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Boiko from Yasenev
Hutsuls are always associated with kolomyiky, shepherds, woolen blankets, intricate colorful clothes. And what about Boikos? What do people say about one of the three most widespread ethnic groups in the Ukrainian Carpathians? Despite their numerosity, Boikos are the most mysterious Ukrainian ‘tribe’.


The Boiko ancestry goes way back in centuries, so far actually, that going through the various chronicles, historians still fail to determine who these people are, where they came from and even where the name derives from. A Croatian researcher N. Klaich once said that ‘There were fewer Boikos out there than the amount of ink ‘wasted’ on them’. The first written record about the Boikos dates back to 946, in Emperor Constantine the VII’s chronicle called ‘De Administrando Imperio’ (‘On the administration of the empire; chapter 32).

«These Serbs come from the unbaptized Serbs, also known as the ‘white’ Serbs who live the opposite side from the Turks, in an area called the Boiko. The area borders on the land of the Francs, the Great Croatia, the unbaptized, also called ‘White’ Croatia. That’s where these Serbs have lived for centuries»...

Boiko family

According to the Emperor, this was the very land Serbs and Croats left in 634-638, settling in the Balkans. We can thus conclude that Boikos are the remnants of the Croatian and Serbian tribes, who refused to undertake a long and perilous journey to the ‘new’ Balkan territories. According to a different version, Boikos are associated with the Scythian tribes, called the ‘Boisy’.

Boikos are mostly knowns as a tribe or ethnographic group of Ukrainian highlanders who inhabit both slopes of the middle Carpathian Mountains, now in Lviv oblast, Ivano-Frankivsk oblast, and Transcarpathia oblast. The name boiko is thought to be derived from the frequent use of the particle boiie by the population.

The Boikos are believed to be the descendants of the ancient Slavic tribe of White Croatians that came under the rule of the Kyivan Rus' state during the reign of Grand Prince Volodymyr the Great. Before the Magyars occupied the Danube Lowland this tribe served as a direct link between the Eastern and Southern Slavs. The Boiko region occupies all of the High Beskyd, the eastern part of the Middle Beskyd, the western part of the Gorgany Mountains, and the Middle Carpathian Depression south of these mountains. In the north the limits of the Boiko region coincide with the borderline of the Carpathians; in the south the region borders on the Middle Carpathian territory, inhabited by the lowlanders (dolyniaky), whose dialect is considered the archaic Boiko tongue. In the west the Boiko population extends as far as the Solynka River, which is a tributary of the Sian River and marks the border with the Lemkos, and in the east it extends to the Limnytsia River valley.

Boikos differ from their mountain neighbors – Hutsuls and Lemkos, in everything, including dances. Boiko dances are calmer, slower, smoother, with most steps done with knees slightly bent.

A characteristic feature of their dances is particular stomping. Boiko dances are not as varied and ‘rich’ as the Hutsul ones, but even so they have quite a few unique features, like women’s jumps, similar to those in Hungarian dances; torso twists; diagonal steps etc. Like the Hungarians, Boikos often dance with one or two hands up in the air.

The Boiko dances structure has quite a few elements ‘borrowed’ from Polish folk dances. Boikos have also acquired some dance features from the Slovaks.

Here are some of the typical Boiko dances: ‘Vyvyvanets’, ‘Verkhovyna’, ‘Kerechanka’, ‘Topolia’ – a wedding dance, ‘Chaban’ – a shepherds’ dance, ‘Huniak’ etc.

Many famous Ukrainians had Boiko roots, among others these were:

Yuri Drohobych – once the rector of the Boulogne University; Petro Sahaydachny – Hetman of the Zaporizhian Army; Yuri Kulchytsky – the kozak who introduced coffee to Europeans; Ivan Franko – one of Ukraine’s most prominent writers; Vasyl Verkhovynets – Ukrainian folk dance theorist; Mykhailo Verbytsky – creator of the Ukrainian National Anthem; Les’ Kurbas – theatre director; Stepan Bandera.

Boiko ornament

The innate conservatism and isolation from the influences of civilization provided by the mountain ranges contributed to conservation in Boikos’ ancient beliefs, rituals and traditions. Perhaps these Highlanders lack bright colors and range, like that of their neighbors – Hutsuls and Lemkos but one simply cannot but admire the genius and simplicity of the Boiko, as their traditions give an insight into the very source, the very foundation of the Proto-Slavic culture.

This year UDW partnering withCobblestone Freeway Tours gives you the opportunity to explore Boykivshchyna, learn Boiko dances, meet real Boikos, uncover the veil of mystery around the mysterious, the truly unique Boikos during the Ukrainian Dance Workshop Tour. Join us!

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