Volhynia (Ukraine)

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Volhynia (in yellow).
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Volhynia, a province of western Russia before 1917, the location of several Mennonite settlements 1800-74. The Mennonite pioneers coming to Volhynia, some of Dutch and some of Swiss ethnic origin, were among the first German colonists to penetrate western Russia, a movement sponsored by Polish and Russian noblemen to aid the economic develop­ment of the country.

On the basis of the accentuated discriminatory pol­icy of the militaristic Prussian government against the ethnically Dutch Mennonites of the Vistula Del­ta area (which also generated the larger migration to the southern Ukraine) and because of the liberal offer of the Polish Count Potocki, a small group of Mennonites from the Graudenz area moved to Potocki's land in 1791, settling in the village of Michalin, near Machnovka, southwest of Kiev. When the Michalin area passed under Russian con­trol at the second partitioning of Poland, in 1793, an effort was made by the Russian authorities to impose additional taxes on the Mennonites, i.e., the taxes normally wrested from all Russian serfs. The Men­nonites insisted on their privileged status (as Ger­man colonists and Mennonites) and finally in 1804 secured a ruling in their favor. Meanwhile, how­ever, a large number of the Michalin settlers accept­ed the good offer of Prince Edward Lubanirsky and in 1801-12 settled in villages near Ostrog in Vol­hynia. A few families from Zabara joined them soon after. Those who remained in Michalin were rein­forced by other Dutch-Prussian Mennonites and the community continued until 1874.

The first and leading village inhabited was Karolswalde, situated four miles south of Ostrog. In 1821 the Mennonites were located in two villages, Karolswalde and Antonovka, with 38 families. Fur­ther expansion occurred in 1828 with the settling of the neighboring village of Karolsberge. In a listing of 1857, in addition to the three villages mentioned above, Jadvinin and Dossidorf were named. In 1874 Fürstendorf, Gnadenthal, and Waldheim were add­ed, but Dossidorf was not mentioned. An additional village associated with the group was Fürstenthal. All of the villages were located in the vicinity of Ostrog, most of them south of that center. The most common family names were Unruh, Dirks, Schartner, Koehn, and Jantz. The Mennonites living in these villages were organized into one congregation. There is evidence that in 1857 and after, they met in two groups. Benjamin Dircks was ordained to the eldership in 1817 and Tobias A. Unruh in 1853. Eco­nomic progress was slow. Virtually the entire group, under the leadership of Elder Tobias Unruh, mi­grated to America in 1874 to find new homes near Canton and Pawnee Rock, Kansas, and Avon, South Dakota.

Additional Dutch-Prussian Mennonites came to Volhynia in 1806-18 and possibly later. Although some of the details of the movements of these later groups are lacking, it is known that some came from the Schwetz-Graudenz area on the Vistula River, and others from the Netzebruch near Driesen in Neumark, province of Brandenburg, Germany. The best known of these migrations was that of a group of 21 Mennonite families with the names of Beyer, Böse, Dirks, Voth, Nachtigall, Nickel, Pankratz, Richard, Sperling, Unruh, and Ziekle, who in 1811 entered into a contract with the nobleman Waclav Borejko, settling on his land and founding the vil­lage of Zofyovka located north of the town of Wysock on the Horyn River. The terms of the contract were very good, as will be suggested below, but the land on which they located was marshy. The group left Zofyovka in 1828 and established "Ostrova" which is identical with Jozefin, 20 miles northeast of Luck, Volhynia. They also settled in the neigh­boring village that they again named Zofyovka. Here they were on the land of Count Michael Bichkovski.

The second group coming in 1806-18 settled near the town of Rafalovka on the Styr River some dis­tance north of Luck, on the land of Count Olisarov. Later this group moved to the colony of "Vola" in Volhynia but neither the time of the move nor the location of the colony is known. A third group coming to Volhynia, some of which may have come as late as 1823, settled in two villages 20 miles south­west of Novograd Volynski, named Waldheim (Waltajem) and Zabara (Dossidorf). There is evi­dence that in this period some Dutch-Prussian Mennonites located at the villages of Horodyszcze, Bereza, and Melanienwald, all three approximately 25 miles northwest of Novograd Volynski.

In 1836 (some writers suggest 1838) the Men­nonites living in the above villages of Jozefin-Zofyovka, Waldheim-Zabara, and Horodyszcze-Bereza, 40 families in all, left Volhynia, and settled in the south Ukrainian Molotschna Mennonite settlement, where they founded the village of Waldheim, a name carried with them from Volhynia. The move was fostered by the fact that the Netzebruch Mennonites, who were related to some of them, had gone to the Molotschna settlement in 1834, and also because it was felt that Mennonite privileges were better and more secure in the Ukraine.

Not all were satisfied with their new home, Waldheim, in the Molotschna settlement. Religious and economic misunderstandings arose between the older settlers and the newcomers. The dissatisfied members secured permission from the Russian gov­ernment to return to Volhynia, and accordingly in 1848 they trekked back to Volhynia and founded the village of Heinrichsdorf some miles north of Berdichev in Eastern Volhynia. Here the group lived until 1874 when they left for America. During at least the latter years of their stay the group acknowl­edged the eldership of Tobias Unruh of the Ostrog Mennonite settlement and accepted his supervision.

Mention should also be made of a village of Dutch-Prussian Mennonites, Lindenthal, located ap­proximately 10 or 15 miles northwest of Zhitomir. The source of this settlement and the time of origin is unknown.

Two groups of ethnically Swiss Mennonites also proceeded to Volhynia, and met and merged there into a larger community. One group from South Germany, coming as part of the Mennonite move­ment to Galicia in 1784-86, consisting of nine families (prominent were Krehbiel, Miller, Schrag, and Zerger), left the Galician Mennonite settlement in 1796 and attempted unsuccessfully to integrate themselves into the Hutterite Bruderhof located in the northern Ukraine on the River Desna at Vyshenka. The actual involvement in communal liv­ing, demanding economic and some religious re­orientation, was not as satisfactory as anticipated, and therefore in the spring of 1797 the party left the Hutterites. Most of them settled near or joined the Dutch-Prussian colony of Michalin, referred to above. A few families went to Michelsdorf, a village to be mentioned below. Those who dropped anchor at Michalin stayed there until the disagreement with the government regarding taxes became acute; then when some of the Dutch-Prussian Mennonites went to Ostrog the Swiss families likewise moved to Vol­hynia, going northwest a bit farther, however, to the Dubno area. On the lands of Prince Lubanirsky they inhabited the village of Berezina, possibly situ­ated a mile or two south of Dubno. The stay at Berezina was short because the dam proposed by the prince was to flood the village. On the recommen­dation of Lubanirsky the group resettled at Vignanka, a mile north of Dubno. Here the group lived for some years, and as the number enlarged some probably moved to the nearby villages of Futtor and Zahoriz, both known to have had Swiss Mennonites. When the second group of Swiss Men­nonites came from Michelsdorf to Eduardsdorf, the Vignanka group in the course of time became a part of the Eduardsdorf settlement, some moving to that village and all becoming ecclesiastically related to the Eduardsdorf congregation. In 1874, however, Vignanka was no longer inhabited by Mennonites.

The second group of Swiss Mennonites to find their way to Volhynia left Montbéliard, France, in 1791; it consisted of six or more Amish families with the names of Gering, Graber, Kaufman, Stucky, Lichti, and Roth. Although the group may have proceeded directly to Poland, there is some evi­dence they spent a few years in the Russian province of Podolia. Sometime between 1795 and 1800 the party settled in the Polish villages of Urzulin and Michelsdorf, both located 30 miles northeast of Lub­lin. Joseph Mündlein of the Galician Mennonites joined the group after their arrival and is known to have been their elder in 1802. The group was fur­ther reinforced by a few families who had been a part of the ill-fated attempt to join the Hutterite colony.

Never fully satisfied with the productivity of their marshy land and because of better prospects in Vol­hynia, the larger part of the Michelsdorf-Urzulin colony accepted the offer of Prince Lubanirsky and under his sponsorship founded the village of Eduards­dorf about 1807, 15 miles west-southwest of Dubno. It became the leading village of the Swiss Mennon­ites until 1861, and from it the Mennonites found their way into the neighboring villages of Zahoriz, Futtor, Hecker, Goritt (Koryto), Lisseberg, and pos­sibly others.

The remaining Swiss Mennonites left Michelsdorf and Urzulin in 1837, proceeding to Horodyszcze, apparently 25 miles northeast of Rovno. In the same year, or soon thereafter, a few families from Horodyszcze moved to Dossidorf (Zabara) and Waldheim. There is some evidence that all three of these villages were taken over from the Prussian Mennonites who had left for the Molotschna in 1836. Bereza and Alt-Kolowert were Swiss Mennonite villages near Horodyszcze.

With the increasing scarcity of land near Dubno and the opening of considerable land for ownership in eastern Volhynia, the larger portion of the people of the Eduardsdorf settlement moved in 1861 to two villages, Kutusovka and Neumannovka, 30 miles northwest of Zhitomir. Those remaining in the Dubno area lived in the villages of Futtor, Zahoriz, Hecker, and Goritt. Church services were held alternately at the first two mentioned villages.

Kutusovka  and Neumannovka were located 3 miles apart. In time dwellings were built along the road between the two villages. The church was built between the two villages and gradually the entire complex was known as Kutusovka. Economic con­ditions were good, with a good market for surplus products in Zhitomir and Kiev.

Many of the Swiss Mennonites were Amish dur­ing much of their stay in Volhynia, losing, however, some of the distinctive characteristics in the years prior to their emigration to America. In the early years in Volhynia the group subscribed to the Amish Discipline signed at Essingen in 1779. There is evidence that Pietism was influential in their later changing orientation. At the time of the migration to America the Swiss Mennonites were organized into four congregations, Zahoriz-Futtor, Waldheim, Horodyszcze, and Kutusovka, with meetinghouses at the latter two locations. Through intermarriage with other Mennonites and non-Mennonite German colonists, there were added to the already present Swiss-German family names of Albrecht, Flickinger, Gering, Graber, Kaufman, Krehbiel, Miller, Schrag, Schwartz, Stucky, Sutter, and Zerger, such names as Dirks, Ortmann, Prieheim, Ries, Senner, Straus, Wedel, Voran, and Waltner. The group spoke a South German dialect.

A total of 159 families left Volhynia in 1874 for America, and settled in Hutchinson and Turner counties, South Dakota, and McPherson and Harvey counties, Kansas. The first group left Russia from the villages of Zahoriz and Futtor, the second group from Goritt and Hecker, the third group from Horodyszcze and Waldheim, and the last group from Kutusovka. By and large the first three groups settled in South Dakota and the fourth in Kansas.

The Mennonites, both Dutch and Swiss, were brought to Volhynia primarily through the liberal offers of progressive noblemen. Although the de­tails of the privileges given the Mennonites are in general not known, there is evidence that they were superior to those normally given to German colo­nists but inferior to the sweeping concessions grant­ed by Empress Catherine to the south Ukrainian Mennonites. The only extant contract is the one entered into by Count Boreyko and the 21 families who settled at Zofyovka near Wysock. Some of the conditions in the contract were as follows. With the exception of a land tax of 120 gulden per hide (per year; they rented a total of 33 hides) to be paid after the initial three years, the colonists were to be free of all other state taxes, dues, and responsibilities. They were given complete freedom as to vocation, engaging in skills without responsibility to any guild, and were given a free hand in disposing of their products. They were given complete religious freedom with the encouragement of a grant of half a hide of land for the erection of a school and cemetery. Every household was given 200 gulden as a loan to enable it to begin farming.

Although conditions were favorable for that time, the repeated moving, the sometimes poor land, and the economic disadvantages of peasantry resulted in limited economic progress for the Mennonites of Volhynia. Much of the gain was lost when land and goods had to be sold at great loss at the time of their emigration to America. With some exceptions such as the later years in Waldheim and Kutusovka, the land was rented, not owned. In northern Volhynia greater attention was given to cattle raising, whereas in southern Volhynia more small grain crops were raised. Although the majority of the Mennonites were farmers, others, especially in Ostrog and Heinrichsdorf, were blacksmiths, carpenters, wagon-makers, cabinetmakers, weavers, millers, stone­masons, and bricklayers. Farming was primitive, the implements consisting of the plow, harrow, wagon, scythe, and sickle; the main crops were rye, wheat, buckwheat, oats, millet, flax, peas, and potatoes. Cereal crops were scythed by hand, stored in the shed, and threshed by flail during the winter months. Pasture land was often held in common.

In apparently all instances the Mennonites in Vol­hynia had religious freedom. The ministry was threefold, consisting of elder, minister, and deacon. The Swiss Mennonites usually had an elder for each congregation, but the Prussians often had one elder supervising several congregations. Services lasted two to three hours; sermons were often read from a book of sermons. Church discipline was severe, in­cluding the use of the ban. Officials of the various congregations had considerable contact with one another.  There was a strong stress on tradition.

The schools were elementary and were adminis­tered by the church. School days were ended when an individual was mature enough to work. Thus educational advancement, at least in part, was limit­ed by economic considerations. Sometimes the min­ister was also the schoolteacher. Both the religious and educational life of the Mennonites in Volhynia lacked the stimulation and challenge of outside con­tact.

There was considerable inter-colony visitation among the Mennonites in Volhynia, especially with­in either the Swiss or Prussian groups; there also was some moving of individual families from one village to another. However, very little if any of this took place between the Prussians and the Swiss. Since the Mennonites were few in number and scat­tered among the Slavs, the influence of Russian cul­ture was marked, especially in the later years.

Although the great majority of Volhynian Men­nonites immigrated to America in 1874, a few stayed on. Seven families, in part or whole of the Swiss Volhynian Mennonites, are known to have remained in Volhynia. Some of these came to America within ten years after the main groups had left.  During World War I a Benjamin Schrag moved from Eduardsdorf to the Galician Mennonite settlement near Lemberg. Even in World War II a German Mennonite soldier fighting on the Russian front found evidences of the Swiss Mennonite stay in Volhynia. Before World War I there still were 15 fam­ilies (Prussian) living in Lindenthal, two near Ostrog, eight near Luck, and seven in the Minsk area.


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Author(s) Martin H Schrag
Date Published 1959

Cite This Article

MLA style

Schrag, Martin H. "Volhynia (Ukraine)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 28 May 2022. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Volhynia_(Ukraine)&oldid=163540.

APA style

Schrag, Martin H. (1959). Volhynia (Ukraine). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 28 May 2022, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Volhynia_(Ukraine)&oldid=163540.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 844-847. All rights reserved.

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