially and culturally different
from the other East European Jewish sects.
During the 1990s, approximately 30,000 Bukharan
Jews found homes in the area of Rego Park, Forest
Hills, and Kew Gardens.
Today, many Bukharan shops and synagogues—most
bearing Cyrillic lettering—court residents
along the length of 108th St., providing a taste
of Uzbek culture to all area residents.
They Got There
Vast migration to the United States began in the
late nineteenth century, but Russian culture began
to emerge in Western Queens throughout the early
20th century. Socialist Revolutionary Leon Trotsky
even spoke several times at Urban Hall in 1917,
in the area then known as Winfield.
Although the number of Russian immigrants in Queens
increased throughout the 20th century, the explosion
of Russian and former-Soviet immigration to the
borough did not truly begin until the early 1970s,
when hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing Communist
oppression made the borough their home.
Makes Them Who They Are
It’s important to note that all immigrants
from the former Soviet Union can’t necessarily
be called Russian. Many hail from other former
Soviet republics, including Uzbekistan, Lithuania,
Georgia, and Ukraine. Collectively, these Soviet
émigrés have loaned a distinct and
memorable presence to the streets of Queens.
from Eastern Europe and Russia surged
in numbers in the late 20th Century. Tribune
photo by Ira Cohen
Throughout the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s the United
States government and Jewish aid groups sponsored
the exodus of many oppressed Russian Jews.
On one monumental day in 1989, a total of 1,750
Soviet refuges—1,356 of them Jews—landed
at John F. Kennedy airport in an extraordinary
airlift exodus that involved eight different planes.
The cost of resettling each immigrant was split
between Jewish aid organizations and the U.S.
“Housing, jobs, language barrier, acculturation,
adjustment, and schools,” have traditionally
been some of the biggest problems for Russian
immigrants from the 1970s onwards, says Lali Janash,
a caseworker at the Esther Greenblatt Russian
Also, though many immigrants may have been well
educated back home, they have been forced to take
drastic job cuts in order to make their way in
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