Rusyns (also referred to as Русины, Ruthenians, Ruthenes, Rusins, Carpatho-Rusyns, and Rusnaks) are a Slavic ethnic group that speaks the Rusyn language and are descended from the minority of Ruthenians who did not adopt the ethnonym Ukrainian to describe their ethnic identity in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Because many Ruthenians within Ukraine itself have adopted a Ukrainian ethnic identity, most contemporary Rusyns live outside Ukraine. Of the approximately 2 million people claimed by Rusyn organizations as being Rusyns, only 55,000 declare themselves as having this ethnicity. The ethnic identity of Rusyns is controversial, with some researchers claiming a separate East Slavic ethnicity distinct from Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians, while others consider Rusyns to be a subgroup of the Ukrainian people.
Prior to the middle of the 19th century, Ukrainians were referred to and known as Rusyns. The ethnonym Ukrainian came into widespread use only in modern times, replacing the ethnonym Rusyn initially on the banks of the Dnieper and later in western Ukraine, where it was still used into the 1930s. Today only a minority group uses this ethnonym for self-identification, primarily people living in the mountainous Transcarpathian region of western Ukraine and adjacent areas in Slovakia. Having eschewed the ethnonym Ukrainian, Rusyns across the old heartland of the Kyivan Rus state continue to use the ethnonym Rusyn, asserting a local and separate Rusyn ethnic identity.
Contemporary Rusyns (those who so identify themselves today) have traditionally inhabited the area of the Eastern Carpathian Mountains, as they still do. Their homeland is often referred to as Carpathian Ruthenia, although that area no longer directly coincides with the area of Rusyn habitation. There are resettled Rusyn communities located in the Pannonian plain, parts of present-day Serbia (particularly in Vojvodina – see also Ethnic groups of Vojvodina), as well as present-day Croatia (in the region of Slavonia). Rusyns also migrated and settled in the northern regions of present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Many Rusyns emigrated to the United States and Canada, and are able to reconnect as a community with the advent of modern communications such as the internet. Concerns are being voiced regarding the preservation of their unique ethnic and cultural legacy.
Rusyns are an ethnic group that never attained independent statehood, except for the ephemeral Lemko-Rusyn Republic and Komancza Republic after World War I. The Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine - which famously existed for only one day on March 15th, 1939 before it was occupied by Hungarian troops - is sometimes erroneously understood to have been a briefly self-determining Rusyn State. But although it was located in Subcarpathian Ruthenia, the traditional Carpatho-Rusyn homeland, the Republic was a project overseen by Ukrainian nationalists, assisted by the Third Reich. The Republic's president, Avhustyn Voloshyn, was an advocate of writing in the Rusyn vernacular but was a Ukrainophile nevertheless.
The Rusyns' fate has always rested in the hands of larger neighbouring powers, such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Slovakia, Poland, the Soviet Union, Ukraine, and Russia. In contrast to the modern Ukrainian national movement that united Western Ukrainians with those from the rest of Ukraine, the Rusyn national movement takes two forms: one considers Rusyns as a separate East Slavic nation, while the other is based on the concept of fraternal unity with Russians.
Most of the predecessors of the Eastern Slavic inhabitants of present-day Western Ukraine referred to themselves as Rusyns (Русини, translit. Rusyny) prior to the nineteenth century; many of them became active participants in the creation of the Ukrainian nation and came to call themselves Ukrainians (Ukrainian: Українці, translit. Ukrayintsi). There were, however, ethnic Rusyn enclaves which were not a part of this movement: those living on the border of the same territory or in more isolated regions, such as the people from Carpathian Ruthenia, Poleshuks, or the Rusyns of Podlachia. With no reason to change their self-identifying monikers, these isolated groups continued to refer to themselves as Rusyns even after the majority of their people had begun to self-identify as Ukrainian. In this sense, Rusyns are similar to other borderland ethnicities, and their national awakening may be viewed by some as a negation of Ukrainian nationalism.
Some scholars consider the Lemko, Boyko, Hutsul, Verkhovinetses (Verkhovyntsi, or Highlanders), and Dolinyanin (Haynal) ethnic groups to be Rusyn. As with the rest of the inhabitants of present-day Western Ukraine in the 19th century and first part of the 20th century, some of these peoples referred to themselves as Rusyns. However, some of these ethnic groups consider themselves to be separate ethnicities, while others claim to be Ukrainians and still others identify themselves as Rusyns. According to a recent Ukrainian census, an overwhelming majority of Boykos, Lemkos, Hutsuls, Verkhovyntsi and Dolynians in Ukraine stated their nationality as being Ukrainian. About 10,100 people, or 0.8%, of Ukraine's Zakarpattia Oblast (province) identified themselves as Rusyns; by contrast, 1,010,000 considered themselves Ukrainians. Research conducted by the University of Cambridge during the height of political Ruthenianism in the mid-1990s that focused on five specific regions within the Zakarpattian oblast with the strongest pro-Ruthenian cultural and political activism, found that only nine percent of the population claimed Rusyn ethnicity. These numbers may change with the further acceptance of Rusyn identity and the Rusyn language in educational systems in the area, but most present-day Ruthenians consider themselves to be Ukrainians.
The Rusyn national movement is much stronger among those Rusyn groups that became geographically separated from present-day Ukrainian territories, for example the Rusyn emigrants in the United States and Canada, as well as the Rusyns living within the borders of Slovakia. The 2001 census in Slovakia showed that 24,000 people considered themselves ethnically Rusyn while 11,000 considered themselves to be ethnically Ukrainian. The Pannonian Rusyns in Serbia, who migrated there during the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, also consider themselves to be Rusyns. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some Rusyns resettled in Vojvodina (in present day Serbia), as well as in Slavonia (in present-day Croatia). Still other Rusyns migrated to the northern regions of present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina, although many Rusyns in Bosnia identify themselves as Ukrainians. Until the 1971 Yugoslav census, both Ukrainians (Serbian: Украјинци, tr. Ukrajinci) and Rusyns (Serbian: Русини, tr. Rusini) in these areas were recorded collectively as "Ruthenes". Podkarpatskije Rusiny is considered the Rusyn "national anthem", Ja Rusyn byl jesm' i budu the national song.
In March 2007 the Zakarpatian Regional Council adopted a decision which recognized Rusyns as a separate national minority at the regional level. By the same decision the Zakarpatian Regional Council petitioned the Ukrainian central authorities to recognize Rusyns as an ethnic minority at the state level. Historically, the Polish and Hungarian states are considered to have contributed to the development of a Rusyn identity that is separate from that of other Ruthenians. Rusyns were recorded as a separate nationality by the censuses taken in pre-WWII Poland (see Cezary Chlebowski's Wachlarz), Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
The question of when the Rusyns adopted Christianity (and who or what they worshipped before) is a source of some debate, but it clearly occurred prior to the Great Schism between the Orthodox and Catholic churches in 1054. Many Rusyn churches are named after the Eastern Christian saints Cyril and Methodius, who are often referred to as the "Apostles to the Slavs."
In 1994 the historian Paul Robert Magocsi stated that there were approximately 690,000 Carpatho-Rusyn church members in the United States, with 320,000 belonging to the largest Byzantine rite Catholic affiliations, 270,000 to the largest Orthodox affiliations, and 100,000 to various Protestant and other denominations.
Most Rusyns are Byzantine rite Catholics, who since the Union of Brest in 1596 and the Union of Uzhhorod in 1646 have been united with the Catholic (Universal) Church under the spiritual leadership of the Pope. However, they have their own particular Church, the Ruthenian Catholic Church, and retain the Byzantine Rite liturgy in Old Slavonic and most of the outward forms of Byzantine or Eastern Christianity.
The Rusyns of the former Yugoslavia are organized under the Eparchy of Krizevci. Those in the diaspora in the United States established the Byzantine Catholic Metropolitan Church of Pittsburgh.
Although originally associated with the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, the affiliation of the Rusyn Orthodox Church was adversely affected by the Communist revolution in the Russian Empire and the subsequent Iron Curtain which split the Orthodox diaspora from the Orthodox believers living in the ancestral homelands. A number of emigré communities have claimed to continue the Orthodox tradition of the pre-revolution church while either denying or minimizing the validity of the church organization operating under Communist authority. For example, the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) was granted autocephalous (self-governing) status by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1970. Although approximately 25% of the OCA was Rusyn (referred to as "Ruthenian") in the early 1980s, an influx of Orthodox emigrés from other nations and new converts wanting to connect with the "early" church have lessened the impact of a particular Rusyn emphasis in favor of a new American Orthodoxy.
Rusyn (also referred to as the Ruthenian language) is similar to the Slovak language and Ukrainian language; Ukrainian scholars consider Rusyn a dialect of Ukrainian, to the resentment of some Rusyns.
Pannonian Rusyn has been granted official status and was codified in Serbian's province of Vojvodina. Since 1995, it has also been recognized and codified as a minority language in Slovakia (in those areas comprising at least 20% Rusyns). The Rusyn language in Vojvodina, however, shares many similarities with Slovak, and is sometimes considered a separate (micro)language, sometimes a dialect of Slovak.