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Lemko (Rusyn)

Members of the folk group Osławianie from Mokre in original Lemko highlander folk-costumes
Regions with significant populations
 Ukraine 672[1]
 Poland 11,000 (census, 2011)[2]
 Slovakia 55 469[3]
Rusyn language, Ukrainian language, Polish
Predominantly Ukrainian Greek Catholic or Orthodox, with Roman Catholic minorities
Related ethnic groups
Boykos, Hutsuls

Lemkos (Ukrainian: Лeмки, Polish: Łemkowie, Lemko: Лeмкы, translit. Lemky; sing. Лeмкo, Lemko), one of several quantitatively and territoriality small ethnic sub-groups inhabiting the Carpathian Mountains who also call themselves either Rusyn (Ukrainian: Русини, Lemko: Руснакы, Rusnaky; sing. Руснак, Rusnak)[4] or Ukrainian. Their spoken language, which is uncodified, has been variously described as a Lemko language in its own right, or a dialect of the Ukrainian language. In Ukraine almost all Lemkos speak Ukrainian according to the 2001 Ukrainian Census.[5]

In the Polish Census of 2011, 11,000 people declared Lemko nationality, of whom 6,000 declared only Lemko nationality, 4,000 declared double national identity - Lemko-Polish, and 1,000 declared Lemko identity together with non-Polish identity.[2]


Main article: Lemkivshchyna
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The Lemkos' homeland is commonly referred to as Lemkivshchyna (Ukrainian: Лeмкiвщина, Lemko: Lemkovyna (Лeмкoвина), Polish: Łemkowszczyzna). Up until 1945, this included the area from the Poprad River in the west to the valley of Oslawa River in the east, areas situated primarily in present-day Poland, in the Lesser Poland and Subcarpathian Voivodeships (provinces). This part of the Carpathian mountains is mostly deforested, which allowed for an agrarian economy, alongside such traditional occupations as ox grazing and sheep herding.

The Lemko region became part of Poland in medieval Piast times. Lemkos were made part of the Austria province of Galicia in 1772.[6] This area was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until its dissolution in 1918, at which point the Lemko-Rusyn Republic (Ruska Lemkivska) declared its independence. Independence did not last long however, and the republic was incorporated into Poland in 1920.

As a result of the forcible deportation of Ukrainians from Poland to the Soviet Union after World War II, the majority of Lemkos in Poland were either resettled from their historic homeland to the prеviously German territories in the North-Western region of Poland or to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.[7] Only those Lemkos living the Prešov Region in present-day Slovakia continue to live on their ancestral lands, with the exception of some Lemkos who resettled in their homeland in the late 1950s and afterward. Lemkos are/were neighbours with Slovaks, Carpathian Germans and Lachy sądeckie (Poles) to the west, Pogorzans (Poles) and Dolinians (Dale Dwellers subethnic of Lemkos) to the north, Ukrainians to the east, and Slovaks to the south.


The name "Lemko" derives from the common expression Lem (Лeм), which can mean "but", "only", or "like" in the Lemko dialect. This word is commonly used in many dialects mainly around eastern Slovakia, Polish and Ukrainian border, and is one distinction between the languages. "Lemko" came into use as an endonym after having been used as an exonym by the neighboring Lyshaks, Boykos and Hutsuls, who do not use that term in their respective dialects. The term in Slovak dialects would be Lemko, in Rusyn dialect it is Lemkiv, in Polish Lemkwich.

Prior to this moniker, the Lemkos and the Lyshaks described themselves as Rusnaks (Ukrainian: Руснaки, translit. Rusnaky) or Rusyns (Ukrainian: Русини, translit. Rusyny), as did the rest of the inhabitants of present-day Western Ukraine in the 19th century and first part of the 20th century. In the late 19th and continuing into the early 20th century, in order to differentiate themselves from ethnic Russians, Ruthenians/Rusyns began to use the ethnonym Ukrainians (Ukrainian: Українці, translit. Ukrayintsi). Some Lemkos have accepted the ethnonym, but many consider themselves to be a distinct ethnicity, while some continue to identify themselves as Rusyns.


The ethnogenesis of the Lemkos is still being discussed by scholars. According to one theory, the Lemkos (and other Carpatho-Rusyns) are descendants of the White Croats. Some Polish scholars claim that they developed from a Vlach - Rusyn migration in the 14th and 15th centuries. There is also a view that they are refugees from Rus who moved to the Western side of the Carpathian Mountains in the 14th century to escape the Mongol invasion. Some scholars suggest that settlers from Rus' may have arrived earlier to the area traditionally inhabited by Lemkos. Analysis of population genetics shows statistical differences between Lemkos and other Slavic or European populations.[8]

Lemkivshchyna became part of Poland in medieval Piast times. Lemkos became an ethnic minority as part of the Austria province of Galicia in 1772.[6] Mass emigration from this territory to the Western hemisphere for economic reasons began in the late 19th century. After World War I, Lemkos founded two short-lived republics, the Lemko-Rusyn Republic in the west of Galicia, which had a russophile orientation, and the Komancza Republic, with a Ukrainophilic orientation.

It is estimated that about 130,000 to 140,000 Lemkos were living in the Polish part of Lemkivshchyna in 1939. Additional depopulation of these lands occurred during the forced resettlement, initially to the Soviet Union (about 90,000 people) and later to Poland's newly acquired western lands (about 35,000) in the Operation Vistula campaign of the late 1940s. This action was a state ordered removal of the civilian population, in a counter-insurgency operation to remove potential support for guerrilla war being waged by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in south-eastern Poland.

While a small number of Lemkos returned (some 5,000 Lemko families returned to their home regions in Poland between 1957–1958,[9] (they were officially granted the right to return in 1956), the Lemko population in the Polish section of Lemkivschyna only numbers around 10,000-15,000 today. Some 50,000 Lemkos live in the western and northern parts of Poland, where they were sent to populate former German villages in areas ceded to Poland. Among those, 5,863 people identified themselves as Lemko in the 2002 census. However, 60,000 ethnic Lemkos may reside in Poland today. Within Lemkivshchyna, Lemkos live in the villages of Łosie, Krynica, Nowica, Zdynia, Gładyszów, Hańczowa, Zyndranowa, Uście Gorlickie, Bartne, Binczarowa and Bielanka. Additional populations can be found in Mokre, Szczawne, Kulaszne, Rzepedź, Turzańsk, Komańcza, Sanok, Nowy Sącz, and Gorlice.

In 1968 an open air museum dedicated to Lemko culture was opened in Zyndranowa. Additionally, a Lemko festival is held annually in Zdynia.

Population genetics

There are a few studies of the genetics of Lemkos, and they suggest a common ancestry with other modern Europeans.[10] An analysis of maternal lineages found that Lemkos have the highest frequency of Haplogroup I (mtDNA) found to that date. Haplogroup M* also reaches its regional peak among Lemkos.[8]


An important aspect of Lemko culture is their deep commitment to Eastern Christianity which was introduced to the Eastern Slavs from Byzantium via Kiev through the efforts of Saints Cyril and Methodius in the 9th century. Originally the Lemkos adhered to Orthodoxy, but in order to avoid latinization directly entered into union with Rome in the 17th century. Most Lemkos today are Eastern rite or Byzantine-rite Catholics. In Poland they belong to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church with a Roman Catholic minority, or to the Ruthenian Catholic Church (see also Slovak Greek Catholic Church) in Slovakia. A substantial number belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church. Through the efforts of the martyred priest Fr. Maxim Sandovich (canonized by the Polish Orthodox Church in the 1990s), in the early 20th century, Eastern Orthodoxy was reintroduced to many Lemko areas which had accepted the Union of Brest centuries before.

The distinctive wooden architectural style of the Lemko churches (as opposed to their neighbouring sub-ethnic groups such as the Boikos) is to place the highest cupola of the church building at the entrance to the church, with the roof sloping downward toward the sanctuary.


The Lemkos' language is considered by Ukrainian linguists to be the most western of Ukrainian dialects. The homeland occupied by the Lemkos was not politically part of Ukraine, and the language used by the Lemkos has been influenced greatly by the language spoken by neighboring or ruling peoples, so much so that some consider it a separate entity.[11]

Some scholars state that Lemko is the western-most dialect of the Rusyn language.[12][13] Lemko speech includes some patterns matching those of the surrounding Polish and Slovak languages, leading some to refer to it as a transitional dialect between Polish and Slovak (some even consider the dialect in Eastern Slovakia to be a dialect of the Slovak language).

Metodyj Trochanovskij published a Lemko Primer ('Bukvar: Perša knyžečka dlja narodnŷch škol') in 1935 and a First Reader ('Druha knyžečka dlja narodnŷch škol') in 1936 for use in schools in the Lemko-speaking area of Poland.[14] These were banned by the Polish government in 1938. Important fieldwork on the Lemko dialect was carried out by the Polish linguist Zdzisław Stieber before their dispersal.

In the late 20th century, some Lemkos/Rusyns, mainly emigres from the region of the southern slopes of the Carpathians in modern-day Slovakia, began codifying a standard grammar for the Lemko dialect. This happened on the 27 January 1995 in Prešov, Slovakia. The Lemko/Rusyn language first became recognised as a codified language.

Slovakia has more than 1,000,000 users of local dialects which would commonly use the word lem.

Lemkos in fiction

Nikolai Gogol's short story 'The Terrible Vengeance' ends at Kriváň, now in Slovakia and pictured on the Slovakian euro, in the heart of Lemkivshchyna in the Prešov Region. Avram Davidson makes several references to the Lemko people in his stories.[15] Anna Bibko, mother-in law of the protagonist of All Shall Be Well; and All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well,[16] is a Lemko[17] "guided by her senses of traditionalism and grievance, not necessarily in that order".[18] In the critically acclaimed movie "The Deer Hunter" the wedding scenes show a "Lemko Hall" in the background although the three main character's surnames appear to be Russian (Michael "Mike" Vronsky, Steven Pushkov, and Nikonar "Nick" Chevotarevich) and the wedding took place in St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio.

Notable Lemkos

See also

Further reading

  • Moklak, Jaroslaw. The Lemko Region in the Second Polish Republic: Political and Interdenominational Issues 1918--1939 (2013); covers Old Rusyns, Moscophiles and National Movement Activists, & the political role of the Greek Catholic and Orthodox Churches
  • "Łemkowie Grupa Etniczna czy Naród"?, [The Lemkos: An Ethnic Group or a Nation?], trans. Paul Best pl:Paul Best
  • "The Lemkos of Poland" - Articles and Essays, editor Paul Best and Jarosław Moklak
  • "The Lemko Region, 1939-1947 War, Occupation and Deportation" - Articles and Essays, editor Paul Best and Jarosław Moklak
  • Лемкiвскiй календар. (Lemkivskiĭ kalendar)
  • Drozd R., Halczak B. Dzieje Ukraińców w Polsce w latach 1921–1989 / Roman Drozd, Bohdan Halczak. – wyd. II, poprawione. – Warszawa : TYRSA, 2010. – 237 s.
  • Halczak B. Publicystyka narodowo – demokratyczna wobec problemów narodowościowych i etnicznych II Rzeczypospolitej / Bohdan Halczak. – Zielona Góra : Wydaw. WSP im. Tadeusza Kotarbińskiego, 2000. – 222 s.
  • Halczak B. Problemy tożsamości narodowej Łemków / Bohdan Halczak // W: Łemkowie, Bojkowie, Rusini: historia, współczesność, kultura materialna i duchowa / red. nauk. Stefan Dudra, Bohdan Halczak, Andrzej Ksenicz, Jerzy Starzyński . – Legnica – Zielona Góra : Łemkowski Zespół Pieśni i Tańca "Kyczera", 2007 – s. 41–55 .
  • Halczak B. Łemkowskie miejsce we wszechświecie. Refleksje o położeniu Łemków na przełomie XX i XXI wieku / Bohdan Halczak // W: Łemkowie, Bojkowie, Rusini – historia, współczesność, kultura materialna i duchowa / red. nauk. Stefan Dudra, Bohdan Halczak, Roman Drozd, Iryna Betko, Michal Šmigeľ . Tom IV, cz. 1 . – Słupsk - Zielona Góra : [b. w.], 2012 – s. 119–133 .
  • Дрозд Р., Гальчак Б. Історія українців у Польщі в 1921–1989 роках / Роман Дрозд, Богдан Гальчак, Ірина Мусієнко; пер. з пол. І. Мусієнко. 3-тє вид., випр., допов. – Харків : Золоті сторінки, 2013. – 272 с.


External links

  • Lemko Portal in Ukraine
  • Lemko revival in Poland
  • Stowarzyszenie Łemków (Association of Lemkos)
  • Lemko Portal in Lviv
  • Ukraine Lemko ethno folk group
  • "The bells of Lemkivshchyna. Will the authorities of Ukraine and Poland listen to them", in Ukrainian.
  • "Five questions for Lemko", in Ukrainian.
  • Metodyj Trochanovskij
  • Lemko Portal in Poland
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