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Was St. Volodymyr born in Volyn?

22 December, 00:00

Prince Volodymyr, son of Prin­ce Sviatoslav of Kyi­van Rus’, later to be­come known as Saint Vo­lo­dy­myr, is a major historical fi­gu­re. Many Ukrainians regard him as the baptizer of Ukraine-Rus’. Rus­sia, in its turn, believes he was one of its prin­ces. In fact, he was proclaimed patron saint of Russia’s Inte­rior Troops. I have also often heard that Prince Vo­lo­dy­myr’s mother was a na­ti­ve of Belarus. Clearly, the jury is still out on Prince Vo­lo­dy­myr’s origins.

Prince Volodymyr’s acti­vities enveloped various territories, including those that are currently part of Russia and Belarus, but he mostly lived in the Ukrainian lands. He was Prince of Kyiv and was buried there. He also seems to originate from Ukraine, although historians’ views on the matter vary. The Primary Chronicle offers no information, but those of Nikon and Ustyug mention “Buduty­no­ves” where his mother Malka (Malusha) was exiled by Princess Olha. It is an established fact that Volodymyr was an illegitimate son of Prin­­ce Sviatoslav and Prin­cess Olha’s housekeeper. This historical source also makes it clear that “Buduty­noves” was actually the village (“ves”) of Budutyno, own­ed by Princess Olha, which she would bequeath to an obscure church named after the Virgin Mary. Russian historian Va­si­ly Ta­ti­shchev was of the same opi-nion, referring to chronicles that haven’t survived the ra-vages of time.

One can only wonder about Budutyno. Where was this village located? Russia’s histo­rians have tried to prove that the place name is Budnik, once a village and now a ravine known as Budenik in the vici­ni­ty of Pskov. There is no tangible historical evidence to support this allegation.

Yu. Dyba, a Ukrainian researcher, recently came up with the idea that “Budutyno” is actually Budiatychi, a village in today’s Volyn oblast, one of Novovolynsk’s suburbs. It is true that Budiatychi ranks with the oldest villages in the area. It is first mentioned in writing in the 15th century. Located nearby are other old villages, like Nyzky­ny­chi, once the property of the Kisiel fa­mi­ly that dates back to Kyiv Voivode Sveneld who headed the campaign against the Drevlians, on Prin­cess Olha’s vengeful orders. Incidentally, the place name Nyzkynychi comes from the old term nyzkynia, which means lowland. Chronicles read that Prince Volodymyr’s mo­ther’s name was Malka [lit., a small wo­man]. This could explain the name of the village.

As stated earlier, concerning Volodymyr’s birthplace, Princess Olha bequeathed the village of Budutyno to a church named after the Virgin Mary. Archival documents dating back to the 15th century mention the village of Budiatychi and its outskirts in conjunction with a nearby cloister dedicated to the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.

Budiatychi is located between the rivers Buh and Luga. Archaeological digs show traces of state-like formations even before Old Rus’, including Zymne, once the capital of a state-like formation currently known as Volyn oblast of Ukraine. The Arab researcher, Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn al-Hu­sayn ibn Ali al-Mas’udi (896-956 A.D.), wrote in his Mea­dows of Gold and Mines of Gems that the Slavonians were made up of various tribes that fought each other and which had no kings to rule them. Some of them were Jacobite Christians while the rest were heathens. One of the tribes did have a king by the name of Madzhak, and the name of the tribe was Valinana. This tribe ruled all Slavonians because it had its king to whom all chieftains paid obeisance.

There is reason enough to interpret the Valinana tribe as one made up of Volynians. Ali al-Mas’udi says part of them adopted Christianity. His­torical sources testify that Christianity had spread between the rivers Buh and Luga by the end of the 9th century. Archaeological digs provide further evidence, along with place names. There is Rusnov, a small local village. One of Budiatychi’s outskirts is known as Rusovychi. It is just possible that these place names were made by some of Kyivan Rus’ settlers sent to that Kyiv-controlled territory by the Prince of Kyiv. After all, it is common knowledge that the lands of Rus’ were essen­tially the territories of Kyivan Rus’.

One’s behavior is known to be programmed starting in childhood and youth. Vo­lo­dy­myr apparently spent his youth in Volyn. He must have spent between eight and ten years there. His Volynian origin explains the logic of many of the Kyiv Prince’s acts, including the adoption of [Eastern Orthodox] Christianity. Volodymyr took his time familiarizing himself with other religions – traditional paganism, Islam, Judaism, etc. – and then made his choice. He did and it couldn’t have happened in Novgorod where he had been prince in his earlier years, simply because Novgorod was a pagan bulwark at the time (nor was there any coincidence about his Uncle Prince Dobrynia having to baptize Novgorod with fire and sword after the baptism of Kyiv). After conquering Kyiv, Volodymyr had problems with the local Christian community, whose members would actually become his ene­mies. The prince tried to revive Kyiv’s heathen cults, but he adopted Christianity seven to eight years later. Various factors were at play, of cour­se, that determined his choi­ce. I think that his childhood memories must have played a major role. It is safe to assume that Vo­lo­dymyr, in his childhood, learned something about Christianity that was popular in the western Volynian lands. Also, is there any coinci­dence about Prince Vo­lo­dymyr establishing one of the first [Eastern Orthodox] eparchies in Volyn, four years after the baptism of Kyiv? He is alleged to have ordered the construction of temples the­re, including St. Basil’s Church in Volodymyr, a town currently known as the city of Vo­lo­dy­myr-Volynsky, the center of Vo­lyn oblast. The original town is believed to have been founded by Prince Volodymyr, but in actuality an urban-type settlement was there even before his birth. Zymne settlement was in the vicinity of the town of Volo­dy­myr, so this town could be regarded as an extension of that settlement (which was located a short way from Budia­tychi). It must have been important for the prince to have the number-one Volynian town named after him; he could have known the locality since childhood.

It is true that Volyn turn­ed into an important Christian religious and cultu­ral center of Old Rus’ under Prince Vo­lo­dy­myr, and that it was a gateway to the West.

Prince Volodymyr’s military campaigns are further proof of  his Volynian origins. As Prince of Kyiv, his first cam­paign was in the direction of Volyn, where he cap­tur­ed Pe­re­myshl [Przemysl] and Gro­dy Czerwienskie, a series of fortified towns in the Cherven region, by the river Buh, Vo­lo­dy­myr’s birthplace.

In 983, he fought Yotvingian/Sudovian incursions from Polissia that were a pain in his neck. His campaigns against Volyn’s neighbors, the White Croats, forefathers of today’s Halychyna populace, should also be referred to as a Volyn episode in Prince Vo­lo­dy­myr’s life story series. He was apparently determined to annex as many territories to Volyn as he could, so as to make this area safe in terms of daily life.

I believe that the cited chronicle references to Vo­lo­dy­myr’s birth and various biographical facts make it safe to assume that this ruler of Kyivan Rus’ was born somewhere in Volyn, and that his ethnic background explains many aspects of his life.

Petro Kraliuk holds a Ph.D. in philosophy as a lecturer with the Ostroh Academy National University

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