Zhytomyr Region: A Harsh Revenge, 444 Letters from Balzac, and the Man Who Paved Humanity’s Way to Space

Zhytomyr region (Ukr. oblast) is the land with one of the oldest cities in Ukraine, Zhytomyr, which adopted the Magdeburg law even earlier than Kyiv.

Zhytomyr region keeps memory of its role in the Ukrainian War of Independence (1917–1921) — an equally important revolution in the struggle for independence. It keeps memory of the Second Winter Campaign and the tragedy near the village of Bazar. And it keeps memories of the victorious battles alike — the ones that Soviet historiography denies. Now Ukraine’s zealous fighting amazes the whole world.

The history of the Zhytomyr Region is rich, and its nature is incredible.

Stories that Went through Fire and Water

In 945, the Drevlians assassinated Prince Igor of Kyiv, the husband of Princess Olha. The Princess came to the Zhytomyr region, approaching the very city of Iskorosten, Drevlians principal city, and burned it to the ground. It was a historical lesson that not all managed to learn: the people on these lands better not be attacked. So it only has to be taught by force — driving the enemy from every piece of Ukrainian land.

But don’t be mistaken that this was the only reason for the Princess to visit the Zhytomyr region. In Iskorosten, Olha also found a nice place for bathing: granite boulders scattered along a relatively shallow river. Now they constitute a geological monument of nature “Olha’s Bath.”

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An Aqualung to Enter

To see the exhibits of this museum you will definitely need an aqualung. The Malyn Underwater Museum was opened quite
recently — in August 2011. It is located in a flooded quarry with a humorous name “Puddle.” The maximum depth to see the exhibits placed here is 15 m [~49.21 ft], which makes it reachable even for beginners.

But what about the quarry fish? A motorcycle, a car, a forged anchor, a transformer booth, models of Polish naval mines, a cannon, a rocket, a pumping station, and several original statues — everything has been cleaned and made safe for the environment. While being cold, 4–6°C [39.20–42.80 F] throughout the year, the water is very clean, which enables divers to see everything at the depth of 2–12 m [~6.56–39.37 ft]. Still, it is best to come here sometime between January and June, when the water is the clearest.

Another flooded quarry (also called a “canyon”), but a very beautiful granite one, is located near the city of Korostyshiv. Its rocks reach the height of 10 m [~32.81 ft], while the depth of the artificial lake is up to 20 m [~65.62 ft]. There are always many people coming to this place, because beauty heals.

Apart from flooded quarries, there are many active ones in the Zhytomyr region, which can boast the largest concentration of granite deposits, accompanied by about 110 mining points.

Climbers Around

The rocky banks of the Teteriv River in Denyshi offer a natural climbing wall. Being up to 1 billion years old, these granite ledges are more than 150 m [~492.12 ft] long and reach 25 m [~82.02 ft] in height.

The place has several sectors and 40 routes of varying difficulty, attracting alpinists and rock climbers to come here and train. They generally stay at the “Denyshi” sanatorium, where even less desperate tourists will find something to their liking — radon baths and beautiful nature of the village, for example.

The Discalced Carmelites’ Monastery and Fortress

The first minute you see it, you start doubting — is this really a monastery? Powerful defensive walls and cannons aimed at the entrance are not quite characteristic of religious buildings. Nothing strange though — the monastery was built as a fortress.

As the legend says, in 1593, Kyiv Voivode Janusz Tyshkevych, having started building a castle, went to war. There, he was captured and the Mother of God with two monks appeared to him in prison. For some reason, he was so impressed by the appearance that he promised himself to give the castle to believers if he’d escape — and indeed, he was soon redeemed from captivity. The voivode fulfilled his promise and in 1630 documentedly handed his Berdychiv castle over to the Catholic Order of the Discalced Carmelites, as well as his family relic — Our Lady of Berdychiv icon, an exact copy of the Rome’s Our Lady of the Snows.

Pope Benedict XIV crowned the icon and declared it miraculous. However, during the World War II, the monastery burned down, and the icon disappeared. As an architectural object, the monastery began to be restored much later, in 1967, while monks returned to Berdychiv only in 1990.

Sweet Exports


​​In 1814, in the Chernihiv region, Petro Prokopovych invented a tool that was to change modern beekeeping and save numerous bees — a frame hive. But why is it so important?

At that time, the log hives prevailed: in order to take honey from the hives, bees were fumigated, actually killed, causing the best and most hardworking insect families die. A frame hive made it possible to collect honey while avoiding killing bees. This humane treatment increased the amount of honey produced and definitely improved the lives of bees. Since then, Ukraine has been one of the world’s leaders exporting these insects: during the period of January-August 2021, Ukraine exported 164 tons of live bees.

For a true beekeeper, it is bees rather than honey that are of greatest value, though Ukraine is not lagging behind in honey exports as well. Zhytomyr region is among the leaders in honey production and beekeeping products: during 2011–2021, Ukraine increased its rank from 18th to 2nd globally in terms of honey exports while Ukrainian honey can be found on the store shelves in more than 40 countries of the world!

Still, there is one caveat: due to Russia’s full-scale invasion, involving shelling, fighting, occupation pressure, and logistics troubles, beekeepers of the Kherson and Luhansk regions find it very hard to work. Due to the drop in production in these regions alone, Ukraine is to lose honey from at least 20% of the officially registered apiaries.


A Castle that Re-Placed a Paper Mill

Weird those Zhytomyr people are: their monastery used to be a non-monastery, their castle — a non-castle. Let’s find out.

This is a story of a castle in the city of Radomyshl, but first we should remind ourselves of the King’s Road — Via Regia, the oldest and the longest route between Eastern and Western Europe. It was laid by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago, and part of the King’s Road passed through Radomyshl.

Now let’s get back to the castle. The Radomyshl Castle was built on the site of a “paper mill” — a fortified factory that produced paper for the printing house of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.

Today the castle hosts the Museum of Ukrainian Home Icons based on a private collection of icons and household items of Ukrainians. Comprising more than 5,000 items, this is the largest collection of Ukrainian sacred art in the world. Moreover, the paper production line using the technology of the 16th and 17th centuries was restored here in 2012.

444 Letters prior Meeting

A quiet village of Verkhivnia in the Zhytomyr region. Well, maybe not so quiet — once, one of the richest people of Ukraine, noble Wacław Hański, chose it to build his estate. His wife, nobewoman Eveline Hańska, in her free time, read Honore de Balzac’s works, which she turned to like so much that she wrote him a letter to later corresponded with the writer for 17 years — secretly from her husband, of course.

The letter love affair eventually led to a meeting in a Swiss city of Neuchâtel, when the noblewoman was traveling across Europe with her family. The meeting was planned in advance, as neither of them knew the looks of the other.

When the noblewoman’s husband died, Honore de Balzac went to Verkhivnia, where in three years he wrote 16 works.

With such a story at hand, how would it be possible not to create the Honore de Balzac museum? Exhibits were collected from both the estate and the village, and thus all the items in the museum, except for the workers’ desks, are original, being once used by Balzac himself.

Moreover, the estate has faced no drastic changes — it hasn’t been rebuilt, all the fretwork is still original, and the trees in the park are still growing.

A Tower Affecting the Whole City’s Life

An anti-aircraft observation point during the World War II, cafe “Yuvileine,” and almost never a water pressure regulator and a fire watch tower.

All this is about the water tower of Zhytomyr, which hasn’t performed its functions since the end of the 1950s, — but remains one of the unofficial symbols of the city.

The tower is 31 m [~101.71 ft] high, with two storage tanks with a volume of 100 cubic meters [~3,531.47 cubic feet] in its upper part and an observation deck with a searchlight on the roof to signal a fire.

Quite recently, participants of the CANactions School of Urbanism have chosen the water tower as their educational object. They have held an all-Ukrainian architectural competition, chosen the winner, and plan to turn the tower into a cultural center.

A Revitalized Plant

Once, pointer and digital combined instruments, information and measurement systems, and even electronic musical instruments were produced here, but over time the factory fell into disrepair. Now the “Elektrovymiriuvach” plant is being transformed like the well-known Promprylad.Renovation plant in Ivano-Frankivsk.

Part of the territory is still involved in production while its free space is being made opener to enable project experiments. They create an environment where it would be convenient to both conduct schools for architects, object designers, and musicians, and organize a residency for artists. The full-scale invasion of Russia temporarily stopped the revitalization process — just like many other cultural processes, but if something is still being revitalized in the conditions of war, then it will be even more so after the victory!

Citizen of the World and the Great People of Zhytomyr Region

Mykola Myklukho-Maklai. No, this is not a spell — although the man was quite a wizard. Having scientifically explained the biological equivalence of people of all nations and races, he was the one to give impetus for the anti-racial policy to start in the world and predicted that the global colonial system would soon end.

He made the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and suggested the possibility of establishing structures similar to the modern United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Myklukho-Maklai was a traveler, a geographer, and a great humanist, who said: “One only becomes a man when he does something important for people.” He studied the indigenous peoples of New Guinea, Southeast Asia, and Australia and Oceania, as well as the life and customs of Polissia (Historical region of Ukraine in the north of the country comprising parts of modern Volyn, Rivne, Zhytomyr, Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy regions) people in his native Zhytomyr region and the fauna of Crimea and the Black Sea. He was awarded the title of “Citizen of the World” by UNESCO.

Zhytomyr pianist Sviatoslav Richter was the first Grammy winners for performing a Johannes Brahms concerto. He was one of the most outstanding pianists of the 20th century, constantly expanding his repertoire — by the end of his life he could play 80 different programs. However, until the moment of glory, he was forced to hide from the Soviet authorities, being the son of an “enemy of the people” shot by a denunciation in the NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs — secret police, forerunner of the KGB in the USSR).

Mykhailo Tyshkevych was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. He was a diplomat of the Ukrainian National Republic, a philanthropist, and a funder of the Ukrainian Scientific Society. Most of Ukrainian cultural projects of the 19th century were funded by patrons, since it was necessary to somehow bypass Russian censorship. All this eventually created a basis for the Ukrainian national movement.

Mankind’s Way to Space

It is under his leadership that the first intercontinental ballistic missile, the first artificial Earth satellite, and the “Vostok” and “Voskhod” spacecrafts were developed. However, for a long time, no one knew of Serhii Korolov — a Ukrainian scientist, spacecraft designer, and founder of practical cosmonautics.

The Soviet authorities kept his name a secret and did not reveal it even in 1957, when the Nobel Committee wanted to award a prize in physics to “the man who paved humanity’s way to space.” Instead, he was once imprisoned in Gulag (The government agency under the NKVD operating the Soviet network of forced labor camps in 1930-1960), but over time he was released. The world learned the name of the brilliant scientist only after his death.

The Serhii Korolov Cosmonautics Museum is one of the most interesting ones, exhibiting items that have actually been in space, such as a capsule with lunar soil. The museum, by the way, hosts ATOM — an international festival of experimental and electronic music.

Zhytomyr region is the center of Ukrainian Polissia.

This is “The Peace of Zhytych people” (Literally “Zhytomyr”: Ukrainian “Житомир” can be divided into two words — “жито” (meaning “rye”) together with the transformation “житичі” and “мир” (meaning “peace”)— people who since ancient times cultivated rye, were engaged in farming, and cared not for wars. Everything changes, however, should someone come to their land. “We won’t give up anything Ukrainian, but we don’t need someone else’s.” Whoever attacks them will regret — and, apparently, already does.

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Last updated 24.02.2023

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