Rzhishchev, Ukraine

May 2006


The Ukrainian town of Rzhishchev[i] is located at a bend on the winding Dnieper River, about 80 minutes south of Kiev along the M04 highway, which passes through Obukhov and Kagarlyk en route.  The area is rich in archeological finds for the Neolithic Trypillyan culture, and Rzhishchev itself hosts an archeological museum.  Until the abolition of serfdom in 1861, the aristocratic Dzyalynskiy family held sway here, commanding the labor of peasants on surrounding lands for three or four days a week.  Directly to the east of town is the point on the Dnieper where the Soviet Army crossed while pursuing the Nazis retreating from defeat at Stalingrad.


At the waterfront, which has a sandy beach, a dock and a passenger station, we met an older man out gathering greens for his repast.  He told us “everything” that had been Rzhishchev was swept away during the war.  In truth, Ukraine’s history from the Bolshevik revolution, through forced collectivization, famine, partisan warfare and the postwar Soviet period, was extremely destructive on many levels.  However, he told us about a collector who might have more to tell us about the town’s history.


On Lenin Street, which runs north-south through the center of town, we found this collector in Mykhaylo Trokhymovych Voloshyn.  He had gathered his treasures on the upper floor of a Soviet-era building that once housed a sewing cooperative.  There were dozens of canvases, hundreds of books (including a volume in Czech that was a present to a general, he said), some seventeenth-century firearms, an old mace of the type used by the ancient Ukrainian hetmans, several banduras (a traditional Ukrainian stringed instrument), piles of old papers (including a Torah) and even a mammoth jaw unearthed at a nearby archeological site.  Mykhaylo and his wife Olena talked with us for a while and showed us their collection, offering to sell us any pieces we liked.  (“It will help pay for the renovation.”  We thanked him but made no purchases, since it is prohibited to take items older than the 1940s from Ukraine.)  They actually knew of a possible living relative, whom they took us to visit (see below).


At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, Rzhishchev was half Eastern Orthodox and half Jewish.  It had manufactories producing beet-sugar, cloth, pig-iron and armaments, bricks and other goods.  A road led the short distance from town to the dock on the river.  There was a military presence in town, and young males were called up as reservists.  The Spaso-Preobratenskiy Monastery outside of Rzhishchev had an educational facility (uchilishche), and there were also “prayer schools” financed by and for the Jews (molitvenyye shkoly; yeshivas, evidently).  There was an Orthodox church, constructed in the late 1850s with financing from the Kiev merchant Ovchinnikov; an earlier church appears to have been financed by Count Dzyalynskiy, to whose family Rzhishchev belonged in toto.  (The situation of the older church was deemed unsuitable, as it was closely hemmed in by “Jewish houses” and was held to be at greater risk of catching fire; at the time it was built, the new church had a setback from all residential dwellings.)  Records also refer to a synagogue for the town’s Jewish community from at least 1852, although no synagogue survives today.  The first record of a Jewish community in Rzhishchev is from the late 1840s, a few years after the Jews were expelled from Kiev.  In 1864, a riot erupted in Rzhishchev when “a [Hassidic] holy rabbi from another place had the temerity to visit Rzhishchev, where another holy rabbi resided, to collect money”[ii]. In the late nineteenth century, the market square was crowded with dozens of merchants’ wooden booths, which represented a real fire hazard.  (Kiev archival sources note serious conflagrations in Rzhishchev in 1856, 1868, 1870, 1897, 1898 and 1903.)  According to the 1911 Vsia Rossiya business directory, the town’s merchants had almost exclusively Jewish surnames.[iii]  The Jewish residential quarter was located behind the marketplace.

The marketplace is still there today, with a fence surrounding it, a sign at the entrance and booths neatly labeled by product.  It was empty when we visited on a Saturday. 


We also knocked at the house of Father Mykhayil, the archpriest of Rzhishchev’s Troyitskyy Church (see photo below right, built in late 1850s).  His wife answered just as he was driving up behind us, returning from local pastoral visits.  We asked him whether he wouldn’t mind offering us a few insights into local history, but he wanted to beg off, pleading fatigue.  His wife, however, would have none of it, and made her husband unlock the church for us, and he ended up giving us a brief tour.  The iconostasis was new, built in Bulgaria, while some icons by a side wall were over 200 years and had been recently restored.  On the opposite wall, scaffolding obscured a new mural in process and including the image of the recently canonized Tsar Nicholas II.  Father Mykhayil also gave us a small booklet, in Ukrainian and Russian, on the history of the church, which had the following table breaking down the population of Rzhishchev in 1868 and in 1917:





Eastern Orthodox:



















Other faiths:







Old Believers







For the family story, the military presence in Rzhishchev is intriguing, since Jacob Bulkin is said to have worked as a tailor for a general, and David Bulkin was apprenticed as a military tailor at a young age.  In 1903, the commander of forces, General Mikhail Ivanovich Dragomirov, was also the Governor-General of Kiev Guberniya.  The headquarters for the Kiev Military Garrison was a neoclassical building located in Kiev on Bankova Street (see photo at left), opposite the House of Gargoyles (see photo below right), an architectural fantasy conceived by the colorful Vladislav Gorodetskiy.   The former military-headquarters building, reconstructed in 1936, is today part of the presidential administration.[iv]  Kiev’s Central State Historical Archive (TsDIAK) has a December 1909 directory for top staff in the Kiev Military Garrison that includes some 52 personnel with the rank of major general or above.[v]  (For further searching, one would probably need to contact the military archives in Moscow.)


The Jewish metrical books (birth, marriage and death records) at TsDIAK include these records with the surname Bulkin in Kiev and Rzhishchev.  This list is incomplete, as are the archival records themselves.[vi]  Only a partial name index is available, and that only to archival staff, not to researchers.  However, staff used that index on my behalf to find the Kiev birth records below.  (The Jewish metrical books include at least three marriages between nobles and Jewish women.[vii]  There were also several records for the Tsybul’skiy family from Rzhishchev, from which two sons moved to the U.S. and changed their surname there to Bulkin.)  Finding Bulkins in extant Rzhishchev records required examining each handwritten page of the dusty old volumes themselves.[viii]


Contemporary records also include Interior Ministry decrees, in the name of the Governor-General of Kiev, directing the use of funds from the “box collection” (korobochnyy sbor)[ix] of Rzhishchev’s Jewish community.  These disbursements from special taxes on Jews appear to have been intended to benefit Jewish community members.  In two examples from 1905, (1) three thousand rubles were earmarked for distribution to reservists, “lower ranks” and their families in the event of mobilization; and (2) two thousand rubles were set aside for the repair of local “prayer schools.”


While in the area, we also explored the surrounding bluffs in search of a small, unlandmarked Jewish cemetery.[x]  On dirt- road approaches to the bluffs south of town, we found several burial places, all of them Russian (Ukrainian) Orthodox.  Directly north of town, just outside the city limits on the P12 highway, we asked a farmer whether he knew of a nearby Jewish burial site.  Two dogs, vigilant but not unfriendly, kept up a constant barking.  The farmer was probably about 70 to 75 years old, with the dust of the fields in the lines on his face.  He immediately launched into the extended account of a massacre (rasstrel’) that had taken place on that very spot during World War II.


According to this resident, German troops led over 100 people to the field and divided the Jews and the Communists into two groups.  The Communists were shot together in a nearby grove, where a cross and flowers mark the spot today.  The Jews were shot at the edge of the highway, on a site partially paved over, where a dirt road turns into the field and where one of a row of trees now stands.  The locals who use the field today for agriculture still find human bones at the site of the massacre, he said.  There is no marker.  This man said his mother was taken to Germany as a “guest worker,” while his father was taken away and never seen from again.[xi]


A much more encouraging find was a Bulkin who was still living in Rzhishchev.  We immediately set off and accosted Ol’ya Bulkina (b. 1968) at her home on Koroleva Street.  Ol’ya’s father Sergiy (Sergey) (b. 1943), who had a brother Ivan, was born in the nearby village of Prits’ky.  Their father’s name was Fedir (Fyodor) Bulkin.  Ol’ya does not know her grandfather’s place of birth, his patronymic or his confession.

[i] Rendered either as Rzhishchev (Russian), Rzhyshchiv (Ukrainian), Rzyszczow (Polish), Ryzhishchev (Yiddish) or Zhishchuv (German).  There is also a Rzeszczow in Poland, roughly south of Lublin, but this is a different city.

[ii] “‘Of course, the Hassids of the local holy rabbi cursed and stoned the invader and he was almost killed.’  Many of the Hassids were wounded. The two holy rabbis then proclaimed that ritual slaughterers of each side were not kosher; each rabbi also proclaimed that the prayers of the other side were ‘an abomination to God.’  Scuffles ensured.  The holy rabbi of Rzhishchev was denounced by his colleague as a forger of banknotes. A police investigation followed.”  (Source:  http://www.geocities.com/alabasters_archive/rabin_assassination.html.)

[iii] The 1911 Vsia Rossiia business directory lists the following types of businesses in Rzhishchev, which is classified as a “town” (mestechko):  barber/hairdressers (3), bread and grain (1), butcher (1), dishware and utensils (1), fish (1), kerosene and oil (1), metal goods (1), pharmaceutical goods (1), pharmacies (2), textiles (5), wine (3) and wood/firewood (1).  The merchants’ surnames are mostly Jewish:  Apter, Berlyants, Bron, Divinskiy, Khersonskiy, Kholodenko, Klunerman, Knin, Kobilyatskiy, Kuperman, Levinshteyn, Lomazov, Merkulev, Mitkevich-Zholtko, Ostrovskiy, Poliskiy, Rybalskiy, Shaurbaka, Spektor, Strat, Taver, Vilyants, and Zaslavskiy.

[iv] Savchuk, Galina.  The Streets of Kiev.  Kiev:  ArtEc Publishers, 1996, pp. 94-98.

[v] Delo kantselyarii Voennogo Prokurora Kievskogo Voenno-Okruzhnogo Suda:  adresnyy spisok generalov, nachal’nikov otdel’nykh chastei Kievskogo garnizona, lishch’ sostoyavshchikh pri komanduyushchem voyskami i chinov okruzhnogo shtaba, fond 315, opis 2, yed. zb. 494 at TsDIAK.  Names below include only those with rank of major general (MG) and above.  (LG = lieutenant general.  General Turkul’s rank was indicated as shown below.  General Zol’tsa was a baron by title.)



Name, Patronymic


Function, Title


Nikolay Iudovich


commander of forces, general-adjutant, artillery general


Anton Yegorovich

Zol’tsa (Baron)

asst. to comm. of district forces, infantry general


Ivan Davidovich


for particular orders of comm. of forces


Mikhail Vasilyevich



District Staff


Vladimir Mikhaylovich


district quartermaster


Konstantin Stanislavovich


district maneuvers (? = dezhurn.) general


Nikolay Aleksandrovich


chief of military communications



Petr Flegontovich


district chief of artillery


Aleksey Dmitriyevich


his assistant


Dmitriy Petrovich


chief of Kiev artillery stores


Nikolay Andreyevich


chief of city arsenal


Mikhail Danilovich


his assistant


Konstantin Fedorovich


chief of district engineers


Aleksandr Nikolayevich


his assistant


Mikhail Mikhaylovich


hospital chief


Vikentiy Nikolayev


district quartermaster


Georgiy Vasilevich


his assistant

Military District Court


Arkadiy Nikolayev


presiding judge


Aleksandr Andreyevich




Vladimir Yevgrafovich




Ignatiy Ignat’yevich




Viktor Al’bertovich




Stefan Sigismundovich




Vasiliy Konstantinovich




Nikolay Aleksandrovich




Mikhail Ivanovich


military prosecutor


Konstantin Aleksandrovich


director of Kiev military school (uchilishche)


Yevgeniy Yevstaf’yevich


inspector of school classes


Nikolay Vsevolodovich


inspector of classes of the cadet corps`

“g.- “

Mikhail Andreyevich


director of Kiev city brigade


Petr Vladimirovich


Kiev commander


Leonid Vladimirovich


director of special district border defense corps


Konstantin Kharitonovich


director of Kiev guberniya “zhan. upravleniya”

Ninth Army Corps


Aleksey Alekseyevich


corps commander


Nikolay Petrovich


chief of staff


Petr Andreyevich


chief of artillery staff


Vladimir Nikolayevich


corps quartermaster

Ninth Cavalry Division


Nikolay Aleksandrovich


Ninth Cavalry Division chief


Appolinariy Aleksandrovich


commander of Second Brigade of Ninth Cavalry Div.

Twenty-First Army Corps


Aleksey Yevgrafovich


corps commander


Sergey Sergeyev


corps chief of staff


Rudol’f Adol’fevich


corps chief of artillery


Yevgeniy Nikolayevich


corps quartermaster

Forty-Second Infantry Division


Nikolay Alekseyevich


division chief


Mikhail Dem’yanovich


commander of First Brigade


Pavel Konstantinovich


commander of Second Brigade

Thirty-Third Infantry Division


Aleksandr Aleksandrovich


division chief


Ivan Yegorovich


commander of First Brigade


Nikolay Vasil’yevich


commander of Second Brigade

(The Thirty-Third Infantry Division also included these units, led by commanders with rank lower than general:  129th Bessarabian regiment, 130th Kherson regiment, 131st Tiraspol’ regiment, 132nd Bender regiment.)

Thirty-Third Artillery Brigade


Nikolay Nikolayev


brigade commander

Third Sapper Brigade


Nikolay Aleksandrovich


brigade chief

(These units were led by commanders with rank lower than general:  4th pontoon battery, 5th pontoon battery, 5th sapper battery, 6th sapper battery, 7th sapper battery, 14th sapper battery, 21st sapper battery, 3rd field engineering park, Kiev siege artillery polk, 2nd konno-gornyy artillery division, 5th artillery park, 42nd artillery park, 44th artillery park, Kiev convoy command, 6th mortar artillery park, 7th mortar artillery park, 2nd zap. peshey battery, 2nd Transcaspian railroad battery regiment.  Thirty-Third Artillery Brigade is listed again and separately from first instance, noting 1st, 2nd and 3rd divisions commanded by rank lower than general.)


[vi] The catalogued records for Rzhishchev at the Central State Historical Archives of Ukraine in Kiev (TsDIAK, or Tsentral'nyi derzhavnyi istorychnyi arkhiv Ukrainy, Kyiv; director Ol'ga Volodymyrivna Muzychuk) (address 03110, Kyiv-110, vul. Solom’yans'ka, 24, tel. (38-044) 275-30-02, fax 275-30-02, e-mail cdiak@archives.gov.ua, http://www.archives.gov.ua/Archives/index.php?ca03, hours MThSa 9:15-17:00; TuWF 9:15-19:00, summer closed Sa) consist of birth records for 1886 and 1917 (fond/opis/delo 1164/2/152, 154); marriage records for 1903-1906, 1908-1909, 1911-1917 (fond/opis/delo 1164/2/154, 155) and death records for 1852, 1854-1860, 1863-1864, 1868, 1870-1871, 1873, 1907-1908, 1910-1911, 1917 (fond/opis/delo 1164/1/2, 16, 30, 42, 44, 57, 82, 98, 137, 156, 228, 274, 301, 356; 1164/2/154).  In addition to the staff’s search in the TsDIAK database, which appears to cover at least Kiev birth records, I was able to comb the Rzhishchev birth and marriage records.  The State Archive of Kyiv Oblast (DAKO, or Derzhavnyi arkhiv Kyivs'koi oblasti; director Volodymyr Petrovych Danylenko) (address 04119, Kyiv, vul. Mel'nykova, 38, tel. (38-044) 206-74-99, 206-74-97; fax 206-74-99, http://www.archives.gov.ua/Archives/index.php?ra10, hours M-F 8:30-17:30) also contains census records for 1811 1812 and 1818 (fond/opis/delo 280/2/255, 375).  However, I suspect these are merely tax lists.  The first comprehensive census in the Russian Empire was taken only in 1897, and those records are held in Russia, I believe in Moscow (try State Archives of the Russian Federation, ul. Bol’shaya Pirogovskaya, 17, Moscow 119817 Russia, tel. 7/095/245-8141, fax 7/095/245-1287, e-mail: garf@oline.ru, http://garf.narod.ru/, also see http://www.iisg.nl/~abb/abb_b1.html).  Sources:  http://www.rtrfoundation.org/, http://www.archives.gov.ua/Eng/.

[vii] If the nobles were Christian, this represented a flouting of imperial law as described by Eugene Schuyler, Charge d'Affaires of the Legation of the United States in St. Petersburg, Russia, in a September 29, 1872 letter to his superior, U.S. Secretary of State Hamilton Fish.  The letter is part of a submission of President Chester Arthur to Congress in response to a Resolution of the House May 2, 1882.  “Marriage with non-Christians is forbidden to Russian subjects of the orthodox or of the Roman Catholic faith. Protestants are only forbidden to marry heathen. Persons of the Lutheran religion (for the Lutheran church is to a certain extent established in Russia) may marry Hebrews with the consent of the local consistory, but the marriage must be according to the Lutheran rite, and the Hebrew party must give a written promise to educate the children as Christians, and not to convert the spouse to Judaism. Catholics marrying Hebrews or Lutherans marrying them, without conforming to these regulations, are subjected to imprisonment for eighty days, but the marriages seem to be valid” (source:  House of Representatives Executive Document No. 192, 47th Congress, 1st Session, Serial Set 2030; see also http://www.angelfire.com/ms2/belaroots/schuyler.htm).

[viii] Some Bulkin records from Rzhishchev and Kiev Jewish metrical books:

Births:                    Tsipa, daughter of Tsal’ BULKIN (burgher) and Malka, Rzhishchev, 25 Dec 1886

Khaim BULKIN, son of Yosel’, Kiev, 1889

                                Yakov-Shmuel BULKIN, son of Meyer, Kiev, 1891

                                Khaim BULKIN, son of Meyer, Kiev, 1895

                                Ruvin BULKIN, son of Meyer, Kiev, 1897

                                Zisel BULKINA, daughter of Meyer, Kiev, 1899


Marriages:            Ruvin Mendelev DORFMAN (burgher), Feylya Volkovna BULKINA (divorcee), Rzhishchev, 28 May 1903

                                Shay Gos’ko GURSHEVOY (burgher), Beylya Mordkovna BULKINA (widow), Rzhishchev, 18 Nov 1903

                                Yankel’ Khaimov SORIN (burgher), Pesya Volkovna BULKINA, Rzhishchev, 1906

                                Tsal’ Shneyerov BULKIN (widower), Reyzeya Peysakhovna DISNER (widow), Rzhishchev, 28 Feb 1909

                                Aron Shlemov NEKHAMIS (ex-reservist), Feygeya Litmovna BULKINA, Rzhishchev, 8 Jun 1910

                                Moshko Leybov BULKIN (ex-reservist), Khanya Avrumovna GOL’DFEYBER, Rzhishchev, 3 Jun 1914


Death:                    Beylya, 82 years old, wife of Rzhishchev burgher Froim BULKIN, Rzhishchev, 17 May 1917[viii]

(Notes:  Avrum = Abraham / Khaim = Chaim , Hyman / Leyb = Leib / Moshko = Moishe / Ruvin = Reuben / Tsal’ = Sol)

[ix] An 1857 law directed that the proceeds from the “candle tax” be applied to the building of Jewish schools.  From the Schuyler letter, op cit:  “In […] Hebrew communities there has existed for ages a special tax, called the Korobotchnky tax, which is now recognized and regulated by law. This tax is devoted to the wants of the Hebrew community, to the deficiencies in the payment of their taxes and performance of their duties, to the payment of the communal debts, the foundation and support of Hebrew schools, and to other benevolent purposes. The tax is raised by imposts on the butchering of meat in the Hebrew form, on the sale of meat so killed, on Sabbatical candles, and by penalties for the non-fulfillment of all the tax regulations, by an impost on the income of landed property belonging to Hebrews, on Hebrew manufactures, and on the estates of deceased Hebrews, and by the money paid for wearing the Hebrew costume. The kagal is also allowed to impose a tax on all liquors sold in taverns and dram-shops kept by Hebrews in country villages. This tax falling, of course, on the consumers, is really paid by the Christians, for the peasants are the only customers of these dram-shops. Whatever harm is therefore done to the Russian peasantry in this particular arises from the Russian law itself.”

[x] US Commission No. UA09120101.  The Jewish cemetery was established in the 19th century with last known Hasidic burial 1970s.  No other towns or villages used this unlandmarked cemetery.  The isolated rural (agriculture) site has no sign or marker.  Reached by turning directly off a public road, access is open to all.  No wall, fence, or gate surrounds site.  1 to 20 common tombstones, none in original location, are more than 75% toppled or broken.  The cemetery contains no known mass graves.  The cemetery property is now used for agriculture (crops or animal grazing).  Properties adjacent are other.  No one visits.  The cemetery was vandalized during World War II.  There is no maintenance now.  Within the limits of the cemetery are no structures.  Vegetation overgrowth is a seasonal problem, preventing access.  [Contact:] Tsyauk Vladimir Trofimovich of Kiev, Kvitneviy per. 12, Apt. 95 [Phone: (044) 4176555] visited site and completed survey on 7/20/94.  Interviewed was not listed.  (Second entry for same cemetery:)  The [Rzhishchev Jewish] cemetery is located several miles outside the town on a beautiful bluff overlooking the Dneiper River, accessible via a dirt road.  The cemetery, which is adjacent to a large private vegetable garden, includes a young grove of birch and a field.  Neither plaque nor other memorials mark the area.  Lying on the ground where children were buried was a small ulna [bone].  Three gravestones remain. One is face down in the field, the second one lying face up and very well preserved, and the third fallen over the cliff to rest along the river bank. This cemetery visited by Dan Kirschner & Davida Sky (with guide Regina Kopilevich & driver Dina Kopilevich) in August 1994.  Contact person: Dan Kirschner, 135 Winchester St. #2, Newton, MA 02161, tel: 617-965-6839, kirschnd@bc.edu [CMB e-mail sent 1/12/06, no reply as of 4/29/06] (see:  http://www.jewishgen.org/cemetery/e-europe/ukra-r.html).

[xi] Cf. this description, from a 1965 YIVO study of the anti-Jewish pogroms in Ukraine circa 1919, of actions by the Ukrainian partisan commander Zelyonyy (Zeleny) in the nearby town of Tripol’ye (Tripoliye):  An earlier account of what took place in Tripoliye describes how Zeleny treated his Bolshevik captives. A large group of about 800 prisoners was brought to Tripoliye and divided into two separate groups. The first group consisted of Communists and Jews. They were led to the Dnieper, where some were shot and some were drowned. The second group was made up of Red Army Christians. They were brought to a meeting where Zeleny made a speech: ‘We do not need Jewish power. It is our Ukraine, our bread.’”  The same source states that in July 1919, Zelyonny’s forces attacked Red Army troops in Rzhishchev (“Ruzhitsev near Tripoliye”), then commandeered a steamboat to take him across the river to Pereyaslav (“Perioslav”) Zelyonyy’s actions predate those of the German troops in Rzhishchev by about 25 years.  (Source:  http://www.berdichev.org/the_pogroms_in_ukraine_in_1919.htm.)