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Petrovai, Vasyl’ Ben’ko/Petrovaj, Vasil Benko

Petrovai, Vasyl’ Ben’ko/Petrovaj, Vasil Benko (b. February 20, 1940, Habura, Slovakia) — belletrist, teacher, and journalist in Ukraine and Slovakia, of Rusyn national orientation. In 1947, Petrovai was brought by his parents to the Soviet Ukraine as part of the postwar resettlement of Rusyns (*optanty) from eastern Slovakia. The family first settled in Volhynia, then in 1953 moved to the Don Cossack region of southern Russia, where Petrovai completed his gymnasium studies (1957). Whereas his parents moved to *Subcarpathian Rus’/Transcarpathia (1961) and eventually returned home to eastern Slovakia (1966), Petrovai remained in the Soviet Ukraine, where he worked as a miner in the Donbas and as a manual laborer. He studied politics at the Advanced Communist Party School in Moscow (1959-1961), Russian and world literature at Donets’ University (1964-1970), and journalism at Rostov University (1964-1967). While still a student he taught history and drawing at the elementary and gymnasium level, then worked as a journalist for various newspapers in eastern Ukraine, southern Russia, and Moscow (1967-1980). In 1980, Petrovai moved to Mariiupil’ on the Sea of Azov to devote himself full-time to literature.

His magnum opus is the Russian-language novel Rusyny, a seven-part saga covering the history of Rusyns from the late nineteenth century to the end of World War II. The first two parts of the novel were published in Moscow in a highly censored version (1987) and were reprinted the same year; the total of 250,000 copies is probably the largest printing in history of any literary work by a Rusyn author. Subsequently, the first three parts of the novel appeared in Uzhhorod (1994-95); and a Rusyn-language version (in the Latin alphabet) of part one appeared in Presov (1994). Petrovai served briefly as editor (1991) of *Podkarpats’ka Rus’, the organ of the *Society of Carpatho-Rusyns in Uzhhorod, then returned to eastern Slovakia, where he has completed the last four parts of the novel Rusyny as well as short stories, radio plays, and film scripts based on Rusyn themes. Petrovai supports the view that Rusyn-language publications should appear in the Roman/Latin alphabet.

Paul Robert Magocsi

Entry courtesy of Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.
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