According to one version Voronovytsia “borrowed” its name from the local Voronka (Little Crow) river, on the banks of which a settlement appeared in 1545. There is also a folklore explanation of its etymology: legend says that there was once a severe battle between Ukrainians and Tartars here, and the neighboring fields were covered with bodies of warriors, over whom the crows milled about.
In confirmation of its “birdly” name, Voronovytsia “flew” from one owner to another, sometimes changing owners three times in a quarter of a century. Finally it came into the hands of the Polish magnates Grocholski, who owned the “winged” settlement for more than 200 years.
In 1748, by order of king August III, Voronovytsia became a town, after which many changes happened: Grocholski built magnificent churches, and in 1781 a decanate of the Kyiv Uniate Metropolis was located here.
Even now you can see several relics of that epoch: a baroque Trinity Church from the end of the 18th century, which in soviet times was used as a cinema, the Archangel Michael Cathedral from the same times, and a wooden St. Michael Church built in 1752. However, the main reason tourists go to Voronovytsia is to see the place where the first heavier-than-air aircraft was born.
Like any decent palace, the residence of Grocholski-Mozhayskiy is located on the highest point of the town, amid a French park laid at the end of the 18th century, among lindens, chestnuts and birches. In addition to a three-storied palace built in 1780, several household buildings, a cellar and water tower of that time remain as part of the the estate.
The palace, an example of early classicism, looks huge on the old engravings, but is actually rather compact. You might not call it small however: it has 43 rooms spread over 2500 square metres of total space. A luxurious gallery of Corinthian columns decorates the central part of the building, and the two-storied side wings of the palace hug visitors in their embrace. The original ornaments of the wings, in the shape of ox skulls, deserve particular attention.
A commemorative plaque on the façade of the palace reminds us of the fact that Alexander Fedorovych Mozhayskiy, an aviation pioneer, lived and worked in Voronovytsia for seven years. It may appear strange that he, who dreamed about the sky so much, was a sailor by profession, a navy captain of the 1st rank. In 1853, Mozhayskiy sailed all the way to Japan on the frigate “Diana”. And during another expedition he even produced the first description of the basin of the Aral Sea. However, it was not the sea but the sky that made him famous.
How did this courageous Russian-born captain find himself in the Vinnytsia region? In 1869, at an auction in Odesa, his brother Mykola (who was also a navy captain) bought a manor in Voronovytsia from Adolf Grocholski, who then emigrated to Austria. But soon the new owner of the palace died in tragic accident. This is why 44-year old Alexander moved to the manor, got an appointment as a judge, and devoted all his spare time to a rather strange hobby: flight.
For a while, Mozhayskiy studied birds, and modeled huge kites. Here in Ukraine, the first model of a heavier than air craft was created. It was a small shuttle on casters, with a spring inside, a wing and a propeller. The tests were not held at the manor, but near Mozhayskiy’s villa on the Southern Buh River, in “Dubyna”. The shuttle was drawn by three horses, and it did some sort of windsurfing on a cart, a prototype of a glider, which the author called “flyer”.
Fascinated by the skies, Mozhayskiy flew in his device twice in 1876. They say that during one of the flights it flipped over, and the inventor broke his leg. This sad event made the aviator think about a tail for his aircraft, which would give stability to the whole construction. In the same year 1876 he began to build the first aircraft at his own cost. He needed a huge amount: twenty thousand rubles. Only three thousand rubles were contributed by the Ministry of the Navy. But it did not stop Mozhayskyi from achieving his goal. Meanwhile, humanity would still have to wait twenty years for the famous Wright brothers’ invention …
Unfortunately, the villa in “Dubyna”, where Mozhayskiy’s machines flew, burned in 1918. Many drawings by the inventor and a model of a huge kite were destroyed by the fire. Too bad: it could have been a splendid exhibit for the Museum of aviation and astronautics inaugurated in the Voronovytsia palace in 1971. But some personal possessions of the inventor, such as a cigar case and a drawing by Alexander (he was not a bad painter!) remain, as well as a scale model of an aircraft he built in 1884.
After his move to St. Petersburg, Russia, Mozhayskiy continued his tests. An aircraft powered by a steam engine was built, and tests were performed in St. Petersburg in the presence of the inventor on July 20, 1882. But this is a different story…
In spite of the many other claims, for Ukrainians Voronovytsia remains the place where the first aircraft in the world was born. The “winged” name confirms it, right?