"Sladami Lemkow" by Roman Reinfuss


The Lemkos (Lemkowie) are one of four major groups of Ukrainian highlanders inhabiting both sides of the Carpathian Mountains. Their settlements are scattered from the Poprad River in the west to the valley of the Oslava and Laborca Rivers in the east, where they neighbor the Ukrainian Boikos (referred to as "Verhovyncy" in the south). The Lemkos neighbor the Slovaks in the south, and the Poles in the north. West of the Poprad there still are Ukrainian villages called the Spiss Ruthenians in Slovakia, and the Shlakhtov Ruthenians (Ruthenians of Szlachtowa) in Poland.
During and shortly after World War II, the Lemkos who lived within Polish territories were resettled partly to the east to the Soviet Union, and partly to Polish western provinces. After about a dozen years of their compulsory settlement in western Poland, they began to return to their former settlements in the Carpathians. Unfortunately, while in the new, alien environment they had lost much of their traditional culture. This monograph aims to briefly present the life and history of the Lemkos.

Early Settlement

Both archeological and historical sources indicate that the territories where the Lemkos lived later on had remained uninhabited until early Middle Ages. It was as late as the 12th and 13th centuries that first settlers, Poles from the north and Slovaks from the south, reached the Carpathians. In the 13th and 14th centuries there were but a few Polish settlements north of the Carpathians along main routes to Hungary.
In the 14th century, the region between the Poprad and Oslava Rivers, formerly king's lands, was divided into several large feudal latifundia owned by the Church or knights. Owners of the uninhabited, thus unprofitable, lands made repeated efforts to settle them. This was done in the 14th century by Walachian-Ruthenian settlers who established "in cruda radice" villages, or settlements in grubbed out areas, in the whole territory later on inhabited by the Lemkos.
The Walachian-Ruthenian settlement was so far viewed as a simultaneous process accomplished by Walachian shepherds, the so called Arumuns from the Balkan Peninsula (with slight participation of southern Slavs and Albanians), and considerable number of Ruthenians. However, cultural and economic differences between the Walachian nomadic shepherds and the Ruthenian farmers point rather to two stages of the settlement in the Carpathians. The first stage comprising migration of the nomadic shepherds of Arumuns who, living much alike the Bulgarian Kharakhachans not long ago, came to the Carpathians much earlier than 14th-century records show. Their small family groups, with herds of sheep and goats, wandered all around the Carpathians up to the Moravian Gate in the west. The nomadic shepherds chiefly sought ridge pastures. They spend their summers on pastures in the mountains paying the pasturage with sheep and cheese, and for winters they moved warmer lowland forests where it was easier to feed their herds. Towards the end of the 15th century, the Walachian shepherds, most probably forced by landowners, gave up driving the herds down to the valleys and rather spent the winters in their mountain cabins.
In about that time, in the late 15th century, Ruthenian farmers began to flock in there from the east. They favored the Carpathian broad valleys of alluvial arable soil. There were cases that formerly Polish villages were "emptied" for Ruthenian settlers or they were settled within Polish villages. The numerous Ruthenian settlers were joined by Walachian shepherds abandoning their nomadic tradition.
The first Ruthenian-Walachian villages were established according to a medieval pattern, the so called "German law", applied to farming villages. However, the poor crops under the unfavorable weather conditions in the mountains could not meet the requirements of levies. Hence, the levies were contributed in shepherd's products -sheep, goats, cheese, and homespun woolen cloth. The village system that emerged in the Carpathians, the so called "Walachian law", differed from the "German law". One of its characteristic features was the system of "kresy" - communities encompassing villages belonging to one owner. Each "Kres" was headed by a "Walachian voivode" who, together with village heads, held the judicatory power based on Walachian customary laws adjusted to the economy of shepherds.
The history of the Lemkos' settlement can also be traced down in geographical names in the region where Polish names are accompanied by Ukrainian and Romanian ones.
The settlement of the Lemkos was accomplished by the end of the 16th century. The settlement processes established a clear-cut distinction between Polish and Ukrainian villages, which remained unchanged well into the 20th century. In the interwar period, the number of Lemkos in Poland's territories slightly exceeded 100,000. The average population density was then 50 people per square kilometer. Health resorts and a few cities (Krynica, Zegiestow, Muszyna, Jas'liska) were Polish islets in Lemkos' territories. Small Polish hamlets were rare in Lemko villages.
As a result of the 1947 resettlement, the composition of nationalities in this region changed. The resettled Lemkos were replaced by Poles - some of them repatriated from the USSR, some from Polish border villages. Starting in 1956, the Lemkos began to return to their home villages where they now make up some 30% to 40% of inhabitants.
Initially, the inhabitants of these lands referred to themselves as "Rusnaky" and so they were called by their Polish neighbors (,,Rus'nioki"). The name "Lemko" ("Lemky") is a nickname coined by the Boikos because of the Slovak word "lem" (only) they used instead of the Ukrainian "lish".

Villages and Architecture

The villages of the Lemkos stretched in long chains of houses along a road or a stream in the bottom of a valley. The chain-like arrangement resulted from the system of land distribution among settlers while setting up a village. In the arrangement of "forest lanes" every settler received a strip of land running across the valley from ridge to ridge. The average area of such a strip ("lan") was some 20 hectares.
A person in charge of founding a village, who subsequently became its hereditary head, was granted considerably more land. Also, one such strip, "lan", was saved as site for the construction of an Orthodox church and to support the priest.
In the west, between the Poprad and Ropa Rivers, the arable lands of a village were arranged into larger units divided into as many strips as there were original settlers who drew lots for the strips.
The Walachian nomadic shepherds contributed little to the architecture of Lemko settlements which owed much more to late 15th-century Ruthenian farmers. Between the Poprad and Biala Rivers, where the earlier Polish settlement was followed by Ruthenian migration, there are multi-building farms comprising a house, stable, barn, arid sometimes a granary. Like in Polish villages, the house consisted of a room and a chamber separated with a hallway, or a hallway and antechamber. The buildings, made of timber joined at corners, were covered with gable roof with side eaves, originally made of straw and since late 19th century of shingles. East of the Biala River and farther beyond the border of Lemkos' territories, common are single-building farms housing under one roof the living quarter, composed of a room and a chamber (or an alcove) separated with a hallway from a stable, threshing floor, wagon house, and sometimes a sheepfold. A large attic functioned as a barn. Along the building's rear wall there was a long narrow wareroom for storing the chaff.
Small windows admitted little light into the rooms. The darkness was reinforced by soot-covered walls because the cooking and baking ovens had no chimney ducts which caused that the smoke first spread out into the room and only then escaped through a hole in the ceiling to the attic. The large area on the top of the oven was used for sleeping. Diagonal layout of furniture prevailed - in the so called holy corner, facing the oven cornerwise, there were two benches and a table used for holiday meals (Christmas Eve supper, wedding etc.). Everyday meals were served in one bowl placed on a special bench around which the household members sat on small stools. The corner between the oven and the table housed a short, wide bed and a rocking or suspended cradle. The last corner, by the entrance door, was occupied by small pen for a calf, or a shelf for tableware in more recent times.
The timber Orthodox churches in the regions inhabited by Lemkos are pieces of particularly valuable architecture. Their characteristic feature distinguishing them from other Ukrainian churches is that, similarly to Roman Catholic churches, their belfries are incorporated into the main building. Farther to the east, in the Oslava River valley, the belfries were constructed apart from the main building, which comprised the presbytery, nave, and porch, under a gable roof with three small domes emphasizing the triplicity of the interior.


Lack of natural pastures made shepherding in the Lower Beskids underdeveloped. When the Walachian shepherds abandoned their nomadic life they exchanged farming methods with the Ruthenian farmers. As a result, the villagers cultivated the soil in lower and middle parts of slopes, and used ridge and forest clearings as pastures for sheep, goats, and, later on, cattle.
Between the crop fields and the forests there was a transitory strip of land used as a pasture or for meadow for undemanding crops. The functions of this infertile lands varied. One year the cattle was pastured on one slope of the valley (the pasture was called "toloka"), while the strip on the opposing slope ("tsaryna") was cultivated. The next year, "toloka" replaced "tsaryna", and vice versa.
The level of the agriculture was very low owing to limited knowledge of farming methods, shortage of tools (wooden ploughs were in use here until the late 19th century) and fertilizers. Oxen were used as draft animals. The three-field system, leaving one-third of the soil fallow, was favored for long. Harvesting or threshing machines were unknown until the interwar period. The chief crops were oats, rye, and, since the first half of the 19th century, turnip and rutabaga, an early substitute of potatoes.
In grubbed out forest clearings, the farmers fertilized the soil with ashes by burning branches and bushes to cultivate oats and two-year rye, so called ,,kzhitsa". Once the soil got impoverished, the abandoned field was covered with forest.
Taking advantage of climatic differences, many Lemkos worked during harvests in Hungary. They received wages in grain. Their agriculture improved in the interwar period when steel ploughs, some amounts of artificial fertilizers and horses came into broader use. However, their economy has significantly improved only recently, after their return from the resettlement, when they acquired modern farming machines and knowledge they had lacked before.
Lack of credible statistics makes it hard to present 19th-century levels of shepherds' production and cattle stocks of the Lemkos. During World War I and afterward, an average Lemko family owned several sheep and cows, and two to four oxen. Milk cows grazed on pastures near villages, while the other cattle and sheep spent the summer in season stables made of timber or stone in "tolokas" or forest clearings. Larger herds of sheep were on pastures in the mountains only in the Krynica Beskids where also sheep-cheese production developed.
Insufficient pastures and frequent epidemics of fascioliasis caused that the Lemkos did not keep their sheep for the winter but sold them for slaughter in the fall and bought young sheep in the spring from Boikos and Hutsuls. The slaughter of sheep and distribution of mutton was monopolized by inhabitants of Rychwald (now Owczary). The language of the Lemkos contains many terms connected with shepherding derived from Romanian and a southern Slovak dialects.
Poor results of basic branches of Lemkos' economy made them seek additional sources of income. Cloth weaving was women's most usual occupation - they made flax linen, and treated wool for manufacturers of woolen cloth. The forests were a significant source of the Lemkos' incomes. They made construction timber and shingles. In some villages (Nowice, Przysiop, Leszczyny) wooden spoons and various turned wooden objects were manufactured. Where appropriate resources were found (villages of Bartne, Przegonia, Folusz) masons manufactured millstones and grindstones. Villagers of Losie, near Gorlice, traded with axle grease; their neighbors of Bielanka - with wood tar melted in earth dugouts. Some villagers manufactured baskets of juniper roots, hazel baskets for feeding horses, or willow basketwork lining for horse-carts.
All the occupations offered but modest incomes. The Lemkos sought improvement of their economic situation away from home, in the United States and Canada. They started to emigrate after 1880 and process continues unabated until now.


Traditional costumes of the Lemkos, distinguishing them from their neighbors, fell within three local varieties - western, central, and eastern.
Most of the traditional elements have been preserved in men's cloths - flax linen shirts (always worn inserted into trousers), summer linen and winter woolen trousers.
The usual footwear was primitive "kirptsie" made of a single piece of hide sewn up with a thin strap. The Lemkos wore short sleeveless fur coats or homespun cloth vests, which were replaced in the 19th century with blue, navy-blue, or black vests, made of factory-made woolen cloth, decorated with metal buttons. The outer wear was a mid-tight-long brown or white jacket, called ,,hunia", made of homespun woolen cloth. On cold or rainy days, well-off farmers wore on their shoulders large coats, called "chuha" or "chuhania" made of brown thick homespun woolen cloth, with wide mid-back-long collar. The shape and ornamentation of sleeves and collars of the ,,chuhas" pointed to belonging to particular groups - Torokarys, Swicakys, Pupkarys or Koroliwcys in the Oslava River valley. In the region of Krynica, one could meet a rare white coat, called "dolha bila hunia", made of homespun woolen cloth, worn on sleeves, narrow in the waist, with flaring puckers at the sides. The costumes were of very simple, primitive cut similar to that of costumes of Ukrainian or Polish highlanders. A characteristic Carpathian element were black broad-brimmed felt hats the Lemkos purchased in Hungary.
Lemko women's costumes also differed locally. In the west, they wore flax linen or calico shirts decorated at the collar and cuffs with factory-made laces; velvet, preferably black, corsets, decorated with floral glass-bead embroidery; long skirts made of factory-made dark fabrics and white aprons with lace inserts. Married women used white or colorful caps made of calico worn under factory-made kerchiefs, most often red, knotted at the back of the neck.
In the central part of Lemkos' territories, the corsets were made of red, blue, or green thin woolen cloth or silk decorated with sewn-on colorful ribbons. The skirts and aprons were made of homespun flax linen printed by dyers in towns in white and blue patterns against dark-navy-blue background. Women also wore ,,hunias", similar to men's but shorter and closer to the body. Married woman's festive head-dress, called ,,fatselyk", was made of white linen knotted at the back of the neck. The rear embroidered end of the ,,fatselyk" was long enough to protrude from under a corset or ,,hunia". Both in western and central regions inhabited by the Lemkos, old women used to wear on their shoulders white flax cloths reaching their knees.
Most decorated were women's costumes in eastern regions. They wore shirts with cross-stitch embroidery on sleeves and cuffs, corsets made of factory-made blue woolen cloth decorated with metal buttons and chain-stitch embroidery. Their skirts and aprons were made of bright flowery calico decorated with vertically sewn-on ribbons. Girls and young women wore necklaces of colorful glass beads. Before the women's costumes of eastern Lemkos became so colorful, they had worn primitive white flax linen cloths similar to those worn by the neighboring Boikos until 1939. The women's footwear was also ,,kirptsie", or boots on holidays. In villages bordering Hungary, women borrowed some elements of their costumes from the southern neighbors.
The post World War II resettlement caused that the Lemkos stopped wearing their traditional costumes not to stand out in their new environment.

Holidays and Rites

The Lemkos, both the Greek Catholic and Orthodox, used the ,,old style" Julian calendar in which the new year begins thirteen days later than in the Roman Catholic Gregorian calendar. Christmas (Rozdzhenstwo Izusa Chrysta, or ,,Rizdvo") was preceded by the four-week Christmas Lent during which women used to gather in the evenings at "viechirkas" to spin linen together. The meetings were attended by groups of boys in fancy costumes who gave short performances followed by merry-making and dances. On the last day of Lent, "lamanyk", the boys broke down distaffs of spinning wheels to mark the beginning of Christmas when spinning was forbidden. Christmas Eve (Sviaty vecher) was associated with fortune telling and magic. The Lemkos believed that souls of the dead came to the Christmas Eve supper. The remains of the supper's meals were shared with the household animals.
The New Year Day was a holiday of ritual washing in a river, fortune telling and exchanging greetings. Carolers called on the village houses. Especially festive was the feast day of "Jordan" (January 19) regarded as the day of Christ's baptism. The eve of the feast of Jordan, the so called ,,shchedry vecher", was nearly as festive as Christmas Eve. In the morning of the feast day of Jordan a procession descended down to the river where the priest blessed the water which the villagers then took home with them to use as a medicine and protection against evil powers.
The period of the carnival joy ended with "fedorovnitsia" which opened the forty-day fasting followed by Easter (,,Velykden"). In the week preceding Easter, along with Palm Sunday, of particular significance was the Thursday before Easter. On this day, according to Lemkos' beliefs, the souls of the dead wandered in the real world to open tombs and disclose underground treasures. In the evening, the boys set bonfires commemorating the day ,,when Judas hang himself". On Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday the food was blessed. The most important here was bread, called ,,paskha" or ,,paska". Young people arranged various merry-makings in front of the church during which songs, for instance the song of Zelman, were sung. On Easter Monday people doused each other.
Other important holidays included the feast day of St. George (May 23) when cattle was driven to the pastures for the first time, and witches were especially dangerous; and the Sunday of Pentecost ("Rusala") when houses were decorated with green branches and processions went around the fields. On the day of St. John, called "Kupala", a holiday of shepherds, herbs were picked up, bonfires set in the evening at which songs connected with the holiday were sung and magic rites performed to protect the fields and the cattle. Of particular significance was Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Uspeni Prechistoi Bohoroditsi), August 15. Starting witch this date the cattle could be driven from "toloka" to "tsaryna". On All Saints' day prayers were said by the priest in the graveyard. Mention is also due to fortune telling (chiefly girls were interested) on the eve of the day of St. Andrew which opened the Christmas Lent followed by "Rizdvo".

Family Customs

Marriages were traditionally arranged by parents who were usually economically motivated in matching the couples. Unmarried youths were allowed much liberty, however a girl who gave birth to an illegitimate child was severely punished by the village elders.
Pre-marital arrangements followed an established pattern. First, two matchmakers paid a call on a girl's home to get an idea about her parents' financial status and their attitude toward the groom-to-be. On the next visit the matchmakers were accompanied by the bachelor and his father. They negotiated with the girl's parents her dowry and what the groom would bring to the marriage. The visit ended with engagement of the young couple and an exchange of gifts.
Preparations for the wedding were carried out separately in both the families. On the wedding's eve, bridesmaids gathered at the bride's home to, to the accompaniment of songs, wreath a chaplet for the bride, flower ornaments for hats of the groom and groomsmen, and a decorated rod for the wedding-host who was to lead the wedding procession to the church. At the same time, the groom' steam gathered at his home to enjoy themselves for the whole night. In the morning, led by the wedding-host and a music band, they went to the bride's yard where they formed the wedding procession which then left for the church. After the church ceremony, the wedding party was held in the bride's home. It was only on the next day when the bride moved to the groom's house. This was also an occasion for a treat and dances during which two married women, to the accompaniment of ritual songs, replaced the bride's chaplet with a cap and kerchief symbolizing her transition from girl to a married woman. This ceremony was originally followed by seeing the married couple to the chamber or the threshing floor where the marriage was ritually consummated. In the interwar times this custom vanished or was given a jocular form (for example, the young couple was laid down onto a harrow, its teeth up, covered with straw and threshed with flails which was to ensure happiness to the couple. The master of ceremonies was the wedding-host who watched the observance of rituals and procedures.
A pregnant woman was subject to many bans and orders aimed to guarantee a successful labor and desired virtues to the expected offspring. Between the birth and the baptism of the baby, particular attention was required to avoid "spells" which could be cast on the child, and protect it against " mamuna", a witch believed to replace babies with her ugly and noisy children.
The parents invited many godparents who brought with them pieces of homespun flax linen ("kryzma") as customary gifts. On. their way to and from the church, the godparents had to stick to various bans and rites to make the baby's future successful. The parents arranged a treat for the invited quests at which occasional songs were sung. Numerous magic rites were performed when the baby was bathed for the first time after the baptism. On the first Sunday after the baptism, women arranged a common-fund merry-making, "rodovini".
When in sickness, the Lemkos turned for help to quacks rather than doctors and hospitals. The soul of a dead person was believed to wander around the household to see and hear everything until the burial. The home of the deceased was visited by his family and friends for prayers. At nights, it was usually the young who kept guard at the corpse. They often behaved without the due respect. They played games and brutal tricks, also on the corpse. Favorite things of the deceased, e.g. a pipe or bottle of liquor were placed in the coffin. After the burial, the church's psalmist (diak) opened a prayer meeting, "tryzma", which was followed by a reception attended by all the mourners.

Religion and Traditional Beliefs

In early times, both the Walachian shepherds and the Ruthenian settlers were Orthodox. They were willingly accepted in the Carpathians where they developed uninhabited lands. In 1596 in Brest on the Bug River, the Catholic church and some of Orthodox clergy signed a union establishing the Greek Catholic Church in Poland which was subordinated to the Holy See and accepted the Roman Catholic dogmas, but preserved the Orthodox liturgy and the right to marriage by lay clergymen.

The introduction of the Greek Catholic rite was strongly supported by the Roman Catholic episcopate, but fiercely opposed by the Orthodox faithful. The Greek Catholic diocese in the city of Przemys'l, which covered the territories inhabited by Lemkos, became a forum of a protracted conflict between the Greek Catholic bishop and the local Orthodox ruler. The process of forced conversion of the Orthodox believers to Greek Catholicism which followed took especially harsh course in the territories between the Poprad and Biala Rivers which belonged to the Roman Catholic bishops of Krakow. The nagging of the Orthodox or the disobedient Greek Catholics by the Krakow bishops was reported still in 1784. In the 19th century all the Lemkos were Greek Catholics.

Greek Catholic priests were highly respected among the Lemkos on both religious, economic and political issues. The priests' sympathies toward Russia and its Orthodox church made them to upheld among the Lemkos the awareness of "a schism a hundred years ago". This propaganda of the Greek Catholic clergy helped to spread in the first half of the 19th century Russophil attitudes which later in the 19th century clashed with a new powerful nationalism of the Ukrainians ardently supported by the Greek Catholic Metropolitan curia in Lvov and the Greek Catholic bishop of Przemysl. In the interwar period, the Greek Catholic bishop of Przemysl began to consistently appoint young priests to Lemkos' parishes to promote the Ukrainian nationalism. The Russophil Lemkos, so called Old Ruthenians, responded witch mass conversion to the Orthodox religion and attempted to occupy Greek Catholic churches or rob them. To calm down the unrest, in 1934 the Vatican set up the ,,Apostolic Administration for the Lemkos", a body independent from the Greek Catholic bishop of Przemysl. The post of the Apostolic Administrator was reserved for Old Ruthenian Lemkos who did not support the Ukrainian movement. During World War II, a Ukrainian nationalist supported by the Germans was appointed the Apostolic Administrator. He left together witch the last troops of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) which forced their way through Czechoslovakia to western Germany. The Apostolic Administration for the Lemkos was not reactivated after the war.
Regardless of religious differences, the Lemkos were and are faithful believers devoutly fulfilling requirements of their religion. Nevertheless, still in the interwar period, the elderly people alive retained relicts of prehistoric primitive beliefs - cult of nature, beliefs in demons, and wide-spread magic rites. Younger Lemkos, especially those born and brought up outside their traditional regions, have not adopted the traditional beliefs.

Songs, Legends, Literature

The language of the Lemkos is a peripheral dialect of the Ukrainian language distinguished from other dialects by many archaisms and, similarly to Polish and Slovak, word stress on the penultimate syllable, a thing alien to other Ukrainian dialects.
The Lemkos are not a homogeneous group. There are certain differences in dialects of eastern and western Lemkos. The localization of their lands along borders made that many borrowings from the Polish and Slovak languages entered their dialect. The long settlement in Poland caused that many Lemkos are now not fluent in their mother tongue.
Lemkos' folk literature, originally conveyed in oral tradition, is abundant. It comprises a countless number of songs - lyrical (chiefly about love), soldiers' ballads, and ritual songs.
No less interesting is the oral prose literature - genre stories from Lemkos' life, stories about robbers, about supernatural phenomena, or humorous satirical tales as well as proverbs and riddles which reveal in a specific way the folk philosophy.
We owe the oldest written records of Lemkos' songs to local priests who formed the sole intelligentsia among the Lemkos in the 19th century. Among them were Rev. A. J. Toronski who was interested in ethnography of the Lemkos, and Rev. W. Chylak, author of novels and stories of their life. They wrote in the local dialect which they intended to promote to a literary language through introduction of numerous borrowings from Russian and Russian transcription.
In late 19th century, obligatory education of children was introduced and a system of state schools developed. At the same time, a network of libraries named after M. Kaczkowski arranged by the Old Ruthenians was established. Later on, the "Prosvita" reading rooms were set up by the Ukrainian nationalists. Soon, first literary oeuvres by Lemko peasants appeared. Literary creativity, chiefly poetry, enjoyed increased popularity among Lemkos after their resettlement. These were chiefly works revealing nostalgia for the homeland in the Carpathians. The same spirit permeates the prose and poetry by young Lemko intelligentsia, brought up and educated in People's Poland.

Folk Art

The art of the Lemkos was very diverse in the past. Wooden ornaments are characteristic in buildings, furniture, and small items such as gifts and souvenirs. These ornaments were often painted, for example painted houses in the Oslava River valley or painted cloth-coffers.
The Gypsies were the usual blacksmiths. Among decorative metalwork mention is due to punch-design iron mountings of wagons, wrought iron hinges and door knobs, and beautiful crosses on church domes.
In weaving, the decoration was reduced to contrastive lines or strips across the cloth -such like white strips on sleeves and collars of brown "chuhas", red strips on semi--woolen homespun skirts, or black and white stripped cloths manufactured in villages on the Slovak border. Also, flax linen was decorated with floral or geometric patterns hand printed with linseed oil varnish inks or using the batik method.
Embroidery was the most important decorative element of women's clothes. Western Lemkos used flat embroidery (red or white) and floral motif embroidery with beads. In the east, in the Oslava River valley, the cross-stitch embroidery prevailed with which wide geometric multi-color ornaments based on Ukrainian patterns were made. Also, chain-stitch scroll-motif embroidery was popular.
Out of formerly rich decoration of ritual objects it is barely the painting of ornamented Easter eggs that has been preserved.
Particular attention is due to figural sculptures by ,Lemko artists. Before World War II, wooden figures of saints were frequent in wayside shrines and on walls of village houses. Few such sculptures have survived. Fortunately, many stone sculptures by folk artists have been preserved. Until the end of World War II the chief masonry center was in the village of Bartne. Their wayside sculptures and tombstones were usually given the shape of Latin or Greek cross bearing primitive image of Christ. There also were wayside figures of Our Lady with the Infant or the Holy Family. The Lemko masons also made shrines in the form of huge blocks of sandstone with niches housing figures and paintings. These were most common in central regions inhabited by the Lemkos.
In Lemkos' churches and wayside shrines frequent were precious paintings by gild painters, but examples of primitive folk paintings are rare. One of the few primitive painters was Epifon Drowniak, known as Nikifor, an exceptionally gifted Lemko from Krynica. In artistic terms, his paintings, however, are not connected with any local folklore.

The Past and the Present

The region of Lower Beskids, where Ruthenians and Walachians settled in the 15th and 16th centuries, was an area of unrest and struggle. Local-based gangs of robbers, so called "beskidniki", attacked nearby estates and traveling merchants. They were most active in the 17th century when Poland was engaged in wars against the Cossacks and later Sweden. At the end of the 18th century the Lower Beskids were an arena of violent clashes between the Bar confederates and Russian troops. In this war, the sympathies of the Ruthenians were with the Russians which in turn caused repression from the confederates.
The national awareness of the Ruthenians was shaped in the 19th century. Early in the 19th century, these people, living in the Austrian partition zone, identified themselves with the Russians. In mid-19th century, nationalism emerged among the Ruthenian intelligentsia who accentuated separateness between the Ruthenians and Russians, promoted the unity of Ruthenians of Galicia and the Kiev Ukrainians in an attempt to establish an independent Ukrainian state. In the political struggle between the two streams, the Lemkos adopted firm Russophil attitude.
During World War I, Austrian authorities applied severe repression on Lemko Russophiles (Old Ruthenians) - their activists, including considerable part of Greek Catholic priests, were detained in concentration camp of Talerhof where many of them were sentenced to death on charges of spying for Russia. At that time, the Ukrainian separatists were mercilessly fought in the part of Galicia occupied by the Russians.
After World War I, the announcement by Ukrainian nationalists of establishing a sovereign Ukrainian state triggered a Polish-Ukrainian war. The Old Ruthenian Lemkos strove for a union with Russia or setting up an autonomous Ruthenian state in the territories inhabited by the Lemkos. Taking advantage of the principle of self-
-determination of nations, both ,,republics" emerged in the Lemkos' lands - one with its capital in Koman'cza opting for an independent Ukrainian state, and the other, having its capital in Gladyszow, covering the Ruthenian villages of former counties of Grybow and Gorlice, aiming to establish a ,,Carpathian-Ruthenian state" under the protectorate of Czechoslovakia. Both the ,,republics" were soon done away with Polish authorities.
In the interwar period, the political struggle between the two streams turned into religious antagonism. The response of Russophil Lemkos to Ukrainian nationalistic propaganda by young Greek Catholic clergy was their conversion to the Orthodox religion.
During the Nazi occupation, initially all the Lemkos enjoyed privileges the Germans granted to the Ukrainians. But upon the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union, the Germans, assisted by Ukrainians, arrested and transported to concentration camps Lemkos suspected of Russophil attitudes, and sent the Lemko youths to forced labor in Germany. The oppressed Old Ruthenian Lemkos then set up a guerrilla unit which collaborated with Polish and Soviet resistance. At the end of 1944, troops of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) launched terrorist actions against Poles. Especially fierce clashes between the Polish Army and UPA units took place in the western Bieszczady mountains on the territories of the Boikos and Lemkos where in the years 1946-47 UPA terrorists were most active. To rid UPA of support from Ukrainian nationalists among Lemkos, all the Lemkos were expelled to western Poland. It was their third resettlement - the first one, voluntary, took place during the Nazi occupation under an agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union, the second one in the years 1944-46, also voluntary, was under a similar agreement between governments of Poland and the USSR.
The villages abandoned by the Lemkos were settled partly by Polish repatriates from the east and peasants from nearby piedmont regions.
In their new settlements the Lemkos faced hostility of Poles who viewed them as UPA members, and the farms they received were mostly devastated. However, owing to their hard work, diligence and providence the Lemkos succeeded economically after a time, they are even well-off. Their well-educated youth from the Lemko intelligentsia occupying high posts in Poland's administration, industry and science.
In 1956, the Lemkos were allowed to return to their home villages, but only some of them decided to do so. Nonetheless, both the Lemkos who have returned and those -who have stayed in western Poland actively cherish their culture preserving their specific regional character. This, however, is treated by the Ukrainians as a manifestation of separatism, and continues to cause conflicts between the Ukrainians and the Old Ruthenians.

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Date last modified: March 12th, 2013