Two Books.

1) Cathy McAteer’s Translating Great Russian Literature: The Penguin Russian Classics is out, and Routledge is making it freely available as a pdf (while charging $128 for the physical 196-page book, sheesh). I’ve already downloaded it and am looking forward to reading it. (I posted about McAteer and David Magarshack in 2016.)

2) Slavomír Čéplö aka bulbul posted this on Facebook:

This is “Українські говори підкарпатської Руси і сумежних областей” (i.e. “Ukrainian dialects of the Subcarpathian Rus and neighboring areas”) by Ivan Paňkevič (Prague 1938) and it is one of the many books on Ruthenian I bought and read this year. This one is actually a foundational work as it introduces another one of them pesky terminological problems, Ruthenian vs. Ukrainian.

So at least how things stand now, Ruthenian is the modern name used for Western Ukrainian “Lemko” dialects of Ukrainian spoken in North-Eastern Slovakia (roughly around the city of Prešov).

There is also a language called “Ruthenian” that is spoken in today’s Serbia in and around the city of Ruski Krstur which is actually a variety of Eastern Slovak. Horace Lundt proved so, but some people keep insisting that is the same Ruthenian as the Lemko variety.

And then there’s of course the historical term “Ruthenian” which describes anything vaguely Eastern Slavic spoken and even written in the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and in whatever became of it. So it could be Russian, it could be Ukrainian, it could be Belarussian, it could even be some form of Eastern Slavic + Church Slavic.

Makes sense? No? Now you got it!

We discussed Ruthenian (the Western Ukrainian kind) back in 2005.


  1. Re Ruthenian: as one of my learned friends on FB noted, some authors, like Paul Magocsi, prefer to use the endonymous term “Rusyn” for the Western Ukrainian Lemko Ruthenian who reject the ethnonym “Ukrainian”. Which is true, except the speakers of those varieties also use the ethnonym term “Rusnak”, others use “Rusyn” hyphenated with “Ukrainian” (e.g. the name of this association) and some still hold on to the “Carpatho-Russian” label. There is some very illuminating discussion in this paper.
    Speakers of Serbian (Vojvodina) Ruthenian call their language “ruski” and themselves “Rusnak”. So there you go.

  2. John Emerson says

    In an English-language history of the later Austrian-Hungarian Empire I’ve read, the Ruthenians were the non-Polish subjects of the Poles in the Polish-dominated parts of the A-H empire, described as Ukrainians, more or less. There was no discussion more detailed than that.

  3. The Lemkos are mentioned in the other thread as primarily highlanders in the South of Poland, but of course they aren\t there anymore, since nearly all the historically Orthodox residents of Polands were forced to opt for Ukrainian or Belorussian identity and Soviet citizenship, and relocated to the USSR. I came to research this history for a strange reason. A descendant of the Lemkos inquired in a Russian Jewish genealogy group if his ancestors were Jewish. All he knew was that they were deported from Poland to great hardship in Ukraine, and since the words “persecution” and “Jewish” went hand in hand, he made this tentative connection. I was surprised to learn that the Orthodox Polish people were already treated as Soviet citizens as early as in 1944, when their males were called up to the Red Army (rather than into the Polish Army) by a network of Soviet draft offices which stretched all the way West beyond Krakow. When the war was over and the Lemkos hesitated about abandoning their villages, it was the Polish special services who are said to have “helped” them make their mind, unanimously. The harsh conditions in the collective farms in the East where many of them were resettled made these relocated Lemkos scatter, and our correspondent ended up knowing almost nothing about his grandparents’ heritage.

    Bulbul’s link isn’t available, by the way.

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    I hereby incorporate by reference my comment from this 2011 thread quoting Avram Davidson on the “Carpath-Russian-Ruthenians.”

  5. David Marjanović says

    a network of Soviet draft offices which stretched all the way West beyond Krakow.

    The things I learn…

  6. In the summer of 1941, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Soviets and the Polish government in exile* signed the Sikorski-Mayski agreement, in which the Soviets officially dropped their claims that the Polish state had ceased to exist and that all territories they had taken during the Nazi-Soviet partition were now inalienable Soviet territory. A large number of detained Poles were released,** and the detained Polish officers and troops were allowed to reconstruct two (later three) divisions to fight the Germans, under the overall command of Wladyslaw Anders. After Anders himself, the most famous member of “Anders’ Army” at the time was Wojtek the bear. However, a quick look at Wikipedia informs me that Menachem Begin was also among this first round of Free Polish troops.

    As the Nazis advanced, the newly reconstructed Polish units fell back along with the Red Army, several times. Due to understandable friction and distrust between the Poles and Soviets, Anders’ Army was eventually sent south the Middle East in 1942, thus moving from the Soviet orbit to the British one. That was how Begin came to Mandatory Palestine, and in 1942 he defected from the British-led forces and joined the Irgun. The Polish troops were used mostly in support roles at first, but they eventually joined the Allied invasion of Italy, and the Polish troops (Wojtek still serving among them as an ammunition carrier) famously spearheaded the attack that finally won the Battle of Monte Cassino and broke the Gustav Line.

    After the departure of Anders’ Army, Stalin in 1943 ordered the constitution of new Polish divisions. Most of the remaining**** Polish officers that had been in Soviet territory at the time of Operation Barbarossa had left with Anders, and this ensured that the new units could be under more complete Soviet control, with political officers just like regular Red Army units. At around the same time, news of the Katyn massacre (with much of the Polish officer corps among the dead) came out, and the Polish government in exile ceased cooperation with the Soviets. Since Stalin was intending to retain much of Poland, as well as other territories in eastern Europe, under direct Soviet rule, the newly-constituted Polish units were filled almost solely with ethnic Poles, who it was anticipated would reside in the territory of reestablished communist Poland. Other ethnic groups from what had been eastern Poland were inducted into the Red Army instead, with the anticipation that their home territory would never again be outside the Soviet Union proper.

    * The Polish government in exile continued to operate out of London all the way until 1990, although they did little of note after the late 1940s and fell to squabbling amongst themselves in the 1950s and 1960s. However, after free election of Lech Walesa to the Polish presidency, the exiles were finally able to return a number of state relics that they had retained since 1939.

    ** This is a major turning point in The Endless Steppe: A Girl in Exile,*** when Esther Hautzig’s family is released from the labor camp.

    *** Despicably re-subtitled “Growing Up in Siberia” in some more recent editions.

    **** After Katyn.

  7. Andrej Bjelaković says

    Speakers of Serbian (Vojvodina) Ruthenian call their language “ruski” and themselves “Rusnak”. So there you go.

    Yes, the plural is „Rusnaci” (whereas for the rest of us in Serbia they’re „Rusini”).

    According to the 2011 census, there were some 14 000 Ruthenians and 50 000 Slovaks living in Serbia.

  8. At around the same time, news of the Katyn massacre (with much of the Polish officer corps among the dead) came out, and the Polish government in exile ceased cooperation with the Soviets

    The order of the events wasn’t quite like this, although I don’t know how much is this a legit topic even for as freewheeling a community as ours. Basically the agreement between the USSR and the Polish exile government precluded Stalin from drafting Poles into Red Army or creating Polish units unsubordinated to the Polish Government. Katyn had to be disclosed first; it caused the breakup of the Polish-Soviet agreement; and only then, Polish DPs and prisoners were asked to join the new Polish Army. (Although some Polish Communists advocated for such a move even earlier, it couldn’t have been done any earlier).

    The new pro-Soviet Polish Army wasn’t just open to ethnic Poles. Of people from the East of the 1939 line of control, true, only ethnic Poles were eligible. But refugees from the German side of the Molotov-Ribbentrop divide were eligible regardless of ethnicity. Think of it as “Poles from the USSR and everyone from Poland outside of the USSR”. My grandfather’s first cousin Miriam was displaced to the Urals and fell in love with a Jewish officer of the new Polish Army. They married, and moved to Walzbych in the “New Polish lands” in Silesia after the war (where Miriam discovered with horror that the remaining Germans, forced to work in the mines even as their families were sent West, were her best protectors against the criminal elements being resettled there by the Polish Government).

    Stalin also created a semblance of Lithuanian and Latvian armies, probably just in case the question of annexation of the Baltic countries reemerged. They were even more ethnically mixed, but generally formed of a mix of DPs and ethnic Russian commanders. The initial plan to make Lithuanian and Latvian languages official there fizzled relatively quickly, but all the servicemen’s names were Lithuanized with added -as / -is suffixes, still making it hard for the family descendants to track their dead. All 3 ethnic armies were quite popular with DPs facing draft, and those already drafted sought a transfer there too, for the simple reason that these Polish, Latvian and Lithuanian formations underwent extensive training before being thrown into battle. For the new recruits, it was a way both to delay the battle and to go into the battle more prepared. Several of my family perished in both. The Lithuanian 201st Division was an especially tragic case, a real microcosm of the antebellum Lithuanian society where literary authors, actors, and performers all congregated. It was breathing the spirit of vengeance against the German murderers as it deployed across the snow-covered steppes near Oryol early in 1943, but it suffered so heavy casualties from the Luftwaffe airpower even before arriving to the frontline that it wasn’t battle worthy anymore. Whatever was possible to recover was ground into powder in the Kursk Salient battle mere months later.

  9. @Dmitry Pruss: Thanks. Your explanation of how things worked in the later stages of the war is much clearer than mine.

  10. I thank you as well; that’s extremely interesting history.

  11. People continue to search for the WWII dead, and Russia’s defense ministry continues to add digitized or indexed documents to its WWII portal, so new discoveries do occur. Just this fall, I assisted an Israeli family in finding the grave of their ancestor who fell in the Snow March of the 201st. His name was badly mangled in the document index but I managed to trace his last steps, contracting typhus on the march, buried in an infectious ward cemetery plot. Unlike the main field hospital cemetery, this one didn’t seem to have an identifying marker today, but we also knew that many remains were consolidated into larger fraternal graves in the decades after the war. The family managed to travel to Moscow during a lull in the pandemic, and then my dear cousin (Miriam’s niece) who is an Israeli tour guide based in Moscow took over. They phoned and eventually visited local Military Commissariates near Oryol, and in literally in a day found a reinterrment record and the final resting place of Pvt. Snegas.

    A bonus point, in a spare day they had in Oryol before the return trip, they visited the local watchmaking museum, where its director was stunned to learn that the guide was one of the Prusses, and even more, that I took a major part in their search (the watchmaking history aficionado turned out to have followed all my posts about the history of the Prusses at the start of Russia’s watchmaking industry).

  12. That’s great!

  13. John Emerson says

    The central character of the Vietnamese novel “The Sorrow of War” by Bao Ninh spends his days working to identify war dead found in unmarked graves. It’s a very powerful book but not at all naturalistic or polemical, mixing past, present, and fantasy in a sophisticated way.

  14. @Dmitry Pruss: I believe the Lithuanian division you have in mind was the 16th. The 201st was the Latvian division. According to the Pamyat’ Naroda database, private Snegas served in Regiment 156, Division 16. His first name is recorded as Imykas but I suspect it’s a corruption – this is perhaps what you meant by “badly mangled.”

  15. Dmitry Pruss says

    Yup, I confused the two “ethnic” divisions off the top of my head. Not getting any younger I guess. Yes, they were looking for Isaac Sneg, not Imykas Snegas. The transformation is clear in hindsight, of course. Though Isaac to the family, he was officially recorded by a Yiddish diminutive Itzyk at birth. Upon joining the Lithuanian division, he became Itzykas Snegas. Then one letter was miscopied in the hospital.

  16. Jacinta Arnold says

    Hello. I have found this blog after searching and am so happy to have found it.
    I’m interested in the English names of Dolly and Kitty in Anna Karenina. Why the use of English diminutives ? Was it fashion? So grateful for a push in the right direction.

  17. PlasticPaddy says

    From, where you will find the original Russian:
    “Why do they have English names?
    Why is Stepan called “Steve”, Darya “Dolly”? …these were invented in the Shcherbatsky family. So they were Anglophiles? There is nothing anywhere in the novel about this.”
    Maybe Shcherbatskys were based on a real family, or maybe Tolstoy left some further information.

  18. There was a lot of Anglophilia in Russian high/intelligentsia society at that time, so it’s not especially surprising.

  19. Yes, being anglophile was fashionable among Russian aristocracy, especially those who had liberal views (like Steve Oblonsky).

    The club in the novel which Tolstoy calls “our temple of idleness” is actually the Moscow English Club – elite club where Moscow aristocracy went to play at being English gentlemen…

  20. Check out the guy on the lower right in this painting of the Petersburg establishment “Dominik” — he might as well be reading The Times.

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