The Poltava Region, which was formed administratively in 1937, lies in central Left-bank Ukraine on the Dre-Dnipro Lowland, which gradually slants towards the Dnipro in broad terraces. The most elevated part of the region is on the Poltava plain. The Dnipro’s southern left-bank terraces, as well the Dnipro Creek, are now covered by the waters of the Kremenchuk (1960) and Dniprodzerzhynsk (1964) water reserves. The vast left-bank Dnipro terraces are carved by its meandering tributaries: the Sula, Psel and Vorskla. The valleys, which are densely wooded in places and open vast expanses of steppe in others, create inspiring landscapes particular to the mid-plain parts of Ukraine.
The oldest settlements in the area appeared in the Lower Paleolithic era about 20,000 years ago. More than 200 scattered archeological sites testify to the human presence here throughout the Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Ages, as well as Scythian and Sarmatian times. The most famous of all archeological sites is that of Bilske Horodysche, Europe’s largest Scythian settlement, dating from the 7th—3rd c.c. BC. Stretching along the Vorskla, it covered 40 sq. km and was surrounded by earth ramparts and moats. Excavations, which have been conducted for about 100 years, have revealed the remains of large houses, fragmented ceramics, numerous implements, and a necropolis with over 1000 burial mounds. Some researchers believe Bilske Horodyshe to be the Scythian city of Halones mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus.
By the late 12th c. AD, the Poltava region included a number of populous towns, which had to be the first to experience the military might of the Golden Horde, led by Batu Khan. Pereyaslav, for example, was held under tribute for more than a century. Much weakened, the country was unable to offer resistance to the expanding Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the mid-14th c., and, after the formation of Rzeczpospolita in 1569, the vast Poltava area became the easternmost and least populated part of it.
During the 1648—54 War of Liberation, the Left-bank Ukraine happened to be in the rearguard of the insurgent Cossacks, used mostly for providing supplies. After 1654, the area was taken over by Muscovy, even though the Russo-Polish war over the Pre-Dnipro area lasted for over a decade more. After the Andrusiv Armistice of 1667 and the ‘Eternal Peace’ Treaty of 1686, the Left-bank Ukraine joined the Russian Empire for the next three centuries. With the liquidation of the Ukrainian autonomy in the early 1780s, and after a chain of administrative reforms, the Poltava Guberniya was formed in 1802.
Since the Princely times, only fragmented fortifications have survived till the present day; otherwise the oldest architectural remains in the area are various Orthodox churches from the 17th c. All other buildings, such as the mansions of the nobility, administrative halls or country estates date from later periods.
The regional centre is the city of Poltava, which lies in the Vbrskla river valley. In 1430, the settlement was awarded to the Tartar Murza Leksy, who initiated the construction of earth ramparts around his land. These were later destroyed by the Crimean Khan Mengli-Girey, when his troops raided the city in 1482. Under Rzeczpospolita, the fortifications were rebuilt and reinforced to make a sustainable fortress with which Poltava gained its city status in 1641. During the Liberation War till the end of the Hetmanate in 1775 Poltava was home to the regiment of the same name. During the 1700—21 Russo-Swedish War, Poltava was destined to be a pivotal point at which the major battle of the campaign unfolded in 1709.
After unsuccessful attempts to seize the city, the Swedish army was drawn into a full-scale battle about 7 km from what is now the city centre. After a day’s fight, the preponderant Russian forces under Tsar Peter I put the Swedish King Charles XII to flight, leaving over 9,000 Swedes dead in the battlefield. The results of the Poltava battle, however, should not be regarded separately from the dramatic events that preceded it and, in particular, the disbandment of Hetmanate, with the capital in Baturyn, by Tsar, which brought the then Hetman Ivan Mazepa (1632—1709) and part of the Cossacks on the Swedish side, as long as the Swedish king Charles XII allegedly had promised to re-institute Ukraine’s independence. The deeds of Hetman Mazepa, who had pledged loyalty to the Russian Crown but then entered into an alliance with the Swedes, is still the subject of controversy among historians.
The Russo-Swedish War is widely commemorated in Poltava, especially in the present-day northern outskirts, where the battle took place. Near the 1856 Samson Church there is a cross memorial on the brother grave of the Russian soldiers, erected in 1894, and the Poltava Battle Museum by the Peter I statue. The perished Swedish soldiers are honoured by the newer monuments ‘To the Swedes from Russians’ and ‘To the Swedes from Swedes’, both put up to the 200th anniversary of the Poltava Battle.
Among the architectural remains of the early 20th c., a special place is occupied by the Zemstvo Assembly Hall (1908), which is considered a fine example of the Ukrainian style in civic construction (now housing the Poltava Regional Museum). The arts palette of the city would be incomplete without the Poltava Art Gallery, as well as a number of literary house-museums, including those of Ivan Kotliarevskyy, Panas Myr-nyy, and V. G. Korolenko, all of whom lived and worked in Poltava. Among sculptural works, truly outstanding are the 1898 Ivan Kotliarevsky monument and the Nikolay Gogol statue of 1913.
The oldest city in the Poltava region is Lubny, which stretches along the steep right bank of the fast Sula River. It is believed to have been founded in 988 and the first written reference to it under the name Lubno in the Hypatian Chronicles dates as far back as 1107. Towards the end of the 12th c. the city was seized by the Polovtsi and in 1239 it was raided and plundered by the Batu Khan hordes. From the 1570s, Lubny belonged to the Prince Vyshnevetsky family, who at that time were the largest landowners in these parts. In 1648—1781, as Ukraine was administratively divided into regiments, Lubny was home to the military regiment of the same name.
The village of Mhar on the Sula appeared in the early 17th c. on the lands of the Mhar Monastery as an agricultural subsidiary and for many years was monastery’s property. The monastery was founded in 1624. Under the name of Hedeon, Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s son Yuri (1641—85) served here as a monk. The ravaging fire of 1736 put to ashes all wooden constructions, leaving intact the only brick edifice, the 1692 Transfiguration Cathedral. The long reconstruction that followed changed the looks of the monastery with the brick this time belfry, built in 1785, and Father Superior’s House built one year after. The late 19th c. saw the rise of the two-storey Brethren House and the St. Afanasiy Church named after the Constantinople Patriarch Pattelariy (1580—1654) who died and was buried in the monastery. A much revered site off the cloister is the skyt where the patriarch was said to pray and seek solitude.
A well-known place throughout Ukraine and far beyond is the village of the Velyki Sorochyntsi on the banks of the river Psel. Apart from old age — and it has been known since 1620s — Velyki Sorochyntsi’s pride is first and foremost the Annual Sorochyntsi Fair, which in recent years has taken the form of costumed masquerade, featuring characters from the no-less story of the same name by Gogol, a writer whose early works were much inspired by Ukrainian folklore. Note worthily, Gogol was baptized in Sorochyntsi in 1809 in Transfiguration Church. The church, which was built in 1734 with the finance of the then Hetman of the Left-bank Ukraine D. Apostol, is in itself an architectural wonder of the Ukrainian Baroque style with a unique seven-tier carved-wood iconosta-sis.
The Village of Opishnia lies on the steep bank of the river Vorskla. Known since the Princely era, in the late 19th c. Opishnia gave home to pottery workshops, which was destined to change its lifestyle altogether, since then Opishnia has grown into a recognized pottery and ceramics centre, so much so that in 1989 a state museum of Ukrainian Pottery was founded here, featuring not only an exhibition of fine pottery pieces, but also the Zemstvo-Gubernian Old Pottery Works (built in 1916) and Museum-homes of the prominent local potters.