Ruhnu ( _sv. Runö) is an
islandsituated in the Gulf of Rigain the Baltic Sea. It belongs to Estoniaand is an administrative part of Saare County. At 11.9 km² it has currently less than 100, mostly ethnic Estonian permanent inhabitants. Prior to 1944 it was for centuries populated by ethnic Swedes and traditional Swedish law was used.
The first archaeological artifacts of human activity in Ruhnu, assumed to be related to seasonal seal hunting, date back to around 5000 BC. The time of arrival of the first ancient
Scandinavians in Ruhnu and the beginning of a permanent Swedish-speaking settlement is not known. It probably did not precede the Northern Crusadesin the beginning of the 13th century, when the indigenous peoples of all the lands surrounding the Gulf of Riga were converted to Christianityand subjugated to the Teutonic Order. The first documented record of the island of Ruhnu, and of its Swedish population, is a 1341 letter sent by the Bishop of Courlandwhich confirmed the islanders' right to reside and manage their property in accordance with Swedish law.
Ruhnu was controlled by the Kingdom of
Sweden(1621-1708, formally until 1721) and after that by Imperial Russiauntil World War I, when it was occupied by Imperial Germany(1915–1918). After the war, despite some local initiatives to rejoin Sweden, and territorial claims by Latvia, the islanders agreed to become part of newly independent Estonia in 1919. According to a census taken in 1934, Ruhnu had a population of 282, comprising of 277 ethnic Swedes and 5 ethnic Estonians.
World War II, Ruhnu, along with the rest of Estonia, was first occupied by the Soviet Union(1940–1941) and then by Germany(1941–1944). In November 1943, a first group of about 75 islanders relocated to Sweden. In August 1944, shortly before the beginning of the second Soviet occupation, the entire remaining population of the island, with the exception of just two families, fled by ship to Sweden.
During the period of Soviet occupation after 1944, the island was repopulated by Estonian civilians and also served as a basis of a small Soviet military garrison. The number of inhabitants never exceeded 400, and in the 1970s, after a storm hit Ruhnu, most people were relocated.
Life on Ruhnu today
After Estonia regained its independence in 1991, buildings, land, and other property on Ruhnu Island were returned to those with ownership claims that went back to prior to the Soviet occupation of Estonia, or to their descendants. In case of Ruhnu, those descendants were mostly resident in Sweden. While most of them did not return to Ruhnu, they still occasionally visit the land of their forefathers.
Travel to Ruhnu is by weekly flights from
Pärnuand Kuressaarein winter, twice weekly in summer, as well as by ferry service.
The island has a quadripod tower lighthouse, which stands atop highest point of the island, Haubjerre hill. It was prefabricated in
Franceand shipped to Ruhnu for assembly in 1877. The structure was designed by Gustave Eiffel.
The Runhu wooden church, built in 1644, is one of the oldest wood constructed buildings in Estonia. The church's
baroque-style tower was finished in 1755. The stone Lutheran church next to the wooden one was built in 1912 and is currently where services are held.
Limo beach is one of the island's most popular and accessible beaches for tourists.
Ruhnu is home to a somewhat rare native breed of
sheepcalled the Estonian Ruhnu ( _et. Eesti maalammas). The breed numbers approximately 33 individuals and are used primarily for wool. [ [http://www.rala.is/beta/33%20Estonian%20Ruhnu%20sheep.htm North Shed: "Origin and diversity of North European sheep breeds] ]
In the spring of 2006, a 150 kilogram
brown beararrived on Ruhnu via an ice floe across the Gulf of Rigafrom the mainland of Latvia, some 40 km (25 miles) away. The bear's journey and resettlement on the island became a highly publicized media sensation in both the Estonian and Latvian press, as Ruhnu has been devoid of any large carnivores for many centuries. The bear continued to evade capture for months and environment ministry officials reported that tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive bear had outnumbered permanent residents. [http://www.carnivoreconservation.org/dotclear/index.php/?2006/06/02/197-elusive-bear-wanders-ruhnu-island-and-makes-its-population-double Carnivore Conservation: "Elusive bear wanders Ruhnu Island and makes its population double". Friday, June 2, 2006] ] The bear is believed by authorities to have since returned to Latvia. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6533703.stm BBC News: "Latvia bears giant chocolate gift." April 6, 2007] ]
In April 2007, Latvian
chocolateproducer "Laima" presented Ruhnu islanders with a 40 kg (88 lbs.) chocolate statue of the bear to go on display before being eaten by islanders.. This chocolate bear was finally eaten on December 20, 2007.
* There is an account of life on Ruhnu in the 1920s in
Arthur Ransome's book "Racundra's First Cruise" (republished in 2003 by Fernhurst Books).
* A useful short article on Ruhnu appeared in [http://www.hiddeneurope.co.uk/ "Hidden Europe Magazine"] , 15 (July 2007), pp.20-1.
* Taylor, N. with Karin T (2008). "Saaremaa: a History and Travel Guide". Tallinn: OÜ Greif. ISBN 978 9985 3 1606 1, pp 78-83
Municipalities of Estonia
List of islands of Estonia
List of municipalities of Estonia
* [http://www.ruhnu.ee/ Ruhnu]
* [http://www.dmoz.org/Regional/Europe/Estonia/Saaremaa/Ruhnu/ DMOZ Ruhnu] - A list of English sites about Ruhnu.
* [http://www.marinas.nautilus.ee/index.php/database Ruhnu marina.]
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