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Valentyn Stetsyuk (Lviv, Ukraine)

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Ukrainian Tribes in the Ukrainian Carpathians and their Traditions


The Ukrainian Carpathians are populated with different peoples such as Slovakians, Hungarians, Czechs, Rumanians but Ukrainians are in majority. From the times of Kiev Rus’ local Ukrainians called themselves Rusins, Rusnaks or Ruthenians (Tolochko Petro, 1996). The great part of present Ukraine was in the structure of Russia during more as three centuries. Beeing conscious their difference from Moscowits, the local population changed own old name Rusyn to Ukrainians. But the Ukrainian population of the territory, which was a part of Poland and later of Austria, continued to name themselves Rusyns or Rusnaks. With the development of aspiration for independent Ukraine from the middle of the 19th century, these names were gradually changed too for political reason in order not to be mistakenly understood as Russians. But up till now, some part of Ukrainian population, especially in Transcarpathia, Slovakia, and Serbia, called itself Rusins claiming to be considered as a distinctive ethnic group.

In reality, there are only three larg distinctive ethnic group of Ukrainian mountain dwellers in the Carpathian highlands which are called Hutsuls (Ukrainian Hutsuli), Boikos (Ukrainian Boyki) and Lemkos (Ukrainian Lemki or Lemaki). There are no convinsing explanations of the origin of the names Hutsuli, Boyki and Lemki therefore we will pass over this theme in silence. All three of those Ukrainiфn tribes were formed under some influence of Valachians (Volochs), the people of Romanian dialect, wрich arrived to the Carpathian area in 14th century and later. (Krypjakevych Ivan, 1929, 9, Pulnarowzycz, 1929, 3-11). But as the settling of mountainous areas went off mostly upwards along river valleys, Ukrainian Carpathians were settled mostly by Ukrainian tribes. The Volochs were in minority. Following linguistic assimilation their Romanian dialect hsd been replaced by the dialect of Ukrainian language, though many Romanian words are present in the dialects of Hutsuls, Boikos and Lemkos which beyond this have their own language peculiarities. Slavic origin of Hutsuls, Boikos and Lemkos can be seen in the relict forms of Old Slavic costumes, typical for these people, such as male knee-long white shirt , capes-like long upper clothes, stuff turned around thighs and belted cloth as female skirts, leather shoes, etc. The peculiarity of old clothes of Carpathian people are good known due the collection of water-colours of J. Glogowski, the artist of the first half of the 19th . His collection has 1700 pictures of Ukrainan costumes and the considerable part of them illustrates costumes of Ukrainian mountaineers in the Carpathian (Krvavych P.P., Stelmashchuk H.H. 1988, 171-237).

The mode of life of Ukrainian tribes in the Ukrainians Carpathians iі well represented in the Lviv Museum of Folk Architecture and Life. The museum has been open since 1972 and is responsible for collection, studying, and presenting the most typical features of rural architecture, interiors of dwellings and household buildings, applied art of the population of Western Ukraine. It is situated in the picturesque forest-park "Shevchenkovski Hay" and occupies an area of 80 hectars (Danyluk et al. 1980)


The area of Hutsuls extends from the Rumanian ethnic territory from the Upper Seret and the Suchava rivers to the West and the Northwest along both sides of the main Carpathian range till the rivers Teresva and Bystrytsia Naddvirnianska (Hoshko Ju…, 1989, 24). The first data about mass settlements in this area appears in Polish sources from the first half of the 15th century but in general, historical data concerning the settling of Carpathians are very scarce (Krypjakevych Ivan, 1929, 6). It can be supposed that individual settlements existed here since olden times as many place names in the Carpathians have not Slavic origin (Stetsyuk Valentyn, 2002, 16-17). Some Ukrainian place names, according to their phonetics, testify that some settlements can exist at least since the second half of 1st century AD. The Volochs have left the traces of their influence on Hutsul’s life, and on the material, and spiritual culture more than they have on the other Ukrainian mountaineers but common Ukrainian anthropological, ethnographic and linguistic features of Hutsuls remain very perceptible. Old tools and technique have Ukrainian names, housing construction and disposition are formed based on Ukrainian traditions though houses are adapted to the mountain conditions of life. Economic dependence of Hutsuls from nearest feudal lords was very loose, but they had to pay quit rent in money and nature. Sometimes such duty was too high for the poor population and Hutsuls rose in rebellion very often. The most popular of heroes of such revolts was Oleksa Dovboosh. Many songs and legends about his fights and tragic death keep among Hutsuls till our days. The last popular revolt had place in 1840 (Krypjakevych Ivan, 1929, 25-38).

Living mostly not in villages but in scattered farmsteads, Hutsuls got accustumed to build their high-roofed houses as small fortresses, so called “grazhdas” (the enclosure). The grazhdas had some modifications according to the dispostion of housing and economic buildings. Sometimes yards or their parts had a common roof. Closed yards of the grazhda type are well known in some countries of Western Europe – the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, France, Italy.

The Hutsuls were skillful builders that can also be seen in old wooden Hutsul churches of the old Byzantine style. Such churches of 17th and 18th centuries can be seen in many villages in Carpathians nowadays. The models of perfection are churches in the villages of Kryvorivna, Vorokhta, Kniazhdvir, Yasynia, Vebivka. Some peculiarities of the Balkan cultural type are apparent in certain Hutsulian rites, in picturesque costumes of striking colors and adornment, and in folk art. The old rituals are still well preserved among Hutsuls, they have rich demonology, their rites and customs are tightly connected with the folk calendar and agriculture. Besides useful customs, Hutsuls have also practiced superstitious action for getting good harvest or propitious weather. Compulsory part of costumes of Ukrainian highlanders are male and female leather vests, but Hutsuls adorn them by fine embroidery in the most elegant way. Though the most noteworthy element of Hutsulian cloth is “serdak”, overcoat. It was sewed from red, white, claret-coloured or black homespun woolen cloth. Serdaks were always adorned with great imagination by embroidery, cords, tassels, handbells, and balls.

The Hutsuls have irreproachable art taste and are widely known for their highly developed domestic handicrafts, especially wood-carving, brass-work, rug-weaving, and pottery-making, special egg decorating for Easter-day. Hutsuls got great economical support thanks to the manufacturing of woolen downy carpets. They can be bought everywhere in Galicia up till now. Other wares for seling are various leather, wooden goods, female adornments such as ear-rings, rings, bracelets were manufactured by Hutsuls from silver and copper. To make necklaces they used beads made of gold and silver coins. Many Hutsulian works of folk art are collected in museums of Lviv, Chernivtsi, Vienna and Budapest (Hoshko Ju…, 1989, 64-69, 157-183).

The musical culture of Hutsuls is the most known among all Ukrainian mountaineers. Its archaic indication is displayed in deep connection with nature and mythology by combining word, song and dance as an united action for an each calendar-ritual period. Particular diversity and richness of repertoire are typical for wedding ritual which lasts for three-four days. Hutsulian short comic songs, so called “kolomyika” in solo part at group dancing during weddings or other holidays are widely known. Musical instruments of handicraft are made by Hutsuls mainly by own hands. They used most different reed-pipes, violins and other bow instruments, drums, tamburines, and many original instruments too. Some musical instruments have signal character. Partly, they are common for the whole Carpathian region. For example, a two meter long pipe, called “trembita”. The main occupations of Hutsuls always were the breeding of cattle and mostly of sheep, and cutting, hauling, and floating timber. Nowadays the last one is the occupation of the past. Hutsulian part of Carpathians has very broken relief therefore the agriculture is developed in Hutsulian economy very faintly. The tillage occupies only 4% of the whole territory. During centuries the Hutsuls changed products of stock- and cattle-breeding for the bread. Their method of stock- and cattle-breeding is more adapted to mountainous conditions. From the beginning of spring, herds and flocks are driven to mountainous pastures and stay there till the autumn. Some part of male population takes care of the animals and prepares milk products and the other part stores up hay for winter. In autumn people return home and are occupied with handicrafts or go off in search of a living (Hoshko Ju…, 1989, 148-156).


To the West of Hutsuls lies the territory of Boikos, called Boikivshchyna, which extends to the river San. They can be considered to be the pioneers of Ukrainian Carpathian colonization which were less mixed with Volochs. Saying nothing about names of tribes of Ukrainian Carpathians, one cannot pass over in silence a hypothesis about the origin of name Boiko. Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII wrote about an enigmatic country “Boiki” so: “The Serbs are descended from the unbaptized Serbs, also called 'white', who live beyond Turkey in a place called by them Boiki” (Constantine Porphyrogenitus, 950, Chapter 32). Some scholars think that “Turkey” means Hungary, thus the country Boiki can be placed in Carpathians and the name of Boikos can occur from the old name of their nowadays homeland. It is interesting that there is the town of Turka in this area. Usually its name is explained from tur “aurochs” which inhabited this territory at old times but the suffix k remains unclear.

The Boikos are divided into three ethnic groups: inhabitants of Transcarpathia, their northern neighbours which call themselves Verchovyntsi and Tukhol’tsi, inhabitants of the area near the town of Skole. They all speak the same Boikian dialect but have different types of economic life according to different geographical conditions. Certain differences can be also noted in the southern region especially in housebuilding, the main type of house being a two-room structure, consisting only of an entrance hall and the housing. Whereas Boikos and Verchovyntsi were breeding cattle and less sheep, the Tukhol'tsi also showed themselves in trading and in selling of grapes and other fruit.

The Boikos are the most conservative among all Carpathian tribes and they have preserved their ancient customs and their material culture, architecture, costume, and old folk legends. Usually they have a great family, their burial and other rites have such old features, which have long disappeared among other Ukrainians. As an example, such custom can be given. In Boikian family, the father and the mother usually sleep in a bed. The grandmother and the younger children sleep on a stove. The older children sleep on benches. But the grandfather sleeps on a table as the chief of the kin which provides the family with food. Boikian legends narrate about real historical events, which date back to 400 years as their life has been flowing monotonously during long time. These legends, tales and ballads were sole amusement for people at long winter evenings.
The mountains in Boikian region are lower and therefore the forests have been felled down from early time. The bold hillsides were ploughed up and eroded by rain-water and by grazed cattle and livestock. Boikos had another method of stock-breeding than Hutsuls. They had no constant farm buildings in mountains but only portable sheep-folds and moved their flocks from place to place steadily. The great part of stocks was being sold by Boikos in valley towns at the beginning of winter due to the demand for flesh, which was higher than in Hutsuls’ area where the density of the population was smaller. The agriculture of Boikos was based on the production of the oats, potatoes, and some other vegetables for their own sustenance.

Boikian builders well understand the nature and tried to find harmony with it. Their houses and churches with high roofs resemble old fir-trees with sinked down branches and they blend with moutain landscape very perfectly (Danyluk A.H. and others. 1980.13). Still at the beginning of the 20th century, Boikos built their houses without chimneys, the smoke of stoves was let go through openings in ceiling or wall (Galichyna…, 1915, 24-25). Similar to Hutsuls, dwelling space often had the common roof with economic buildings. Often being 50 m long, Boikos’ houses usually had a gallery along rooms, pantry, stable, woodshed etc. The wooden architecture of Boikos reached its perfection in their high churches with many-tier round cupolas. Though sometimes one can see churches with high towers which look like Protestant churches in Germany.
The costumes of Boikos have the same elements as Hutsuls’ ones but they contrast by colour interpretantion and full absence of any decoration. They had restrained colouring with domination of white colour. Costumes were usually added by leather bags adorned by copper nails. The peculiarity of Boikian women’s costumes was always variety of head-dresses and coiffure. Young girls usually had two braids but they were always adorned by plaited color ribbons and flowers in different ways. The head was binded by long fillet. Married women cut off the plaits after the wedding and untied hair hung down on a collar. Their head was covered by different, long or square shawls, bound in special ways, and a cylindrical cap or a hoop could be placed over the shawl. Men also had long hair but it wasn’t plaited. Even festive costumes were made of homespun flax cloth (Hoshko Ju…, 1989, 100-105).

The creative work is widened among Boikos as well as among Hutsuls but it has its own peculiarities. For example, Boikos have developed wooden sculpture to a considerable extent. Until quite recenly, one could see wooden figures of saints on peasant courts, cross-roads, in chapels etc. The folk painting is more developed on Boikivshchyna too. Its beginning dates back to the 15th century and reaches its blossoming forth in the 18th century. Especially, Boikian icons, painted on glass, are widely known though they preserved not many of them owing to the fragility of the material.

Many Ukrainian political figures, cultural workers, and scientists were of Boikian origin. The most famous of them is Yuri Drohobych (Georgius Drohobicz) who was the professor and the rector of the university in Bologna. He published the book "Prognostic Evaluation of the year 1483 – by Master Yu. Drohobych from Rus', Doctor of Arts and Medicine at the University of Bologna". This is the first printed work of an Ukrainian natural scientist, known to us.


The third Ukrainian ethnic group in the Carpathians is that of the Lemkos or Lemaks. Their home-land is called Lemkovyna or Lemkovshchyna. During some centuries Lemkos inhabited both sides of the main Carpathian range from the sources of the San and the Uzh rivers to the North-West till the Poprad river, far wedging into Slovak and Polish ethnic territory (Galichyna…, 1915, 27-29). Thus the biggest part of Lemkovyna lies in present Slovakia and Poland but even being in the same state, Lemkos communicated with Ukrainian Galicia very loose for their outstanding place of residence. Being assimilated by Slovaks and Poles, Lemkos have lost some parts of their ethnic territory and have retained only on small enclaves outside of their old home-land. Lemkos have been more assimilated by Slovaks than by Poles what can be seen clearly in the group of population that used Slovak language, while being of the Greek Catholic faith which is typical for the Western Ukraine, while Slovaks and Poles belong to Roman Catholic church. By the way, Polish government tried to offer Lemkos not as a part of Ukrainians but as separate ethnic group. After the occupation Lemkovyna by Germany in 1939, Ukrainian culture began to develop very intensive in spite of wartime difficulties. This was the matter and enthusiasm of Ukrainian refugees from that part of Galicia which was occupied by Soviets.

In 1944-48 Lemkos in majority supported Ukrainian Insurgent Army in the fight for independent Ukraine. With agreement of the USSR, Polish government moved a great part of Lemkos to Ukraine and resettled other part dispersed in new Polish territory appropriated from Germany after the end of World War II. Lemkovyna was partly settled by Polish population but great part of it lay uninhabited. Though some part of Lemkos (roughly 4,000), mainly old people, have returned to their home-land from the exile, Lemkian ethnic unity has no future in the Carpathians. The rest of Lemkos on new Polish territories is being assimilated with Poles in a great speed, similar to the Lemkos in Slovakia where the assimilation is lighted by the tensions between the members of the Ukrainian and Ruthenian minorities. In Ukraine Lemkos have been also mixed with local population and are in process of disappearance. Their ethnic memory lives only in folk-lore ensembles and festivals. The repertoire of Lemkian songs is rich and original and is partly related to Slovak tradition having some similar love songs and ballad themes and tunes. Lemkian churches represent an interesting architectural type. These erections are of the same three-dome type that we observe in Galician lowland and at Boikos, but the difference is that the highest dome is the western one, not the middle one. Thus the eastern dome, the altar one is the lowest. This is obviously due to the Slovakian influence, which has been quite late, because ancient churches of Lemkos have still been of generall-Ukrainian type (Galichyna…, 1915, 29). Lemkian cloth, without a doubt, underwent the same Slovakian influence. Starting from a shirt, which has a cut on the back and fastens or ties up under the back of the head, ending with tight laced trousers, their entire men costume as well as women’s has very little in common with Ukrainian one.

In general, Slovakian and Polish influences are noticeable in the whole folk culture of Lemkos. Moreover, since the end of the 19th century, many Lemkos went off in search of a living to America for some years and returned back home earning enough money by farming using more independent and modern ways. Thus, Lemkos have lost a great part of their old Ukrainian customs and cultural peculiarities, one can always find modern elements in their traditional creative work. Thanks to better geographical conditions, economic life of Lemkos was based mostly on agriculture. The mountains are lower in this part of the Carpathians, highest mountain ridges have not more as 1300 m here, therefore rye, barley, and even wheat can be cultivated in this country successfully. But the lack of soil forced Lemkos to maintain stock-breeding and sometimes trading. They often bought oxes and sheeps at Boikos or Hutsuls in spring, pasture them during summer, and selled in next towns in autumn (Hoshko Ju…, 1989, 38-41).

Lemkos display their tribal solidarity more as Boikos and Hutsuls but now, due to assimilation and emigration, the great part of them don’t feel importance of forming an unified cultural identity. Therefore it is very difficult for Lemkian activist groups to represent their ethnic society for protection its rights to state authorities, as in Ukraine, so in Poland or Slovakia. But nobody can foresee the future of Lemkos, while tenacious of them can ensure their survival.


Constantine Porphyrogenitus. 950. De Administrando Imperio.

Danyluk A.H. and others. 1980. Muzej narodnoji arkhitektury i Pobutu u Lvovi. (Lviv Museum of Folk Architekture and the Way of Life). Lviv.

Galichina, Bukovina, Ugorskaja Rus’ (Galicie, Bukovine, Ugrian Rus’). 1915. Edited by collaborator of the magazine “Ukrainskaja zhyzn’”. Moscow.

Hoshko Ju. H. and others. 1989. Ukrajins’ki Karpaty. Kultura (Ukrainian Carpathians. Culture). Kiev.

Kappeler Andreas. 1994. Kleine Geschichte der Ukraine. München.

Krvavych P.P., Stelmashchuk H.H. 1988. Ukrayins’kiy narodniy od’ah 17 – pochatku 19 st. v akvarelakh Y. Glogovs’koho (Ukrainian folk clothes of the 17th – the 19 th century in water-colours of J. Glogovski). Kiev.

Krypjakevych Ivan, 1929. Z istoriji Huculshchyny. (Out of the History of Huculia). Lviv.

Tolochko Petro, 1996. Kyjivs’ka Rus’ (Kiev Rus’). Kiev.

Pulnarowicz Władysław. 1929. U źródeł Sanu, Stryja I Dniestru (At the Sources of the San, Stryj and Dnestr). Turka.

Stetsyuk Valentyn. 2002. Slidy pradavnjoho naselenna Ukrajiny v toponimitsi (The Tracks of Ancient Population of Ukraine in Toponyms). Lviv.

Recommended litarature

Andrusiak M. 1941. Der West-Ukrainische Stamm der Lemken. Südost Forschungen, VI 3-4. München.

Hacquet B. 1790-94. Neuste physikalisch-politische Reisen durch Dacischen Karpathen. Nürnberg.

Hnatiuk V. 1917. Przychynky do piznannia Hutsulshchyny (Materials to knowledge of Hutsulia). Lviv.

Kaindl R.F. 1894. Die Huzulen. Wien.

Shukhevych V. 1899 – 1908. Hutsulshchyna (Huculia). Lviv. Land-use history