Volhynia is the northwestern most province of modern day Ukraine. Poland is on its western border with Belarus to the north.
For centuries Volhynia had belonged to the Lithuanian Commonwealth. It was later acquisitioned by Poland, through a marriage of royalty. In the first partition of Poland in 1772, the region was annexed by Russia.
It stayed part of Russia until after World War I. The Treaty of Versailles in 1920 split Volhynia in half. The east remained part of Russia while the west was returned to Poland.
After World War II, the entire region of Volhynia was made part of Ukraine, which in turn was part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Volhynia is in the northwest corner of Ukraine. There was a government district with that name for more than a century, and the region is still generally known as Volhynia even though the old government district is now split between five modern oblasts.
Major cities in Volhynia include Zhitomir, Korosten, Novograd-Volynsk, Rowno, Lutzk and Kowel.
Volhynia has a long history. It was on a historic east-west route linking Kiev with the west through Brest, in today’s Belarus, as well as a north-south route between Scandinavia and Constantinople, now Istanbul, Turkey.
In 1569, Poland and Lithuania, which had been working together since 1385, were brought together under one government. Volhynia region was incorporated into the Polish kingdom. The administrative system in the area remained unchanged for the next two centuries.
In 1793, with the second partition of Poland, Volhynia was incorporated into Russia. Ukraine was divided along the Dniper River, which runs through Kiev. Zhitomir became the centre of the western side of Ukraine, and courts and other government institutions were moved there
In 1797 the Volhynian gubernia was established, with its centre in Zhitomir. The government had 17 districts: Novograd-Volynsk, Labunsk, Volodymersk, Kovel, Zaslavsk, Ostrog, Rovno, Dombrovyts, Ovruch, Zhitomir, Chudniv, Lutsk, Dubno, Kremenetsk, Yampilsk, Bazalivsk and Starokanstantinovka. Radomyshl, northwest of the city of Zhitomir and part of today’s Zhitomir oblast, was transferred to the Kiev gubernia.
There were minor internal changes to the Volhynia gubernia over the years. The Chudniv district was liquidated and its territory transferred to Zhitomir and Novograd-Volynskiy districts. In 1846 Berdichev with adjoining territories was separated from Zhitomir district and became a center of new district.
By the time of the Russian revolution Volhynia was one of 10 gubernias on Ukrainian ethnic territory, with eight more in ethnically mixed areas.
According to the Riga peace treaty betwen Poland and Russia, signed on March 18, 1921, some of Volhynia’s western districts were turned over to Poland. The districts included Kovel, Lutsk, Dubno, Rovno, Ostrog, as well as most of Kremenetsk and two regions in the Novograd-Volynsk district, Korez and Kysorytsk (today, Rokitno).
Germans — and Czechs, and French — started moving to Volhynia around the time of the second partition. A large-scale migration of Germans into the area took place in the 1860s, after the emancipation of the serfs.
The northern part of Volhynia is known for its forests and its marshes. The most common tree here is pine, but oak may be found on richer soils, along with birch, alder, and linden. At one time almost the entire belt was covered with forest, but the spread of agriculture over the past 150 years means that less than 33 per cent of the forests remain.
Volhynia includes part of the Polesie, one of the largest European swampy areas. The Polesie also includes parts of Belarus, Russia and Poland.The swamp area of the Polesie — which translates as “woodland” — is known as the Pripiat Marsh, named after the major river that runs through it. The main highway between Korosten and Rokitnoe passes through the southern part of the marsh, with water-soaked soil clearly visible from the road.
Volhynia was heavily affected by radioactive fallout from the 1986 nuclear plant accident at Chernobyl. Huge areas in the northeastern region were so badly polluted that agriculture has been prohibited. This region is also considered unsuitable for living, so several villages have been abandoned.
Temperatures in Volhynia vary widely — between -35 in winter and 38 Celsius in summer. It gets about 600 millimetres of precipitation in an average year.
Today, Volhynia is home to about four million people. Its economy is primarily based on forestry and lumber milling, agriculture and food processing, granite mining, metalworking, and the manufacture of machinery and musical instruments.