Lemky (Lemko)

The following taken from the forward to (Who are we, Lemkos… -wm) by Ivan Krasovskiy & Dmitro Solinko, Lviv 1991.

Thunderous events, which are taking place in Eastern Europe, Soviet Union, separately in Ukraine, gave birth to a new moment in rebirth of democracy, and reawakening of national conscience of entire nations, and of separate groups and entities. This process has also touched residents of former western Carpathian Mountains – Lemkos, scattered all over the world.

As a result of historical developments, ethnographic territory populated by Lemkos, also after World War II, found itself divided among three nations. The Galician part of Lemkivshchyna became part of Poland. This is a hilly swath of land of south-eastern Poland that starts at Salinka and San/Syan rivers in the east, to where river Solyanka meets Poprad in the west. Southern part of Lemkivshchyna became part of the Slovak Rep.

This is a hilly stretch of land that starts at the Ukrainian border, to river Poprad. Part of southern Lemkivshchyna has become part of Zakarpatska Oblast (district of Ukraine – wm) This “triangle” from the village of Uzhok (in the north) and the town of Uzhhorod (in the south), to the river Borzhava in the east. It reaches counties of VelikoBerezyani and Perechini, and partially Slavyavski, Irshava, Mukhachevo and Uzhhorod.

Already in the middle of the 18-th century, numerous Lemko families from Priashev district and the Galician part of Lemkivshchyna, resorted to find a better fate in Yugoslavia. United into various “ruthenian” centers, they continued to develop their ancient traditions. Since 1990, emigrants from Lemkivshchyna belong to a single organization, Union of Ruthenians of Yugoslavia.

During the second half of the 19-th century, a wave of mass emigration to the United States and Canada swept over Lemkivshchyna. Over there Lemko united themselves at first into general Ukrainian organizations, to be followed by their own, regional ones. One of the first Lemko organizations became “Lemko-Soyuz” (1929). This organization declared Lemkos to be “Carpatho-Ruthenians” (“carpatho-ruthenians”, “hungaro-ruthenians”, “slovak-ruthenians” names were artificial labels created in the second half of the 19-th century). The conservative-separatist policy of “Lemko-Soyuz” contributed to its downfall in the 80-ties. In the U.S. active are The World Federation of Lemkos, Organization for the Defense of Lemkivshchyna (1936), and in Canada exists Union? of Canadian Lemkos. All of them have pro-Ukrainian leanings.

Especially tragic was the fate of Lemkos from Western Galicia (Poland) after World War II. Former and latter governments of Poland were not interested in cultural and national aspirations of non-Polish national minorities. If until now nothing has been successfully done with the “stubborn Ruthenians”, then the Stalinist experience of deporting whole nations, and of their destruction, has assisted Polish nationalistic authorities to square accounts with their neighbors by birth, regardless of the fact, that Lemkos always met Poles with a feeling of respect and friendship.

Between 1944 – 1946, a majority of Lemkos (over 200,000) was deported from Poland to Ukraine. Even worse fate met those Lemkos who remained on their native soil (they amounted at the time to approximately 140,000). In the spring of 1947, the Polish government began the so called action “Wisla” (Wisla, from the name of Poland’s main river, Vistula-wm). With assistance of the army and police units, Lemkos were forcefully chased out of their native lands. With the aim of quick assimilation, they were scattered in small groups over (former German – wm) western and northern parts of Poland. Expected destruction of Lemkos, expected by the Polish authorities did not materialize. In 1956 they united themselves around Ukrainian Socio-Cultural Society (USKT). However the Polish ruling circles were not interested in uniting of Lemkos with the Ukrainian population of Poland. Constant threats, limited by-laws of USKT, and luck of fulfillment of even minutest legal demands, eventually steered some Lemkos away from USKT and Ukrainian problems. In order to exacerbate this process in Poland, the name of Lemko “carpatho-ruthenians” was popularized, with proposals to accept it as a national-ethnographic name. Other Polish journalists attempted to convince Lemkos: “You are not Ukrainians, not Ruthenians, you are – Lemkos”. To no ones surprise, this false idea has found fertile soil. In 1989, in Legnitsa, Society of Lemkos was created. Its leaders recognize the name “Lemko” only. Union of the Lemkos of Poland, created in 1990, allows Lemkos to call themselves as they themselves wish, but recommends to reach unity and to jointly pursue new developments of regional culture.


Young Lemko couple, near border with Boykivshchyna.

In the Slovak Republic, majority of Lemkos call themselves Ruthenians, but do not isolate themselves from the Ukrainian nation. A group exists, which considers itself a separate “nation of Ruthenians”. A small group of Lemkos has declared itself to be Slovaks.

About half of the Lemkos reside in Ukraine. These are the deportees from Poland, but also permanent ones, former inhabitants of certain regions of Zakarpatski district. Basically all Lemkos are aware, that they are part of the Ukrainian nation, and just certain individuals in Zakarpatski district, and the emigrants, support the idea of “Carpatho-Ruthenian” nation.

Even though separate ethnographic distinction of Lemkos gradually assimilate and disappear, (language, traditional garb, national architecture, ways of farming land, regional industries), the time has come for a joint scientific investigative and cultural work, that would deal with Lemko customs and culture.

One can no longer delay the need for uniting of Lemkos, in the path of combined efforts into a single stream of undertakings for restoration of their history, learning and development of their unique cultural traditions, and it is unavoidable to conclude nonsensical internal arguments, and to at last enlighten all, whose parents children we are, compelled us to prepare this booklet, and in a limited manner reply to a question Who are we, Lemkos?

In order to give the reader, from the beginning, an objective orientation (on this subject – wm), we decided to cite from most helpful and many sided sources – various encyclopedias, What do they say about us? Let’s start with the Polish ones. In “The Large General Encyclopedia” (v. 43-44, Warsaw, 1910, pg. 190) one reads: “Lemkos, or as they call themselves “Rusnaki” (Ruthenians – wm) – a branch of Ruthenian hillbillies (gurale), so named in conjunction with their partial use of the word “lem”, meaning “only”. Inhabit northern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains. Their villages stretch from river Poprad, eastwards through counties of Noviy Sanch, Hrabiv, Horlitse, Yaslo, and Korosno, and inhabit a swath of land from the mountain border running north about 20 – 30 km, and in the length of about 100 km ….”.

“The Illustrated Encyclopedia” (Pshatski, Everta, Mikhalski, v. 3, 1927) declares “Lemkos – a group of mountain people, who inhabit northern slopes of the Carpathians, from Poprad river to Ivanich and Rimaniv. Altogether they amount to about 100,000 persons. Their name originates from a word “lem” or “lyem” – for “just”, “only”.

This issue is similarly treated by “The General Encyclopedia”, published in 1934 in Warsaw: “Lemkos- Ruthenian hill people (hillbillies), who reside on the so called Lemkivshchyna in Western Malopolska, on the northern slopes of the western and middle Beskid mountains. In the west their villages cross slightly over river Poprad, in the north they approach Hrabiv, Gorlitse, and Yaslo, in the east they reach Dukla mountain Pass” pg’s. 666-7.

Lemkos – one of the branches of Ruthenian mountain people in the Carpathians, to the east of Poprad river till the Dukla Pass “declares” General Illustrated Encyclopedia, published in 1937 in Warsaw. “The Large Contemporary Encyclopedia” (National Scientific Publishers, Warsaw, 1965, v. 6, pg. 697) states that “Lemkos, their own name Rusnaki (Ruthenians -wm) (ethnographic name – ik and ds), term used in literature since the late 19-th century. This is a name for the Ruthenian nationality, who lived until 1945, in the lower Beskid mountains, from Dukla Pass to river Poprad”.

And finally “The General Encyclopedia (Povshekhna)” (v. 2, Warsaw, 1974) also states that “Lemkos, their own term Rusnaki (Ruthenians – wm) – Ruthenian people, who until 1945 inhabited Lower Beskid. In connection with UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army – wm) activity in the cited territory, after 1945 repatriated to Vrotslav, Shchetsin, Olshtin and Koshaleen districts”.

We cite appropriate references of two Chekhoslovak published encyclopedias. “Encyclopedic Illustrated Dictionary”, v. 2, (Chekhoslovak Academy of Sciences, 1981), thinks that “Lemkos – ethnographic group of Ukrainian people in the Carpathians, between Syan and Poprad rivers, and west of Uzh river”. “The Small Czechoslovak Encyclopedia” (v. 3, 1986) cites identical definition: “Lemkos – etnographic Ukrainian group in the Carpathians, between Syan and Poprad rivers, and west of river Uzh” (pg. 762).

Definitions from Ukrainian encyclopedic publications are just about identical, for example “The Dictionary of Ukrainian Language” by B. Hrichenko (v. 2, Kyiv, 1908) defines “Lemak – a name for Little Russians, that live in Hungary, resident of the valleys of Beskid”; “Lemachka – a Little Russian woman of Hungary, resident of the valleys of Beskid”. (These definitions apply only to Trans-Carpathian Lemkos – Lemaks). “Lemko – Galician Little Russian, inhabitant of Lemkivshchyna” (pg’s. 354 – 5).

“The Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia” (URE, v. 8, Kyiv, 1962): “Lemkos – etnographic group of Ukrainians, who for a long time inhabited both slopes of Eastern Beskids (in the Carpathians, between small rivers of Syan and Poprad, westwards from Uzh river)…”. Similar definition one finds in the “Soviet Encyclopedia of Ukrainian History”, (v. 2, Kyiv, 1970), in “Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedic Dictionary” (v. 2, Kyiv, 1987) and others.

Let’s cite two more authoritative Russian encyclopedic publications, them being: “Large Encyclopedia” (v. 12, St. Peterburg, 1903): “Lemkos….Ruthenian inhabitants of western Beskids (Carpathians), uniates (Ukrainian Catholics – wm). Their language is a combination of Ruthenian language, with Polish and Slovak words”.

“Small Soviet Encyclopedia” (v. 6, Moscow, 1937): “Lemkos – one of Carpathian branches of the Ukrainian people. Population – 250,000. Inhabit western Ukraine (Poland), Carpathian Mountains, on both slopes of the Carpathian peaks, and in Zakarpatska Ukraine….”

That Lemkos (Lemken) – inhabitants of western Carpathians, and belong to the Ukrainian people, writes “Der Grosse Brokhaus”, Munich, 1955).

Similar conclusions come from other publications, and to further cite them is unnecessary. We won’t accuse authors of different viewpoints in lack of knowledge of exact ethnographic dividing lines for Lemko inhabitants, and exact population counts. What’s important is this: all encyclopedias state, that Lemkos are a part of the Ukrainian people. And only publications until now, without any sympathy towards the term “Ukrainian”, continue to use the old name “Rusiny”, However, this after all does not change the situation.

It would appear, that everything is well understood. But why use different national names for labeling of Lemkos, whether by their neighbors, or amongst Lemkos themselves?

In order to clarify this question, let’s turn to history, and take a short trip into the past.

While writing this book, we utilized archival material, historical and literary published resources, periodicals, and our own experiences and observations.



  1. Great Website.
    Do you by any chance have the words
    to the Lemko Song
    Hory Nashi ?
    can’t seem to find it anywhere.

    thank you

  2. I need to know anything you may know about Lemky’s that died in Belgium. I am researching my family tree and need to find out about the name: Antonio Lemky. My sources tell me conflicting information. One says he died in Canada. One says he died in Belgium. He orphaned at least two children that I know of so far. My research team has not been able to get back to me with their results as of yet. The boys both grew up in London, England. I need to know their history. Their names are Engr. Dickson Lemky and Anderson Lemky. Dickson died in 2002 with his wife, Maria and their only daughter, Katerina. Anderson died in a car crash in London with his wife and their only daughter. I need to fill in the blanks if you can help me. I know the Lemky famiy did disperse quite widely in the 40’s and 50’s. My father is David Lemky, his father is George Lemky, his father is Gerhard Lemky, his father is Abraham Lemky and that is as far as we know. It would sure be nice to know the exact history from the home Country. I always thought that my descent was German, but that is not so. This explains why all my life, older generation Ukranian and Polish people would ask me if I was from those areas or from Holland. Please let me know anything you can. I know my Great Grandfather was from Germany. I would like to know about his father.

  3. I have a George Lemky in my family tree on my Granmothers side. It was Her maiden name, her first name was Elizabeth Ann.I’m looking to fill in the gaps….

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