In the view of the Russian [Ruthenian] people, the political atmosphere in the Austrian state before World War I was oppressive and insufferable. The Austrian government was morbidly jealous of Russia and its people and regarded distrustfully all Slavic peoples living within its borders. Surrounding itself with all kinds of agents, spies, detectives and provocateurs, it terrorized the Lemkos. The most innocent show of cultural, educational, or economic life was considered an act against the Austrian state and was often brutally crushed. Rusyn institutions like reading rooms, cooperatives, student hostels, boarding schools were salt in the eyes of Austrian officials, who saw treason everywhere. Austrian gendarmes, loyal servants of the government, ran around like hound dogs through cities and villages sniffing out "Moscophiles" and stirring up provocations everywhere; they would then carry tales to the administrative authorities against completely innocent people. Under the cover of tradesmen selling holy icons, Ukrainian provocateurs would scamper through Lemko villages, go into people's homes and talk about political subjects, presenting themselves as friends of the Russian [Ruthenian] people and enemies of Austria. They would draw out a person's political inclinations, taking careful notes on everything, which they would then send, flagrantly edited, to the political authorities. In this way they compiled a list of "Moscophiles, who in the event of war will be ready to betray the most noble lord." On the basis of this list, all of the Lemko intelligentsia and hundreds of thinking peasants were arrested at the start of the war.
In such a political atmosphere, there were a number of arrests even before the war: the Orthodox priest Father Maksim Sandovich, born in Zhdynia, Gorlice County, just called to the parish in Gorbi, Yaslo County; Vasiliy Koldra, law student born in Sviatkova, organizer of reading rooms in Lemkovina; Father Mikhail Yurchakevich, curate in Chorneh; and many others. Their only crime was that they loved their people and worked for them. Father Maksim Sandovich and Vasiliy Koldra were sent to prison in Lviv, and in 1914 they were brought before the district court, together with Fathers Gudimiy and Bendiasuk, and were accused of treason against the Austrian state. This trial was known throughout Lemkovina, as hundreds of Lemkos testified as witnesses "and Ukrainian nationalists tried by all possible means to prove that the accused were guilty of treason. The trial lasted continuously for three months. Over a thousand witnesses were heard. The accused were defended by Dr. Vladimir Dudikevich of Kolomia, Dr. Mariian Glushkevich of Lviv, Dr. Kirill Cherliunchakevich of Peremyshl', and Dr. Aleksievich of Stanislavov (now Ivano-Frankivsk). All of the defendants were found innocent in the Lviv District Court and were freed.
Relations in the religious sphere were also not promising. At the request of the Austrian authorities, the bishops would not accept seminary candidates of a Russian [Ruthenian] orientation. At an election held in Peremyshl' in 1911, only one of 40 Lemko candidates was accepted, while in the subsequent years prior to the War there was not a single one. In that same year, among 300 students at the general seminary of two eparchies there were only 11 Rusyns, of which two were Lemkos, although both the Rusyn clergy and the Rusyn peasantry were a majority over the Ukrainians.
Rusyn students at the seminary in Lviv had a hard time and had to be strong willed to undergo all the humiliation brought on them fay their Ukrainian comrades, who were alter servers. They organized hunger strikes and demonstrations and used whatever means came to hand to terrorize their Rusyn comrades. In 1912, such a dangerous situation arose that the Rusyn students twice had to flee from the seminary in the dark of night to save their lives from their Ukrainian comrades. The late Father Botsian, rector of the seminary at that time, upon seeing this dangerous situation told the Rusyn students "run away, for I cannot vouch for your lives". This Gehenna that our students had to undergo at the theological seminary In Lviv at that time cannot be described by inert letters on paper or even orally. It was a nightmare that compromised both the Ukrainian clergy and the Austrian state.
The Russian [Ruthenian] clergy was in no better position, either. On a secret order from the government, the bishops would not entertain a proposal to allow Russian [Ruthenian] priests to come into the country. Even if someone did manage to get nominated by a bishop for an entry permit, the Austrian government would not approve it. Some bishops frankly advised "Don't be Russian [Ruthenian], then you will get a parish." The worth of a priest was determined by his political views.
Lemko peasants would sometimes approach heroism. Many of them deprived themselves of food to send their sons to school with the intent and conviction that the son would some day become a priest and the father would have a better lot in his old age. This was the dream of every father who sent his son to a gymazium. But to the great disillusionment and sorrow of the parents, the dream did not come to pass. The son would not be accepted into a seminary. Ruined materially, the father would be unabie to give his son even the most meager support to attend a university. For this reason, many Lemko youths, able and idealistic people, were wasted after graduating from gymnazium. Many of them left the country. If this array of youth had had the opportunity to finish university training, they would undoubtedly have played a great role in the history of Lemkovina. Yet, despite their difficult material situation, many of them went on to serve their people and work faithfully for its good, leaving a good memory in the hearts of the people.
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Date Posted: March 23rd, 1998
Last Revision: May 29th, 1999
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