REGIONS OF UKRAINE

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  1. Kyiv and Center

  2. Volynia

  3. Galicia

  4. Transcarpathia

  5. Bukovina

  6. Podilia

  7. Chernihiv and Poltava

  8. Sloboda Ukraina

  9. Odesa Region

  10. The Wild Fields

  11. Donbas

  12. Crimea

Note that the regions of Ukraine have been historically fluid, and I made the choice to fit them to the modern Oblast borders. Some more problematic places here are as follows:

  • The Podilia region would have also included large parts of Chernivtsi, Odessa, Zhytomyr, Cherkasy, and Kirovohrad Oblasts. Uman, for example, is a Podilian city, especially during the Polish period. However, it was a part of the Kyiv Governate of the Russian Empire, and most of Cherkasy Oblast is not Podilian.

  • Volynia should extend further East. Zhytomyr is a Volynian city. I ultimately grouped it with Kyiv because Zhytomyr Oblast was not part of the Second Polish Republic, while the rest of Volynia was. This is the category I'm the most on the fence about and may change it.

  • Odesa Oblast, aside from its north being Poldilian as already stated, also includes the Ukrainian section of Bessarabia while Odesa itself is better grouped with its neighboring cities on the Black Sea Coast like Mykolaiv. Instead, I'm just treating the Oblast as its own unit.

  • Sloboda Ukraina also included the northern half of Luhansk Oblast. However, Donbas is a highly distinct region in more modern times, especially considering the ongoing war in the two Oblasts.

  • The Polisia region is excluded entirely. It is the marshy region that makes up most of the Ukrainian/Belarusian border.

  • Chernihiv and Poltava, while sharing many thematic similarities, were combined more for simplicity. The Siveria region mostly corresponds to Chernihiv Oblast and into northern Sumy Oblast.

KYIV AND CENTER

The capital of the country is also the center of the country's Jewish life. It is where you find the headquarters of most of Ukraine's Jewish institutions. Kyiv was once the eastern extent of the "Pale of Settlement," the region of the Russian Empire where Jews were allowed to live. The countryside around the city became the setting for the Yiddish-language stories of the famed writer Shalom Aleichem. The strong Jewish character of the city was put to an end by WWII, when the city was the site of one of the largest massacres of the Holocaust.
Zhytomoyr was something of the capital of the southern part of the Pale of Settlement, with Vilnius as the northern capital. The city was given many special permission to, for example, print Hebrew-langauge books.
 
One of the most popular tourist sites in Ukraine in Chernobyl. But, what many may not know is that the town of Chernobyl itself was once a very Jewish city that was home to its own Hasidic dynasty. 

VOLYNIA

Volynia is an interesting case. It has long been culturally close to the neighboring region of Galicia. But when the Polish Commonwelath was destroyed, Volynia went to Russia while Galicia went to Austria. Both became part of the Polish Republic after WWI. As such, you will find trends between them diverge and converge in interesting ways. Through its connections to German-speaking Jews in Galicia, Volynia became the entry point into the Russian Empire for the Haskallah, or Jewish Enlightenment. Its location on the border also made it a major center for railroad-based commerce, which led to the growth of cities like Rivne. 

GALICIA

Galicia was once a crownland of the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire. Its capital, Lviv, was a multicultural city of Poles, Ukrainians, Jews, Armenians, Germans, and more. The Jews here were a mixture of the traditionalists and the more modernist, assimilated Jews seen throughout the Austrian empire. The First World War devasted the region, but Jews found a strong place in the fledgeling Western Ukrainian People's Republic. But, during the Second World War, the region was officially declared "Jew-free" by the Nazi occupation. Galicia is home to perhaps the largest number of Jewish sites. 

TRANSCARPATHIA

Transcarpathia's history is closely tied with Hungary and its synagogues are more reminiscent what you see in Budapest than Lviv. Since the 19th century, the region has passed between Austria-Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the Soviet Union, and now independent Ukraine. In the Carpathian Mountains, Jews found themselves with a large degree of autonomy. It was even the home to large numbers of Jewish farmers, something that was uncommon in the 19th century. 

BUKOVINA

If Transcarpathia has to be understood by its connection to Hungary, Bukovina has to be understood by its connection to Romania. The historic region of Bukovina is split between Chernivtsi Oblast in Ukraine and Suceava County in Romania. The region was heavily populated by Jews, who enjoyed a great number of privileges under Austrian rules and were given access to many positions in the civil service. 

PODILIA

Podilia was the battleground in the wars between the Muslim Ottoman Empire, Catholic Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and Orthodox Christian Russian Empire. It was in this uncertain and turbulent land where Hasdism grew to become one of the most important ideas within the history of Judaism. From its home in Medzhybizh, the populist mystical movement spread to become the dominant intellectual force in the Ukrainian and Polish lands, and ran into conflict with the more straight-laced scholars of Lithuania. But, Podilia was also home to more controversial movements. It was a major center of support for the false Messiahs Sabbatai Zevi and Jacob Frank. 

CHERNIHIV AND POLTAVA

Chernihiv and Poltava are two of the most ancient cities of Ukraine, and their Jewish histories trace back to the medieval period. However, they were beyond the Pale of Jewish settlement, so the Jewish community was relatively small and legally repressed by the Russian authorities until the late part of the 19th century. Poltava became an important center of Zionism in Ukraine, especially left-wing Zionism. Labor Zionist founding father Ber Borochov was a leader in the city. The left-wing Poale Zion​ party became a part of the government of the indepedent Ukrainian government created as a result of the first world war, only to be destoryed by the Red Army. On the other end of the ideological spectrum, Poltava Oblast is also the final resting place of the of Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi​, founder of the Chabad Hasidic dynsasty. 

SLOBODA UKRAINA

Sloboda Ukraina was once a Cossack military vassal of the Russian Empire, which stradles the border of modern day Ukraine and Russia. Today, it is the location of Ukraine's second largest city, Kharkiv. In the era before WWII, it was the largest. Kharkiv is a university city whose intellectuals created much of the idea of modern Ukraine. It would later become the first capital of the Ukrainain Soviet Socialist Republic. While the city suffered greatly during WWII (it was the largest Soviet city captured by the Germans), its location meant that many of its people and industries were able to be evacuated. This meant that the Jewish community there was able to rebuild much more than the traditional cultural centers of Western Ukraine. 

ODESA REGION

Odessa was founded as a freewheeling city of merchants, artists, smugglers, thieves, exiles, and outcasts. There is nowhere quite like it in the world. For Jews, the city represented freedom. Freedom from both the legal repressions that existed elsewhere in the Russian Empire, but also from their own traditional rabbis and leaders. This unique, liberating, atmosphere was home to such monumental figures as Isaac Babel, Martin Buber, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Ahad Ha'am, Chaim Bialik, Meir Dizengoff, and half the people who have Israeli streets named after them.​ The surrounding area of Bessarabia, meanwhile, is the fascinating mix of cultures that created Klezmer music.
 

THE WILD FIELDS

This region has a special place in the formation of what Ukraine is. For centuries, it was the extremely porous and violent borderland between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, then later Russian Empire, to the north, and the Crimean Khanate to the south. The frequent warfare left it only lightly populated, but it also attracted the runaway serfs and disenfranchised nobles who formed the Zapoprizhian Cossack Sich. After both the Cossacks and Crimean Tatars were conquered and suppressed by Empress Catherine the Great, Russia organized massive numbers of colonists to settle the land and her newly-built cities. Jews were among them. One of those cities which she named Eketerinaslav, now called Dnipro, is home to the largest Jewish Cultural Center in the world.
 
 

DONBAS

Donbas was once the industrial heartland of the Soviet Union. It is a region of coal mines and factories. Today, it is a war zone. As such, be careful if you wish to get closer to the front line. Much of the Jewish community of Donbas have relocated to Kyiv. 

CRIMEA

Crimea is the other region of Ukraine which is under Russian occupation. There is no fighting, but keep in mind the very sensitive legal situation on the penninsula. Going to Crimea through Russia is considered illegally entering Ukraine and can get you banned from the country. It is possible to go to Crimea through Ukraine, but it can be quite difficult. At this moment under the state of martial law following the seizure of Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea, foreigners are not permitted to enter Crimea.
That said, if it does become possible, then Crimea also has an impressive Jewish history. It is historically home to the Krypchak and Crimean Karaite communities. These were Jews who had largely assimilated into the Crimean Tatar culture. However, this dual identity proved to be their destruction. Hitler killed Jews, Stalin killed Crimean Tatars, and they were both. Very few still exist.