Kindred Lands: Carpathian Ukraine & American Appalachia

Kindred Lands: Carpathian Ukraine & American Appalachia

Panoramic image of Krovo in the Ukraine


Since 2006, the LJAC has been actively exploring comparative regional study between American Appalachia and the Carpathian Mountain region of western Ukraine. Why are Appalachian Studies scholars interested in western Ukraine? Around the world there are many places similar to American Appalachia. Carpathian Mountain Ukraine is one of them. Comparative study of highland regions is an important emerging thread in Appalachian Studies.

What does it mean to say such places are similar? It starts with similarities in physical geography–all are highlands; however, there are also social and cultural similarities. Scholars have made many interesting comparisons between the internal social, cultural, political, and economic structures of different highland regions.  And as we expand our framework, it gets even more interesting. Different highland regions may also show similarities in the social, cultural, political, and economic dynamics between the highland region’s insiders and outsiders.

There is evidence that some Appalachian insider-outsider dynamics may also manifest themselves in other highland regions. For example, Helen Lewis’ groundbreaking Colonialism in Modern American: The Appalachia Case (1978) describes the how the economic and social relationship between the Appalachian region and mainstream America has resembled Colonialism. Similar dynamics are being found for other highland regions.  The comparison also extends beyond economics.  In Hillbillyland (1995), J.W. Williamson writes: “Everybody’s Got One,” suggesting that the cultural dynamic between Appalachia and mainstream America may reflect a far more universal phenomenon. Anthony Harkin’s, Hillbilly, A Cultural History of an American Icon (2005), confirms and extends this work.  Again, for other highland regions, one can observe similar dynamics between the highlanders and a mainstream outside society.

It is important to remember that comparative study not only considers similarities; it also explores differences. If some things are similar, and the similarity has meaning, then the differences might be meaningful. Appalachian Studies scholars are finding comparative highland region studies be a fruitful endeavor, both for identifying universal phenomenon and for helping them look differently at Appalachia.

For the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center, our focus on comparison with Carpathian Ukraine came about because of opportunity and because Ukrainians in that region reached out to us extending an invitation for collaboration. It began in 2006 with a visit to our Center by Yuri Moskalenko, then Academic Vice-President of the Precarpathian National University. Our collaboration expanded to include many exchanges both in Ukraine and the U.S. Christopher Miller, Associate Director and Curator of LJAC, was a Fulbright Scholar to Ukraine in 2011 and 2014.  We have also helped to organize Carpathian-Appalachian conferences in 2013 (Ukraine), 2015 (Romania), and 2017 (Ukraine). This section of our website documents from our activities in this ongoing collaboration.

Carpathian Mountain Ukraine – Карпати

The Carpathian Mountains form an arc 930 miles long through seven European countries. They are the most biologically diverse land region in Europe.  The Ukrainian Carpathians, [Ukrainian: Карпати/Karpaty], are 11% of the range.  It is the far western region of Ukraine, about 350 miles (560 km.) from Kyiv and 700 miles (1,125 km.) from Crimea.

The highest point in Ukraine is Mt. Hoverla [Ukrainian: Говерла] at 6,762 ft. (2,061 m.).  The highest point in all of the Carpathians is in Slovakia, a peak known as Gerlachovský štít, at 8,711 ft. (2,655 m.). In contrast to the Appalachians of North American, which are among the oldest mountains in the world, the Carpathians are geologically a relatively young formation.

The history of human occupation of the Ukrainian Carpathians is long, complicated, and full of rich narratives.  Recounting the history is beyond the scope of this site, but many resources are available online. Ukraine has been independent since 1991.  Prior to 1991 Carpathian Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, but not for very long.  Most of it did not come under Soviet control until 1944 and 45. During the last three centuries various sections of Carpathian Ukraine have been controlled by Germany, Poland, Hungary, The Austro-Hungarian Empire, Romania, The Russian Empire, Czechoslovakia, Moldova, and several brief and small independent western Ukrainian republics.

Like many parts of central and eastern Europe, the Ukrainian Carpathians are home to a rich mixture of Peoples. The largest group are those Eastern Slavs generally labeled as Ukrainians, although that label did not come into common use in this region until the late 1800s, and in the far west not until the 1930s.  Historically, Slavic inhabitants of the region were often called Ruthenian or Rusyn and these terms are still often used.  Three major sub-groups called HutsulBoyko, and Lemko are also in common usage and many people today identify themselves by these ancient ethnonyms. The connections and distinctions between the various ethnic identities are still debated. Because of the history there are also people who identify with Polish, Hungarian, German, Romanian, Russian, and Slovak ancestry, or are of mixed ethnicity.  Groups of Romani or Roma people also inhabit the region as well as a Jewish remnant. Historically there was a large Jewish population, but it was decimated during Nazi occupation and further reduced by large out-migration.

The current economy of Carpathian Ukraine relies heavily on tourism, resource extraction, and small-scale agriculture. This leads to many interesting parallels with the American Appalachian situation.


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