Ukraine has a diverse number of ethnic groups which have distinctive cultures and beliefs. Currently, a majority of them speak either Russian or Ukrainian but there are also those who speak Polish, Bulgarian, Romanian, Hungarian, Turkish and so on. However, there are lesser known ethnic groups that have existed in the country for centuries. Joseph E. Trimble, a professor from Western Washington University, defines “ethnic groups” in a way that many anthropologists agree with. According to him, an ethnic group is a band or nation of people who share common historical experiences, customs, traditions, and in some instances geographical residence. Below are four Ukrainian ethnic groups:
The Boikians (Boikos) live in the Boikian region, which stretches from the Solotvynian Bystrytsia region to Tereshva in the East. Historians consider them as the pioneers of the Ukrainian Carpathian colonization. They are divided into three groups with different dialects. There are those that inhabit the Transcarpathia region and their northern neighbors who refer to themselves as Verchovyntsi, and the Tukholosi, who reside near the town of Skole. The Tukhol’tsi were known as sellers of grapes and other fruit before the First World War broke out. Some of the Boikians breed cattle. Generally, the Boikians have preserved their ancient customs and rites including much of their material culture, architecture and costumes.
The Hutsuls live in the area to the east of the Boikian region. Their culture has some influences from the Wallachians, who belong to the Romanian population. The Hutsul region is mostly mountainous but is more suited for agriculture compared to the Boikian region. Despite this, the Hutsul’s occupation is cattle and sheep breeding. They are also lumbers and are known as skillful builders of wooden houses. Most of their old wooden churches resemble those in the Byzantine times. Hutsuls are also celebrated for their highly developed skills in domestic handicrafts like wood-carving, pottery and rug weaving. They wear traditional costumes similar to those worn by Boikians and the Lemkians and still observe some of their old rituals.
The Lemkians (Lemkos) live in the region called Lemkovyna or Lemkovshchyna, which is at the western side of the Boikian region. They used to occupy most of the Carpathian range but lost most of it many centuries ago to the Poles and the Slovaks. They dislike the Poles more than the Slovaks. In 1946-48 Poles transferred a great number of Lemkians to the USSR and resettled others in the Polish provinces which were German before the Second World War. Just like the other ethnic groups in Ukraine, Lemkos are can be found in many other European countries. In Ukraine this ethnic group is in the process of disappearance because they have mixed with the local population. Lemkos have lost most of their traditional Ukrainian costumes and it is very common to find modern influences in their traditional creative work. They also keep cattle and engage in farming.
Polischuks live in the area to the east of Podlachia and have preserved much of their traditional lifestyles. Polischuks participate in a number of traditional rituals and have a great wealth of oral tradition. They have preserved carols that have ancient themes and still sing their old ritual songs.
Despite the fact that Ukraine has these many ethnic groups, most of its citizens either identify themselves as ethnically Russian or Ukrainian. In a 2001 census about 68 percent of Ukrainians identified their mother tongues as Ukrainian while 17 percent of the population said they spoke Russian.
By Michael Obunga