Exploring Polissia: the Land of Rivne, Pohorynnya

The Land of Rivnenshchyna is also known as the Land of Polissia (Полісся), or Pohorynnya (Погориння). Most of it now is in Rivne Oblast, an administrative division of Ukraine.

It is situated in the south-western part of Ukraine. It is a land of forests, lakes, marshes, and numerous species of plants and animals. It is a land of wonderful landscapes. It is a land of ancient cities and trade routes which, in the times of old, used to link East and West. It is a land inhabited by people who, different as they are, are united by the air they breathe, by traditions of their land, by their common history…

Story by Oleksandr IRVANETS
Rivnenshchyna covers a territory of over 20,000 kilometers. How does it compare with, say, some countries of the world? It is as big as the territories of the Czech Republic or Switzerland; it is as big as Lebanon and Cyprus put together; it is as big as Jamaica or Puerto Rico, or El Salvador. When I look at this Central American country on the map, I mentally compare its size with the size of my native Rivnenshchyna.

Rivnenshchyna used to be a borderland. A hundred years ago it bordered on Austria-Hungary; later, its neighboring lands in the west were those of Poland. Rivnenschyna nurtured many Ukrainians who took up arms against both the Soviet Empire and Nazi Germany in the 1940s.
The northern part of Rivnenshchyna differs from its southern part in natural conditions and landscapes. There are many castles and ancient fortresses still to be seen in Rivnenshchyna — in Dubno, Korets, Klevan, Ostroh and Tarakaniv. There are many traces and scars of the last war still to be seen in Rivnenshchyna forests and steppes — ruined blockhouses, overgrown trenches and bomb craters. Architectural landmarks, dating from the times of old and from much more recent times abound in the Land of Rivnenshchyna.

Archeological excavations suggest that people have been living in Rivnenshchyna since Paleolithic times. Many toponyms remind us of much later times, but still a thousand-year distant from our time — Horodyshche, Mezhyrichi.

The Land of Rivnenshchyna has been subjected to many invasions and incursions in its long history — nomads, Mongols, Tartars, the Swedish army of Charles XII in the eighteenth century, Napoleon’s army in the nineteenth century, Polish, German and Soviet armies in the twentieth century. Burned down and plundered cities and villages, devastation, tears and spilled innocent blood, orphans and cripples, suffering and bondage marked their presence in the Land of Rivnenschyna.

Time destroys the sturdiest of buildings, even the longest living trees die, the rivers change their course — although it is often man who does more damage to the land than any natural disasters or implacable time.

I have a feeling though that the landscapes of my native land have changed but little since time immemorial. When I find myself in the country, I look at the low hills and the slowly flowing rivers and I can’t help thinking that all of what I see looked pretty much the same thousands of years ago. It gives me a joy to think that people who lived in Rivnenshchyna hundreds or thousands of years ago saw pretty much the same landscape.

The beauty of Rivnenshchyna is of a quiet kind, as a true beauty must be. Decorative embroideries of Rivnenshchyna reflect the mood and colors of the landscapes, with black being a conspicuous color. The black of the marshes, the black of a rare species of storks, the black of mysterious lakes hiding in the depths of forests add their touches to the subdued colors of Rivnenshchyna landscapes.

Rivnenshchyna is rich in all kinds of natural resources — black basalts, amber, diamonds, phosphorites, mineral waters are among the most important natural treasures to be found in Rivnenshchyna. Sources of mineral water with medicinal properties can be found in Ostroh, Stepan’ and other places. Nitrogen-radon sources in Korets are as good as similar sources in the Caucasus.

Rivnenshchyna is not only a land of developed agriculture — it has a powerful industrial base and maintains trade with many foreign countries. Fabrics, mineral fertilizers, cement, and wood items are among the products Rivnenshchyna exports. Electricity is another product that Rivnenshchyna produces in large quantities.

Polissia of Rivne: Inspiration and continuity

The Land of Rivnenshchyna inspired many writers, often in some mysterious ways, among whom we find Oleksandr Kuprin, Volodymyr Korolenko and Mykola Kostomarov. Today in some of the rural areas of Rivnenshchyna we still can find people who observe certain rituals that have survived since the pre-Christian, pagan times. But Rivnenshchyna is also a land where scientists and poets, thinkers, artists and sages were born. It was in Ostroh in Rivnenshchyna that the first books in Ukraine were printed.

Rivnenschyna is also a land of crafts and craftsmen. Swords made in Kharaluh were famous in the medieval times for their superior quality. Such swords, which could cut through any metal in battle, were called “kharaluzhni.” They are mentioned in the great Ukrainian medieval epic The Song of Ihor’s Host.

Embroideries that decorate traditional dress, white-and-black ceramics, whose shapes and decorative patterns have come down to us from the past, continue to be valued and appreciated.
An academy was established in Ostroh at the end of the Middle Ages and its first president, Herasym Smotrytsky and his son Meletiy were among the enlighteners who developed knowledge in Ukraine. Monks in the monasteries of Dubno, Derman and Ostroh wrote odes and epigrams and poems, and copied ancient manuscripts. Symon Pekalid, Demyan Nalyvayko, Vitaliy the Monk, Kasiyan Sakovych and the author who is known by his initials M.H. were among those who fostered literature and spiritual education.
Rivnenshchyna is a land were many battles were fought, many glorious victories were won and many crushing defeats were suffered. The memory of these events has been preserved in legends, histories, ballads and epic poems. The towns of Ostroh, Dubno, Derman, Korets, Klevan, Stepan’ and others gave Ukraine men and women whose deeds have gone down into history books.
Oleksa Stefanovych, one of the most distinguished poets of the Ukrainian diaspora in America, was born in the village of Mylyatyn, now in Ostroh Oblast, at the very end of the nineteenth century. Borys Tan (penname of Mykola Khomychevsky), a versatile translator of works of classical Antiquity, and Ulas Samchuk, a writer who was nominated for the Nobel Prize, were born and grew up in Derman. Nil Khasevych, an artist who studied at the Krakow Art Academy and who was an ardent Ukrainian patriot, hailed from Dyuksy. Olena Teliha and Oleh Olzhych, poets who wrote excellent poetry filled with the ardent Ukrainian spirit, were natives of Rivne. They died for the freedom of their native land. Streets of Rivne bear their names.

Leonid Kravchuk, the first president of the independent Ukraine (1991–1994), was born in the village of Velyky Zhytyn, not far from Rivne.Hryhoriy Skovoroda, the eighteenth-century itinerant philosopher, Taras Shevchenko, the great nineteenth century poet, Lesya Ukrayinka, the prominent late nineteenth-early twentieth century writer, Panteleymon Kulish and Mykola Kostomarov, the prominent nineteenth-century cultural figures, visited the Land of Rivnenschyna and were inspired by it.
Honore de Balzac, the French writer and a founder of the realist school of fiction (1799–1850), stopped in Rivne on his way to Berdychiv where he married the noble Eveline Hanska.
Jaroslav Hasek, one of the leading Czech authors of the early decades of the twentieth century, who wrote his famous sequence of novels called Osudy dobreho vojaka Svejka za svetove valky, (1921–23; The Good Soldier Schweik; these works set in the collapsing Austro-Hungarian Empire remain widely read to the present day) spent some time in Rivnenshchyna during the First World War. The main protagonist of the novels, Scweik, mentions a friend from Zdolbunov, a town in Rivnenshchyna.

Polissia of Rivne: Past and present

There are a great many graves of soldiers, Ukrainian and foreign, in the Land of Rivnenshchyna. In the crypts of the churches that stand at the sites of battles of yore are sarcophagi with skulls of the Cossacks that bear marks of enemies’ sabers. There are an untold number of unmarked graves in the forests, steppes and along the roads. The First and Second World Wars put thousands upon thousands of soldiers and civilians into the earth. There are also graves of literati and cultural figures to be found in the Land of Rivnenshchyna.

Osher Schwarzman, a Yiddish writer, and Oleko Dundych, a Serb, found their eternal resting place in Rivnenshchyna. Stanislaw-Ignaci Witkievicz, a Polish avant-garde poet and painter, is buried at the cemetery of the village Ozera. Anna Olenina-Andro, the woman whom Aleksandr Pushkin, the great nineteenth-century Russian poet, sang in his poems, is buried in the territory of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Korets.

But life goes on and new generations of young people are growing up in Rivnenshchyna. Schools of all levels, from kindergartens to universities, including the recently re-established Ostroh Academy, annually admit thousands upon thousands of young people eager to acquire knowledge. The cultural and historical continuity has not been disrupted despite many wars and social upheavals.

Many of the natives of Rivnenshchyna have immigrated to North and South America, to Russia, to Australia, France, Germany and other countries but I am sure the memory of their native land continues to live in their hearts. They continue to be connected with Rivnenshchyna by invisible strings.

Rivnenshchyna is actively developing tourism in all of its varieties, including green and cultural tourism. There is a lot that Rivnenshchyna can offer. Come and see.

Text by Oleksandr IRVANETS for Welcome to Ukraine magazine

For more details about trips to Rivne Polissia please contact polissya(@)torba.com

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Як називають Полісся?

Поліщуки часто кажуть Полісьсе чи Палесьсе, східні слов'яни та казахи звуть Палессе, Полесье. Словаки та норвежці називають Polesie, чехи - Polesí, південні слов'яни - Polissja чи Полесие, Полесия. Литовці іменують Polesė. Німці й шведи звуть Polesien, голандці - Polesië, французи - Polésie. Англійці, італійці, іспанці, фіни - Polesia, рідше Polissia. Норвежці та естонці кажуть Polesje, деякі євреї - פּאָלעסיע, тайці โปเลเซีย, японці ポリーシャ, корейці 폴레시아, ті, кого найбільше звуть 中文, а турки як завжди - Polesiye.

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