Ivan Rusenko (1890-1960)

The following article, authored by Olena Duc, first appeared in Carpatho-Rusyn American, Volume 10 #4, 1987
copyright © 1987 and is used here with permission

Ivan Rusenko

Lemkos still call him "the teacher," and indeed he was a teacher of the people, an ideological leader, and an awakener of Lemko patriotism and self identity. He was also the "most Lemko"' of poets, who used superbly the simple Lemko language that blossomed from his pen. Rusenko fully expressed the problems of Lemko life, describing "what hurts" and "what cheers." He could warm the Lemko heart or chide it for misbehavior like a good and wise teacher.

Ivan Rusenko was born on August 15. 1890, into a poor peasant family in the Lemko Region village of Krasna (Krosno district) in the historic Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia. After finishing secondary school (gymnasium) at Nowy Sacz in 1913, he was conscripted into the Austrian imperial army During World War I, he fought on the Serbian and Italian fronts, then in 1918 returned to his native village in what by then was Poland. After trying unsuccessfully for many years to obtain a position as a teacher to Lemko children, he finally had to accept a post in the Polish village of Lutczy where he lived for 21 years. At the close of World War I, and the initial phase of the resettlement of Lemkos that began in 1945, Rusenko was forced to emigrate to Soviet Ukraine, settling in the village of Korolivka in the far southeastern corner of the old province of Galicia. There he continued to teach in elementary school. However, he was deeply affected by the separation from his native Lemko Region as evident in the tragic and nostalgic tone of his poetry written until the time of his death on August 10, 1960. Rusenko's main contribution to Lemko culture was based on his ability to reach the common Lemko whom he knew would be sensitive to the sincerity and simplicity with which such emotions are expressed in his poetry. He wrote exclusively in Lemko dialect and created poetic images of a homeland toward which he felt a deep filial attachment. His poetry helped to teach his fellow Lemkos similar attitudes.

Ja rodyvsja tvoim synom - dolja moja bidna
Y ljublju tja Lemkovyno, moja maty ridna
Bo cym hoden pozabyty nasu hirsku krasu
Y smereky y poljany, de sja uci pasut.

I was born your son and my fate is to be poor
Yet I love you, oh Lemko region, my motherland
For how can I forget the beauty of our mountains
The evergreen trees, and the pastures where the sheep graze.

Throughout his writings Rusenko`s main purpose was to teach Lemkos the value of their native heritage from which they could draw to become honest, industrious, good-natured, educated, and well-integrated individuals. The poet was also not averse to using satire, often in the form of caricature. Like his lyrical verses, his satire was presented in a manner that clearly characterized the subject, expressed personal inter-relations, and mocked typical traits. Rusenko`s fine character types - the grandfather, the head of the household, the herdsman, the priest - all seem to be taken directly from a pre-World War I Lemko environment. Such satire not only poked fun at negative phenomena in Lemko life, it also went directly to the heart of the matter:

Pan kerovnyk skoly
Ucyt nasy dity
Pol'sku sanuvaty
Rus' nenavydity

The school director
Teaches our children
To praise Poland
And hate Rus'.

Anxious about the fate of his people and tireless in revealing life's truths, Rusenko reacted bitterly to the injustice suffered by the Lemkos and to Polish prejudice which he personally experienced many times. Yet, as a teacher and spiritual leader he could not become pessimistic - he had to remain both a consoler and an awakener:

Ne vydusyly nas vsich katy
Y ne vyssaly nam krov!
Jak byly nasy Karpaty
Tak budut vo vik-vikov!

The executioners have not crushed all of us
Nor sucked out all of our blood
Just as our Carpathians have been
So will they remain forever and ever!

The sadness of Rusenko's last poems reflect a dampening of the strength and vigor that had earlier characterized this tireless agitator. In the end, he saw how his hopes had come to naught, how his people were driven from their homes, and how they were scattered throughout the world:

Moja Otcyzna Lemkovyna zaraz za Sanom, jak za plotom
Lem nja ne pustjat bez pasportu, zahorodyly bramu drotom

My Lemko fatherland is beyond the San river, as if on the other side of a fence
Only they don't let me go there without a passport, having closed the gate with barbed wire

While Rusenko may have met a melancholic and unhappy ending, his verse still lives. For Lemkos in Poland today, as for Lemkos during his lifetime, Rusenko's message continues to be both relevant and inspiring

Olena Duc
Uscie Gorlickie, Poland

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