Oleksa Dovbush - Ukrainian "Robin Hood" 

I thought you might be interested in the following article about a Ukrainian/Rusyn historical figure who once operated in the Carpathian Mountains after finding two entries about him in the book "Bieszczady - Gmina Cisna " in the chapters on the villages of Vetlyna (Wetlina) and Dovzhytsya (Dolzyca) near Smerek.

On page 125 of the Dovzhytsya Chapter is written: "Duing the period between the World Wars, one could still hear stories being told about the outlawman Oleksa Dovbush.  It was said that Oleksa and his comrades often came through the local villages and had buried a large amount of money in the nearby  mountains.  Dovbush had a group of 12 men.  Once when the (Polish) army  prepared an ambush against them, the band gathered their treasure into two barrels and buried them under the Lopiennik Cliff.  They marked the spot by putting wooden stakes into the ground.  Afterwards, Dovbush's band went east (into Ukraine) to the area around Sambor and Drohobych.  Dovbush's outlaws were pardoned and none of them ever returned for the buried treasure.  During the interwar period, two local farmers who had returned to the area after having lived abroad, were known to have searched for the gold using dynamite. They were, however, unsuccessful in finding it."

On page 381 on the chapter on Vetlyna one finds the following:  "Even into the 20th century, in Vetlyna one could hear stories still being told about Oleksa Dovbush.  One of these said that he once arrived in Vetlyna with two pair of horses and lived in the village landlord's fields for two years.  Also associated with Dovbush was a story about the local hill - Hnatove Berdo.  Located there were two shelters made out of stone slabs where Dovbush and Hnat, a local strong man, once met.  Additionally, one of the hiding places of the opryshky outlawmen was located on the nearby Osadska Polonyna  (high mountain pasture land) where the nearby tourist lean-to now stands."  

If anyone is interested in watching a movie with English subtitles about the life of Dovbush, I recommend you visit the site "www.yevshan.com" where you can order a copy of the film "Oleksa Dovbush" or cookbooks with Pyrohy recipies on-line.  This company is in Canada, so remember that prices quoted are in Canadian Dollars.  I purchased a copy of the film for my family in Upstate NY and they enjoyed it very much.  In the film you see an excellent portrayal of Ukrainian/Rusyn Hutzul folk costumes, customs, and living conditions that were not exactly the same as those of our ancestors from the Smerek area, but are very close and probably the best available in an action film.

So let me know if you enjoy the article.




Ukrainian "Robin Hood" Oleksa Dovbush.

Copyright 1995, 1996 by Lubomyr S. Onyshkevych

August 24th 1995 was celebrated in Ukraine as the 4th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the country. But on that day, Ukrainians in the Eastern Carpathian Mountains (known as the Hutzuls) celebrated also another anniversary, 250 years since the death of their famous leader Olexa Dovbush. Olexa Dovbush was born in early 1700's, in the hutzul village of Pechenizhyn, in the spectacular Carpathian Mountains, home of the colorful Hutzul people. Of all the people in Ukraine, the hutzuls managed best to retain the ancient, often pre-Christian, customs, traditions, arts and crafts. To this day, they are world-famous for their wooden architecture (particularly churches and bell-towers), wooded and metal sculptures (particularly wood-inlays), embroideries, textiles, kilims (carpets), embossed leather, folk-costumes, Easter eggs, ceramics, paintings on glass, etc. They are also well known for their lively music, dances (particularly the arkan and the kolomyika ), songs, legends, folk-tales and some very ancient, pre-Christian mythology, which is still interwoven into the daily lives of these hardy mountaineers. Above all, the hutzuls are known for their independent spirits, their undaunted individualism, their drive to freedom. To this day, one can still see the colorfully dressed hutzul shepherds, tending their flocks of sheep on high mountain meadows (polonyna), armed against wild bears and wolves with their beautifully decorated pistols and topirtsi (war hatchets - long alpine axes), communicating among themselves by the means of long trembitas (mountain horns - alpine horns).

Olexa Dovbush was born into this freedom loving community, just at the time, when Ukraine as a whole was undergoing the convulsions of a country-wide rebellion: after the defeat of Ivan Mazeppa at the hands of Peter the 1st of Russia ((Stephan's note...1709 the Battle of Poltava where Ukrainian Cossacks, allied with Sweden's King Charles the XII were defeated by a combined Russian and Ukrainian Cossack Army led by Peter the Great)), the last vestiges of the Kozak freedoms were being dismantled in the East by the Russians, in the West by the Poles, both of which were tightening their grip on the Ukrainian lands and making over the formerly free villagers into serfs, in effect complete slaves of the foreign overlords. A major rebellion erupted in the Eastern Ukraine (known as Koliivschyna, or hajdamaky), while in the Western Ukraine there appeared a movement known as opryshki.

Opryshki originally meant highway robbers, because that is how the foreign landowners characterized the rebellious bands. But to the common villagers, the opryshki were champions of their freedom and independence, their heroes, their leaders in the largely hopeless struggle for existence. The opryshki movement spread in the Carpathians (the regions of Hutzulshchyna, Boikivshchyna, Pokuttia), but also in the lowlands - Podillia, where a famous opryshko by the name Maksym Karmeliuk became very well-known. But nowhere were the opryshko bands as widespread, as in the freedom loving Hutzulshchyna.

Oleksa Dovbush joined the opryshki in 1738, together with his brother, Ivan. Soon he was the leader of his own band of 30-50 leheni (young men), making daring raids on the palaces and castles of the rich foreign landowners ((Stephan's note...Primarily Polish but occasionally Hungarian; Dovbush was also known to have once operated in Dovzhytsya and Vetlyna close to the border of the Boyko and Lemko lands)), robbing and killing them and their servants, and then spreading the acquired wealth to the poor people of the land. In particular, he was known for punishing those landowners and their lackeys, who were notorious for their cruelty towards the villagers. At the complaint of a victim, Dovbush would capture the miscreant and hold a regular trial over the accused. Usually, such trial ended in the execution of the foreign magnate. Any confiscated treasures would go to the victims. Soon Dovbush became the greatest hero to the local population, and a threat to the foreign aristocracy, who labeled him a terrorist, a robber, a brigand. But to the common people, he was the savior, the avenger, the knight in shining armor. Numerous legends appeared about him, songs were composed, fables were written. Portraits of Dovbush were sold at the marketplaces. He was idolized and revered. Notice, that there were two elements to his fame and notoriety. On the one hand, there was the social aspect: Dovbush was the hero of the downtrodden masses of common folk, who defended them from the evil landowners and their minions. On the other hand, he was a national hero of the Ukrainians (or Ruthenians, as they called themselves at that time). He was fighting for the independence of the country and the nation against the foreign occupiers. Undoubtedly, he was also a robber, a highwayman, par excellence (as was Robin Hood). The range of activities of the small Dovbush band gradually spread, not only throughout the Hutzul lands, but also into the Pokuttia and Podillia regions. The occupying government, at the requests of the foreign landlords, organized large military expeditions against Dovbush. Some such expeditions consisted of over 2,000 well armed troops and were led by the Polish crown prince J. Potocki. But still, Dovbush managed to escape every trap, evade every encirclement, and continue to bring terror and fear to the noblemen.. This was mostly due to the help received from the common people, but also to undoubted military capabilities of Oleksa Dovbush himself.

According to the prevalent legend, Dovbush met his end in 1745, in Kosmach, due to a vengeful girlfriend, by the name of Dzvinka, who, in a fit of jealousy, betrayed him to his enemies. It is not clear, if there is any truth to this legend, or if it is simply the product of the Romantic-era imagination. But the story is repeated, with many variations, in numerous folk songs, tales, ballads, legends ,and other folk art. The story of Oleksa Dovbush is also the subject of numerous novels, poems, dramas, operas, and other works of literature, theater and music. Such famous Ukrainian writers as I. Franko, Yu. Fedkovych and many others wrote about him. He is also the subject of sculptures, graphics, paintings, movies, ballets, and various other works of art. Oleksa Dovbush left his imprint also on the Ukrainian geography: there exist Dovbush Caverns (where people still look for buried treasure), and the famous Dovbush Rock (Kamin Dovbusha, near to the resort town of Yaremche) a huge boulder, which Dovbush, supposedly, threw at his enemies in a fit of rage.  There are also many Dovbush streets and squares throughout Western Ukraine and many other remainders of this folk hero. The Dovbush lands are now a famous resort area. The towns of Yaremche, Dora, Kamin Dovbusha, Voroksta, Kosiv, Kosmach, Verkhovyna, etc. are a beloved summer retreat for the city dwellers from Ukraine and from the neighboring countries. The beautiful hutzul folk art still can be bought there, at the numerous bazaars. Skiing, whitewater rafting, and mountain climbing are the favorite sports.