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Olena Krushynska, who never seems to get tired of traveling in her quest of Ukraine’s natural and man-made marvels, sets on a trip to the Land of Rivnenshchyna and gets rewarded by new discoveries.
This time it was a sort of “a family affair” in the sense that I traveled with my parents, my daughter and a friend of mine. Frankly, I find it most psychologically comfortable to travel alone, or rather only with myself for company — you don’t have to adjust to anybody’s whims or wishes or whining other than your own. When you travel with a companion, who is complaisant, complaint and amenable, then you have very few occasions to fret or to sulk. When you travel accompanied by close relatives, it makes things considerably more complicated, particularly if all of them have their own opinions as to what would be best to see, and where would be best to stop.
On one of my recent trips, we had two weekend days, during which my mother wanted to see “the glory of nature in its primordial state”; my father kept worrying about “the dismal state of disrepair the roads in this country are in”; my friend insisted he wanted “to see those castles you promised.” As you can easily guess, I was on the lookout for old wooden churches. The only member of the expedition, who did not voice her wishes as to what she’d rather see, was my daughter who was quite satisfied to be absorbed with a number of toys she had been allowed to take onboard.
I suggested we would discuss things over first — we did, and then I secretly made my own decision, pretending it was based on the wishes expressed. It was not.
Our destination was Hubkivshchyna, a region in the Land of Rivnenshchyna, known for its highly scenic landscapes. It stretches along the River Sluch from the village of Sosnove to the small town of Borzna. In 2000, this stretch of land was officially elevated to the status of “a landscape park” (Nadsluchansky rehionalny landshaftny park), whatever it may mean.
Local legend has it that Hubkivshchyna is often referred to as “Nadsluchanska Switzerland” because of a woman. In the times of old, the local ruler, the story goes, married a Swiss woman, and when her parents once came on a visit, and saw the beauties of the land their daughter had married into, they kept exclaiming, “It is almost as beautiful as our Switzerland is!” Their raptures were heard and turned into the nickname for the landscapes they so admired.
Frankly, I wish it had been the other way round — a Swiss married a Ukrainian woman from Hubkivshchyna, her parents came to visit her in Switzerland, said that Switzerland “was almost as beautiful as their Hubkivshchyna”, and the place where their daughter lived would get nicknamed “Swiss Hubkivshchyna.”
We had booked an overnight stay at a private house in the village of Marynyn, not far from the place we — or rather I — wanted to explore. The owner of the house rented his place to tourists within the framework of the “Green Tourism” project.
It was only after the sunset, which was decked in highly dramatic colors, that we arrived at the village of Marynyn. There was no one to be seen in the streets of the village to ask for directions, but we did find the house though it took quite some time of anxious search for it in the condensing darkness. The” house” proved to be a sort of a small estate, with the central building where the owner lived, and several wooden huts that were rented to tourists. We were lodged in two of them — nice and neat and clean, and provided with additional blankets and an electric samovar.
In the morning, we made our acquaintance of the “owner” who turned out to be two people, brothers Vitaliy and Mykola Lashty. They were the first locals to start renting their place to tourists within the “Green Tourism” project. Vitaliy had even written and had several guidebooks published, and Mykola is a teacher; both are local history and lore enthusiasts. It was Mykola who mapped out our further trip.
It was to the river Sluch that we went first. The river is small and it flows fast. In the vicinity of it there are several radon sources (rodon — symbol Rn — colorless, radioactive, inert gaseous element formed by the radioactive decay of radium; it is used as a radiation source in radiotherapy and to produce neutrons for research). We kept clear of them because they are radioactive though as I far as I know they are used for medicinal purposes.
We had been told that the area we were visiting was of a particular interest to the geologists because of its specific geological structure, but it was the landscapes that we were interested in, not what lay hidden under them. And these landscapes did meet our expectations.
We had also been informed that the geologists had discovered signs of marine life — fossilized teeth of sharks, and other fossils from millions of years ago when the whole area had been the bottom of the sea. We did not find any fossils though — in fact, we paid little attention to what was under our feet — there was too much to see and enjoy around us. The banks of the river are festooned with ragged stone outcroppings which created dramatic visual effects, which we spent some time surveying and enjoying (I have to be careful with we — what I know for sure is that I did enjoy the sights).
It used to be a town which was mentioned in the documents of the sixteenth century. From the chronicles it is known to have belonged to “a prince”, Bohush Koretsky, who had a castle and a monastery built on his lands. No traces of either have been preserved. At the site where the monastery used to stand, now stands a lone stone cross.
The only architectural landmark in Marynyn is a wooden church (Church of Transfiguration) which dates from 1801. The bell tower was added much later, in 1882. Though the church is a functioning one (it belongs to the local Orthodox community), it was locked and we did not find anyone who would unlock it for us. My producing of a journalist ID did not help either, and I had to be satisfied with taking pictures of the exterior of the church only, with not a single glimpse of the interior.
There was no public eatery of any kind in Marynyn and we had to go to the village of Sosnove, where, we were told, we would find “a decent cafe.” Luckily, it was not a long ride but even so the vociferous outcries for food kept rising to a crescendo. Luckily, the cafe did prove to be quite “decent”, both as the food and its decorative attractiveness were concerned. There were several wooden sculptures of various sizes that had been created by modern craftsmen and placed around the entrance to the cafe for decorative purposes. Their number seemed to be greater than the number of dishes on the menu — but the food we were served tasted great — as though it had been cooked “at home”.
A hundred years ago Sosnove was a sort of a town rather than a village, with a big Jewish segment in its population — the town was within the Pale of Jewish Settlement (in the Russian Empire, the Jews had the right to live only in certain, specified areas). The Jews ran small restaurants, shops and various small manufactures. But all of it is in the past — the cafe we had a meal in is the only eatery in Sosnove, and there are no signs of any “manufactures.”
It was in the vicinity of Sosnove that my friend’s “thirst for castles” was partly assuaged. After stuffing ourselves with a nutritious meal at the cafe, we proceeded to the bridge across the Sluch and climbed the hill (the sign said that “this area, Sokolyni hory, is under state protection”), on the top of which sat the ruins of a castle.
The castle stood almost at the brink of a deep precipice — the precipitous cliff is still there, but the castle is hardly more than romantic ruins.
The castle was built in the fifteenth century. It had four towers, a system of defensive walls, a drawbridge, a donjon, spacious cellars, an underground prison, and a very deep well that drew water from the river itself. The castle was captured and destroyed and then rebuilt several times until the early eighteenth century when the Swedish King Charles XII invaded the Russian Empire and marched all the way to Ukraine where, in a final battle, he was defeated. The war did not spare the castle — neither was the town of Hubkiv which was situated in the same area.
On a hill, next door to the one with the ruins of the castle, there stands a wooden church (Church of St Paraskeva) built at an uncertain date. It is disfigured by the blue paint it was “adorned” with, but the view from the hill where the church stands is truly breathtaking — the ruins of a castle, the meandering river, hills receding to the horizon all laid out for you as though specially arranged to your enjoyment. I think it was a panorama like this that earned this area its Swiss sobriquet.
Estate lost in gambling
When I was reminded that it was time to leave, it was with a great reluctance that I acquiesced. On our way to the highway that was to take us back to Kyiv, we stopped at the village of Velyki Mezhyrichi. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it was a possession of the Princes Koretsky, and later of the Lyubomyrsky family. In 1702, a Catholic monastery was founded in Mezhyrichi. The church for the monastery was designed by a Polish architect, Lenartowicz. In the late 1930s, the people of Polish descent who still lived in Mezhyrichi, left for Poland. There was no one to take care of the Catholic church (the anti-religious soviets provided only neglect and vandalism) and it has been degenerating into ruin ever since. From a distance, the church and other buildings of the monastery still look impressive, but the sight of desolation and dilapidation that meets your eye once you get close enough is very depressing. We were told that the crypt of the church “contains a mystery” — like any crypt should, but to the best of my knowledge it has never been properly examined. We did not dare to do it either — the thought of a possible collapse of the church that is falling apart, stopped us.
At the end of the eighteenth century, the owner of Mezhyrichi lost his estate in a game of cards to Jan Stecky, the then governor of Volyn. The governor had a new palace built at the site where the palace of the previous owners had stood; he had ponds dug out, filled with water and lots of trout. He liked horses and horse riding and had pure-bred Arab horses brought from abroad. He indulged in fishing trout in his ponds and allowed no one else to do it — under threat of a very severe punishment no one was permitted to come even close to the water. His son, who inherited the palace and the ponds, was a philanthropist who had schools built and a botanical garden laid out. In 1831, after the Polish uprising (Poland was in the Russian Empire then), Mezhyrichi was taken away from the Steckys by the czarist government as punishment for their failure to side with the government rather than with the rebels.
The eighteenth-century palace is still there though it has shed most of its former splendor. It was designed by Domenic Merlini, an Italian architect who lived in Poland and who designed several palaces in Warsaw, and a palace that used to belong to the Princes Lyubomyrsky in Dubno, Ukraine. The palace in Mezhyrichi was used by the soviets as a community center, then as a place for grain storage; at present, it houses an orphanage and hospital for mentally disabled children. Only some stucco work that has miraculously survived in some rooms, serves as a reminder of a very different past.
Passing through the village of Nevyrkiv, four kilometers from Mezhyrichi, we discovered there a huge church which looked totally out of place in the village that looks to be a run-down, backwater place with rutted dirt roads and deep puddles, and with little to grace it — except for the old church. It used to belong to the local Catholic community, and from the inscription on the wall I learnt it was built in 1807. The inscription also contained the name of the donor with whose money the church was built — “Enriched by the gifts of God, back to God I return, Yan Stecky.”
The church is a gloomy sight — no roof, cracks snake over the crumbling walls; a peep into the gutted inside revealed traces of frescos.
But it is not on a sad note that I’d like to finish this report on my (our!) trip to “Nadsluchanska Switzerland” — I, and I hope my companions too, did have rewarding moments of admiring natural sights and appreciating landmarks, no matter what state they are in.
In the Land of Berezanshchyna, horse-driven
carriages and wagons seem to be a much more usual
sight than automobiles; once, we saw six such
vehicles at a time!
Ruins of the castle.
View of the River Sluch with the ruins
of the castle in the background.
The impressive sunset.
The church in the village of Marynyn.
The church in Nevyrkovo.
The Church of St Anthony, 1702–25, in Velyki
Mezhyrichi; one of the towers used to have bells,
and the other one had a clock.[Prev][Contents][Next]