The Volyn Region in North-Eastern Ukraine was formed in 1939 after the re-unification of Ukrainian lands under the Ukrainian SSR. Historically, one of the oldest ethnically Ukrainian areas, it used to play a far more significant role in Northern and Western Ukraine and occupy more territory than the present day region of the same name.
The northern part of the region, known as the Polissia Lowland, is predominantly wooded moorland, whose surface has been flattened by glaciers and post-glacier rivers since the Ice Age. The Volyn Pasmo, which traverses the area from west to east, relieves an otherwise dull landscape.
The flatland landscape with scattered khutors (settlements) surrounded by forestland, makes up to 1/5 of the region’s area. Lake Shats constitutes part of the National Nature Reserve Park of the same name, Shatsky. The Volyn Upland in the south presents a more varied landscape and forms a natural causeway between the Polissia Lowland and the more impressive Podil Upland. The first known settlements in the late Paleolithic Era date back to about 15 thousand years ago. In the 1s’ millennium the area was populated by Eastern Slavic tribes of Dulibs, Buzhans, and Volynians. Within the boundaries of today’s Volyn region, more than 60 archeological sites, including early fortifications, settlements and burial mounds, indicate the Slavic presence in the area in the time of ancient Rus. In the early 5th c., Volyn became a bastion of Western Slavic independence. The region lived through times of small principalities at war with one another, then their unification and joint resistance to the rising power of Kyiv.
In 1199 Halych and Volyn joined together in one principality, continually in a state of war against local insurgents as well as Polish and Hungarian territorial ambitions, further exacerbated by devastating Golden Horde raids.
By mid-14th c., the Halych-Volyn principality was still in a state of conflict and 100 years later it ceased to exist, divided into small povits (administrative units) under the Great Duchy of Lithuania. However, in 15th —16th c.c. Volyn saw a rapid development in crafts and trade bringing Magdeburg Law to independent Volyn townships. In 1566, Volyn acquired the status of voyevodstvo (military region). Under the Lublin Treaty of 1569, which unified Lithuania and Poland into one state known as Rzeczpospolita, Volyn passed under its control. The Brest Unia recognized the supremacy of the Pope in Rome, which triggered off a lasting conflict between the Orthodox and Catholic churches in Ukraine.
The Polish sovereignty over Volyn lasted until the late 18th c. when Prussia, Austria and Russia divided Poland among themselves. The major part of the Volyn region was absorbed by the Russian Empire. In 1921, after the 1917 Russian Civil War the region was recaptured by Poland and became its voyevodstvo again under the Riga Treaty. In 1939 prior to WW II Volyn rejoined Ukraine.
Despite the ravages of Civil and World wars, some fortification and religious buildings from the times of the Volyn principality have survived, including Orthodox, Catholic and Judaic temples. Civic architecture in the region, however, is much poorer, with only small dwellings of the 17th —20th c.c.
Lutsk, Volyn’s historical centre, located on the river Styr, is one of the oldest Ukrainian cities. The first written record of Luchesk (i. e. place located at the twist of the river, hence — the name) found in chronicles, testifies that by 1085 it was already a much-fortified settlement and a thriving crafts and trade centre. After the annexation of Volyn by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, in the middle of the 14th c., Lutsk became the southwestern residence of the Lithuanian princes. In 1429, at the proposal of the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire Sigismund, Lutsk hosted an unprecedented summit of European monarchs, who met to discuss joint defense measures against the encroachments of the Ottoman Empire, as well as unification of the Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) Churches.
During the 14th —15th c.c., the architectural facade of the old city took its final shape, which, with some alterations, has been preserved till the present day. In 1985 the old part of the city was declared a Historical and Cultural Heritage Reserve, ‘Old Lutsk’. The remaining centrepiece of the city’s fortifications is the High Castle, also known as Lubart’s Castle after the last Lithuania prince to rule the land in 1340-1384. As well preserved are the three sentinel towers, Vyizna, Styrova and Vladycha, connected by a 3-m tall, and 230-m long stone walls atop earth ramparts.
Between the Vyizna and Styrova towers on the site of the old prince’s palace, destroyed in the early 15th c. stands the Shlyakhetsky (noble) mansion, which now houses art exhibitions of the Lutsk Natural History Museum. In the Vladycha tower, so named after the bishop whose residence stood adjacent to it (Vladyka as the Orthodox would call him), there is a unique bell-exhibition. The Vyizna tower now exhibits tiles and ceramics.
Adjacent to the High Castle, the Okilny castle used to be four-times as big as it is now to locate the prince and nobilities courts. After the 1596 Brest Unia, the site became favoured by the expanding Catholic Orders who founded their monasteries in Lutsk. The Jesuit monasteiy traditionally ran the most prestigious educational institution of the time. As well as that, it also ran a student theatre and kept the richest rare-books library. Their imposing SS. Peter and Paul’s Church, built in 1639, is now the key Catholic temple in Volyn.
Out of the eight original towers of the Okilniy the only one to survive those turbulent times is the prince Chartoryisky family castle from the 15th c. with fragments of its defence wall. Between the castle moat and the river lay the jumbled trade and craft district, which had its own municipal authorities and magistrate court. Of the old city there have survived separate buildings of the 1647 Vasylian Monastery, the 1729 Trinitarian Monastery and the Orthodox St. Trinity Church, rebuilt in the late 19th c. from the confiscated 1752 Bernardine Church.
Next to the city lay an area which in Polish was called Zhydovschyna (Jewish). Once inhabited by the Jews and Karaites invited by Prince Vitold to develop local trade in the 15th c., the area still features the 1629 Lutsk Sinagogue. Constructed in a defensive style, its watchtower built adjacent to the prayer hall leads the locals to call it a ‘small castle’. Today’s Lutsk combines a sedate lifestyle with business and commerce, and is undoubtedly a pleasant place to visit.
Standing on the right bank of the river Luga, Volodymyr-Volinsky is the third most populous city in the region. The ancient city, first mentioned in the Chronicles of 988, was named so after the Kyivan Prince Volodymir-the-Baptist. Its location on the western frontiers of the Kyivan Rus, as well as being the site of one of the prince’s residences, account for the substantial fortifications from the time. Even half-ruined these old earth ramparts still impress the viewer.
In 1160 the oldest Christian temple in Volyn was erected on the riverside hill. The Assumption Cathedral, also known as Mstyslav temple after the then prince of Rus, belongs to the number of old Kyivan Rus Churches (others remaining in Kyiv, Chernihiv and Ovruch) that were repeatedly ruined and then rebuilt to their original beauty.
In 1199, after acquiring the status of the capital city of the Halych-Volyn Principality, Volodymyr became one of the mightiest cities of Rus, competing with Kyiv itself. But after its heyday, the city went into decline, with Batu Khan’s hordes repeatedly sacking the city. For the following three centuries, the city was subject to continual raids by the Golden Horde, then the Crimean Tartars and the Poles, but it always resurrected. Only the small and fragile Vasylevska Church (13th — 14th c.c.) has survived from that period, having been rebuilt in 1901. Later Bishop’s house appeared next to the Assumption Cathedral, which was then spoiled with an ugly bell-tower.
With the Third Partition of Rzeczpospolita (1795) Volo-dymyr became part of the Russian Empire and, to avoid confusion with the similarly-named Russian city, it was renamed into Volodymyr-Volynsky. The Russian Empire controlled these lands till the 1917 Russian Revolution. Now Volodymyr-Volynsky is a neat, clean city with but a few signs of its turbulent past.
Zymne, a few kilometers away from Volodymyr-Volynsky, was first mentioned in 1450. The Orthodox Svyatohirsky Monastery was founded here on the river Luh at the end of 15th c. Later, the 1495 Assumption Caves Cathedral, and the 1567 Trinity Church were added to it. Ruined many times and as many times seized by other confessions, the monastery has always arisen from the ashes.
Today’s Sviatohirskyy Convent, recently rebuilt, is a unique architecture accomplishment in that the designers and restorers applied the Kyivan Rus building techniques to the contemporary architecture. The Convent attracts by its gate-tower topped with a hipped-roof belfry, the Trinity Church, stylized as an Old Russian cathedral, and a small tower-like Assumption Church. Its thick walls have preserved, probably, the only authentic artifact of old times, the 700-kilogram Dzvin [Large Bell], cast by the order of Prince Oleksandr Chartoryisky in 1566.
By the Monastery’s life-giving spring stands a state-of-the-art chapel surrounded by a well-kempt flower garden with a stylish rock garden.
The village of Kolodiazhne stands on the road connecting Lutsk and Kovel. It owes its name to the two big wells (kolo-dets) with delicious water, which stand in the centre of the village to satisfy the thirst of the travellers. Little was known of the village until it was made famous by some of its landlords of the State Councillor Petro Kosach family. His wife Olha and their daughter Larysa were both prominent writers, known under pennames of Olena Ptchilka (1849—1930), and Lesia Ukrayinka (1871- -1913). The scholars in Lesia Ukrayinka’s literary legacy believe that it was the atmosphere of the estate together with the beautiful nature and the friendly village people that serves as the main source of inspiration for the renowned author. In 1949 the Lesia Ukrayinka House-Museum was opened in the Kosachs’ estate, which in her lifetime was often visited by Ivan Franko and Mykola Lysenko, both renowned writers as well.
The Shatsky National Park was created in 1983 in the north-western corner of Volyn. This park’s territory covers 489.77 sq. km between the rivers Prypyat and Zakhidnyy Buh. One-fifth of the park’s territory is made up of karst and post-glacial lakes. Lake Svityaz is the ‘cult’ natural site with many Ukrainians. The deepest lake in the country captivates with its ciystal clear water and the beauty of the surrounding landscape, which makes it a must-see for tourists and holiday-makers.
Therefore, being one of the cradles of the eastern Slavdom, Volyn has preserved numerous historical, architectural monuments, as well as Nature’s scenic sites.