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Ruthenians of the Carpathians, Galicia, and Podole
Previously Ruthenian;
currently Ukrainian (Rusyn)
Eastern Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, Protestant
Related ethnic groups
Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Rusyns and various Slavic peoples
Medieval Kingdom of Kievan Rus'

Ruthenians (Cyrillic transliteration: Rusyns; German: Ruthene; Russian: Русины, Rusiny; Ukrainian: Русини/Руські, Rusyny/Rus'ki; Belarusian: Русіны, Rusin: Русины, Rusiny) is a historic name, applied to peoples speaking the eastern Slavic languages in the broad cultural and ethnic region of Rus' (Русь), especially the medieval kingdom of Kievan Rus' and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.[1] These people gave rise to modern Belarusians, Russians, Ukrainians and Rusyns.

In its narrower sense, Ruthenian can identify ethnic Ukrainians. Today the term is perceived as one related to inhabitants of a cross-border region around the northern Carpathian Mountains, including western Ukraine (especially Zakarpattia Oblast, part of historic Carpathian Ruthenia), eastern Slovakia, and southern Poland. This area coincides, to a large degree, with a region sometimes known in English as Galicia (Ukrainian: Галичина, Halychyna; Polish: Galicja and; Slovak: Halič). The name Ruthenian is also used by the Pannonian Rusyn minority in Serbia and Croatia, as well as by Rusin émigrés outside Europe (especially members of the Ruthenian Catholic Church). In contrast, the Rusyns of Romania are more likely to identify as "Ukrainian".

During the early modern era, the term primarily referred to members of East Slavic minorities in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, namely Ukrainians and Rusyns, who today live in Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. In 1995 the government of Slovakia announced Rusyn language as a new Slavic language.[2] In addition, the ethnonym "Belarusians" was sometimes translated as White Ruthenians.


Ruthenians in Austro-Hungary (light green)
Ruthenen (Ruthenes) as part of the Klein-Russen (Little-Russians) and Weiss-Russen (White-Russians)
Another map depicting only Ruthenians
Another German map of 1930, now instead of Ruthenian the territory is split to Ukrainian and Belarusian
Polish map of 1927, until the Polish census of 1931, Poles referred to Ukrainians as Ruthenians (Polish: Rusini) and Belarusians as White Ruthenians (Polish: Bialo-Rusini)

Rutheni was originally the Latin name of a Celtic tribe from Ancient Gaul near contemporary city of Rodez.[2] According to Boris Unbegaun, the Latin Rucenus is a derivative of the Old Ukrainian rusyn.[2] One of the earliest references to Ruthenia dates back to the 5th century, when king Odoacer styled himself as "Rex Rhutenorum". The first use of Ruteni in reference to Kievan Rus' was in 1089 by Annales Augustiani.[2] After that the word became associated with all East Slavs, but since the 16th century according to Encyclopedia of Ukraine exclusively with modern Ukrainians. According to Encyclopedia of Ukraine, the word Rutheni did not included the modern Russians, who were known as Moscovitae[2] and since the partition of Poland the term referred exclusively to the modern Ukrainians of Habsburg Galicia, Bucovina, and Transcarpathia.[2] However, according to modern research studies is to come to conclusion that even after the 16th century the word Rutheni was associated with all East Slavs. For example, Vasili III of Russia, who ruled the Grand Duchy of Moscow in the 16th century, was known in European Latin sources as Rhuteni Imperator.[3] According to Jacques Margeret Moscovitae called themselves in the 16th century Ruthenians (Rusiny or Rusaki). Professor David Frick from the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute has also found in Vilnius the documents from 1655, which demonstrate that Moscovitae were also known in Lithuania as Rutheni.[4]

On request of Mykhajlo Levitsky, in 1843 the term became the official name for Ukrainians in the Austrian Empire.[2] A number of Ukrainian nationalists, such as Mykhailo Drahomanov and Ivan Franko, perceived the term as narrow-minded, provincial, and Habsburg – true members of the intelligentsia and around 1900 more and more Ruthenians began to call themselves by the self-designated name Ukrainians.[2] With the emergence of Ukrainian nationalism during the mid-19th century the term Ruthenian as an endonym declined among Ukrainians, and it fell out of use in eastern and central Ukraine. Most people in the western region of Ukraine followed suit later in the 19th century. After the expansion of Soviet Ukraine after World War II, groups who previously had not considered themselves Ukrainians were merged into the Ukrainian identity.

Some Ruthenians who left for the United States soon after the fall of Habsburg Empire in 1918 refused to adapt to the change, and the term became more prevalent among American people from Carpathian Ruthenia.[2] In 1991 the government of Slovakia proclaimed a distinct national minority of Ruthenians, who in Ukraine are known as Rusyns.[2]

"Ruthenian" and "Ruthene" were originally Latinised exonyms, based on the endonymic term Rusin, an ethnonym applied to peoples speaking the eastern Slavic languages in the broad cultural and ethnic region of Rus' (Русь), especially the medieval kingdom of Kievan Rus' and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.[1] The term "appealed to the Orthodox heritage and the tradition of Kievan Rus'-Ruthenia, and negated links with Catholic Poland. Excluding the Poles, this tradition assumed that Orthodox Belarusians (White Ruthenians), Ukrainians (Little Ruthenians), and Russians (Great Ruthenians) formed the three branches of the 'tri-singular' Russian nation."[5] After World War II, communist academics renewed the old tradition of referring to all the related peoples of Kievan Rus' as a single category of Ruthenians, to question the legitimacy of the Second Polish Republic by comparing its demographics of Poles and Ruthenians.[6]

Later "Ruthenians" or "Ruthenes" were used as a generic term for Greek Catholic, who inhabited Galicia and adjoining territories in the Carpathian mountains until the early twentieth-century; this group spoke dialects of the Rusyn language and called themselves Русины, Rusyns (Carpatho-Russians). Their language was also called the "Ruthenian language"; the name Ukrajins’ka mova ("Ukrainian language") became accepted by much of the Ukrainian literary class in the early twentieth-century in Austro-Hungarian Galicia.[citation needed] After the dissolution of Austria-Hungary in 1918 the term "Ukrainian" was frequently applied to those Ukrainian-speaking inhabitants of Galicia who chose to identify themselves as Ukrainians.[citation needed] However, others chose to continue to refer to themselves and their language as Ruthenian rather than Ukrainian. Ruthenian and Ukrainian were listed as separate languages in the Polish census of 1931.[6][7] When commenting on the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 U.S. diplomat George Keenan noted, "To those who inquire whether these peasants are Russians or Ukrainians, there is only one answer. They are Neither. They are simply Ruthenians."[8] Dr. Paul R. Magosci emphasizes that modern Ruthenians have "the sense of a nationality distinct from Ukrainians" and often associates Ukrainians with Soviets or Communists.[9]

Ruthenians in Poland[edit]

Ruthenians of Chełm

In the Interbellum period of the 20th century, the term Ruthenian was also applied to people from the Kresy Wschodnie (the eastern borderlands) in the Second Polish Republic, and included Ukrainians, Rusins, and Lemkos, or alternatively, members of the Uniate or Greek Catholic Church churches. In Galicia, the Polish government actively replaced all references to "Ukrainians" with the old word "Ruthenians", an action that caused many Ukrainians to view their original self-designation with distaste.[10]

The Polish census of 1921 considered Ukrainians no other than Ruthenians.[11] However the Polish census of 1931 counted Belarusian, Ukrainian, Russian, and Ruthenian as separate language categories, and the census results were substantially different from before.[12] According to Rusyn-American historian Paul Robert Magocsi, Polish government policy in the 1930s pursued a strategy of tribalization, regarding various ethnographic groups – i.e., Lemkos, Boikos, and Hutsuls, as well Old Ruthenians and Russophiles – as different from other Ukrainians (although no such category existed in the Polish census apart from the first-language speakers of Russian.[12]), and offered instructions in Lemko vernacular in state schools set up in the westernmost Lemko Region.[13]


According to Per Anders Rudling, during World War I German authorities allowed the revival of Belarusian culture in Belarus and the restriction of Russification.[14] After World War II, many Belarusians from the Eastern Borderlands (Kresy) region of pre–World War II Poland found themselves in displaced persons camps in the Western occupation zones of the post-war Germany. Therefore, to avoid confusion with the term "Russian" and hence "repatriation" to the Soviet Union, the terms White Ruthenian, Whiteruthenian, and Krivian were used.[citation needed] The last of these terms derives from the name of an old Eastern Slavic tribe called the Krivichs, who used to inhabit the territory of Belarus.

Recognition of Rusyn people[edit]

Main article: Rusyn people

The designations Rusyn and Carpatho-Rusyn were banned by Joseph Stalin in June 1945.[1] Ruthenians who identified under the Rusyn ethnonym and considered themselves to be a national and linguistic group separate from Ukrainians and Belarusians[9] were relegated to the Carpathian diaspora and formally functioned among the large immigrant communities in the United States.[1] A cross-European revival took place only with the collapse of communist rule in 1989.[1] This has resulted in political conflict and accusations of intrigue against Rusyn activists, including criminal charges. The Ruthenian minority is well represented in Slovakia. The single category of people who listed their ethnicity as Ruthenian was created already in the 1920s, however, no generally accepted standardised Ruthenian language existed.[15]

After World War II, following the practice in the Soviet Union, Ruthenian ethnicity was disallowed. This Soviet policy maintained that the Ruthenians and their language were part of the Ukrainian ethnic group and language. At the same time, the Greek Catholic church was banned and replaced with the Eastern Orthodox church under the Russian Patriarch, in an atmosphere which repressed all religions. Thus, in Slovakia the former Ruthenians were technically free to register as any ethnicity but Ruthenian.[15]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Ruthenian: also called Rusyn, Carpatho-Rusyn, Lemko, or Rusnak". Status since the end of World War II. Encyclopedia Britannica. Today the name Rusyn refers to the spoken language and variants of a literary language codified in the 20th century for Carpatho-Rusyns living in Ukraine (Transcarpathia), Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Serbia (the Vojvodina). 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Ruthenians at Encyclopedia of Ukraine
  3. ^ Лобин А. Н. Послание государя Василия III Ивановича императору Карлу V от 26 июня 1522 г.: Опыт реконструкции текста // Studia Slavica et Balcanica Petropolitana, № 1. Санкт-Петербург, 2013. C. 131.
  4. ^ Frick D. Ruthenians and their language in Seventeenth-Century Vilnius, in: Speculum Slaviae Orientalis, IV. pp. 44-65.
  5. ^ D. Michaluk and P.A. Rudling, "From The Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the Belarusian Democratic Republic: The Idea Of Belarusian Statehood During The German Occupation Of Belarusian Lands, 1915-1919" : The Journal of Belarusian Studies 7:2 (2014), pg. 5-6.
  6. ^ a b Henryk Zieliński, Historia Polski 1914-1939, (1983) Wrocław: Ossolineum
  7. ^ "Główny Urząd Statystyczny Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, drugi powszechny spis ludności z dn. 9.XII 1931 r. - Mieszkania i gospodarstwa domowe ludność" [Central Statistical Office the Polish Republic, the second census dated 9.XII 1931 - Abodes and household populace] (PDF) (in Polish). Central Statistical office of the Polish Republic. 1938. p. 15. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-03-17. 
  8. ^ Report on Conditions in Ruthenia March 1939, From Prague After Munich: Diplomatic Papers 1938-1940, (Princeton University Press, 1968)
  9. ^ a b Paul R. Magosci, "The Rusyn Question" Political Thought 1995, №2-3 (6) P.221-231, :
  10. ^ Magocsi, Paul R. (1996). A History of Ukraine: The Land and Its Peoples. University of Toronto Press (published 2010). p. 638. ISBN 9781442610217. Retrieved 2015-01-29. [...] the Polish government never referred to the Ukrainians and their language by the modern name Ukrainian; instead, it used the historical name Rusyn (Polish: Rusin), thereby inadvertently contributing to a disliking on the part of many Ukrainians, especially Galician Ukrainians, for their original national designation. 
  11. ^ (Polish) Główny Urząd Statystyczny (corporate author) (1932) "Ludnosc, Ludnosc wedlug wyznania religijnego i narodowosci" (table 11, pg. 56
  12. ^ a b (Polish) Główny Urząd Statystyczny (corporate author) (1932) "Ludnosc. Ludnosc wedlug wyznania i plci oraz jezyka ojczystego" (table 10, pg. 15).
  13. ^ Magocsi, Paul R. (1996). A History of Ukraine: The Land and Its Peoples. University of Toronto Press (published 2010). p. 638. ISBN 9781442610217. Retrieved 2015-01-29. 
  14. ^ D. Michaluk and P.A. Rudling, "From The Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the Belarusian Democratic Republic: The Idea Of Belarusian Statehood During The German Occupation Of Belarusian Lands, 1915-1919" : The Journal of Belarusian Studies 7:2 (2014), pg. 10-11.
  15. ^ a b Christina Bratt Paulston, Donald Peckham (1998). Linguistic Minorities in Central and Eastern Europe. Soviet Heritage: Ruthenians. Multilingual Matters. pp. 258–259. ISBN 1853594164. Retrieved 8 October 2015. 

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