The Zhytomyr Region was established in 1937. The gently rolling Polissian Lowland covered with pine and birch forests with scattered swamps forms the province’s northern part. The Slovechno-Ovruch Ridge rising over the lowland in the north livens up the otherwise dull vistas.
The south of the region lies within the Dnipro Upland where the ancient crystalline outcrops of the Ukrainian Shield emerge on the surface. The valleys of the rivers Sluch, Teteriv, and Uzh, cutting their way through the ancient granites and gneisses, shape the landscapes of unbelievable beauty.
The earliest settlements in Zhytomyrschyna appeared in the Middle Stone Age period (ca over 50,000 years ago). The 7th—8th c.c. AD saw the arrival of the Slavonic tribe of Derevlianians. In 1240, these lands were conquered by the Mongol Hordes of Batu Khan and were held under tribute until, in 1362, the nomads were driven away by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
The establishment of Rzeczpospolita in 1569 sealed by the Union of Lublin ushered in a new era of a foreign domination over the region, mostly by the Polish magnates. During the 1648—54 War of Liberation the rebels took control over the entire territory of the province which became the part of the Hetmanate. The 1654—67 Russo-Polish War brought back Rzeczpospolita rule over the Right-bank Ukraine for more than a century. In 1793, in the Second Partition of Poland, the Right-bank Ukraine was finally annexed by the Russian Empire and Zhytomyrschyna became a part of Volynia Gu-berniya up to the 1920s.
The oldest architectural survivors in Zhytomyrschyna date from the Princely era. The region’s pride is Christian churches (both Orthodox and Roman Catholic) of the 16th —17th c.c. as well as palaces, country estates, park gazeboes, and monuments of the 18—20th cc.
Built on the rocky left bank of the Teteriv River, Zhytomyr was established as Volynia administrative centre in 1804. The first written records of the city date from 1305. The city’s largest building of the 16—17th c.c., around which the city developed, was a hilltop wooden fortress at the Kamyanka estuary. The oldest extant building in Zhytomyr is the 1724 Jesuit Monastery Brethren House, whereas the most outstanding churches are the 1751 St. Sophia Roman Catholic Cathedral and the 1874 Transfiguration Orthodox Cathedral. Among other architectural landmarks are the 18th -c. Town Hall, the Post-Station, and the 19th -c. Bishop’s Palace. The oldest of Zhytomyr’s monuments is that to Alexander Pushkin, which rose in 1899. Among a great number of the 20th -c. monuments one cannot help singling out the monument to Sergey Korolyov, the Zhytomyr-born pioneer of Soviet astronautics.
Berdychiv, the province’s second largest city, known from 1545, is located on the banks of the Hnylopyat’ River. In the 17—18th c.c., an architectural ensemble of the Barefoot Carmelites Monastery sprang up above the river. Thanks to the miracle-working icon of the Holy Mother of God of Berdychiv the monastery was the site of pilgrimage for the believers of the Roman Catholic Church. When annexed by Russia, Berdychiv occurred on the eastern boundary of the Jewish Pale of Settlement initiated by Russian Empress Catherine II in 1791. This resulted in the influx of Jewish merchants and craftsmen; the town underwent rapid development and rose to prominence. In 1845, Berdychiv obtained the status of a city and became the venue of very big fairs. The city’s location at the cross-roads turned Berdychiv into a large commercial and banking centre, the fifth largest city in Malorossiya.
The history of Berdychiv is closely linked to the history of the village of Verkhivnia, bought in 1780 by Count Wacraw Hariski, who built a grand palace, a pleasant family chapel (1810) and a landscape garden. Staying in Switzerland in 1833, the count’s wife Ewelina Hariska became friendly with Honore de Balzac. Many a time did Balzac travel through almost the whole Europe to see his amoureuse in Verkhivnia. When Wactaw Hariski died they wedded in the modest St. Barbara Roman Catholic Church in Berdychiv in 1850.
Korosten, one of the oldest cities of Polissia, is located on the rocky banks of the Uzh River, In the early 10th century, Iskorosten was a capital city of the Derevlianian Principality. In 945, the Derevlianians rose in revolt against Kyivan Prince Ihor who attempted to charge additional tributes from the tribe. They defeated Ihor’s troops and executed the Prince. Ihor’s wife Princess Olha seized the rebellious city, killed its inhabitants and burnt the fort to the ground. An impressive monument on the precipitous hill of the ancient settlement of Iskorosten is reminiscent of the episode.
In the city park in the riverbed of the Uzh, there are some curious granite shapes intricately carved by the elements, some of them bearing proper names: the Princess Olha’s Baths, Giant Cauldron, and Rams’ Heads.
Located on the high left bank of the Noryn River, the city of Ovruch was first mentioned in the Hypatian Chronicles of 977 as Vruchay. In Ovruch is the oldest region’s edifice, the 12th c. Church of St. Vasyliy the Great (restored in 1908— 09), built instead of the wooden temple put up by Prince Volodymyr the Great.
Located on the slopes of the Ubort River, the pleasant Polissian town of Olevsk, known since the late 15th c., can boast of its outstanding historical monument, a great number of other towns only could envy, the 1596 five-domed St. Nicholas Church, buried in verdure.
The only natural reserve of Zhytomyrschyna is the Polissian Natural Reserve, founded in 1968 near the border with Belarus. Its territory (area 201.04 sq. km), an alteration of relatively high sand ridges, boulders and dunes with marshy depressions, is a typical stretch of Polissia between the Ubort and Svydivka Rivers. The pristine nature of the reserve is marred by the lots of clearings and deep land-reclamation ditches dug during the boom of drainage melioration in Ukraine. Pine, birch and alder forests occupy more than half of the reserve’s area, whereas swamps and marshy forests account for almost a quarter of it. The forests here are rich in game, mushrooms and berries and the rivers are abundant in fish.