World Academy of Carpatho-Rusyn Culture


Geography and Economy. *Carpathian Rus’, the territory inhabited by Carpatho-Rusyns, is located in the far eastern portion of central Europe; its geographical coordinates are 20.5?E to 24.38?E and 47.53?N to 49.35?N. The land mass covered by Carpathian Rus’ extends about 375 kilometers from the Poprad river valley of Slovakia and Poland in the northwest to the Viseu (Rusyn: Vyshova) river valley of Romania in the southeast. This area, which ranges from only 50 to 100 kilometers in width, encompasses the foothills and mountainous regions of the Eastern Carpathians. Among the rivers flowing through Rusyn-inhabited lands are, on the northern slopes of the mountains, the Biala, Ropa, and Wisloka, which are tributaries of the Vistula river, and the Wislok, Oslawa, and Solinka tributaries of the San River. On the southern slopes are the Torysa, Topl’a, Ondava, Laborec, Cirocha, Uzh, Latorytsia, Vicha, Borzhava, Rika, Tereblia, Teresva, Shopurka, Chorna Tysa, Bila Tysa, Viseu/Vyshova, Ruscova (Rusyn: Rus’kova), and Viseu, all of which flow directly or via tributaries into the Tisza (Rusyn: Tysa) river.

According to present-day political boundaries, most of Carpathian Rus’ lies within Ukraine (the *Transcarpathian oblast). To the west it extends into Slovakia and, on the northern slopes of the Carpathians, into Poland; to the east it encompasses a small part of Romania along the lower Viseu river and its tributary, the Ruscova. Rusyn-inhabited territory in each of these countries has its own local name: the *Lemko Region (Rusyn: Lemkovyna) in southeastern Poland; the *Presov Region (Rusyn: Priashevshchyna or Priashivs’ka Rus’) in northeastern Slovakia; *Subcarpathian Rus’ (Rusyn: Podkarpats’ka Rus’) in far western Ukraine; and the *Maramures Region in northcentral Romania.

For the most part, Carpathian Rus’ is a mountainous region. With the exception of the Western Beskyds all other ranges in Carpathian Rus’ are classified as part of the Eastern Carpathians (also known as the Forested, or Ukrainian Carpathians). The Eastern Carpathians comprise two distinct geological formations: the sedimentary Beskyds and the Volcanic Carpathians. These are subdivided into several ranges which generally form parallel longitudinal belts that stretch from the northwest to the southeast. The outermost belt, which is the highest in altitude, is located just beyond Carpathian Rus’ in southern Galicia and consists of the Middle Beskyds and the High Beskyds (which together in Polish are called the Bieszczady) and the Gorgany. The next belt is a mountain syncline known as the Mid-Carpathian Depression which in the far west forms a flat basin between the towns of Sanok and Gorlice. The main belt within Carpathian Rus’ proper is that of the Beskyds subdivided into the Western Beskyds (Polish: Beskid Sadecki) from the Upper Dunajec to the Topl’a rivers; the Lower Beskyds (Polish: Beskid Niski) to the Oslawa and Laborec rivers; and the Polonyna Beskyds, which stretch eastward from Poland and Slovakia through the length of Subcarpathian Rus’ and beyond. This range derives its name from the Carpathian upper mountain pastures known as the polonyna; the part of the range located in Poland referred to as the Western Bieszczady/Bieszczady Zachodnie. The Polonyna Beskyds become progressively higher toward the east and are characterized by several high massifs: Rivna, Borzhava, Krasna, Svydovets’ and Chornohora. Along the eastern edges of the Polonyna Beskyds are the Gorgany and Hutsul Alps.

South of the Polonynna Beskyds is a long inner Carpathian valley that begins at the mouth of the Cirocha River in the west and continues southeastward to the large basin along the upper Tisza/Tysa River between Khust and Sighet. Along this valley’s southern flank are the Volcanic Carpathians, a belt that begins in the west with the Slanske Ridge and Zemplyn Highlands (Tokaj Hills) and continues with interruptions eastward through Subcarpathian Rus’ into the Maramures Region of northern Romania. The Volcanic Carpathians are crossed by several transverse river valleys which define several mountain clusters or massifs: Vihorlat in eastern Slovakia and Makovytsia, Syniak, Velykyi Dil, and Tupyi in Ukraine’s Transcarpathia.

From the Slanske mountain ridge in Slovakia, along the far western edge of the Volcanic Carpathians, begins the Tysa Lowland. Known in Slovakia as the East Slovak plain (Vychodoslovenska rovina), it stretches eastward to encompass the southwestern corner of Ukraine’s Transcarpathia from Uzhhorod to Vynohradovo. The several long, tonguelike valleys that cut through the Volcanic Carpathians from the north find their outlet in the Tysa Lowland. This plain is dotted with knolls and isolated cones, the highest of which is Chorna Hora (568 m.) near Vynohradovo. The lowland itself has its own massifs such as the Zemplyn hills (400 m.) between the lower Hernad and Bodrog river valleys in northeastern Hungary and several others in Transcarpathia: Palanok (275 m.) on which Mukachevo castle sits just south of the city and Muzhiievo (367 m.) and Kosyny (224 m.) respectively east and west of Berehovo. These hillocks in southwestern Transcarpathia represent the volcanic remains of the old Pannonian Highland Massif, most of which was depressed during the Pliocene Epoch to form the Great Hungarian Basin. A part of the lowland is composed of alluvial sediment and remains of Neocene Epoch sandstone. The gently sloping and only moderately deep river valleys slow down the flow of the mountain water, resulting in the presence of lowland marshes. The largest of these is the Chornyi Mochar (Black Wetland) near Berehovo.

The high upper river valleys and narrow gorges are filled with water from innumerable brooks, creeks, and riverlets. The water from all these eventually reaches the Tisza/Tysa River on the southern slopes of the Carpathians or the San and Vistula Rivers on the northern slopes. The uniquely beautiful Carpathian lakes were formed by ancient glaciers or by massive mountain floods. The best known are the Vihorlat and Synevyr lakes, each about 1000 meters above sea-level and each popularly referred to as Morske/Morskoe oko. Since the 1970s several dams have been built to create reservoirs, most especially in the upper river valleys of northeastern Slovakia (Cirocha, Domasa along the Ondava) and southeastern Poland (Solinka Lake where the Solinka River meets the San), as well as the large artificial Zemplinska Sirava lake south of the Vihorlat slopes in eastern Slovakia. As a result of these projects several Rusyn villages were displaced or destroyed.

Several passes cut through the watershed crests of the Eastern Carpathians, and from time immemorial they have connected central Europe to eastern Europe. They include the Tylicz/Tylic (Rusyn: Tylych, 688 m.), Dukla/Dukl’a (Rusyn: Duklia, 502 m.), Lupkow/Lupkov (Rusyn: Lupkiv, 657 m.), Rus/Rusz (Rusyn: Rus’, 797 m.), Uzhok (889 m.), Verets’kyi (841 m.), Serednii/Middle Verets’kyi (839 m.), Volovets’ or Beskyd (1014 m.), Vyshkiv or Torun’ (988 m.), and Iablunets’ or Tatar (931 m.) passes. The highest mountain peaks are just over 2000 meters and are all located in the far eastern part of the Polonyna Beskyds: Hoverla (2060 m.), Pop Ivan (2026 m.), and Petros (2020 m.). The next highest peaks are in the Hutsul Alps in Ukraine (Pop Ivan, 1940 m.) and in Romania (Farcau, 1962 m.).

The climate in Rusyn-inhabited territory is temperate and moderated by warm and moist winds from both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. There is rarely any extreme temperature variation, although the higher the elevations, the more severe the climate. The warm summer in the mountains lasts only two months and is much shorter than in the lowlands. Hence, when in the lowland plain orchards are already in bloom, in the oak forests and mountain slopes only the first buds are beginning to appear, while in the higher mountains the peaks are still covered with snow. Winter temperatures can fall to as low as -34?C in the mountains, while in the lowlands and foothills the temperature in January can be as high as +10C.

The vegetation in Carpathian Rus’ is part of the central European geobotanical sphere and is divided into basically west-east horizontal zones, whose differences are determined by changes in elevation and microclimatic local landscape conditions. Intense human economic activity has over the centuries changed the territory’s fauna. On the lowland plains and foothills, where oak and elm forests once existed, all that remain are small islets of trees surrounded by agricultural land. The nearby foothills and lower mountain zones are covered with mixed beech and oak forests; most of the Beskyd ranges and Gorgany are covered with oak. The central and upper mountain zones (600 to 1300 m.) are covered by fir and spruce forests, which beyond the river valleys can grow at elevations reaching 1500 meters. Near the village of Ubl’a (on the Slovak side of the border with Ukraine) are remnants of ancient yew forests. Few extensive contiguous forest zones remain. The largest of these, near the high mountain meadows (polonyny), are covered with pine, Siberian spruce, and Eastern Carpathian rhododendron. Sub-alpine and alpine meadows (polonyny) cover most of the High Beskyds, Gorgany, and Polonyna Carpathian ranges.

The fauna in Carpathian Rus’ includes a wide variety of mammals (63), birds (267), reptiles (10), and fish (50), many of which are not found in the neighboring lowlands or plateaus. Cut off from the forest zones of eastern Europe by the intermediary western Ukrainian mixed forest-steppe zone, the Eastern Carpathians consequently form a kind of mountain taiga zone that is home to Carpathian deer, forest wild-cats, Carpathian woodcocks, black crones, Carpathian white-backed woodpeckers, Carpathian black adders, mountain and Carpathian Triton salamanders, and river and rainbow trout, among others. As a result, the Carpathian mountain region is considered to form a distinct zoological zone.

The Rusyn population has traditionally lived in rural villages. Throughout Carpathian Rus’, there are nearly 1,100 villages, most of which contain between 600 and 800 inhabitants. The settlement pattern as well as natural and man-made transportation networks have generally followed the north-south direction of the several valleys that cut across of the Carpathian ranges. The earliest towns and cities are virtually all on the periphery of Rusyn-inhabited territory. These include on the northern slopes of the Carpathian crests, Nowy Sacz, Grybow, Gorlice, Jaslo, Krosno, and Sanok, and on the southeastern slopes, Stara L’ubovna, Bardejov, Presov, Humenne, Snina, Michalovce, Uzhhorod, Mukachevo, and Sighet. These places have traditionally been inhabited by peoples other than Rusyns, including *Slovaks, *Poles, *Jews, *Magyars, *Germans, and, in the case of Subcarpathian Rus’/Transcarpathia since the second half of the twentieth century, *Russians. Rusyns have also lived in these towns and cities, but almost always as a minority. Out-migration from villages has increased the number of Rusyns in all of these cities, especially after World War II. Nevertheless, even in Uzhhorod and Mukachevo, the cities with the highest number of Rusyns,, they represent only 67-68 percent of the inhabitants.

Because of their location along valleys from which descend river routes and roads, the cities and towns have become the natural economic, political, educational, and cultural centers for the Rusyn population. Consequently, these “foreign” urban areas have functioned as “Rusyn centers,” even through Rusyns themselves have been numerically in the minority. The few towns located within Rusyn-inhabited areas—Svidnik, Medzilaborce, Velykyi Bereznyi, Svaliava, Irshava, Khust—have never had more than a few thousands inhabitants and have not been able to replace the “historic” Rusyn centers.

The economy of Rusyn-inhabited lands is basically agricultural, and nearly 70 percent of the working population is still engaged in farming or in farm-related activity. The region, however, has traditionally been characterized by a shortage of arable land, so that on average only two-tenths of a hectare of land per person is available. The high population density in the lowland plains and foothills (110 persons per square kilometer), together with the lack of intensive agricultural practices, has resulted in what might be called an “agrarian famine,” and chronic rural overpopulation has led to extensive out-migration. Rusyns first emigrated to the Backa and Srem regions of southern Hungary (the *Vojvodina in today’s Yugoslavia) in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, then abroad to the United States and Canada during the four decades before World War I.

The low level of industrialization in Rusyn-inhabited territory, a result of its marginal location in various states, has created large-scale unemployment, which in turn has led to large-scale migrant labor, whereby men are forced to seek seasonal employment. This was common during the decades before World War I, when Rusyns from all parts of Carpathian Rus’, including from the Lemko Region north of the mountain crests, worked on the fields during harvest season on Hungary’s lowland plains. This occurred even during the Communist era of “full employment,” when Rusyns from eastern Slovakia sought work in the Czech lands (Bohemia and Moravia), and Rusyns from Transcarpathia/Subcarpathian Rus’ went eastward to other parts of the Soviet Union. In the post-Communist era the unemployed from Subcarpathian Rus’ look for work in all neighboring countries, in particular Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. While it is true that during the final decades of Communist rule the Soviet and Czechoslovak regimes built factories in or near Rusyn-inhabited lands as part of their military-industrial complex, the collapse of those regimes and their command economies has resulted in numerous factory closings. At the same time, the workforce that had been imported from other parts of Ukraine and the Soviet Union has remained in Subcarpathian Rus’, thereby increasing local unemployment rates. The resolution of such problems depends on the implementation of changes in property law, restructuring the agricultural sector, and in promoting the creation of finishing and light industries.

The geological evolution of the Eastern Carpathians and their present structure has allowed for the formation of more than 30 varieties of minerals, although less than half are being exploited. The band of Volcanic ranges is rich in several mineral ores applicable for industrial use, including zinc, lead, and gold. The discovery in the 1990s of gold deposits at Muzhiievo in Subcarpathian Rus’ resulted in the beginning of gold production, although the region itself has yet to see any financial gain or even new employment opportunities, since the miners used to extract the mineral are brought from eastern Ukraine.

These same Volcanic ranges have an inexhaustible supply of building materials, such as andesite rock, sand, limestone, various sandstones, and clay. In the upper Tisza valley there are large veins of variously colored industrial marble, whose purity approaches that of carrara marble from Italy. The marble is extracted, however, in a most primitive and rapacious manner, that is, by using dynamite to blast it free. As a result, the marble is shattered and can only be used as crushed rock in the building of roads and as a mixture for cement. Subcarpathian Rus’ in particular has large coal reserves of the lignite variety, but it is not used sufficiently for industrial purposes, even though the region is weak in energy resources.

The Rusyn-inhabited Carpathian foothills are rich in domestic salt. Salt veins stretch from as far as Presov (Solivar) in Slovakia through Khust in Subcarpathian Rus’ and further eastward, culminating in what for Europe are the unique salt deposits at Solotvyno. According to geological data, the Solotvyno salt field is in the form of an unevenly cut cone that measures 200 to 300 meters in height, 2,160 meters in length, and 1,700 meters in width. The vast majority of extracted salt is unprocessed and exported beyond the region. Solotvyno’s salt lake has medicinal properties similar in quality to the Dead Sea, while specially fitted rooms within the mine are used as centers for treating patients afflicted with asthma.

Despite the natural beauty of Rusyn-inhabited lands in the Eastern Carpathians, the potential for recreation and tourism remains largely untapped. A few spas were established already in the late nineteenth century, such as at Krynica-Zdroj, Zlockie, and Wysowa in the Lemko Region; at Bardejovske Kupele in the Presov Region; and at Nelipyno, Kobylets’ka Poliana, and Solotvyno in Subcarpathian Rus’. During the Soviet period after World War II, a large number of spas with sanatoria were expanded or newly developed. Among the most popular were the sanatoria with facilities for medical treatment at Karpaty (based in the former Schonborn family manor house), Syniak, Poliana, Shaian, and Soimy. Nevertheless, of the estimate 400 mineral springs of various kinds throughout Carpathian Rus’, no more than a quarter of them are exploited. Some have been able to ship bottled mineral water abroad, including from Krynica-Zdroj in the Lemko Region, Sulin in the Presov Region, and Karpaty and Poliana in Subcarpathian Rus’.

Forests remain the most important natural resource in Carpathian Rus’. Traditionally, however, the various states which have ruled the area have exploited the forests without any positive value or profit accruing to the local Rusyn inhabitants. In the Lemko Region, the forests were nationalized in the wake of the 1947 *Vistula Operation; to this day, they have not been returned to their original Lemko owners. In fact, most of the forested area in the Lemko Region has been declared by Poland to be off limits because it is now a national park. In Subcarpathian Rus’, forest use has been and is still characterized by rapacious stripping and uncontrolled exploitation. For instance, in the five-year period 1921-1925, a total of 514,000 cubic meters of wood were cut, while during 1991 alone as much as 1.7 million and in 1992 over 1.8 million cubic meters were cut. Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, even forests that had been designated specifically to prevent erosion or to regulate the water balance, or that are located within “protected” zones and sanatoria, are being cut down. One result of such “economic practices” has been periodic flooding (1947, 1993, 1998, 2001), a phenomenon that before Soviet rule had rarely occurred on such large scale in Subcarpathian Rus’. For instance, in the fall of 1998 several mountain slopes collapsed, causing widespread suffering and damage to the lives and property of nearly one-third of Transcarpathia’s population.

Another potentially valuable economic resource are vineyards located in Subcarpathian Rus’ on the slopes of low hills around Seredne and Berehovo. As early as 1720, these areas had nearly 4,000 hectares of vineyards; by the mid-nineteenth century that number had more than doubled. Since that time Subcarpathia’s wine industry has suffered two major disasters. After the 1870s nearly all the vineyards were destroyed by phylloxera. They slowly recovered and expanded, and under Soviet rule after 1945 nearly 12,000 hectares made possible the production of 150 sorts of wine, mostly whites. Then in the 1980s nearly three-quarters of the vineyards were deliberately destroyed in the course of Mikhail Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign. In post-Communist Ukraine, Subcarpathia’s vineyards have been restored, and with the help of foreign investment an increasingly successful wine industry produces a wide range of red and most especially white wines, some of which are beginning to be exported.


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Paul Robert Magocsi

Ivan Pop

Entry courtesy of Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture.

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