Carpatho-Rusyns – descendants of White Croats and Varagnian Rus
There is still much debate by scholars regarding the origins and early history of the Slavic people. What is agreed upon is that Slavic people have lived in the Carpathian region as early as the sixth century AD. The Carpatho-Rusyns are the direct descendants of one of these Slavic tribes that has lived along the Uz River called the White Croats (Bilyj Horvaty). By the 900s, waves of Slavic settlers calling themselves Rus' came from the East and began settling into the Carpathians, intermarrying and assimulated with the White Croats. From the Kievan Rus' kingdom they adopted their national name of "Rusiny," meaning — the inhabitant or descendant of Rus'. In time it became the common name of all southeastern Slavic tribes from the Poprad River in Prijasevska Rus' all the way to the Caspian Sea and the River Don.
Since many Rusyns lived for centuries under Hungarian rule, they were often called Uhorsky Rusyny, Rusyns of Hungary. After World War I, they were called from their habitat "Podkarpats'ky Rusyny," Rusyns living under the Carpathians. Those living in the Polish kingdom (later Austria) were called Rusnaky and later, Lemkos.
Today most scholars agree that the center of the original homeland for all Slavic peoples was the region just north of the Carpathian Mountains in what is today eastern Poland, southwestern Belarus, and northwestern Ukraine. In the 440s an Asiatic people known as the Huns crossed through the Slavic homeland and burst into central Europe, bringing with them Slavic peoples, some of whom settled in certain parts of what later became known as *Carpathian Rus’. A century later another Hunnic nomadic people, the *Avars, crossed into the Danubian Basin, where they created a state structure (khanate) and subjected to their rule the Danubian, Pannonian, and Carpathian Slavs. Among the tribes living in the original Slavic homeland north of the Carpathians were the *White Croats, who had begun to settle in the valleys of the northern as well as southern slopes of Carpathian Rus’.
In the course of the sixth and early seventh centuries the White Croats built fortified centers, or hill-forts to protect their people as well as the surrounding countryside, which still included some Slavic settlers who had settled there earlier during the Hunnic and Avar invasions. During the seventh century many of the Slavic tribes began to move out in various directions from their original homeland. Whereas some White Croats remained behind in Carpathian Rus’, most moved southward into the Balkan peninsula. Their descendants are the modern Croats.
The first important event in the history of Carpathian Rus’ occurred during the second half of the ninth century. In the early 860s two missionaries from the Byzantine Empire, the brothers *Constantine/Cyril and Methodius, set out to bring the Christian faith to the *Greater Moravian Empire, which at the time was centered in what is today the eastern part of the Czech Republic (Moravia) and western Slovakia. To this day Carpatho-Rusyns believe that before their mission to Moravia Constantine/Cyril and Methodius themselves brought the Christian religion to Carpathian Rus’—even establishing a bishopric at the fortified center of Mukachevo—or that this was accomplished during the 880s by the disciples of the Byzantine missionaries. Regardless of who actually carried out the conversion, it seems certain that there was some kind of Christian presence in the Carpathians well before the end of the ninth century.
The end of that century brought another event that was to have a profound effect on Rusyn historical development. Sometime between 896 and 898 a new Asiatic warrior people, the *Magyars, crossed the crests of the Carpathians, including through the *Verets’kyi pass, and settled in the region known as Pannonia, that is, the flat plain between the middle Danube and lower Tisza/Tysa Rivers. From their new home, the Magyars eventually built a state called Hungary.
According to traditional historiography, when the Magyars first crossed the Carpathians, they captured the White Croat hill fortress of Hungvar (modern-day Uzhhorod). There they defeated the legendary Prince *Laborets’ who was subsequently transformed by patriotic writers into one of the first heroes of Rusyn history. Despite their military victory the Magyars were initially unable to take control of Carpathian Rus’, which during the tenth and for most of the eleventh century remained a sparsely settled borderland (Latin: terra indagines; Hungarian: gyepu) between the kingdom of Hungary to south and the kingdom of Poland and Kievan Rus’ principality of Galicia to the north. In the absence of any outside political control Slavs from the north (Galicia) and east (who actually arrived from Podolia via the mountain passes of Transylvania) continued to settle in small numbers in various parts of the Carpathian borderland. These new settlers from the north and east, like the Slavs already living in Carpathian Rus’, had by the eleventh century come to be known as the people of Rus’, or *Rusyns. The term Rusyn also meant someone who was an Eastern Christian of the Byzantine rite. When speaking of this period, Hungarian and other medieval writers referred to an entity called the *Marchia Ruthenorum, or Rus’ March, which later Rusyn historians and patriotic writers considered to be the first Rus’ “state” in the Carpathians. It is most likely, however, that the Marchia Ruthenorum was not located in the mountainous region or even foothills of Carpathian Rus’, but rather somewaht farther south in the lowlands between the lower Latorytsia and Koros rivers.
Few have heard of my people, including many who teach history, yet Hitler and his cronies knew of us: a people who for the most part were poor, uneducated farmers dwelling in the Carpathian Mountain regions of present day southeastern Poland, western Ukraine and eastern Slovakia — and who were targeted for extermination by the Nazis.
Carpatho-Rusyns are linguistically and culturally an East Slavic people, descendants of the White Croats who lived alongside the West Slavs (Poles and Slovaks), Magyars, and Romance peoples. The term Rusyn is derived from the noun Rus’ which originally implied adherence to the Eastern Christian Church (Magocsi, “Carpatho-Rusyns: 3”). Carpatho-Rusyn dialects have been heavily influenced by Polish, Slovak, and Hungarian vocabulary, along with other influences from both east and west, including terms from their Church Slavonic liturgical language plus words unique to Carpatho-Rusyns (Magocsi, “Carpatho-Rusyns: 2”). At one time there were at least 109 dialectical variants (Panjkevic).
These are quotes (first two) from some official national Rusyn websites, and the last one is from some Rusyns blogspot.