Alex van Terheyden
Zhytomyr, Ukraine - a city frequently ignored but maybe that will change
To someone not from Ukraine or possibly eastern Europe - the name Zhytomyr conjures up images (at least for me) of a city from another planet. The name, at least before I had visited; “Zhytomyr” didn’t look like it is from this realm and yet Zhytomyr (Pronounced Ja-Tom-Ya) is a city in North Western Ukraine a mere 150km west of Kyiv. The road that leads through Zhytomyr once linked Kyiv to Spain but it wasn’t until the 9th century do we have evidence of what one would call a major settlement. Although that’s not to say there wasn’t a village or town where Zhytomyr now stands before the 9th century it simply hasn’t had enough archaeological attention to find the evidence of such past extraordinary lives.
I recently took the time to explore Zhytomyr, a fairly easy thing to do should you have the desire or the need to go there. A train will take just over 2 hours from Kyiv while a car or a bus will get you from Kyiv to Zhytomyr in a slightly quicker time. High-speed rail hasn’t impacted the Kyiv to Zhytomyr route just yet!
Legend has it that Zhytomyr was established in 884 by Zhytomyr, prince of a Slavic tribe of Drevlians. This date, 884, is cut in the large stone found in the centre of the city that was thought to be left behind from the last ice age. Zhytomyr was one of the prominent cities of Kievan Rus'. The first records of the town date from 1240, when it was sacked by the Mongol hordes of Batu Khan.
Along with the atrocities carried out by the Mongols in the 13th century. Zhytomyr has had a hell of a bloody and grim past - should one ever have access to a time machine and care to visit this city over the centuries; it would make many R rated horror movies feel like family movies. From Soviet oppression to Nazi brutality. Henrik Himmler insisted while in Zhytomyr that the Ukrainian civilian population be brought to a 'minimum when he was carrying out his atrocities in and around Zhytomyr. Scratch beneath the surface of this small city and I’m certain every street will tell a story worthy of any history buff time.
While Zhytomyr won’t win any awards for its beauty or its culture it does have a grittiness and warmth found so frequently all over Ukraine. It has all the hallmarks of what makes a Ukrainian city from its large Soviet squares to its array of old Soviet buildings and monuments found spaced out over the grid-patterned city. Zhytomyr might be a city frequented more by those who are connecting on elsewhere than those seeking out an adventure. However, this is probably exactly the reason why it should be added to your list of places to visit - being off the beaten track and on the path less trodden can bring magical moments and because of this Zhytomyr is a worthy place to engage with and allow it to steal some of your time, possibly one weekend in the future.
I spent 24 hours in the city of Zhytomyr where I made this video. I personally think the city would be more enjoyable and worthy of your time in the warmer months than the cold icy months, but certainly, a place that can be considered excellent value for food and drink. As the city gets few visitors in the form of tourists it has far less accommodation than most Ukrainian cities, but bargains and suitable accommodation can be found if you take the time to look on Airbnb or Booking.com. Both of which I regularly use and recommend should you find yourself travelling around Ukraine.
The surrounding forests, rivers and quarry lakes would be time well spent if exploring the Zhytomyr region in the warmer months. With an array of nature to be found in the surrounding countryside, it could certainly be a place worth escaping to if needing a weekend break from the congested city of Kyiv.
If you are needing extra information on how to navigate around Ukraine - I put together a free guide on how to travel around Ukraine with the different forms of Transport. In this guide, I explore the various modes of transport. All of which makes Zhytomyr more accessible and less off the beaten track.
I am not sponsored by the Ukrainian Government or any Travel Group, I simply have written this post as I enjoy travelling. Please do check out this blog for more independent travel ideas and my YouTube Channel. As always, videos can always be found on YouTube & Odysee. I use both as sadly YouTube is now censoring content whereas Odysee is for Free-Speech.
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Thank you - Alex van Terheyden AKA The Wondering Englishman
If you would like insight into where to stay when in Kyiv Click Here
Insight into the capital city Kyiv Click Here
A tour around Odesa Click Here
Considering exploring Dnipro Click Here
Visiting the city of Ternopil Click Here
A guide to Kremenchuk Click Here