Historical region, northwestern Ukraine. Located around the headstreams of the Pripyat and Bug rivers, it originally was a Russian principality (10th–14th century), west of Kiev. In the 14th century it became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania but was ruled largely by its own aristocracy. It passed to Poland in 1569. In 1793 it was transferred to Russia under the second partition of Poland. The Treaty of Riga (1921) divided it between Poland and the U.S.S.R. The U.S.S.R. took the Polish section in 1939 and made it part of the Ukrainian S.S.R. after World War II.
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After the disintegration of the Grand Duchy of Halych-Volhynia (also called Galich-Vladimir Rus) circa 1340, the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania divided up the region between them, Poland taking Western Volhynia and Lithuania Eastern Volhynia (1352-1366). After 1569 Volhynia formed a province of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. During this period Poles and Jews settled in the area. The Roman and Greek Catholic churches became established in the province, and many Orthodox churches were forcibly annexed by the latter. Records of the first agricultural colonies of Mennonites date from 1783.
After the Third Partition of Poland in 1795 Volhynia became the Volhynian Governorate of the Russian Empire. By the end of the 19th century Volhynia had over 200,000 German settlers, most of whom immigrated from Congress Poland. A small number of Czech settlers also arrived. Although economically the area was developing rather quickly, upon the eve of the First World War, it was still the most rural province in Western Russia.
In 1921 after the end of the Polish-Soviet war, the treaty known as the Peace of Riga divided Volhynia between Poland and the USSR. Poland took the larger part and established a Volhynian Voivodeship. Most of eastern Volhynia became part of the Zhitomir Oblast.
In 1939 the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact transferred all of Volhynia to the Soviet Union. In the course of the Nazi-Soviet population transfers which followed this German-Soviet reconciliation, the German minority population of Volhynia migrated to Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany. The Nazi authorities later evacuated them. Most of the Jewish and Polish minorities became victims of the ethnic cleansing by Nazis and Ukrainian groups. Between 1942 and 1944, there was a major escalation in armed ethnic conflicts between the Polish and Ukrainian populations resulting in ethnic cleansing operations. Volhynia remained a part of the Soviet Union after the end of World War II. Most of the Poles who survived the war were expatriated to Poland in 1945 (see Recovered Territories). Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Volhynia has been part of independent Ukraine.