The Rivne Region, which lies in the west of Ukraine and borders on Belarus in the north, was formed in 1939 with the unification of ethnically Ukrainian lands in the then Ukrainian SSR. The northern parts of the region lie on the Polissia Lowland, a loess flatland with scattered low hills, whereas the southern parts occupy the geologically distinctive Volyn Upland in a grid of springs, rapid rivers, gorges and ravines.
The vast woodland of eastern Volyn gains a lot through the whimsically meandering rivers Horyn, Sluch and Styr and their countless tributaries, which add to the wild, untouched beauty of these parts.
The first people appeared in the Southern Rivne Region in the Lower Paleolithic era. In the 10th—11th c.c. those lands were part of Kyivan Rus and in 1199 they constituted the Halych-Volyn Principality, which in the mid-13th c. accepted suzerainty to the Golden Horde and another century later it was taken over by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
The Lublin Unia laid a formal foundation for the arbitrary seizure of the lands by the Polish shliakhta and the Brest Unia of 1596 opened the way for the Catholic Church to come into the ages-old Orthodox lands. In the late 18th c., the Rivne Region entered the gigantic Volyn gubernia of the Russian Empire. Under the Riga treaty of 1921 it was passed over to Poland again. At the beginning of the WW II, Polissia was reunited with Ukraine.
The Rivne Region can boast of a wide range of luckily preserved architectural memorials from the medieval fortification to Orthodox, Catholic and Jewish temples of the 17th—20th c.c.
The region’s capital, Rivne, lies on both banks of the Ustie River, where it flows into the Horyn. In 1461, Rivne was purchased by the Volynian prince S. Nesvytsky. Upon his death in 1479, his widow assumed the name of M. Rovenska (after the city) and commenced the construction of the family castle on one of the Ustie islands. It was under her reign that the city was granted Magdeburg Law. Since 1518 over a century the city fell under the Ostrohzky family and in 1723 under the Polish Prince Lubomyrsky. Since 1783, Rivne was in the Russian Empire.
The architectural heritage of the city is mostly religious edifices. The oldest of them, the 1756 wooden Greek-Catholic Assumption Church, was famous for the ‘chain of moral foundations’, with which the ‘dishonest parishioners’ were chained to the church’s wall for public repentance. The 1895 Resurrection Cathedral, which under the Soviet rule was home to the atheism museum, is now shared by two Orthodox confessions. The Regional Ethnographic museum is housed in the 1839 former gymnasium.
The city of Dubno on the river Ikva is one of the oldest in the area, known from the 1100 Chronicles. In 1492, Prince K. Ostrohzky founded an impregnable Dubno Castle, overlooking the river. Behind the massive gateway with a long drawbridge over the moat in the verdant inner courtyard stand the 16th-c. Ostrozky and 17th-c. Lubomyrsky palaces, linked with the other city edifices by underground passages. It was the Dubno Castle that was described by N. Gogol in his novel ‘Taras Bulba’.
In 1993, the State Historical Heritage Reserve was formed, incorporating the castle itself and 30 other memorial sites around it. Among them are the 16th-c. Lutsk Gate Tower, the Bernadine and Carmelite monasteries and others. The luckily surviving Orthodox churches include the 1643 Saviour Church, St. Transfiguration Monastery, the 1709 wooden St. George Church with a belfry of 1869, and the gracious early 20th-c. St. Illyah Cathedral. The 19th-c. Synagogue is a memorial to the Dubno Jewish community, which was the largest in the city in the pre-WW II years.
The town of Ostroh at the Villa estuary was first mentioned in the Hypatian Chronicles of the year 1100. The town’s educational heyday is closely linked to the name of Prince Konstantin of Ostroh (Ostrohzky) (1526—1608), who founded a Greek-Slavic Collegium with its own printing shop, where in 1578 Ivan Fedorov (Fedorovych) published his Bukvar and the famous 1581 Ostroh Holy Bible. In 1793, Ostroh passed to the Russian Empire and with the collapse of the latter in 1917 it went back to Poland till WW II. Ostroh’s architectural heritage counts numerous fragments of Princes Ostrohzky’ fortress, built on the hilltop site of an earlier fortified settlement. The remaining pieces include the 14th— 17th c.c. Gothic Watch-tower, which now houses the Regional Ethnographic and Historic Museum, the 16th-c. New Tower and the 15th-c. Bohoyavlenska Church, rebuilt in the Ukrainian Byzantine style 300 years later. The only Old Town fortifications left are the 15th—16th c.c. Tartar and Lutsk Gate-towers. The latter now houses the History of Books and Printing Museum.
The village of Mezhyrich at the cape of the Viliya and Svytenka rivers confluence in the vicinity of Ostroh was founded in the II half of the 14th c. on the site of Old Rus’ settlement. At the time of Prince F. Ostrohzky, a monastery, which after numerous transformations is currently one of the most outstanding nation’s architectural ensembles, was commissioned in Mezhyrich. Impressive structures of the Holy Trinity Monastery Fortress tower over the mirror-like enormous pond, pleasing to the eye. The monastery courtyard, surrounded in 1609 by mighty walls with four-corner octagonal towers and the 5th gate-tower, was later on rebuilt into a belfry.
The village of Derman on the gently sloping northern spurs of the Mizotskyy Ridge at the well-springs of the Ustia River was first referred to in 1497, when Prince K. Ostrohzky became the owner of the surrounding lands. In Derman, he built a stone castle encircled by the walls with loopholes and a moat. The fortress entrance via drawbridge was defended by a three-tier tower, rebuilt later on into a belfry. For the first time, the Derman monastery is mentioned in the late 14th c., when the Prince presented to the monastery the manuscript book of sermons with his complimentary inscription and sizeable arable lands. In spite of the turmoil of several wars the Holy Trinity Church (15th c.), Gate-belfry and the Cells (15th—16th c.c.) have survived within the monastery walls.
Off a small village of Pliasheva in the swampy river valley, a major battle of the 1648—54 Liberation War took place. It went down in history as the Berestechko battle and involved an unprecedented 200,000 troops. The Polish king Jan Casimir’s regular army was defied by the allied forces of the rebel Cossacks, led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky, and the Tartars under the Khan Islam-Girey III. At the height of the fighting the Tartars withdrew, taking Bohdan Khmelnytsky hostage, which in the end predetermined the outcome of the battle despite the Cossacks’ heroic resistance.
In 1914, on a small Zhuravlivka island amidst the Plia-shivka swamps, a mausoleum-church rose, to which was later added the 1650 wooden St. Michael Church, transported from the neighbouring village of Ostriv. The legend has it, that in St. Michael Church the Corinthian Metropolitan loasaf sanctified the Cossack sabers on the eve of the battle. In 1967, the Cossack memorial was made into the Historical and Cultural Reserve called ‘Cozatski Mohyly’ (‘Cossack Graves’).
The village of Hubkiv nestles in a breath-taking site on the steep rocky bank of the Sluch. In the 15th c., the Prince’s Castle was put up atop the highest cliff, but was later destroyed by the Swedes during their 1708 military campaign. The thickly wooded left bank with jagged cliffs overhanging the river and violent rapids create memorable wild landscapes. East off the village, a granite ridge known as Sokolyni (Falcon’s) Cliffs, drives the river into a canyon-like narrow gorge, which is why this area near Hubkiv is sometimes referred to as Switzerland upon the Sluch.