Odesa — A Little Bit of History

The city of Odesa itself is very young, founded only in 1794, but the area itself has a much older history.

Ukraine's unfortunate geographic location (at a crossroads between Asia & Europe) and Ukraine's geographic features (the majority being lowland steppe) have historically made Ukraine a victim of marauding armies and intercontinental military conquests.

As the third largest city in Ukraine, Odesa has a rich and eclectic history. Located on the Black Sea, about 450 km south of Kyiv, the city has always been known for its cosmopolitan atmosphere as a major seaport and trade center. Odesa's six warm-water harbors are located at the basin of two great rivers, the Dnieper and the Dniester, a crossroads of many cultures through time. So let's take a drive through the history of this dynamic city.

Odesa History — 8th Century BC to 4th Century AD

Cimmerians (before 710 BC):

Cimmerians were steppe nomads who were famous for their skills in horsemanship. For several years they raided the northern kingdoms of the Middle East. They were driven off the steppes by the Scythians. A small group of them remained in the Crimea until Roman times, giving that peninsula its present-day name.

Scythians (710-200 BC):

A warlike people that kept the Persian Empire from expanding into the steppes repeatedly. They traded with the Greek colonies on the Black Sea coast. They disappeared from history after being conquered by the Sarmatians.

Sammaritans (200 BC-300 AD):

Iazyges, the Roxolani, and the Alans. The Alans remained around the Caspian Sea. The other two tribes were assimilated into the invading Goths and Huns.

Odesa History — 6th Century BC

Greek colonists began to colonize the Odesa area around the 6th century BC.

Some of the Greek poleis (independent city-states) drained away their populations through colonization. These colonies then became centers where food could be returned to the Greek homeland. This was especially true of the foundations on the Black Sea shores that are today part of Odesa.

One of the most important Black Sea towns of the period was Olvia, on the Southern Buh River (31 miles/50 km north of Odesa) and the large trading center Tyras (31 miles/50 km) southwest of Odesa at the site of present-day Belgorod-Dniestrovsky. The distance between the two cities was 62 miles (100 km), so an intermediate landing site was set up where present-day Odesa is today. On Prymorskyi Boulevard, archaeologists found traces of this ancient Greek settlement.

Odesa History — 1st to 4th Century AD

The Romans invaded from the west in the 1st-3rd centuries.

The Goths, a group that was Germanic in origin, invaded from the northwest in the 3rd century. Population pressures caused them to move west from Germany down the Danube River until they reached the Black Sea. They used the Black Sea coast as a launching point for raiding Roman Asia Minor and Greece, Roman territories that had lived in peace and had not experienced an invasion for centuries.

In the late 3rd century, increased population growth caused the Goths to split into two tribes, the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths. The Visigoths remained in Romania. The Ostrogoths settled on the territories of what is now Ukraine. Under a king named Ermanarich (350?-376) Ostrogothic power grew rapidly, not stopping until they covered all territory between the Baltic and Black Seas. Ermanarich reached the Volga and challenged the Huns; the Hun's reaction was to destroy the Ostrogoth kingdom completely.

The Huns invaded from the East in the 4th century. The name comes from what the Chinese called them: Xiongnu, which may have been an attempt to imitate the whinnying of their horses.

Originally they lived in Mongolia. In the third century BC, they built a powerful kingdom. China's response was to build the Great Wall to keep them out. Not able to defeat China, they migrated along the steppes to the north shore of the Caspian Sea. There they stayed until 372 when they destroyed the Ostrogoths and then invaded Europe. The Huns peaked in the middle of the fifth century under the famous Attila, pillaging Rome and conquering much of Europe. An insurrection by the subjugated German tribes a year after Attila's death destroyed the Hun Empire.

Odesa History — 5th Century to 17th Century

During the early Middle Ages, the Eastern Slavs, groups of people living in Eastern Europe, gradually began forming societies.

Between the 6th and 9th centuries the Eastern Slavs greatly expanded their area of settlement, including in the Black Sea Area.

Around 830 AD Vikings from Scandinavia embarked on a vigorous wave of expansion, infiltrating into the lands of the Eastern Slavs, in a quest to plunder the region of its wealth. The Vikings were eager to get the fabulous treasures of the Byzantine and Arab lands, and the network of rivers across what is now Russia and Ukraine became an ideal highway for their ships. The Vikings established trade routes that ran to the Black Sea and Constantinople, linking Scandinavia to Byzantium. This northern threat forced the early people of the South to consolidate their power and create the first East Slavic State.

The Primary Chronicle of Kyivan Rus' describes the 10th century history of the early Slavs, written in 1117 or 1118. According to this document, the oppressed Slavic population drove out the Viking invaders. But the victorious Slavs soon began to fight among themselves.

In 988 the ruler Volodymyr I Sviatoslavych (Volodymyr the Great) converted to Christianity in the Eastern Church and imposed baptism on his subjects.

In the 9th-12th centuries, the Slavs built many townships, including present-day Belgorod-Dnestrovsky, (below), with its iconic Turkish fortress Akkerman, where every school kid in Odesa has been to at least once. What followed was a "Golden Age" for Kyivan Rus'. After Byzantium (the Eastern Roman Empire), Kyivan Rus' was the largest and most culturally advanced state in Eastern Europe.

13th Century

"glorious," became the root of the English word "slave."

The Mongols withdrew to the East after heavy resistance from the Bulgars. In their withdrawal, their great leader Genghis Khan died.

They returned to Europe in 1236, conquering the Russian cities of Ryazan, Moscow, Vladimir, Polovtsy, and Kyiv. In 1237 they then enacted their revenge on the resistant Bulgars, destroying their country. The Mongol-Tartar then invaded central Europe in 1241 AD, defeating the combined armies of Germany, Poland, and Bohemia in one decisive battle.

The Mongolian leader Batu Khan set up a new base of command in Hungary, but before ravaging Europe further, he received news that his uncle, the Great Ögedei Khan, had died in Mongolia. Since Batu was a candidate for the throne, he called off his invasion and returned to Mongolia, sparing the rest of Europe from complete destruction.

The Mongol rule left the area devastated, but in some areas, some of the original Slav population survived. During this time a site called Jinestra was marked on sea charts, located where present-day Odesa is today.

Jinestra, Gabjbey, Hadjibei, Kachuklenov, Khadjibey, Kadjibi Bay, Khadjibey, Kotzuby, Yeny-Dunya (New World Fort)

Confusingly, all of these names were used for the area that later became Odesa. This long list of names shows how many nationalities throughout the millennium have controlled the Odesa area.

14th Century

In the mid-1300s , Lithuanian princes expanded into the eastern principalities of Kyiv Rus', and from the 1360 to mid-1400s the Odesa region was ruled by the Lithuanian Kingdom.

During the 14th century and into the beginning of the 15th century, feudal strife led to the division of Kyivan Rus' into smaller principalities. The northwest coast of the Black Sea began to be settled by Ukrainian Cossacks. One of the settlements Khadjzibey is located where present-day Odesa is today.

The first mention of this site dates back to 1415 when Polish king Vladislav the Second sent corn from Khadjzibey to Constantinople. The exact foundation date and even the exact name of this settlement are unclear. Even at this time, Odesa was an important trade center. Grain, fish, and salt from many regions of Ukraine were shipped from this site.

15th Century

In the mid-15th century the Crimean Tartars won independence for a short time from the Polish and Lithuanian empires.

In 1475 the Ottoman Empire captured Crimea and the northern Black Sea area. Khadjzibey was destroyed, and only the ruins of a castle are shown on geographical maps in the 16th and 17th centuries. The capture of the Black Sea meant that Russia was cut off from the Black Sea for decades.

Odesa History — 18th Century

The Ottoman Turks built up the Belgorod Dnestrovsky fortress, which still stands today. They also built a fort in 1764, named Yeny-Dunya (New World), on the rugged cliffs of the Kadjibi Bay (today the Bay of Odesa), were present-day Prymorskyi Boulevard is today. The fortress had high walls with round towers and was situated from the Potemkin stairs up to the Vorontsov Palace, reaching inland to the area of the present-day Vorontsovsky Pereulok.

The Kadjibi Bay fortress only stood for a quarter of a century. It was surrounded by a high wall with round towers and embrasures (crenelles). The main tower, which was square with a conical roof, and also the gates, were in the middle of the wall facing the sea.

In 1721, in the wake of the Great Northern War, Tsar Peter the Great renamed Grand Duchy of Moscow as the Russian Empire, usurping a name long associated with Kyiv. Between 1768 and 1791 Moscow's Empire attacked the Ottoman Empire for control over Ukrainian territories. Moscow wanted an outlet to the Black Sea and the northern coast which had been Ottoman since the 15th century.

Moscow invaded in 1768-1774. In 1770 their fleet destroyed the Turkish fleet in the Black Sea. In the summer of 1773 their ships attacked Turkish transport vessels three times, burning nine transport ships and taking one of them captive. The Turks were now unable to re-supply their garrisons by sea.

The following year the Turks, having assembled their forces to break through to the Sea of Azov, were confronted by Moscow's forces. Numerical superiority in vessels and guns did not help the Turkish seamen, and after heavy defeats on land and sea, the Turks gave up. On July 10th the war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca. Under this 1774 peace treaty, Moscow received an outlet to the Black Sea through the area between the Dniester and the Southern Buh.

Turkey attempted to regain this territory that was lost in the earlier war, resulting in the 1789-1791 war. On September 14th, 1789, during the Russo-Turkish war of 1787-1791, the Khadjibey Bay fortress was seized by Vice-Admiral De Ribas, and Italian nobleman in the employ of Moscow. The Russian army continued to the Dniester and Danube rivers, and the Khadjibey Bay became an important rear shipping point for ammunition and supplies for the Russian army. By December 1790 the Izmail fortress had been seized by Alexander Suvorov's forces, completing the Northern Black Sea area conquest of the Ottoman's Ukrainian territories.

At the end of the war, Ottoman Turks signed a treaty consolidating Moscow's hold on Crimea and much of the Northern Black Sea, formally occupying Odesa, then a medium-sized village, under the Treaty of Jassy in 1792. Odesa was registered as an official naval fortress in 1794.

Odesa History — The Founding of Odesa, 1793-1794

Om Suvorov's initiative, the Dutch military engineer Franz De Volan drew up plans for the harbor and town of Khadjibey. His plan was submitted to Empress Catherine II, and on May 27th, 1794, orders were given to build the harbor as part of a new province. With this new province, Moscow immediately founded many new towns and ports to consolidate its control over Southern Ukraine. This included instructing the people to found the cities of Kherson (1778), Nikolayev (1789), and Tiraspol (1793). A fortress was also built at the port of Khadjibey (modern-day Odesa).

A new fortress, built in 1793, was designed to defend the town from enemies approaching from the sea. It was built near the ruins of the former Kadjibi Bay fortress. Situated high over the coastal cliff it was star-shaped with five bastions and was surrounded by a moat and earthen mounds. It covered only a small area of about 20 hectares (49 acres). The new garrison had 2,000 men with 120 cannons. (Later the fortress lost its military significance and was turned into a medical quarantine). Only one wall and a tower still exist from the fort.

Khadzhibey fortress quarantine arcadeKhadzhibey fortress quarantine arcade

Field Marshall Alexander Suvorov took an active part in the development of the fort and Odesa. He clearly understood that it was essential to quickly erect a fortress and port to discourage future Turkish attacks. Suvorov also supervised the building of a fortress in Kherson.

Catherine II apparently considered making a port of Ochakov, near the mouth of the Buh River, the effective capital of her new province. But Ochakov lacked a good natural harbor. De Ribas and his close collaborator, a Dutch engineer named Franz De Volan, recommended Khadjibey as the site for the region's principal port. The group also oversaw the building of the fortifications in Ovidiopol and Tiraspol.

Suvorov campaigned vigorously for a harbor and town to also be built in Khadjibey, where the harbor was deep and nearly ice-free. Breakwaters, on the model of those found at Naples, Livorno, and Ancona, could be cheaply constructed and would render the harbor safe even for large fleets. The Governor General, Prince Platon Zubov - one of Catherine's favorites - gave decisive support to the latter proposal.

On May 27, 1794 Catherine II gave the following order:

"Taking into account the favorable position. of Khadjibey on the Black Sea and the possible profit connected with it, we declare it necessary to build a military harbor and merchants pier."

The first piles of the port were sunk on September 2nd, 1794. This day has become the 'birthday' of Odesa. The plan was to build the city and port with three harbors in five years. The work was carried out at a frantic pace, even continuing throughout the winter.

In the beginning the new settlement was called Khadjibey but from the beginning of 1795 the name Odessos could be found in official documents.

There are many legends about the origin of the name Odesa, including that Catherine II made the decree herself, stating:

"Let Khadjibey bear the Greek name, but in the feminine gender, let it be known as Odesa."

The most likely version said that the town owes its name to the ancient Greek colony of Odessos, once situated on the northwest coast of the Black Sea. When Odesa was founded, no one knew exactly where that colony had been, but it was believed to be somewhere on the shores of Khadjibey Bay. This prompted the renaming of Khadjibey into Odesa. Today, however, it has been definitely established that the ancient Odessos lay where the present-day Bulgarian city of Varna is located.

Like modern Odesites, the new inhabitants of Odesa could not part with the old name and the name "Khadjibey" remained for several years.

Odesa Mama

Odesa has many nicknames, including the "Riviera of Russia", the "Pearl of the Black Sea", "Odesa Mama", "Window on Europe" for those in the East, "Window on Russia" for those in the West, "Southern Palmyra" and "the Southern Gates". Duke Armand Emmanual Richelieu called his beloved city "the best pearl in the imperial crown".

The town was well planned, built with straight wide streets (the main thoroughfares are 30 meters wide) and taking into account the relief of the terrain.

The new town grew rapidly. Within the first two years, there were already 1,200 different buildings. By 1795 the population was 2,349 residents. A census showed that there were:

  • 1,815 Russians and Ukrainians (Moscow forbade counting them separately)
  • 240 Jews
  • 224 Greeks
  • 60 Bulgarians

By 1817 the population had increased by 10 times, to 32,000 people.

Bulgarians in Odesa

Odesa attracted thousands of Bulgarians fleeing from the tyranny of the Ottoman Empire. There are entire villages populated by Bulgarians in the steppes around the city which exist to this day. The descendants of those first settlers retain the language and traditions of their forefathers. After the opening of the Richelieu Lyceum in 1817, many Bulgarians traveled to Odesa to get an education.

The Bulgarian poet and revolutionary Georgi Rakovsky lived and worked in Odesa, the national hero Christo Botev studied here, and many other prominent figures in science and culture lived in the town.

In the 1850s a society of democratic emigrants was founded, "The Bulgarian Colony" which later became the center of Bulgarian social and cultural movements.

After the defeat of the Bulgarian's September uprising in 1923, about 1,000 political emigrants arrived in Odesa. At that time the Odesa-Varna route again assumed great importance. It was the route along which revolutionary literature published by the Bulgarian refugees was transported to Bulgaria.

Odesa History — Early 19th Century

Catherine II died in the late 18th century. Her son and heir, Pavel, profoundly hated everything involving her memory and deeds, and thus he hated the entire idea of Odesa. In 1801 Pavel was murdered by a group of aristocratic officers. They replaced him with his son Alexander.

In 1805, Tsar Alexander I appointed a young French emigrant, Duke De Richelieu as governor of the three new provinces.

From the start, Odesa was a city that tolerated diversity and innovation, welcoming people of all nationalities who could contribute to the growth of the city. Greeks, Italians, Germans, and Jews helped build the commercial and financial life in Odesa and assumed active roles in the city's cultural and political affairs during much of the nineteenth century.

Odesa served as a haven for refugees fleeing political repression from other countries. Many refugees fleeing the Ottoman Empire, Albanians, Bulgarians, Moldavians, and Greeks settled in Odesa. The Italian revolutionary Guiseppe Garibaldi visited Odesa several times.

This acceptance of political refugees made Odesa, like London, a center for revolutionary movements. In 1814 the Greek organization "Philiki Eteria" (Friendly Community) was organized. This organization played a central part in the successful Greek bid for independence in 1821-1829 from the Ottoman Empire.

Odessa's quarantine groundsOdessa's quarantine grounds

Plague of 1812

In 1812 a plague from the Middle East struck more than 4,000 people, about one-fifth of the population. The dead were buried on a hill called "Chumka". On November 22, 1812, all 32,000 residents of Odesa were forcibly imprisoned in their homes. On 7 January 1813, no more cases were reported from Odesa and the town was reopened after 66 days, but no one was allowed to leave the city. The epidemic killed 2,656 people in 1812; only 24 people died in 1813.

1819-1849 Duty Free policy "porto-franco"

In 1819 the port of Odesa was pronounced a free port (Porto-Frano) in 1819, a port that allowed the selling and storing of imported goods with no customs duties. The intention was to overcome scarcity in the domestic market, by attracting foreign investment capital. A portion of the funds went to the city for development.

The city and the port were ringed with a legal "customs border", anybody who trespassed across this line was imposed a customs duty. During the first period, the border included the city and the suburbs, but this border was shrunk two more times. Today's street Staroportofrankovskaya (Старопортофранковская - today's border between old Odesa and the newer Odesa). The name means "old free port", it was the third customs border for the free port.

This free port made Odesa the number one port in wheat trade and import in all of Europe in the first half of the 19th century. However, an unintended consequence of the law was it encouraged many illegal imports of cheap foreign goods, which moved illegally through Odesa into interior regions of the country. Smuggling was and still is to some extent, an Odesa cottage industry.

This free trade port law existed until 1859.

1850

In 1850, Odesa's population of 100,000 ranked third largest in all of the empire, after Moscow and St. Petersburg. No other European city could match Odesa's growth rate in the 19th century. Odesa's importance was further enhanced with the arrival of the railroad in 1866, connecting Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Iași (Jassy) Romania. Odesa became Russia's principal port for grain exports.

The  Bombardment of OdessaThe Bombardment of Odessa

Crimean War 1853-1856

Odesa suffered bombing from an English and French squadron. One of the first acts of the Crimean War was the bombardment of Odesa on 22 April 1854. In memory of this event, a street was opened in 1881, Rue d'Odessa, located in the Montparnasse district of the 14th arrondissement of Paris.

Throughout the second half of the 19th century, Odesa continued its advances in the fields of culture and education while the face of the town also changed. The theater, burned out by fire, was replaced by a new building, ranked amongst the best in the world. A stock exchange was built, as well as banks, hotels, and shops. Villas and other holiday homes went up along the coastline, and improvements were made in the streets as new pavements and roads were made. Many streets of Moldavanka were even paved with stones salvaged from Pompeii, while other streets were paved with Italian stones from Napoli.

Then began the revolution of the 1870s.

Decades of Tsarist oppression helped form revolutionary movements throughout the lands. In the country, peasants were oppressed by their landlords with few civil rights including the right to purchase land. In the cities industrial workers' living conditions were poor. The average industrial employee worked 11 hours a day, six days a week. Conditions in the factories were incredibly harsh. Little concern was shown for the workers' safety and health. Neither group had any significant political or economic power.

In the 1870s, Odesa began its first factory strikes and the first union groups were formed. Illegal printing shops were established throughout Russia, including Odesa, distributing anti-Tsar and revolutionary material.

Odesa from the 1892 German edition of Baedeker's Russland guidebook.Odesa from the 1892 German edition of Baedeker's Russland guidebook.

But there was progress in life. In 1873 the town began to get its drinking water from the Dniester River, and the first horse-drawn trams were introduced. In 1877 Odesa became the first city in the Russian Empire with a modern sewage system.

The 1865 opening of the University was a major event in the life of the city. The University Professors founded a number of scientific educational societies and institutions. 1871 saw the opening of the Odesa Astronomical Observatory, while somewhat earlier, in 1866, the bacteriologist Ilya Mechnikov founded the first bacteriological station in the Russian empire. The theater, music, literature, and art played an important role in the city's cultural life, and the Museum of Fine Arts was opened in 1899.

Odesa History — 1900-1941

1900

By 1900 Odesa had a population of 449,673. Thirty-three percent of the population (about 138,000) were Jewish and there were also many Russian immigrants driven by the promise of riches in the Ukrainian steppes. In 1905, many impoverished Russians brought their tradition of a pogrom, claiming hundreds of Jewish lives. Isaac Babel describes it in the largely autobiographical The Story of My Dovecote.

In 1904 inflation caused prices of basic goods to climb so rapidly that real wages throughout the empire declined by 20 percent.

In response to the poor working conditions and rising inflation, workers attempted to organize unions. The factory owners bitterly opposed these unions. In 1903 Father Georgy Gapon, a St. Petersburg priest organized the "Assembly of Russian Workers". When four members of the Assembly of Russian Workers were fired at the Putilov Iron Works, Gapon called for industrial strikes. Over 110,000 workers in St. Petersburg went on strike.

In an attempt to settle the dispute, Georgy Gapon decided to make a personal appeal to Nicholas II. He drew up a petition outlining the workers' sufferings and demands. These demands included an eight-hour workday, improved working conditions, wage increases, and an end to the unpopular Russo-Japanese War.

When the procession of workers reached the Winter Palace, it was fired upon by the police. Over 100 workers were killed and 300 wounded. The incident, known as Bloody Sunday, was the tinderbox that started the 1905 Revolution. Strikes took place throughout the country. Middle-class workers established the "Union of Unions" demanding a constituent assembly. Universities closed when entire student bodies staged walkouts.

The Mutiny on the Battleship PotemkinThe Mutiny on the Battleship Potemkin

Odesa and the 1905 Revolution

In response to Bloody Sunday, the Odesa revolutionaries distributed leaflets calling for the overthrow of the government.

By May 1905, one-third of the city's workers were on strike. Revolutionary events of the summer of 1905, includes the Battleship Potemkin mutiny when the crew of the Potemkin staged a mutiny, and workers' demonstrations in Odesa were ruthlessly suppressed.

In September and October of 1905 Odesa joined the rest of the empire by having university rallies, strikes, and demonstrations. On October 14, 1905, high school students boycotted classes to support striking railway workers. Police brutally broke up the protest, injuring several students.

In response, on October 16 students and workers took to the streets of Odesa. They built barricades and fought the police and military with rocks and guns. Military and police became targets of snipers. The authorities responded by opening fire on the protestors. By evening the authorities had control of Odesa streets.

The next day, October 17, the military continued to patrol the city. Schools and many businesses remained closed. At least 4,000 workers went on strike. Workers congregated outside stores that were still open for business, singing songs and drinking vodka.

This same day, in the Russian capital, the October Manifesto was signed by Tsar Nicholas II. The manifesto granted freedom of speech and association. It also promised that people would not be imprisoned without trial. Finally, it promised that no law would become operative without the approval of the State Duma. The Tsar, however, reserved himself the right to dismiss the Duma, thus its influence on the situation of the country remained rather weak.

On October 18 news of the October Manifesto was announced to the general population and thousands of people crowded the streets in celebration. The crowd carried red flags and banners with anti-government slogans. Apartments draped red carpets and shawls from their balconies and windows. Drunk demonstrators forced passersby to take off their hats before the flags. In the mayor's office/city council building, demonstrators ripped down the portrait of the Tsar and substituted a red flag. In the fighting, two policemen were killed and ten wounded. By the evening the disturbances were once again suppressed and the police took control of the streets.

October 19th saw demonstrations of a different sort. Groups of people loyal to the Tsar began to march, singing the national anthem and religious hymns. The group stopped at the city council building and tore down the red flag, replacing it with the original flag. During the procession, a sniper shot and killed a young boy carrying a religious icon. Other shots ran out and the crowd quickly dispersed, fleeing in all directions. Revolutionaries organized by students threw homemade bombs and shot at the pro-Tsarist demonstrators throughout the city.

The large majority of these revolutionaries were Jewish. Odesa was the fourth largest city in the Russian Empire by the century's end, with a very large Jewish population. After the confrontation on October 19th, Odesites blamed Jews and began attacking their Jewish neighbors.

The fighting continued until October 22, 1905. It enveloped the entire city and the bloody conflict spread from the central streets to the outlying districts, primarily Moldovanka, which had a large Jewish population.

For three days and nights the crowds, which included inhabitants of the surrounding villages, robbed shops, destroyed houses and tortured and killed Jews with knives, daggers, and firearms. Bursting with rage, and spurred on by the knowledge that they were assured impunity, the thugs did not spare women, the elderly, or children. Between 400-800 Jews were killed, from Isser Zeltzer, aged one and a half, to 85-year-old Shimon Tsmelzon.

Several thousand Jews managed to escape to the huge yard of the city's oldest Jewish hospital at 32 Myasoedovskaya Street (Мясоедовская), which was surrounded by solid stone buildings. The wounded were also brought to the hospital for treatment. This fighting continued until the October 22nd, when the military reluctantly interceded and stopped the fighting.

Fighters from the Jewish self-defense groups, like those led by Mishka Yaponchik (born Moisei Wolfovich Vinnitsky) the famous Odesan gangster, displayed great courage in rescuing people often at risk to their own lives. In most cases when the self-defense groups appeared the mob would scatter, but when troops and police arrived they would return and continue with their pillaging, as the authorities did little to stop the rampages.

Invaluable assistance in rescuing Jews was provided by voluntary medical groups that included university students and marine college cadets and, it is important to note, were mostly made up of non-Jewish natives of Odesa.

Similarly, there were people of various nationalities among the doctors from the ambulance station, who went to the areas affected by the pogroms under rains of fire, giving first aid to the wounded and transporting them to the hospitals. Documents show that among the doctors who helped the wounded was the founder of the ambulance station, Dr. Yakov Bardach, whose fame spread far beyond the city.

These attacks caused nearly 13% of the population to flee from Odesa in the following months.

1918-1920 Revolution

Shortly after the Bolshevik uprising in Petrograd on November 7th, 1917, the Ukrainian Central Rada in Kyiv proclaimed the formation of the Ukrainian People's Republic (which included Odesa in its boundaries) in its third Universal.

After a period of struggle against the Central Rada, Moscow's Bolsheviks organized an uprising in Odesa, captured strategic buildings on January 26th, 1918 and the next day declared Odesa a Soviet city.

At the negotiations in Brest-Litovsk in January 1918, Ukraine's legitimate leadership, the Central Rada, secured the support of Germany and Austria in exchange for the provision of products. Although the Soviets did not lose their hold on Odesa immediately, the city was liberated in March 1918 by German and Austro-Hungarian troops. Odesa then became part of Pavlo Skoropadskyi's European-supported Ukrainian state until November 1918. Under attack from the advancing Red Army, the European group retreated in April 1919.

In August 1919 troops of nationalist white guards, led by Denikin, seized the city.

On February 7th, 1920 Grigory Kotovsky, a Soviet revolutionary leader of a cavalry brigade, entered the city from the north, and with help of revolutionaries within the city, he crushed the whites, completing the hostile Soviet takeover of Odesa. The Bolsheviks then engaged in a bloody orgy of violence, theft, and rape:

1920-1941 Rebuilding of Odesa

In the winter of 1920-1921 there was a mass uprising of Ukrainian peasants against the Soviets and their oppressive new agricultural policies.

Odesa suffered greatly from the 1921 famine after the Soviet revolution, the result of a large-scale drought. The harvest of 1921 in most regions of Ukraine was enough to stop the famine, but the Soviets required that Ukraine's tributes of food to the industrial centers of Russia not be changed. Lenin was not disturbed by the famine in Ukraine, but by the conditions in Moscow and other Russian cities. Cargos of food from the American Administration of Aid (APA) were delivered to Russia, which withheld them from the people of Ukraine.

After three years of civil war, 95% of the merchant fleet had either been sunk or stolen and one-third of the houses had been destroyed, but by 1928 the port had surpassed its 1913 industrial output.

By 1939 the population had reached 600,000.

By 1940 the industrial output was eight times what it had been in 1913. In all areas, from education, and health care, to manufacturing, Odesa had blossomed.

Odesa History — 1941-1944

Communist Party headquarters (Present day City Council) was bombed in 1941 during World War II (Photo by Hulton-Deutsch/Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images)Communist Party headquarters (Present day City Council) was bombed in 1941 during World War II (Photo by Hulton-Deutsch/Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Nazis invaded on June 22nd, 1941

After a long economic partnership in the 1930s, on June 22nd, 1941 Germany betrayed this partnership by attacking the USSR. The strategic importance of Odesa to the Nazis was obvious. The Nazis wanted to capture Odesa and Sevastopol to end Moscow's domination of the Black Sea and advance on Soviet coal and oil fields. The Nazis could not advance on Crimea until Odesa fell.

Odesa quickly built three defensive lines with barricades, trenches, and anti-tank obstacles. The first was 12-15 miles (20-25 km) from the city, the second 6-12 miles (10-14 km), and the last along Odesa's suburban edge. All day long pensioners, children, and women reinforced the barricades with sandbags and rocks.

Between July 22nd and October 16th, 1941 Nazis bombed Odesa 350 times.

The 73-day siege began as Nazi troops advanced on Odesa on August 5th. A few days later Odesa was blocked by land. Located on a flat steppe, Odesa has no natural barriers to protect it. The coastal batteries along Odesa had been designed for a sea battle, not a land battle.

Factories that had formerly made consumer goods quickly switched to military production. 134 different types of goods were produced and sent directly to the front. This included armored tractors, armored trains, anti-tank mines (made of lipstick tubes), flame throwers (made of tin cans and oil pipes), mines (made of tin cans), and hand grenades. Passenger ships and boats also were modified for military use.

The Nazis concentrated 300,000 men on Odesa, six times more men and five times more artillery than Odesa. Odesa used the sea as a lifeline to ship out wounded and to gain more men, weapons, and supplies. Over 900 voyages were made from Crimea to Odesa. Only 30 aircraft defended Odesa.

On August 19 the Nazis seized the settlement of Bilyaivka, which supplied Odesa with water. As a result, a water rationing system began. Water ration cards were issued. The rate was half bucket of water per person, per day.

Trolley pulled gun, used in the defense of Odesa. This trolley is located in the Memorial to the heroic defense of Odesa - 411th Battery Park located in the Malinovsky Raion (Малиновский район).Trolley pulled gun, used in the defense of Odesa. This trolley is located in the Memorial to the heroic defense of Odesa - 411th Battery Park located in the Malinovsky Raion (Малиновский район).

By mid-September the fighting became particularly fierce as the city defenders held a strip of the coast only 18.5 miles (30 km) wide. From Dolphin Heights in the northeast, the Nazis began to shell Odesa with long-range guns, while their aircraft bombed the coast and town. Odesa was reinforced by soldiers from Moscow, bringing the total number of soldiers defending Odesa up to 5 divisions.

The Soviets decided to deliver a counter-strike against the Nazis. On the night of September 21st, a group of warships arrived from Sevastopol near the Grigoryevsky cape east of Odesa, one of four naval feats noted on the base of the Tomb of the Unknown Sailor in Shevchenko Park. The marines landed on the cape and pierced the Nazi's frontline. Troops in Odesa also began to attack. The landing party took several small villages, seized a great amount of weaponry, and pushed the enemy back 3-6 miles (5-10 km) from the city, and stopped the shelling from the northeast.

Retreat October 1st - October 16th, 1941

By the autumn of 1941, the Nazis were advancing on Moscow and Leningrad, had captured Kyiv, and had invaded the Donets coalfields and the Crimean peninsula. Because of the threat to Crimea, the USSR decided to evacuate from Odesa on September 30th.

The evacuation took place from October 1st to October 16th. During this time the Soviets attempted to shroud the evacuation. Major counterstrikes were launched, rumors were spread about the redeployment of forces, and trenches were created giving the appearance that the city was preparing for a winter siege. The Nazis believed this ploy. 86,000 army members and 15,000 civilians were evacuated to Crimea. These divisions in Sevastopol held out against the Nazis for 250 days.

Old fishermen today say that when the last caravan sailed out of Odesa, it was accompanied by a vast amount of seagulls. They too left Odesa.

During the 73-day-long siege of Odesa, over 160,000 Nazi troops were killed, almost 200 aircraft were shot down, and a hundred tanks were destroyed. The resistance in Odesa slowed down Hitler's advance.

The massacre of Jews was bloody and massiveThe massacre of Jews was bloody and massive

Occupation, October 16th, 1941

On the evening of October 16th, 1941 the Nazis entered Odesa. Immediately they issued a marshal law. Citizens were forbidden to leave their homes without special passes, a night curfew was imposed, they were forbidden from keeping Soviet propaganda books, and they were not allowed to sing songs.

Gallows were set up on the squares, and thousands of people, mostly Jews, were deported to concentration camps in the region. During the occupation, it was under Romanian administration as the capital of Transnistria.

Several partisan groups formed to resist the Nazi occupation, (for more on some of these groups see Catacombs), and Nikolai Arturovich Geft, a talented engineer, (a specialist in marine engines), voluntarily embarked on a difficult and dangerous path, establishing himself as a knowledgeable and experienced engineer to achieve the unlimited confidence of the Nazi occupiers. The underground group of Soviet patriots he created at the shipyard factory conducted reconnaissance and carried out major sabotage on German military ships.

Liberation of Odesa April 10th, 1944

On March 24th, 1944, Marshal Rodion Malinovsky, commander of the 3rd Ukrainian front, began to attack the city.

The Soviets knew that the Nazis were trapped and had nowhere to retreat and that they had mined all of the most prominent schools, hospitals, theaters, factories, and port installations. The Soviets decided to seize the city without preliminary artillery shelling or air bombardment.

The partisans assisted in this attack and destroyed the groups sent out to blow up the city. The partisans also stopped the Nazis from blowing up the damn across the Khadzhibey Liman. This saved a significant part of the city. The partisans stopped the Nazis from blowing up the port, the Scientists Club, the science library, the famous opera and ballet theater and other buildings. The partisans also cut off roads of retreat for the fleeing Nazis.

By April 10th, 1944 Odesa had been liberated. Odesa was awarded the title of “Hero City” the following year.

The rapid advance of Malinovsky's troops and the help of the partisans had stopped many of the Nazi plans to destroy the city. But many other structures had been badly damaged or destroyed; the port; many factories; the train station; homes; schools; libraries; the water works and the power station. The Nazis stole all of the trolley cars and 127 tramcars. The Odesa fleet had lost 75% of its cargo ships and passenger liners. Hundreds of thousands of Odesites (mostly Jews) were killed during the occupation, many in concentration camps, with 30,000 people, mostly Ukrainian Jews, murdered on October 22-23, 1941.

World War Two had a profound psychological effect on the Soviets. Tens of millions of Soviets died. Almost every person in the former USSR lost at least one family member in the war, and many of them killed by the Soviets themselves.

Throughout the Cold War, the Soviets built hundreds of thousands of monuments in honor of themselves on reoccupied nation's territories. During the Cold War, the Soviets wanted to be assured that their military defense was strong, to make sure that a devastating invasion would never happen again. The Soviet memory of the "Great Patriotic War" shaped much of the Cold War. Now, in light of Moscow's criminal invasion of Ukraine, the drive to remove these occupier remnants has picked up speed across the formerly occupied lands.

Odesa after the Great Patriotic War

Recovery 1946-1980s

Despite all the destruction, the city grew rapidly after the war due mostly to an influx of rural people who moved to Odesa seeking an economic opportunity as the city rebuilt.

Today, with over a million people, Odesa retains its unique mix of Slavic and Mediterranean cultures, which is reflected in its eclectic and colorful mix of architectural styles, mixing Empress Catherine's favorite neoclassical style with Italian baroque, Russian Classical, and Soviet styles. Also present are several exquisite examples of art-deco architecture built in the first two decades after the Soviets took over the city.

Between 1946 and 1950 Odesa rebuilt its industry and port capabilities. In the autumn of 1944 the port was able to receive its first ships. The city was rebuilt. By 1950 the economy had been restored and Odesa's industrial output surpassed the pre-war level.

After the war, the Soviets focused more on extracting revenues from industry in Odesa instead of from international trade. New industries were built as dozens of new factories were opened, including those that made cables, presses, and steel.

Independence for Ukraine August 24th, 1991

When Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced reforms into national policy between 1985-1989, it caused a domino effect that no Soviet leader could stop. Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland ceased being communist and declared sovereignty from Moscow. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and a year later the two Germanys were reunited into one. These political upheavals were dubbed "velvet revolutions" for their lack of bloodshed.

Long-repressed Ukrainians gradually awoke. In September of 1990 a huge demonstration in Kyiv was held in commemoration of the Chornobyl disaster. Many other anti-government groups joined the group, and the demonstration quickly became a huge anti-Communist rally, with over 100,000 people taking part. On October 2, 1990, , students began a hunger strike and pitched tents on the main square of Kyiv demanding democratic reforms. The newly democratically elected Ukrainian parliament declared the republic's sovereignty in 1990.

After the failed hard-liners coup against Gorbachev, the Ukrainian parliament declared independence on August 24th, 1991, an act that was approved by 90.3% of the Ukrainian people who voted in a general referendum on December 1st, 1991, including in Crimea.

The new country's government was slow to reform the Soviet-Era state-run economy. Real wages and standard of living for most Ukrainians, especially the elderly, declined significantly after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Many people "voted with their feet" and left the country for more prosperous Western nations. Ukraine's population decreased from 52 million in 1989 to 43.1 million as of November 20, 2022, (based on Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data). Lower birth rates (because couples felt they couldn't afford children) and higher mortality rates are also responsible for this downward trend.

Odesa after Independence

Mayor Hurvets and Mayor Bodelan

Eduard Hurvits was elected the first post-Soviet mayor of Odesa in 1994. Hurvits was widely popular. He made the tram system free, which was well received but almost bankrupted the public transportation system in Odesa. Hurvits ran a classic Ukrainian political machine, awarding cronies plush jobs and city construction contracts. The Odesa Oil terminal, a primary outlet for crude oil exports, led to a local economic boom.

But the government in Kyiv objected to a lack of oversight. Revenues weren't being delivered to the central government as was required. The regional chairman, Ruslan Bodelan, a Soviet-era Communist Party chairman for the Odesa Region, with support from President Kuchma, severely criticized Hurvits.

Leading up to the 1997 mayoral election, one Hurvit official was shot and another disappeared. Bodelan's regional police force also raided the pro-Hurvits TV station ART.

But Hurvits critics were also silenced, Boris Derevianko, the editor and publisher of Vechernyaya Odesa (Вечерняя Одесса - Odesa's most widely read newspaper) was shot to death on 12 August 1997 in a gangland-style shooting. The editor was a strong Hurvits critic. Another Vechernyaya Odesa reporter was beaten with a lead pipe.

In 1997 Mayor Hurvits was elected for another four years, beating rival Ruslan Bodelan in elections. Unwilling to accept the democratically elected mayor, the Odesa Region court and then the Ukrainian High Court voided Hurvit's election to a second four-year term as mayor.

Two days before the election a Prymorskyi District Court ruled that Hurvits' name should be struck from the ballot. The court's entire case was based on the fact that Hurvits' campaign material violated election regulations by failing to include, on each flyer and poster, the total number printed. The Odesa City Court had reversed the verdict in favor of Hurvits and voting went ahead as planned.

The Bodelan-Hurvits feud ended on May 28, 1997, , when a platoon of black berets armed with automatic rifles and search warrants took over Odesa City Hall in a dawn raid. Armed law enforcers also took over the ART television station, a strong supporter of the Hurvits administration.

Later in 1997 Bodelan became Odesa's mayor with 34% of the vote. Bodelan appealed to the pensioners much the same way that Hurvits had, this time during the election campaign he promised a moratorium on all utility payments for pensioners for the next three months. Like the other candidates, he offered the pensioners food staples like bread and flour as a pre-election gift. Most Odesites disliked and mistrusted Bodelan, calling him, in hushed tones, a member of the Mafia.

Hurvits survived two assassination attempts and two of his close associates - Ihor Svoboda and Serhiy Varlamov - were kidnapped. (The body of Varlamov was recovered in 2005). Also in 1998, Hurvits was re-elected to the Verkhovna Rada, this time from the 136th electoral district.

In 2002, Hurvits participated in new mayoral elections, but lost to Bodelan. Later, in 2005, the Prymorskyi district court of Odesa declared the elections invalid and proclaimed Hurvits as Mayor of Odesa. During the 2006 elections, Hurvits was formally elected Mayor of Odesa.

Hurvits returned to national politics on the party list of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform for the 2012 Ukrainian parliamentary election and was elected into the Verkhovna Rada. In the 2014 Ukrainian parliamentary election, Hurvits again tried to win a seat, on the electoral list of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc but failed. He would twice more attempt to win the Mayoral seat, but was unsuccessful.

After the days of the "wild-wild east", as the shadows of communism grew fainter, Odesa developed as a popular tourist destination and industrial center, as well as a shipping port, with very little controversy aside from the usual tales of corruption and political wrangling.

In September 1999 a new Porto-Franco (free trade) economic zone began in Odesa. It is scheduled to run until 2024 when it might be renewed. There is a lot of discussion with European partners about an urban regeneration project in the closed port areas.

Yevgeny VolokinYevgeny Volokin

Odesa History — 2014 Odesa Clashes

In November 2013, large-scale protests erupted across Ukraine in response to President Yanukovych's sudden decision not to sign a political association and free trade agreement with the European Union, despite the Ukrainian Parliament's decision that overwhelmingly approved finalizing the agreement with the EU after years of negotiation and law-harmonization. Yanukovych instead chose closer ties with Russia after a late-night phone call from Vladimir Putin. And while not as large as in other cities, protesters did gather at the Duke statue to show support.

In the spring of 2014, Moscow attempted to expand their illegal land grab of Crimea by trying the same things in other Ukrainian cities, including Odesa, which resulted in the Odesa clashes, when Ukrainian traitors and operatives opened fire on the Peace Unity march of two football clubs as they walked to the Chernomorets Stadium for a match (normally the two fan bases would clash in street brawls).

As a result, Pro-Maidan demonstrators attempted to storm the Trade Union House where the separatists had a base, which caught fire as the two sides threw petrol bombs at each other. The failed putsch then became a favorite talking point of Kremlin propagandists, but the facts are plain to see; Moscow supported the traitors who sought to cleave Odesa from Ukraine, funding and directing them, with tragic results for many innocent victims. They always leave out video clips of the people rescued by the patriotic Ukrainians who were attacked by the separatists as their Molotov supplies in the lobby burned off the oxygen.

At least 38 people were killed in the fire (many of them innocent people shuffled into the building by the separatists from nearby tram stops during the initial panic). That is in addition to those shot in the city center during the unity march.

We strongly recommend reviewing the most authoritative findings, from a chronological collection of events at the May 2nd Group. They have preserved a chronological timeline of events in text, news, and video format.

Odesa History — Russian Invasion of Ukraine

On the 24th of February 2022, Russia again invaded Ukraine in a major escalation of its Russo-Ukrainian War that began in 2014. The invasion has likely resulted in tens of thousands of deaths on both sides and caused Europe's largest refugee crisis since World War II. In his speech announcing the start of his criminal war campaign, Putin specifically mentioned Odesa by name, saying that he had the names of supposed anti-Russian elements in Odesa, who would be "found and punished".

It is very telling that Moscow had already prepared metals for its invading forces, those for Kyiv, Kharkiv, and other Ukrainian cities were for the "occupation of" while those for Odesa alone were intended for the "liberation of". He was counting heavily on popular support here, but he was sadly mistaken. Odesa is and has always been a Ukrainian city, a place those like Pushkin, who could not stand Saint Petersburg or Moscow, would relocate to.

The New York Times reported that Odesa is Putin's "ultimate target", but there are probably few cities in all of Ukraine that are now more anti-Russian than Odesa, especially after missile strikes they have killed new-borns, children and pregnant mothers. As the current mayor was quoted in the article;

“Russia is destroying its claim to be a cultural nation, and Odesa is the intercultural capital of Ukraine,” said Gennadiy Trukhanov, 57, the mayor, himself a former Russian sympathizer. “Mr. Putin has turned Russia into the nation of killing and death.”

Today, Odesa is more than just the maritime capital of Ukraine, it is a city with over one million inhabitants who are more proud than ever of their Ukrainian roots. A city so important to the world economy, that Moscow was forced by the major powers to allow grain to ship from its ports, even after Odesan forces sank Russia's flagship Moskva and obliterated its invaders on Snake Island.

With a safer environment than other embattled southern Ukrainian cities, Odesa's population has actually swelled during the war. As always, Odesa's humor and attitude toward life will ensure a bright future for all that call it home, whether that is for a lifetime, or just a spell... a place you will want to visit as soon as you can!

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