History of Ignatovka/Hnativka


Editor’s Note:  These narratives use the traditional Russian name for the village, Ignatovka, as it was known in the days of the Russian Empire.  During the early Soviet years of the 1920s, the name was changed to the Ukrainian Hnativka, or Gnativka, pronounced similarly to the Russian.



Medieval Beginnings


Ignatovka is a small village located on the west bank of the Irpina River, directly opposite the larger hillside town of Bilohorodka.  The founding date of the village is unclear, but Bilohorodka was a significant settlement in the pre-Czarist, medieval period known as Kievan Rus (roughly from the 10th through the 13th Century).  The Kievan Rus era is now regarded generally as the cradle of Russian culture, and created the modern legacy shared by Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.


The Kievan Rus ruler Vladimir I, built a sumptuous 10th C. palace, Bilhorod Castle, in present-day Bilohorodka, [1].   Here the hillside terrain East of the river provided fine views, cool summer breezes and most importantly, defensibility.  The kings spent time outside the capitol of Kiev and away from the supervision of the Church officials.   This location of Bilohorodka and Ignatovka on the regional route leading westward 13 miles from Kiev, was strategic as such, and it is known today as route P04.


Bilohordoka was destroyed when the Mongol invasion devastated Kiev in 1240.  It ceased to exist as it was known but the modern small town of Bilohorodka eventually grew around the site of the historic palace.  If Ignatovka existed in the 13th Century, it probably met the same fate.   The medieval palace is now being slowly excavated by archeologists.  Bilohorodka has had at least a small Jewish population in recent times.



Early Ignatovka


The village probably began with a few houses on the West bank of the Irpina River, where the road leading to Kiev came to have a ferry for the river crossing.  It might have had a small inn or tavern for late travelers awaiting the ferry the next day.  Flat, very rich and tillable soil extended west and northward from the village and its river.  


The town had a “wishbone” layout with two residential streets in the 19th C, which is still evident today (See Maps).  According to a family account, one street was for Jews, the other for gentiles.  A small market, probably a weekly event, was said to be located near the intersection of the two streets and the main road from Kiev along the south side of the village overlooking the river.


Satellite photos of the current town reveal a regular plot plan for dwellings on the two streets.  Most plots are of a similar size, suitable for a garden behind the house. 


The shtetl had a synagogue which according to tradition was founded when the village came into being.   The community had two prayer houses by 1892—the original house “Staraya (Old) Prayer House”.   A second school “Novaya (New) Prayer School” was probably chartered in 1880 [2].  Both houses belonged to the Jewish community and their exact locations are not known today.


Extensive records of this kahal have come down and are preserved in various regional archives.   A religious shrine located on the south side of the town known as an ohel is venerated by the Hassidic community is still in existence today.  (See section on Ohel below)


Up until WWI, a small ferry ran across the river between the towns, taking advantage of the higher ground that was afforded for landings and wagon access on both sides.  The ferry location is thought to be just North of, and very close to the modern bridge crossing of the Irpina on the highway leading from Kiev.  A line of old trees demark the extant dirt road leading directly to the likely crossing point on the river bank.   The tree closest to the bank of the river bears the clear marks of a scar in its bark.  This was the probable attachment point for a cable loop or heavy rope to guide the ferry.  No piers or bulkheads from the ferry landings survive.                                                         


19th Century Ignatovka


According to a kahal record, a large fire in 1859 destroyed roughly 60 of the 80 Jewish homes in the town.  For some time afterward the community sought to secure funds from the Tsar Alexander and charitable organizations abroad for the reconstruction of the homes.  One of the appeal documents for recovery aid suggests that before the fire the village had a likely population of 400 Jewish residents.


Another smaller fire was noted in the kahal records in 1870 without much detail given.  The causes or these blazes is not mentioned in the kahal accounts.



The Turbulent Years


Winds of change were afoot in the lands of the Russian Empire in the second half of the 19th Century.   Discontent with the system of compulsory serfdom, was expressed by the growing unrest and number of rebellions that took place on rural estates.  Many of these conflicts were ended by the intervention of the Czar’s army troops, often with serious violence.


The abolition of serfdom in 1863 changed the political outlook, but left most feudal subjects still tied to the land and towns in which they worked.  Only after the Russian revolution were former feudal subjects---peasants, tradespersons or others---able to move freely about and seek new opportunities.  In the 17th & 18th Centuries in Ukraine, roughly 75% of the rural population lived under serfdom.


The series of pogroms after 1880 added to the pressures on Jewish communities.   The political unrest escalated until the suppression of the 1905 failed Bolshevik revolution.  As a consequence of these social tensions, the Tsar assented to limited reforms.  Among them, the creation of the Duma, an elective body of property owners to consider legislation [3].  Some Jews in Ignatovka were eligible to become voters in this body. 


The defeat of the Tsar’s armies in the Russian-Japanese war of (1904-05) added to popular discontent.  Some of Ignatovka’s sons went to this front.  Many Jewish families, or at least their young sons, now fearing the approach of wider European conflict, soon moved abroad, and added to the growing emigration from the Russian hinterland.



A 1923 Snapshot of the Shtetl— Report of The Joint Distribution Committee


A unique picture of the village is provided by a report called Report of Ignatovka  -- Kiev Gobierna, by the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in 1923.  Founded by concerned American emigres, many of whom were Jews originally from eastern Europe themselves, the JDC collected and funneled material aid to the hard-pressed Jewish communities in Eastern Europe and the Ottoman Empire beginning in 1914.  The JDC report for Ignatovka reflects the condition of the village after WWI.  It is appended below (See Documents), and is summarized:


·      The Jewish population before the war was roughly 1300 persons, living in approximately 120 houses.

·      Ignatovka had some light industry before the war which were:

·      2 flour mills,

·      2 millet mills,

·      1 brewery and

·      1 tannery,

·       The numbers of workers in these businesses is unknown.  All of these enterprises were destroyed by the time of the JDC visit in 1923.

·      The 120 Jewish houses were purchased by local peasants and torn down after the war.  The land from these properties was converted into orchards.

·      Most of the Jews left the shtetl after 1917, once they were bestowed equal rights with the rest of the population following the Russian revolution.  Many moved to Kiev or elsewhere, after which time the Jewish population of Ignatovka dropped to 900.

·      Many of the residents were engaged in small commerce, and more than a few were shoemakers.    



Civil War


As Ignatovka faced the prospects for peace after 1920, it was swept up in the events of a civil war,  a conflict pitting the new soviet government against the recalcitrant monarchists known generally as the White Armies and others who struggled to preserve their position.  The notorious White general Denikin led an army on a murderous campaign northward up the Dneiper River late in 1919, stopping in villages to pacify the local population and liquidate the Jewish communities.  In Ignatovka they led a pogrom which resulted in the deaths of 40 people in the month of August.  The remaining Jews fled to Kiev, although in 1920, 3 families returned to the village, but  most left it for good later that year.  



Ignatovka in the 1930’s & 40’s


By 1932-34, a devastating famine known as the holodomor gripped Ukraine, which decimated many rural settlements.  The few remaining Jews had reportedly left Ignatovka for good by the 1930’s.


The town suffered further during WW2 as the German war machine swept through this part of Ukraine.   In the early years of the conflict the invaders reached Kiev by the summer of 1941.   Much of central Kiev was leveled or reduced to ruins in the fighting.  It is not clear if the numerous empty residential lots still to be seen today in Ignatovka were destroyed by the wartime fighting or simply had been cleared when the Jews sold their houses to peasants in the 1920s.


One of the infamous “killing fields” of WWII, the ravine of Babi Yar, is located within the modern city limits of Kiev, now swallowed up by the growth in the northern quarter of the town. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 victims---Jews, Roma, political dissidents and others were murdered at Babi Yar before the war was over.   Some anecdotal evidence points to the likelihood that Ignatovkers perished at this site.


The shtetl cemetery on the southwest side of the village, was virtually obliterated when the tomb stones and other masonry features, were carted away in the Soviet years.  Some of the stones are reputed to be in a nearby village of Horenychi where they were said to have been used in newer construction.  (See the JewishGen Locality Map).  After WW2 the sloping cemetery was converted into a garbage dump for the town, reportedly by the Soviet authorities [4].    Later this former site of the cemetery was filled and regraded with topsoils to create level farm plots, which appear to be in cultivation at this time.



Ignatovka Today


Little of the town from the times of the Russian Empire remain in Ignatovka today.  Few older houses have survived especially in the Jewish quarter.   The turmoil of the Russian Revolution, WW1, the privations of the 1930 famines, and WW2 resulted in destruction of much of the old village. The locations of the synagogues or prayer houses are unknown.  Most of the buildings in the Jewish part of town are gone.   Little or nothing remains of the market square said to be just North of the main highway.   A convenience store housed in a small brick building on the south side of the highway is all that marks the location of the old market square.  The village has no commercial center or district, per se.



Anatevka Refugee Center


Since the beginning of the war in the Donbas region with Russian-separatist forces in 2014, Ukraine has been affected by the armed conflict, and has seen the growth of refugee population.  The war is over the efforts of Russia to claim the region of the Donets River basin known as Donbas in Eastern Ukraine. 


In 2015 one Rabbi Moshe Azman, a Chabad leader affiliated with the iconic Brodsky Synagogue in Kiev, founded a live-work, refugee center in Ignatovka situated on the main highway, and extending southward to the Irpina River flood terraces.  It consists of several 2 or 3-story buildings loosely arranged, and resembles a small community college.  It includes a timber shul, a dormitory, several residences.  It is surrounded by an iron fence with a security entry gate on the main highway.  The center borrowed the old name Anatevka, and uses the image of a bearded man playing a fiddle from a rooftop as its logo.


The refugee population at the center is not clear, and the center was operating three small private schools serving the surrounding communities. Its website boasts of a lyceum for girls, a new kosher restaurant/café, and a shop which has begun making protective garments for medical uses in the Coronavirus pandemic [5].  The Ohel, a religious shrine, is located apparently on or adjacent the center’s grounds.  Access to the public is limited.



• • • • • •


Presently the town has become, among other things a commuter “bedroom” community, as workers with jobs in nearby Kiev can get into the city center with a short commute on the main road.   Several “mini-mansions” and new homes have sprung up where old cottages once stood.  Urban ills of the nearby city have afflicted the village, as many homes are now protected by tall corrugated metal fences and patrolled by watchdogs.  Auto traffic on the main road, is heavy and at peak times seemingly continuous.  Many of what were pleasant narrow lanes in the village have taken on a more hardened urban appearance.




[1]   Belgorod, Outpost of the Hall of Kiev, by Vladimir Gripas   2 March 2007   

         (in Ukrainian)

         See Wikipedia “Bilohorod Kyivskyi” for English discussion.

[2]   Personal correspondence with Ukrainian researcher.

[3]   Legislature with limited powers 1906-1917.  www.encyclopediaofukraine.com

[4]   Personal correspondence with researcher.

[5]   Friends of Anatevka   https://www.anatevka.com




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