Illustrated Description Of Russia

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LITTLE RUSSIA comprises the four governments of Tchernigov, Kharkov, Poltava, and Kiev. The remaining governments described in this chapter constitute what is now denominated Western Russia ; but most of the territory covered by these provinces is that anciently known as Lithuania (called by the Poles, Litwa; by the Germans, Littauen,or Lithauen; and by the French, Ltthaunie). This territory, which, in the eleventh century, was tributary to Russia, threw off the yoke in the thirteenth century, and became a grand-duchy under Ringold. One of his successors, named Gedemin, subdued part of Russia; and another, called Jagellon, by marrying the Polish princess Hedwig, toward the end of the fourteenth century, became king of Poland, and thus united the grand-duchy to that kingdom. The courage and military skill which the Lithuanians had gained during their wars with the Teutonic knights, they turned against their neighbors subsequently with great effect. Their armies penetrated to the Dnieper, and the shores of the Black sea; and by their union with the Polish crown, all the Lithuanian races were for two hundred years united under one head, constituting one of the most warlike and powerful monarchies in Europe at that period.

On the first partition of Poland, in 1773, a considerable portion of Lithuania was appropriated by Russia, and formed into the governments of Moghilev and Vitepsk; the remainder, still united to the Polish monarchy, constituted six woiwods, or provinces — Wilna, Troki, Polozk or Vitepsk, Novogrodek, Brzesc, and Minsk — the first two forming Lithuania proper, and the other four Russian Lithuania. By the subsequent partitions of Poland, in 1793 and 1795, Russia obtained as much of Lithuania as formed the governments of Wilna, Grodno, and Minsk; while Prussia obtained a portion which is now included in the government of Gumbinnen, in the province of East Prussia.

The original inhabitants of this region, including the Baltic provinces, as remarked in a previous chapter, were two tribes, Lithuanians and Lettes, which probably migrated from the confines of India at a very early period. The difference between these two branches of the same race is evidently of very long standing, and dates back perhaps to a period antecedent to their settlement in Europe. The descendants of both nations manifest but little energy, strength, and resolution; their manners and customs are similar, but they exhibit many distinctions of character. The Lettes have never shown the greatness and strength, nor shared the glory of the Lithuanians, in their palmy days. They are of a softer, gentler, and more timid nature, than the latter, and have never been able to defend themselves in war.

The government of Tchernigov, or Czernigov, is situated chiefly between the fiftieth and fifty-third degrees of north latitude, and the thirtieth and thirty-fifth degrees of east longitude. It is bounded on the north by the government of Smolensk; on the northeast, by Orel; on the east, by Koursk; on the south, by Poltava; on the west, by Kiev and Minsk; and on the northwest, by Moghilev. Its greatest length from northeast to southwest is two hundred and forty miles, and its greatest breadth from east to west is one hundred and eighty miles, comprising an area of about twenty-three thousand square miles.

The surface of the country, with the exception of a hilly district along the Dnieper, is a continuous flat, and the soil is almost unusually fertile. It is watered by numerous streams, the Dnieper flowing along at its western frontier, and the Desna, with its chief affluents, passing nearly through its centre. It has also numerous lakes, though none are of great extent. All kinds of grain grow in abundance, but the crops often suffer greatly from hosts of locusts. Hemp, flax, tobacco, and the opium-poppy, grow well, and the gardens, in addition to the ordinary vegetables, produce hops, melons, &c.

There is no deficiency of wood for either timber or fuel. The horses of the government are of the Ukraine breed, small, but active, and capable of enduring any fatigue. Great numbers of cattle, sheep, and swine, are reared. The oxen, in particular, are of a large size, and become remarkably fat. Hunting and fishing yield but little produce; but much honey and wax are obtained from bees.

The chief mineral produce is saltpetre, porcelain-earth, chalk, and a little iron. Manufactures were long insignificant, but have made considerable progress during the last thirty years. The distilling of brandy is carried on to a very great extent, and the inhabitants, unfortunately, are too much disposed to drink it. The interior trade of the province is almost wholly confined to the four annual fairs, which are held at Nejin. The principal exports are cattle, grain, brandy, honey, wax, and potash. The population almost all belong to the Greek church. The most important towns are Tchernigov, the capital, Nejin, Mglin, Staradoub, Novgorod-Sieversk, &c.

The city of Tchernigov, the capital of the above government, is situated on the right bank of the Desna, eighty miles north-northeast of Kiev. It is a place of great antiquity, and contains numerous buildings of antiquarian interest. Its ramparts have been converted into pleasing promenades. It is the seat of an archbishop, and has eight churches—one of them, St. Sophia, supposed to have been founded in 1024 — three monasteries, a gymnasium, and an orphan-hospital. Three important annual fairs are held here. The population is about eight thousand.

The government of Kharkov, or Charkov (Slavonic, Slobodisck Ukraine') is situated between the forty-ninth and fifty-first degrees of north latitude, and the thirty-fourth and thirty-eighth degrees of east longitude, having the government of Koursk on the north, Voronej on the east, Ekatherinoslav on the south, and Poltava on the west, and comprises a superficial area of about twenty-one thousand square miles.

This, like the other governments of Little Russia, has a flat, monotonous surface, and a very fertile soil. It is divided into two basins, the larger occupied by the Donet, and Oskol, a considerable stream which joins it from the north; the less by tributaries of the Dnieper: none of its rivers are navigable, at least for any considerable distance. It has nearly two thousand square miles of forests, though the country is for the most part open. The climate is very mild, though the winter is rather severer than is usual in the same latitude, in consequence of there being no shelter from the north wind. The rivers freeze about the beginning of December, and break up in March. The summer is often very hot.

Agriculture is the principal employment. All sorts of grain are raised, the produce in ordinary years amounting to above twenty-five millions of bushels, of which five millions are exported. Flax and hemp, tobacco, hops, &c, are also raised, and the potato is extensively grown. The cattle are excellent: there are few peasants without bees. With the exception of distilleries, which are numerous, and some tanneries, and establishments for the preparation of tallow and saltpetre, manufacturing industry can hardly be said to exist. The population consists of Little Russians, Great Russians, and Cossacks. Some regiments of cavalry are colonized in this government.

Kharkov, the capital of the above government, is situated at the confluence of the Kharkov and Lopan, four hundred miles south-southwest of Moscow. It is built of wood, and has narrow, crooked, and dirty streets, which are without pavements ; but the houses, being whitewashed, present a gay and cleanly appearance. The ramparts, by which the town was formerly surrounded, have been converted into gardens and public walks. It is the residence of the provincial authorities, and has a cathedral, a gymnasium, an ecclesiastical seminary, a museum, botanical garden, &c.

Kharkov is the seat of a university, founded in 1804, and having upward of fifty professors. It possesses a library of twenty-one thousand volumes, and a valuable collection of medals. This town is the seat of a considerable commerce. Four fairs are held here each year, of which that called Krechtchenski (which continues from the third to the fifteenth of January), and the Trinity, are the most extensive: one of the fairs is exclusively or principally for wool. The population is about thirty-five thousand. The other important towns of the government are Akhtyrka, Bogodoukov, &c.

The government of Poltaya (or Poltawa) lies principally between the forty-ninth and fifty-first degrees of north latitude, and the thirtieth and thirty-sixth degrees of east longitude, having the government of Tchernigov on the north, Kharkov on the east, Ekatherinoslav and Kherson on the south, and Kiev on the west. Its greatest length from north-northwest to south-southeast is two hundred and twelve miles, and its greatest breadth a hundred and forty-five miles. Its area is twenty-two thousand square miles.

The surface consists of an extensive and monotonous flat. Its soil is excellent. In some parts there is scarcity of wood. Besides the Dnieper (which flows along its entire southwestern boundary), the principal rivers are its affluents the Pir-iol, the Vorskla, and the Sula. This and the adjacent governments form what is termed the granary of Russia. It is one of the best-cultivated districts of the empire : the return of the grain-crops is said to be as six to one, the total produce being about thirty millions of bushels, of which about eight millions are exported. The grazing-grounds are excellent, affording pasturage for large herds of the fine Ukraine breed of oxen, and for immense flocks of sheep, the breed of which has latterly been much improved. Some of the peasants have above one hundred beehives. Manufacturing industry has not made much progress; but there are fabrics of cloth and linen, with numerous distilleries, and establishments for the preparation of tallow, candles, &c. Large quantitiesof grain, tallow, and other products, are yearly sent from this government to Odessa, and even to Moscow, St. Petersburg, &ec.

Obelisk at Poltava

Obelisk at Poltava
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Poltava, the capital of the above government, lies on the Vorskla, four hundred and forty-five miles south-southwest of Moscow. It stands on an eminence, and is built principally of wood, with broad and straight streets. There is a good square, with brick houses, embellished with a granite monument (presented on the opposite page), in honor of its deliverer, and the regenerator of Russia, Peter the Great. It is surrounded by a rampart, and has twelve churches, of which one is a cathedral, a gymnasium, a convent, and a school for cadets. The trade, chiefly in cattle, grain, hemp, and wax, is considerable; and the annual fairs, three in number, are very important. The population is about ten or twelve thousand.

Charles XII. of Sweden, having besieged this town in 1709, Peter the Great marched to its relief; and in its vicinity, on the 27th of June of the same year, was fought the famous battle of Poltava. The Russians gained a complete victory. The Swedish army was entirely destroyed: it lost above nine thousand men left dead on the field of battle, and from two to three thousand made prisoners in the pursuit; while the residue, consisting of about fourteen thousand men, under General Lewenhaupt, after escaping from the battle, were compelled to lay down their arms and surrender on the 12th of July. Charles, with only a small escort, effected his retreat across the Boug, and took refuge in Turkey. This great victory established the power of Peter on a solid foundation, and secured not merely his empire, but the success of his vast projects and plans for the civilization and improvement of his people.

The government of Kiev (Kiew, Kief, or Kiow, by all of which names the province is known) lies lengthwise along the right bank of the Dnieper, between the forty-eighth and fifty-second degrees of north latitude, and the twenty-eighth and thirty-third of east longitude: bounded north by the government of Minsk, west by Volhynia and Podolia, south by Podolia and Kherson, and east by Tchernigov and Poltava, from which last two governments it is separated by the Dnieper. It is two hundred and ten miles long, with an average breadth of one hundred and seventy, containing an area of about twenty thousand five hundred square miles.

The surface is in general flat and monotonous, but undulating; intersected occasionally by acclivities and hills, of moderate elevation, along the course of the Dnieper and other streams. The Dnieper hills extend into Podolia, where they merge into the Carpathians, of which they may be considered the last ramification, and throw off a branch, which, taking a northwestern direction, traverses the whole of the southern district. North of this branch the soil is rich, consisting of a loam, in which clay and sand are so happily mixed with vegetable mould as to yield the most abundant crops. South of these hills the land is poorer, inclining to sand and moss, but even there rich tracts are not unfrequent. The slope of the country is chiefly in two directions: the larger toward the Dnieper, which is the chief, and indeed the only navigable stream, and runs along the eastern and northeastern confines of the district above two hundred and twenty miles; the other in the direction of the southwest, toward the basinof the Boug. Both of these rivers have several tributaries in the government. There are no lakes of any extent, but in the northern parts considerable marshes exist.

The climate of this province is remarkably mild and dry. The rivers freeze in December, and are again open in February. In summer, the heat is so great, and the quantity of rain so small, that the channels of many streams become dry. Large crops of all kinds of grain are raised, and the return is said to be generally as six to one. Cattle are numerous, large, and of a fine breed, and much attention is paid to the dairy; the horses are small, but hardy. The forests are not very extensive, but the timber is of excellent quality. Manufactures, exclusive of those carried on in the houses of the peasantry, can hardly be said to exist. The principal trade of the province is in the hands of the Jews. There is a large export of grain, cattle, honey, wax, and tobacco.

The city of Kiev, the capital of the above government, is six hundred and fifty miles south of St. Petersburg. It stands picturesquely, crowning several heights of undulating ground, on the right bank of the Dnieper, here crossed by a magnificent suspension-bridge, and properly consists of three towns, each of which has its separate fortifications and suburbs. The first is Petchersk, or, as it is called, the New Port, which crowns a rugged steep to the south, and is a place of strength, having a rampart with nine bastions, and regular outworks. Besides the barracks, magazines, and official residences connected with the garrison, it contains several churches, of which the most remarkable is that of St. Nicholas Thaumaturgus, which is built of wood, and stands near the tomb of Oskold, a celebrated prince and saint, who is said to have been converted to Christianity in Greece.

In the same neighborhood stands the famous monastery of Petscherskoi, surrounded by a wall eleven hundred yards long; so called from the Russian word pestchera (a cavern), in which the monks are said to have dwelt before the monastery was built. This cavern, said to have been hollowed out by St. Anthony, contains a number of catacombs, forming a kind of labyrinth, filled with the bodies of saints and martyrs. His remains are therein preserved at the extremity of the labyrinth. This passage is about six feet high, but extremely narrow, and blackened by the torches of the numerous visiters. About eighty bodies are here preserved, ranged in niches on both sides of the passage, in open coffins, enveloped in wrappers of cloth and silk, ornamented with gold and silver. The stiffened hands are so placed as to receive the devotional kisses of the pilgrims; and on their breasts are written their names, and sometimes a short record of their virtuous deeds. These saints had died a natural death; but the most distressing part of the scene is a row of small windows, behind which the deluded martyrs had built themselves into a stone wall, leaving only those apertures at which to receive their food: these little windows close at once their dwelling and their tomb. The catacombs of Theodosius are to the south of those of St. Anthony, and are on a much smaller scale and simpler plan. They contain but forty-five bodies, and these remains are not so highly venerated as those in the other catacomb.

The pilgrims to this monastery and catacombs amount annually to as many as fifty thousand, or more; some from one part of the widely-extended Russian empire, some from another. A few will toil even all the weary way from Kamtschatka, collecting on the road the offerings of those who are not able or not sufficiently devout to undertake the journey themselves.

A short distance from the road which leads from Petchersk to the Podol, stands a handsome monument, that marks the fountain in which the children of Vladimir the Great were baptized. It is a stone obelisk, one hundred and fifty feet high; and close to its base is a wooden crucifix, bearing, in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, the words — uJesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." The administration of the baptismal rite to the Russian people, at the period of the conversion of their renowned grand-duke, took place verynear the spot on which this monument stands.

The second town is Kiev proper, and occupies a height toward the north, lower than that on which Petchersk stands, and less regularly fortified. It contains the venerable cathedral of St. Sophia, founded, in 1037, by the grand-duke Yaroslav-Vladimirovich, to commemorate a victory. The chief object of interest in it is a marble tomb of its founder, the only one of the kind known in Russia, and said to give a good idea of the arts there in the eleventh century. Most of the houses in Kiev proper belong to this cathedral and the convent of St. Michael.

The site of the Old Town (as Kiev proper is called), in remote ages, was the Slavonian Pantheon. There the worshippers of Perune, Horsa, Lado, and other idolatrous deities, rendered homage to their savage gods; and there the rough Christian Vladimir erected the church of St. Basil (still standing), on the spot long desecrated by the temple of Perune, the Russian Jupiter.

The third town, called Podol, occupies the lower ground, and is inhabited chiefly by the middle and lower classes. It is regularly laid out, interspersed with trees and gardens, and presents a strong contrast to the old parts of the city, where at almost every turn the picturesque presents itself in great variety. Kiev has (in all its different quarters) some thirty churches; its streets are generally broad, and it contains an archbishop's palace, prison, town and military hospital; a university, founded in 1833, attended by about fifteen hundred students; an academy, a gymnasium, and a printing-press for the Scriptures and ritual-books of the Greek church. It has some manufactories of leather and pottery, and a bell-foundry, and is celebrated for its confectionery. Its trade has become extensive, particularly since Odessa was built; and it has a large annual fair in January, which lasts three weeks.

Kiev possesses considerable historical interest, as the spot on which Christianity was first planted among the barbarous hordes of the steppes of Russia, and as having been, for a considerable time, the recognised capital of the empire. But it subsequently underwent many vicissitudes; being sometimes subject to the Lithuanians, the Tartars, and the Poles. In 1686, however, it was finally ceded to Russia, and has ever since continued in her possession. It has a population of about sixty thousand.

The government of Podolia, or Podolsk, lies between the forty-seventh and fiftieth degrees of north latitude, and the twenty-eighth and thirty-first degrees of east longitude ; and is bounded on the north by Volhynia, on the northeast by Kiev, on the east and south by Kherson, on the south-west by Bessarabia, and on the west by Austrian Galicia. Its greatest length from northwest to southeast is two hundred and fifty miles, and its greatest breadth eighty miles, comprising an area of about fifteen thousand square miles.

The surface of the country, though on the whole level, is considerably diversified, being traversed from northwest to southeast by a low branch of the Carpathians, which gradually descends toward the east, and is finally lost in a kind of steppe. None of the hills of this branch have a height exceeding five hundred feet. They form the water-shed of the government, sending its waters on the northeast side to the Boug, and on the southwest to the Dniester, and ultimately through both to the Black sea. There are no lakes of any consequence. The climate is temperate, bringing both the vine and the mulberry to maturity; and the air is generally salubrious, though in some quarters endemical diseases occasionally prevail.

The soil is very much encumbered with stones, but is, notwithstanding, of remarkable fertility, producing an amount of grain which, after satisfying the home consumption, leaves about one third of the whole for export. The principal crops, after the different grains, are hemp, flax, tobacco, and hops, together with beans and various fruits. The culture of the vine is on the increase, though not yet of much importance; and orchard and garden husbandry is conducted in a negligent manner, notwithstanding which large quantities of fine melons, gourds, cherries, &c, are raised. The meadows and pastures are extensive, and of great luxuriance, rearing immense herds of cattle, which are of an excellent breed, and much prized in Germany, to which they are extensively exported. The sheep yield but indifferent wool. A good many hogs are raised, as well as poultry and bees. The forests are estimated to cover nearly three millions of acres, only a small proportion of which belongs to the crown; they furnish excellent ship-timber. Game is scarce, but the fisheries are highly productive. Saltpetre, lime, and alabaster, are the principal mineral products. Taken as a whole, this province ranked as one of the most valuable of Poland, as it now does of the Russian empire.

Manufactures have made but little progress; except distilleries, there are only a few woollen-cloth, leather, potash, and saltpetre factories. The trade, in addition to the export of grain to Odessa, and cattle to Galicia and Germany, embraces a considerable number of small articles, and is almost entirely in the hands of the Jews.

Podolia is divided into twelve districts. It is one of the ten governments privileged with respect to its judicial administration and the distillation of spirits. Education is under the superintendence of the university of Kiev, and is in a miserably-neglected state. There is only a single printing-press. The province is under the military governor of Kiev. The inhabitants are principally Poles, but include some Russians, and about one hundred and fifty thousand Jews. Most of the Poles and Russians belong to the Greek church.

Kaminietz (Polish, Kaminiec Podolski), the capital of Podolia, is situated on the Smotryez, about twelve miles from its junction with the Dniester, two hundred and fifteen miles southeast of Kiev, and three hundred northwest of Odessa. It is irregularly laid out, with narrow streets, and wooden houses. It has, however, some conspicuous edifices of stone and other solid materials; including the cathedral, dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul, a Gothic building containing fifteen altars and a nave, supported by one hundred and fifty columns. Near it is a column supporting a statue of the Savior. The church of the Dominicans, originally constructed of wood, in 1360, was rebuilt in stone after the expulsion of the Turks in the eighteenth century. There are in all five Roman catholic and four Greek churches, and one Armenian church, a fine edifice, completed in 1767. The Roman catholics have several convents. The other chief public buildings are the government library, circle school, and new gymnasium. The population is about fifteen thousand.

The town was formerly walled, but its works were levelled, by order of the Russian government, in 1812, though Balbi says they have been since restored. It is, moreover, defended by a citadel and another fortress: the former, situated on a steep, isolated rock, overlooking the town, might be made impregnable, but it is commanded by some more lofty adjacent heights. Kaminietz was, however, for a lengthened period, the principal bulwark of Poland on the side of Turkey. It was founded by the sons of Olgherd, in 1331, after that prince had wrested Podolia from the Tartars. It was soon after fortified, and in 1374 attained the rank of a city. It remained attached to Poland till its final capture by the Russians in 1793, except from 1672 to 1699, during which it was in the possession of the Turks.

Among the chief towns of the province, after Kaminietz, is Balta, situated on the Kadynia, near the southern boundary, and capital of a circle of Podolia. Before the annexation of this part of Poland to Russia, one half of the town belonged to the palatinate of Breslau, and the other to the khan of Tartary. Some excesses committed by a party of Cossacks here in 1767, were one of the ostensible causes of the war which broke out soon after between the Russians and the Turks, during which the town of Balta was laid in ashes by the former.

The government of Volhynia, formerly belonging to Poland, lies principally between the fiftieth and fifty-second degrees of north latitude, and the twenty-fourth and twenty-ninth degrees of east longitude, having on the northeast and north the governments of Grodno and Minsk ; on the east and southeast, Kiev; on the south, Podolia; on the southwest, Austrian Poland; and on the west, the palatinate of Lublin. It has an area of about twenty-nine thousand square miles.


Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855