Volyn: world celebrities, a blueprint for EU, and an unprecedented art collection

Volyn region (Ukr. oblast), with its administrative center in the city of Lutsk, is located in the northwesternmost part of Ukraine. A birthplace to many people who had a profound influence on world history, and a place of assembly for a sort of blueprint of the European Parliament, the region boasts strong geographical and historical ties with the rest of the world while holding tight to its unique Ukrainian culture.

As of today, Volyn guards Ukraine’s northern border and the freedom of the entire civilized world. This fight is for both the home of every Ukrainian and the region’s population of one million.

Here’s what the Volyn people love their region for.

Perpetual Ukrainian Lands

During the Ice Age, Volyn was a rather cold and inhospitable place. However, as soon as the frost receded, the region’s first inhabitants arrived. Ukrainian archaeologists keep finding numerous artifacts from the Stone Age on this land, and a century ago, while building railroad tracks, a real treasure trove containing dozens of kilograms of jewelry and Roman coins was unearthed, proving that Volyn had always attracted people as a place to live and trade in goods.

The first written account of the region can be found in the Kyiv chronicle “Tale of Bygone Years,” describing how in 988, Kyiv’s renowned Prince Volodymyr laid the foundation of a town, which he named after himself, and entrusted his son govern. Over time, the town would flourish, first as the westernmost outpost of the Kyiv State, and later as an epicenter of cultural and political life. In the 13th century, it was Volodymyr that became the capital of the medieval Galicia–Volhynia State, carrying on the tradition of statehood on the Ukrainian lands.

Since then, in disregard of all the historical challenges, the Volyn heritage has remained an essential part of Ukrainian culture. At the 1991 Ukrainian Independence Referendum, 96.3% of Volyn’s residents voted “for”.

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Castle Where Entire Europe Came Together

The first fortifications were erected in Lutsk, the capital city of Volyn, as early as in the 14th century, during the rule of the son of the Grand Duke of Lithuania, a man by the name Lubartas (Ukr. Lubart). It is in his honor that this place is often called Lubart’s Castle.

The Grand Dukes of Lithuania ruled one of the most powerful states in the late Medieval, where the Ukrainian culture played a vanguard role. In the duration of several centuries, Old Ukrainian was the basis of the official language of the entire state. 

Until this day, Lubart’s Castle is hard evidence of the power of the Great Dutchy of Lithuania. The fortress has survived several rebuildings, but its advantageous location has always made it the center of political life. 

It was, for instance, home to the illustrious Prince Vytautas, the initiator of assembly in Lutsk that, in fact, was a blueprint of the European Union.

It was in that castle that the 1429 Congress of European Monarchs took place, with over 15 thousand people from all over Europe gathering in the city. Foreign delegates attending the Congress included those from the Kingdom of Poland, the Holy Roman Empire, the Danish kingdom, the Livonian Order, the Teutonic Knights, the Byzantine Empire, the Grand Dutchy of Moscow, Tatar Khans , and Pope’s legates.

Not only did they discuss Europe’s political, trade, and religious matters, they feasted so hard that hundreds of barrels of vine and entire herds of cattle were consumed.

The Country’s Deepest Lake

A body of water covering almost 30 square kilometers (11.6 square miles), up to 60 meters (33 feet) deep, sand beaches, and an abundance of aquatic species — and all these qualities are attributed to Svitiaz, the pearl of the Shatsk lakes. Located in the northwesternmost part of Ukraine, the lake is a stone’s throw from not just one, but two neighboring states, Poland and Belarus.

Overall, Volyn boasts as many as 220 lakes, large and small. However, it is Svitiaz that takes pride in its beaches, rowing, a picturesque island in the middle, and distinctive cuisine with its signature dish, the renowned eels.

Besides, the lakes waters contain such healthsome elements as silver, iodine, and glycerin, which is the primary reason why its shores are densely covered with a variety of boarding houses and sanatoriums, where people striving to be healthy gladly book their stays. Besides, Svitiaz also boasts valuable deposits of blue healing clay that gives any esthetician a run for people’s money.


The Prince of World Cinema

Even in modern times, Volyn never seizes to produce outstanding personalities. Ever heard of Odrie Hepburn or Sophia Loren? No, those ladies did not come from Ukraine — but a person who discovered them did. Without him, the world might have never come to know those prominent actresses.

Mosze Waks was born in Volyn, educated in Kyiv, and later moved to Poland, where he changed his name to Michał Waszyński and entered the film industry. He worked as a film director and producer in Poland, Italy, and Spain, including some iconic Hollywood movies starring Claudia Cardinale, Omar Sharif, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, and Gregory Peck.

Over time, Michał became one of the most prominent people in the film industry, earned the nickname Prince, and contributed to the success of now-celebrated stars. While filming the cult-favorite Quo Vadis, Waszynski took notice of an extra girl, Sofia Scicolone, and promoted her for the role, thus launching Sophia Loren. Similar was the story of another movie star Audrey Hepburn, who owes the Ukrainian-born director her role in the Roman Holiday, one of the most famous films in history.

Even in death, Waszynski never seized to gain awards: in 2017, a biographical documentary The Prince and The Dybbuk depicting the life of a celebrated Ukrainian-born who conquered the world of the cinema won the Venice Classics Award for Best Documentary on Cinema.

The Sculptor’s Mansion

Lutsk, the capital city of the Volyn region (Ukr. oblast), boasts a mansion that can be counted among the world’s most unusual exhibits. Sculptor Mykola Holovan spent four decades of his life turning his home into a work of art.

The mansion and its premises hold a collection of over 500 sculptures of stone and concrete carved in various styles, namely mythical creatures and religious figures, knights, beasts, saints, and historical figures who have some ties to Lutsk. 

Mykola Holovan passed away in early 2022, leaving his works of art for the generations to come. Now the site is frequented by travelers, referring to the mansion itself as an ‘exhibition mansion’ and never seizing to be amused by the unusual concentration of works of art per square meter.


Main Course and Dessert

Volyn, however, is a heaven not only for one’s mind and soul, but for their stomach, too. Here, feel free to copy some of the Volynian recipes.

Say, Volynian Mazuryky are tender, crispy turkey sausages with melted cheese. Fried in a generous amount of oil, they get eaten in an eyeblink, with the feasters asking for more. Some consider this dish ancient and authentically Ukrainian, while others argue that turkey is a species not exactly indigenous to those places, so the recipe is hardly centuries old. However, everyone agrees upon it being delicious.

For dessert, we recommend Polissian verhuny. This Ukrainian recipe is indeed likely to be centuries old. Still, the exact origins of the dish remain a mystery, as many nations have some or other version of verhuny.

In Ukraine, these crispy cookies are deep-fried. They were initially cooked for special holidays only. That, however, didn’t prevent the dish from spreading throughout the country, and even getting its own dedicated museum in the Poltava region. Speaking of which, we kindly invite you to acquaint yourself with that unique region by reading another piece on Ukraine.ua!

Ihor Stravynskyi Museum

The Rite of Spring by Ihor Stravynskyi, staged at the Champs-Élysées Theater in 1913, was one of the world ballet’s greatest premieres. The music and production turned out to be so avant-garde that the audience at the first show was raging, failing to comprehend what they were seeing and hearing. It was only later that The Rite of Spring was recognized as one of the major pieces in the history of music. The closing scene of this ballet was even selected for Voyager Golden Record, with the Voyager itself becoming the most distant man-made object in space.

If right at this moment you open the English Wikipedia and look up Ihor Stravynskyi, you’ll come across the phrase that he was a Russian composer, pianist and conductor. His origins, however, were actually Ukrainian.

Igor Stravynskyi descends from an old Cossack bloodline of Sulyma.

His father had even posed for the renowned painting of the Kharkiv region-born artist Illia Repin, Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, and Igor himself was emotional over the fact that “our family name was Sulyma-Stravynskyi, yet the Sulyma part of our surname was, for some reason, dropped when Russia annexed a part of Poland.” The composer himself, however, later restored historical justice by giving his son Sviatoslav their original surname Sulyma-Stravynskyi.

In Volyn, the family owned an ancestral estate where the composer spent his summers, working. Igor himself referred to that place as “a corner of paradise for his creativity.” Now the mansion is home to the one and only Ihor Stravynskyi Museum in the world, with its exhibition pieces including the Stravinskys photos, drawings, and even their grand piano. However, when, after 50 years of being homesick, Ihor Stravynskyi visited USSR and specifically asked to visit his native Volyn, his request was denied, so that not to highlight the famous composer’s Ukrainian origins.

The Warlord That Failed at Failing

A Papal legate called him “the best warlord of our time,” further comparing him to Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome. The King of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania made him his right-hand man, thereby transgressing the law that forbade the Orthodox Christians from holding any high position in Government. That warlord was Kostiantyn Ostrozky, a native of Volyn.

And that recognition was well-deserved: of the 35 battles he lead in his lifetime, the warlord won 33. The 1514 battle of Orsha brought Kostiantyn his most significant victory. There, he led a motley army of Lithuanian, Polish, Belarusian, and Ukrainian units, and managed to consolidate them into a single powerful force. His troops defeated the army of Muscovy and captured its military commanders, namely 6 out of 11 warlords, including the chief commander and 611 noblemen.

To Muscovy, the Battle of Orsha was such a smashing defeat that it put an end to the Muscovite invasions for almost a century. According to his last will and testament, the warlord found his resting place in the Ukrainian sanctuary of Kyiv-Pechersk Monastery.

In a way, Kostiantyn Ostrozky has facilitated current Ukrainian resistance to yet another Muscovite invasion: after all, it was his son who in 1576 founded the famous Academy in their hometown of Ostroh (details are available in our piece on the Rivne region). More than four centuries later, it was Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (who can also be described as “the warlord who fails in failing”), who learned to fight for his land in the Ostroh Academy.

Like the rest of Ukraine, Volyn is going through a great trial now, perhaps the worst one in history.

However, the people of Volyn, along with the rest of the country, united in order to defend their land (with its people, lakes, and castles), along with the values of freedom that millions of people from every continent can easily relate to.

One of the units of the Special Operations Forces of Ukraine, currently fighting in the hottest spots of the frontline, is even named Lubart in honor of the ancient Volyn fortress.

Having seen times good and bad, we now stand for what the world will be like tomorrow. The world will be free. It will treat human life as an utmost value. This is the peace and the victory we are fighting for.

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Last updated 24.02.2023

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