Ukraine: Berdychiv

Continuing with the Ukraine exploration, we come to the historic town of Berdychiv aka Berdichev in the Zhytomyr Oblast of the country. The town dates back to 1430, when it was established as a major trading center within the Great Duchy of Lithuania. The main architectural attraction in Berdichev is the fortified Carmelite Monastery built in 1627 – a truly spectacular white-washed complex behind red-brick walls. Throughout its history, Berdichev was almost purely a Jewish town, first a major trading center in Poland and then later within the Russian empire – in fact, Berdichev was synonymous with “trading” across entire Poland, Ukraine, Russia, and most of the Eastern Europe at a time, and was near legendary. Interestingly, French writer Honore de Balzac visited Berdichev and got married here in 1846. In the middle 19th century, Berdichev’s population was 90% Jewish, making it the most concentrated Jewish town in the entire Russian Empire with the population of over 60k people, with 89 synagogues in it. In late 1800s, many Berdichev Jews moved to Odessa to establish the banking industry there, escaping the Russo-Ukrainian pogroms. When the Soviets came to power in 1917, the pogroms continued, further reducing the population to around 30k. Nazi invasion happened in June 1941 and Berdichev was a special target given its Jewishness. The town was occupied by July 7, and the entire Jewish population of around 32K was assembled into a ghetto and then gradually and completely exterminated in mass killings. There are two memorials on the mass grave sites – one within the monastery walls, and another just outside. There are a couple of other hundred-years old churches in town, both catholic and orthodox.