Ruthenians and Ruthenes are archaic English-language exonyms for a people known in medieval times as the Rus' (or Ruthenia) in various parts of Eastern Europe. Along with Lithuanians, Samogitians and Litvins constituted main population of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (full name Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Ruthenia and Samogitia).
From the 9th century, the state of ("land of the Rus'"), which was known later as Kievan Rus' was known in Western Europe by a variety of names derived from Rus'. From the 12th century, Rus' was usually known in Western Europe by the Latinised name Ruthenia. In their broadest usage, "Ruthenians" or "Ruthenes" were used to refer to peoples now called Belarusians, Russians, members of the Rusyn minority and Ukrainians.
By the end of the 18th century, the modern Ukrainian language had been codified. The usual exonyms for Ukraine at the time, like Little Russia (Малороссия; Malorossiya) and Ruthenia, were regarded as unacceptable by Ukrainian nationalists, and many also began to call themselves Ukrainians, an alternative name that had existed for more than half a millennium.
At the same time, however, many Rusyns (Rusyn: Русины, Rusiny; Ukrainian: Русини/Руські, Rusyny/Rus'ki; Belarusian: Русіны, Russian: Русины, Rusiny) did not accept the name Ukrainian or never regarded themselves as such, especially those in Carpathian Ruthenia and the Pannonian Rusyns. Contact with neighbouring languages, such as Slovak, Polish, Hungarian, Romanian and German had created significant linguistic rifts between the Rusyn language and Ukrainian. By the mid-19th century, the Rusyns of Galicia and Lodomeria had codified their language. Many people identifying as Rusyns now regard themselves as a minority. The majority of them live in south-western Ukraine, eastern Slovakia, south-east Poland, north-east Hungary, and north-west Romania. The related Pannonian Rusyns (or Pannonian Ruthenes) live in a transborder region of Serbia and Croatia.
"Ruthenians" and "Ruthenes" are now rarely used by Rusyns or Ukrainians. Confusion and/or ambiguity often arises when the names Ruthenian or Ruthene are now used, because of three factors in particular:the names "Rusyns" and "Ruthenians" are often used interchangeably, to mean self-identifying Rusyns;
"Ukrainians" and "Ruthenians" are sometimes used interchangeably, to mean self-identifying Ukrainians, and;
some national governments have refused, to recognise people identifying themselves as "Ruthenians", "Rusyns" and/or or "Ukrainians".
From the 9th century, the main Rus' state of Ruskaya zemlya ("land of the Rus'"), which was known later as Kievan Rus' – and is now part of the modern states of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia – was known in Western Europe by a variety of names derived from Rus'. From the 12th century, the land of Rus' was usually known in Western Europe by the Latinised name Ruthenia.
Geographically, Ruthenia is a cross-border region centred on the northern Carpathian Mountains, including western Ukraine (especially Zakarpattia Oblast, part of historic Carpathian Ruthenia), eastern Slovakia, and southern Poland. This area coincides, to a large degree, with a region sometimes known in English as Galicia (Ukrainian: Галичина, Halychyna; Polish: Galicja and; Slovak: Halič). The name Ruthenian is also used by the Pannonian Rusyn minority in Serbia and Croatia, as well as by Rusin émigrés outside Europe (especially members of the Ruthenian Catholic Church). In contrast, the Rusyns of Romania are more likely to identify as "Ukrainian".
One of the earliest references to Rus' in a Latinised form was in the 5th century, when king Odoacer styled himself as "Rex Rhutenorum".
Ruteni, a misnomer that was also the name of an extinct and unrelated Celtic tribe in Ancient Gaul, was used in reference to Rus' is in the Annales Augustiani of 1089. An alternative early modern Latinisation, Rucenus (plural Ruceni) was, according Boris Unbegaun, derived from Rusyn. It too was applied to Rusyns and Ukrainians equally. According to Encyclopedia of Ukraine, the word Rutheni did not include the modern Russians, who were known as Moscovitae and since the partition of Poland the term referred exclusively to the modern Ukrainians of Habsburg Galicia, Bucovina, and Transcarpathia. However according to modern research studies is to come to conclusion that even after the 16th century the word Rutheni was associated with all East Slavs. Vasili III of Russia, who ruled the Grand Duchy of Moscow in the 16th century, was known in European Latin sources as Rhuteni Imperator. According to Jacques Margeret Moscovitae called themselves in the 16th century Ruthenians (Rusiny or Rusaki). Professor David Frick from the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute has also found in Vilnius the documents from 1655, which demonstrate that Moscovitae were also known in Lithuania as Rutheni.
After the partition of Poland the term Ruthenian referred exclusively to people of the Rusyn- and Ukrainian-speaking areas of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, especially in the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, Bukovina, and Transcarpathia.
During the early modern era, the terms Ruthenian and Ruthene were used mostly to describe minorities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire speaking East Slavic languages – especially Rusyns, Ukrainians, Belarusians (or White Ruthenians) and Russians.
At the request of Mykhajlo Levitsky, in 1843 the term Ruthenian became the official name for the Rusyns and Ukrainians within the Austrian Empire. For example, Ivan Franko and Stepan Bandera in their passports were identified as Ruthenians (Polish: Rusini). By 1900 more and more Ruthenians began to call themselves with the self-designated name Ukrainians. A number of Ukrainian members of the intelligentsia , such as Mykhailo Drahomanov and Ivan Franko, perceived the term as narrow-minded, provincial and Habsburg. With the emergence of Ukrainian nationalism during the mid-19th century, use of "Ruthenian" and cognate terms declined among Ukrainians, and fell out of use in Eastern and Central Ukraine. Most people in the western region of Ukraine followed suit later in the 19th century. During the early 20th century, the name Ukrajins’ka mova ("Ukrainian language") became accepted by much of the Ukrainian-speaking literary class in the Austro-Hungarian Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria.
By the early 20th century, the name "Ruthenians" or "Ruthenes" was usually applied to the Rusyn minority living along the borderlands of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires.
Following the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, new states emerged and dissolved; borders changed frequently. After several years the Rusyn and Ukrainian speaking areas of eastern Austria-Hungary found themselves divided between the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Romania.
During the Soviet era, the name Ukraine was preferred over Ruthenia, and the Rusyns were not officially regarded as an ethnicity distinct from Ukrainians. However, the name Ruthenian (or "Little Ruthenian") was still often applied to the Rusyn minorities of Czechoslovakia and Poland.
Both "Ruthenian" and "Ukrainian" were listed as separate languages in the Polish census of 1931.
When commenting on the partition of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany in March 1939, US diplomat George Keenan noted, "To those who inquire whether these peasants are Russians or Ukrainians, there is only one answer. They are Neither. They are simply Ruthenians." Dr. Paul R. Magosci emphasizes that modern Ruthenians have "the sense of a nationality distinct from Ukrainians" and often associate Ukrainians with Soviets or Communists.
After the expansion of Soviet Ukraine following World War II, many groups who had not previously considered themselves Ukrainian were merged into the Ukrainian identity.
After World War II, academics in the Soviet bloc renewed the old tradition of referring to all the related peoples of Kievan Rus' as Ruthenians. This, it was later alleged by Polish academics, was an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the former Second Polish Republic, by drawing attention to its Ukrainian and Rusyn minorities.
The government of Slovakia has proclaimed Rusyns (Rusíni) to be a distinct national minority (1991) and recognised Rusyn language as a distinct language (1995).
In the Interbellum period of the 20th century, the term Ruthenian was also applied to people from the Kresy Wschodnie (the eastern borderlands) in the Second Polish Republic, and included Ukrainians, Rusins, and Lemkos, or alternatively, members of the Uniate or Greek Catholic Church churches. In Galicia, the Polish government actively replaced all references to "Ukrainians" with the old word "Ruthenians", an action that caused many Ukrainians to view their original self-designation with distaste.
The Polish census of 1921 considered Ukrainians no other than Ruthenians. However the Polish census of 1931 counted Belarusian, Ukrainian, Russian, and Ruthenian as separate language categories, and the census results were substantially different from before. According to Rusyn-American historian Paul Robert Magocsi, Polish government policy in the 1930s pursued a strategy of tribalization, regarding various ethnographic groups—i.e., Lemkos, Boikos, and Hutsuls, as well Old Ruthenians and Russophiles—as different from other Ukrainians (although no such category existed in the Polish census apart from the first-language speakers of Russian.), and offered instructions in Lemko vernacular in state schools set up in the westernmost Lemko Region.
According to Per Anders Rudling, during World War I German authorities allowed the revival of Belarusian culture in Belarus and the restriction of Russification. After World War II, many Belarusians from the Eastern Borderlands (Kresy) region of pre–World War II Poland found themselves in displaced persons camps in the Western occupation zones of the post-war Germany. Therefore, to avoid confusion with the term "Russian" and hence "repatriation" to the Soviet Union, the terms White Ruthenian, Whiteruthenian, and Krivian were used. The last of these terms derives from the name of an old Eastern Slavic tribe called the Krivichs, who used to inhabit the territory of Belarus.
The designations Rusyn and Carpatho-Rusyn were banned in the Soviet Union by the end of World War II in June 1945. Ruthenians who identified under the Rusyn ethnonym and considered themselves to be a national and linguistic group separate from Ukrainians and Belarusians were relegated to the Carpathian diaspora and formally functioned among the large immigrant communities in the United States. A cross-European revival took place only with the collapse of communist rule in 1989. This has resulted in political conflict and accusations of intrigue against Rusyn activists, including criminal charges. The Ruthenian minority is well represented in Slovakia. The single category of people who listed their ethnicity as Ruthenian was created already in the 1920s, however, no generally accepted standardised Ruthenian language existed.
After World War II, following the practice in the Soviet Union, Ruthenian ethnicity was disallowed. This Soviet policy maintained that the Ruthenians and their language were part of the Ukrainian ethnic group and language. At the same time, the Greek Catholic church was banned and replaced with the Eastern Orthodox church under the Russian Patriarch, in an atmosphere which repressed all religions. Thus, in Slovakia the former Ruthenians were technically free to register as any ethnicity but Ruthenian.