The Donbas of Halychyna

14 June 2013, 16:11

In the early 1950s, the USSR and the People’s Republic of Poland swapped territories and populations one last time. As a result, Nyzhnio-Ustritskyi or Lower Ustriky county, previously part of Drohobych Oblast in Ukraine and now known as Ustrzyki Dolne county in Poland, was annexed to Poland. Meanwhile, Lviv Oblast was given the historic towns of Belz, Uhniv and Krystynopol, where coal deposits were later discovered. Thus, the city of Krystynopol, later renamed Chervonohrad, became the county seat of what is now Sokal County in Lviv Oblast. Due to its unique history, the city represents a union of disparate traditions that sets it apart from other towns of the region. Chervonohrad is simultaneously a proletarian mining centre and a historic Halychyna town replete with architectural and religious monuments. In the 1990s, the majority of the town’s residents opposed a referendum to revert to the name Krystynopol, yet this remains a contentious issue and the name is still used alongside Chervonohrad in many instances.


Chervonohrad is a fairly young town compared to other towns in Halychyna. Grand Hetman of the Crown Feliks Kazimierz Potocki founded it in 1692 and named it after his wife, Krystyna. His grandson Franz Potocki built the palace that remains the town’s main attraction despite its turbulent past. Known as the “little Versailles”, it was built in accordance with the day’s standards of palace architecture. Unfortunately, the postwar years were more traumatic for this residence than for the royal family’s other former palaces. In Soviet times, it served purely utilitarian purposes. It did not fit the proletarian spirit of the town, and the palace was soon stripped of its adjacent territories. A school emerged where the gate once stood and a stadium replaced the palace garden. The palace itself was turned into an art school.

In the late 1980s, it hosted the Chervonohrad branch of the Lviv Museum of Religious History, and was almost completely destroyed by a fire. The renovations continue to this day, with staff fixing everything from the roof to the plumbing. Now the building has almost been returned to its former glory. Despite its provincial status, the museum hosts a unique collection of 15-18th century icons and attire and a huge collection of 17-18th century books and archives – a total of 10,000 items with their own team of conservators. In addition, the palace serves as Chervonohrad’s unofficial ethnographic museum, while also telling the story of the Potocki family.

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The adjacent stadium hosts international speedway championships, and the locals have developed a penchant for motorcycle racing. Kayaking is another favourite sport here. International teams begin their journey at Staryi Dobrotvir and navigate the many rapids and whirlpools of the Western Buh River and its tributaries to cross the Ukrainian border and finish their trip in Hrubieszów County in Poland. Their path includes the only river border crossing on the Ukrainian-Polish frontier created specifically for athletes.


Of the 80,000 residents of Chervonohrad and its satellites, Hirnyk and Sosnivka, 10,000 are working miners. Named for the patron saint of miners, St. Varvara’s Day (December 17) is an important day in Chervonohrad. According to Father Oleh, the priest at the local St. Varvara Church, sermons in the miners’ church are nearly identical to those in other churches, but they more often focus on health and protection from incidents in the mines. The miners don’t have any special traditions for the day of their patron saint. They quietly flock to the church that stands beside the Grieving Mother, a monument to those who have perished in the mines.

While the mining technologies used in Chervonohrad and Donetsk are similar, I wonder how the miners themselves differ between these two cities. Olena Shovkova, a local historian and art expert, claims that the difference is actually quite stark. She noticed it when miners from the Donbas region came to Chervonohrad as election observers during the Orange Revolution. Here, they found a mining town with a different lifestyle from their own. In addition, the mines in Halychyna are considered safer than those in the Donbas. Perhaps this is because Chervonohrad’s mines pay more attention to safety measures. After all, despite its many social problems, Chervonohrad has not had to deal with the issue of kopanky—small, shoddy mining operations with low safety standards (see Digging for Billions at Actually, the town’s biggest problem is the mines’ uncertain future. Some of them have already shut down, and others will soon follow.

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“People tend to underestimate miners. Hard physical work breaks the weak, while the strong rise and are encouraged to develop,” Olena says of her compatriots. There are many talented people among the miners. “You will find these special people even among the average workers, and especially among the engineers working in the mines,” she says.

Chervonohrad is a unique fusion of disparate elements: pre-war history and culture reborn from the ashes, a uniquely Galician-Ukrainian environment, the special nature of a mining town, and traditions brought by people of different ethnic backgrounds who settled here to work in the Lviv-Volyn coal basin. There is no place quite like it anywhere else in Halychyna.


St. Volodymyr’s Church, formerly the Church of the Advent of the Holy Spirit, is the oldest building in Chervonohrad. Erected in 1692 in the Baroque style, the church still has frescoes from the 18th century.

St. Yuriy’s (St. George) Monastery was founded in 1763, shut down in 1946, and restored in 1990 after Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests returned to it.

World War II-era defence structures are located near the Tartakiv village on the outskirts of Chervonohrad. Those interested in war history can see the remains of Soviet defence structures as well as bunkers from the Second World War.

The palace in Tartakiv was another residence of the Potocki family. In the 19th century, the village landlord Zbigniew Lianzkoronski built a palace on the remains of the residence. In 2010, the Lviv Oblast State Administration leased it to a private owner for 49 years on the condition that he must renovate it.


Kyiv-Lviv train #141 arrives at Chervonohrad at 4p.m. Another option is to take a route bus (marshrutka) from Lviv to Chervonohrad or Sokal. The buses leave Bus Station #2 every 10-15 minutes. Lviv-Sokal or Lviv-Kovel local trains will also take you to Chervonohrad from Lviv.

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