Village (selo). A rural settlement, the inhabitants of which are occupied primarily in agriculture. The legal definition of village and the classification criteria for settlements in Ukraine have changed considerably over time. Hence, it is difficult to compare the number or distribution of villages in different historical periods. Since 1965 the legal definition of village has been based on Ukraine's Code on the Method for Transforming, Evaluating, Naming, and Registering Certain Settlements, which essentially treats villages as settlements that are neither cities nor urban-type settlement)s (see Urban-type settlement). It was Soviet policy for 70 years to obliterate the difference between rural and urban life. Yet there are still significant differences between villages and cities in Ukraine.
In medieval times most rural inhabitants in Ukraine lived on individual or family homesteads ranging from a dym to a dvoryshche, which consisted of 40 to 50 members of an extended family. In the 16th century, villages—that is, larger and more complex settlements of unrelated individuals—began to emerge. The process was promoted by the spread of the seigneurial economy, the intensification of serfdom, population growth, and the need for protection against Tatar raids. Formerly separate homesteads and other small settlements merged into villages to form unified economic and social entities. The pace of the process was rapid in Galicia and Right-Bank Ukraine, where the population density was relatively high, and serfdom was most intensive, and slower in Left-Bank Ukraine, which was colonized in the late 16th and the 17th centuries by runaway peasants from the Right Bank. The threat of Tatar raids in Left-Bank and Southern Ukraine was the strongest impetus to compact settlement. Yet the colonists often set up family homesteads in the sparsely settled territory. Even in the late 18th century it was not uncommon for several conjugal families to live together in a single economic unit. When the Tatar threat was removed toward the end of the 18th century, the steppes were settled in a planned manner by large landowners who brought in whole peasant colonies. Thus villages became common in Steppe Ukraine. After the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, many peasants in the region left the villages to settle on individual farmsteads (see khutir).
Villages in Ukraine are laid out in a number of patterns depending largely on the terrain and natural environment: linear, chain, complex linear, irregular, radial, and regular. In the linear or ‘ribbon’ layout the cottages are evenly spaced on one or both sides of the road, and the gardens stretch at right angles from the road. The form is common in Belarus, Russia, and western Polisia in Ukraine. The chain village is similar to the linear one: the houses, less regularly spaced, are strung along a road that is usually winding and long. Chain settlements are characteristic of the Carpathian Mountains and foothills, except for the Hutsul region. There are several variants of the complex linear layout. The multistreet variant consists of two or more parallel streets with houses situated on one or both sides. Horseshoe-shaped villages sprang up along river bends or on small lakes. Fork- or star-shaped settlements developed at road or river junctions. The most common village form in Ukraine is the irregular one, particularly the cluster (hurtove) variant. It is characterized by crooked streets running in an irregular pattern and eventually leading to an open yard. Usually the shape of the village is roughly circular or elliptical. The radial village is built around an open core, usually a common square or plaza. The regular village has a grid layout and is square or rectangular in shape. Such settlements developed mostly in the 19th century in the open steppes of southern Ukraine.
Four distinctive settlement zones can be distinguished in Ukraine: the northwest (particularly Polisia), the Carpathian, the forest-steppe, and the southern steppe. In each zone the location and layout of the villages are different. In the northwest, villages are set far away from bodies of water because of poor drainage and swampy conditions. Because of the scarcity of arable land, the settlements are small and spaced far apart. The linear village is the most common type in the region. The mountainous terrain of the Carpathian Mountains ruled out large farm settlements. Villages are mostly located in the valleys and are usually built in chain formation. Some nucleated settlements can be found on terraces along the southern slopes of mountains or hills. The forest-steppe zone was settled before the development of guidelines or regulations; its favorite form is the irregular cluster village. Radial settlements are also common in the region, because the central square often functioned as a defense zone from the raiding Tatars. Southern Ukraine, which was colonized only after the 18th century, is marked by planned regular villages.
The collectivization of agriculture in Ukraine under the Soviet regime resulted in some significant changes in village life and layout. The machine-tractor stations (MTS) quickly appropriated certain political and administrative functions and thus undermined the traditional government of the village. Without radically altering the physical appearance of the village the change to collectivized farming brought in its wake new facilities and buildings at the outskirts of existing villages. New construction practices gave rise to a preference for the grid pattern.
The village has long been an important symbol in Ukrainian literature and culture. Glorification of rural life and the extensive use of themes and images from Ukrainian folklore were characteristic of Romantic and realist writers and artists (eg, Taras Shevchenko, Panteleimon Kulish, Ivan Nechui-Levytsky), most of whom were of rural origin, from the early 19th century on. Since the cities and much of the elite of Ukraine were either Russified or Polonized, the village and the peasantry came to represent the Ukrainian nation. The village was portrayed as the cradle of the Ukrainian national renaissance, an idealization that remained a facet of Ukrainian life well into the 20th century. In early Ukrainian political thought the village was idealized by Mykola Kostomarov, especially in his ‘Dve russkie narodnosti’ (Two Rus’ Peoples), which stressed the uniqueness of the Ukrainian village vis-à-vis the Russian village.
(For the structure and government of the village community see Hromada.)
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Blum, J. Lord and Peasant in Russia from the Ninth to the Nineteenth Century (Princeton 1961)
Stel’makh, H. Istorychnyi rozvytok sil’s’kykh poselen’ na Ukraïni (Kyiv 1964)
Cybriwsky, R. ‘The Pre-Soviet Village in Ukraine,’ Yearbook of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, 34 (1972)
Kononenko, P. Selo v ukraïns’kii literaturi: Literaturno-krytychnyi narys (Kyiv 1984)
Borys Balan, Aandrij Makuch
[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]