Buddhism in Ukraine has existed since the 19th and 20th century, after immigration from countries with Buddhist populations, mainly North Vietnam and Korea under Communist period. Although sources are not readily available, Buddhists are believed to constitute 0.1% of the total population in Ukraine.
Despite the fact that on a superficial level Buddhism was known in Ukraine long ago due to the regular contacts of the Ukrainian Cossacks with the Kalmyks, who profess Buddhism, the interest in Buddhism in its philosophical and ethical aspects among the Ukrainian cultural and scientific intelligentsia arose not earlier than in the 19th century. Closer acquaintance with Buddhism was interrupted in the Soviet period, when any interest in religious teachings different from Soviet ideology was persecuted. As a result, such interest could not be fully satisfied and, moreover, grow into certain organizations. Therefore, the first open systematic lectures on Buddhism, sermons and lessons on Buddhist studies, date back to 1989, when the political and ideological pressure of the Soviet system was considerably eased. At that time the first Buddhist consecrations took place in Ukraine, and the first secular followers of Buddhism appeared. They passed the canonical rite of taking Buddhist refuge in the Three Jewels: Buddha, the Teaching (Dharma) and the Community (Sangha).
This activity was mostly undertaken in three eastern Ukrainian areas: the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions.
Ukraine’s first officially-registered Buddhist community was set up in Donets in 1991. Today Ukraine has nearly 100 Buddhist communities and groups, 49 of them are officially registered and enjoy the status of legal entity. The largest communities and groups belong to the Tibetan tradition in Buddhism, that is, the tantric tradition of Vajrayana (“Diamond Vehicle”). The most widespread among them are Karma Kagyu communities, the main branch of the Tibetan Kagyu-pa School. They are united into the All-Ukraine Religious Center Ukrainian Association of Karma Kagyu Buddhists. In Ukraine, the religious studies of this center are intended for laypeople only. Communities and groups of followers of this tradition are present in almost all regional centers of Ukraine. The official print publication of the Ukrainian Association of Karma Kagyu Buddhists is the “Buddhism Today Manual.”
The Tibetan Nyingma-pa School takes second place according to the number of communities and followers. Its first Ukrainian communities were united in 1993 to provide the most efficient spread of Buddhism in Ukraine into the All-Ukraine Spiritual Administration Buddhist Monastic Order Lunh-zhonh-pa (which means “The Wardens of the Commandments” in the Tibetan language). In Ukraine, this school conducts both lay and conventionally monastic activities; therefore a Buddhist monastery is being constructed in the village of Olhynka, Volnovask district, Donetsk region.The Nyingma-pa communities were the first to profess Buddhism systematically in Ukraine and to receive official registration. The official print publication of the Buddhist Monastic Order Lunh-zhonh-pa is “The Lion’s Roar” newspaper; the first issue of the enlightening manual “Dao” has also come out. This organization also has its web-sites in Ukraine ([www.ningma.agava.ru] and ningma.org.ua), which are said to be the best Russian-speaking information database on Buddhism there is, and it belongs to the Dharma-net international circle of Buddhist sites.
The Dzogchen School is in third place according to the number of its followers and communities in Ukraine. It developed as a separate Buddhist School in the West in the late 20th century through the efforts of Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, the Tibetan Lama in emigration. Like Karma Kagyu, this school is oriented to lay Buddhists in Ukraine.
These three schools happen to be the main Buddhist centers in Ukraine.
There are also several groups and communities of other Buddhist traditions: