Opryshoks (opryshky). Groups of social brigands active in the Ukrainian regions of the Carpathian Mountains from the 16th century to the early 19th century. Opryshoks were similar to the ‘noble highwaymen’ of other countries and have been idealized in Ukrainian folklore and romantic literature. They consisted mainly of former peasants, servants of noblemen, and (in a later period) resisters of conscription. They usually formed small groups with individual leaders and attacked estates, keeps, tax farmers, tavern keepers, merchants, and wealthy peasants. They commonly kept most of their booty for themselves, but some of them distributed a portion among the poorer peasantry. Many peasants considered them heroes and avengers and often harbored them or gave them other assistance. During times of greater upheaval they also joined them to form insurrectionist forces (notably during the Cossack-Polish War). The opryshoks enjoyed particularly advantageous conditions, in that they worked in a mountainous borderland between three states (Poland, Hungary, and Moldavia).

The first documented reference to activity similar to that of the opryshoks dates from the mid-15th century. The term ‘opryshoks’ came into use in the early 16th century. The zenith of their activity was in 1738–59, when they were led by the legendary Oleksa Dovbush, Vasyl Baiurak, and Ivan Boichuk and were active throughout the Hutsul region, the Boiko region, Bukovyna, and Transcarpathia. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries their number increased dramatically because of rising taxes and forced conscription. A noted opryshok leader in the Hutsul region during that period was Myron Shtoliuk. The Austrian government sent out special punitive military detachments to combat the renegades. The disappearance of the opryshoks was due largely to such repressions and to the abolition of serfdom in the mid-19th century.

A wealth of folkloric material concerning the opryshoks was gathered and published by Volodymyr Hnatiuk, Yakiv Holovatsky, Volodymyr Shukhevych, and others. Literature also derived considerable inspiration from the opryshoks, who appear in the works of Yurii Fedkovych, Ivan Franko, Volodymyr Gzhytsky, Hnat Khotkevych, Mykhailo Pavlyk, Markiian Shashkevych, and Ivan Vahylevych, as well as in those of the Polish writers Józef Korzeniowski and Stanisław Vincenz, the Austrian writer Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, and the Czech writer Ivan Olbracht. In the Carpathians many mountains, lowlands, and rivers are named after prominent opryshoks, particularly Oleksa Dovbush.

Tselevych, Iu. Opryshky (Lviv 1897)
Hrabovets’kyi, V. Antyfeodal’na borot’ba karpats’koho opryshkivstva XVI–XIX st. (Lviv 1966)
Stavrovs’kyi, O. Slovats’ko-pol’s’ko-ukraïns’ke prykordonnia do 18-oho st. (Prešov 1967)

Yaroslav Isaievych

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

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