Woman on Deribasovskaya
in traditional dress
Early 19th century Odessa
the Great, the royal founder of Odessa,
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 Odessa.
In 1801Pavel was murdered by a group of aristocratic
officers. They replaced him with his son Alexander.
In 1805, Czar Alexander I appointed a young
French emigrant, Duke
De Richelieu as governor of the three provinces
Odessa was a city that tolerated diversity and innovation,
welcoming persons of all nationalities who could contribute
to the growth of the city. Greeks, Italians, and Jews
helped build the commercial and financial life in
Odessa and assumed active roles in the city's cultural
and political affairs during much of the nineteenth
Odessa 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 Odessa.
This acceptance of political refuges made Odessa,
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 against
the Ottoman Empire ("Greek
Collection Fund" museum celebrating Odessa's
contribution to this movement) In the middle of
the 19th century Odessa also was also home of many
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"
Duty Free policy "porto-franco", 1819-1849.
In 1819 the port of Odessa 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
The city and the port was 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 Odessa and newer Odessa), means
"old free port", it was the third customs
border for the free port.
This free port made Odessa the number one port in
wheat trade and import in all of Europe in the first
half of the 19th century. But an unintended consequence
of the law was it encouraged many illegal imports
of cheap foreign goods, which moved illegally through
Odessa into interior regions of the country.
This free trade port law existed until 1859.
Photo of Odessa, 1850's
In 1850, Odessa's population of 100,000 ranked third
largest in all of Russia, after Moscow and St. Petersburg.
No other European city can match Odessa's growth rate
in the 19th century. Odessa's importance was further
enhanced with the arrival of the railroad in 1866,
connecting Kiev, Kharkiv, and Jassy, Romania. Odessa
became Russia's principal port for grain exports.
Crimean War 1853-1856
Odessa suffered bombing from an English and French
(For more about the Crimean War, see page ** Crimean
The beginning of the revolution in the 1870's
Decades of Czarist oppression helped form revolutionary
movements throughout Russia.
In the country Peasants were oppressed by their landlords
with little civil rights including the right to purchase
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 to the workers safety and health.
Neither group had any significant political or economical
In the 1870's, Odessa began its first factory strikes
and the first union groups were formed. Illegal printing
shops were established throughout Russia, including
Odessa, distributing anti-Czar and revolutionary material.
In 1873 the water way from the Dniester
River was opened. In 1877 Odessa became
the first city in the Russian Empire with a modern
1892 map of Odessa
By 1900 Odessa had the lowest number of people
of Ukrainian decent of any other large Ukrainian city.
Thirty three percent of the population were Jewish
and a large minority were also Russian.
Bloody Sunday and the 1905 revolution
In 1904 inflation caused prices of basic goods
to climb so rapidly that real wages throughout Russia
declined by 20 per cent.
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 Georgi 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, Georgi 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.
and the 1905 revolution
In response to bloody Sunday, the Odessa revolutionaries
distributed leaflets calling for the overthrow of
By May 1905, 1/3 of the city's workers were
For revolutionary events of the summer of 1905,
including the Battleship Potemkin
mutiny, refer to the Potemkin
In September and October of 1905 Odessa joined
the rest of Russian 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 Odessa. 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 Odessa 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 Czar 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 Czar, however, reserved himself the right to dismiss
the Duma, thus its influence on the situation of the
country remained rather minute.
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 of their hats before the
flags. In the mayors office / city council building,
demonstrators ripped down the portrait of the Czar
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 Czar 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-Czarist demonstrators
throughout the city.
The large majority of these revolutionaries were
Odessa was the fourth largest city in the Russian
Empire by century's end, with a Jewish
population of approximately 138,000, or 33%, in a
city with 403,000 inhabitants. After the confrontation
on the October 19th, Odessites blamed Jews
and began attacking their Jewish
The fighting continued until October 22, 1905.
It enveloped the entire city and the bloody spread
from the central streets to the outlying districts,
primarily Moldovanka, which had a large and impoverished
poor Jewish population.
For three days and nights the crowds, which included
inhabitants of the surrounding villages, robbed shops,
destroyed houses, 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 from the
to the huge yard of the city's oldest Jewish hospital
(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 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.
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, often contained non-Jewish citizens of Odessa.
Similarly, there were people of various nationalities
among the doctors from the ambulance station, who
went to the areas affected by the pogroms under rain
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 Odessa in the following months.
For more on the history
of Odessa attacks on Jews click here: www.moria.farlep.net/vjodessa/en/pogroms.html,
site can be found on this site here . This site
has a "virtual tour" of Jewish
historical events in Odessa.
Shortly after the Bolshevik uprising in Petrograd
on November 7, 1917, the Ukrainian Central
Rada in Kiev proclaimed the formation of the Ukrainian
People's Republic (which included Odessa in its boundaries)
in its third Universal (7 November 1917, new
style). After a period of struggle against the Central
Rada, the Bolsheviks organized an uprising in Odessa,
captured strategic buildings on January 26, 1918
and the next day declared Odessa a Soviet city. At
the negotiations in Brest-Litovsk in January 1918,
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 Odessa
immediately, the city was seized in March 1918
by German and Austro-Hungarian troops. Odessa then
became part of Skoropadsky's Axis-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 the hated General Denikin siezed the
On February 7th, 1920 G. 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, ending the
Soviet revolution in Odessa.
1920-1941 Rebuilding of Odessa
In the winter of 1920-1921 there was a mass
uprising of Ukrainian peasants against the Soviets
and new agricultural policies.
Odessa 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 the supply of food to industrial
centers of Russia not be changed. Lenin was not disturbed
by the famine in Ukraine, but by the conditions in
Moscow and other cities. Cargo of food from the American
Administration of Aid (APA), went to Russia but was
not sent to Ukraine.
After three years of civil war, 95% of the merchant
fleet had either been sunk or stolen and 1/3 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, health care, to manufacturing, Odessa had
The Nazi invasion June 22, 1941
On June 22, 1941 Germany attacked the USSR.
The strategic importance of Odessa to the Nazis was
great. The Nazis wanted to capture Odessa and Sevastopol
to end the Soviet domination of the Black Sea, and
advance on Soviet coal and oil fields. The Nazis could
not advance on Crimea until Odessa fell.
Odessa quickly built three defensive lines with barricades,
trenches, and anti-tank obstacles. The first was 12-15
miles (20-25 kilometers) from the city, the second
6-12 miles (10-14 kilometers), and the last along
Odessa's suburban edge. All day long pensioners, children
and women reinforced the barricades with sandbags
Communist party headquarters
(Present day mayor's office)
bombed in 1941 during World War II.
Between July 22nd and October 16th, 1941 Nazis
bombed Odessa 350 times.
The 73-day siege began as Nazi troops advanced on
Odessa on August 5th. A few days later Odessa
was blocked by land.
Located on a flat steppe, Odessa had no natural barriers
to protect it. The coastal batteries along Odessa
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 tine 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 Odessa, six
times more men and five times more artillery than
Odessa used the sea as a lifeline to ship out wounded
and to gain more men, weapons, and supplies. Over
900 voyages were made from the Crimea to Odessa.
Only 30 aircraft defended Odessa.
On August 19 the
Nazi's seized the settlement of Belya-evka, which
supplied Odessa with water. As a result a water rationing
system began. Water ration cards were issued. The
rate was 1/2 bucket of water per person, per day.
(For more on Odessa's
water problems click here)
Trolley pulling gun, used in the defense of Odessa
This trolley is located in the extensive and fascinating
World War II park located
Malenovski Region (Малиновский район) South Odessa
Photo by Galen
By mid-September the fighting
became particularly fierce as the city defenders held
a strip of the coast only 18.5 miles (30 kilometers)
wide. From the Dolphin heights in the northeast, the
Nazis began to shell Odessa with long range guns,
while their aircraft bombed the coast and town. Odessa
was reinforced by soldiers from Moscow, bringing the
total number of soldiers defending Odessa up to 5
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 Odessa. The marines landed
on the cape and pierced the Nazi's frontline. Troops
in Odessa also began to attack. The landing party
took several small villages, seized a great amount
of weaponry, pushed the enemy back 3-6 miles (5-10
kilometers) 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 Kiev, and had
invaded the Donets coalfields and Crimean peninsula.
Because of the threat to the Crimea, the USSR decided
to evacuate from Odessa on September 30.
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 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 Odessa, it was accompanied by a vast
amount of seagulls. They too left Odessa.
During the 73 day long siege of Odessa, over 160,000
Nazi troops were killed, almost 200 aircraft were
shot down, and a hundred tanks were destroyed. The
resistance in Odessa had slowed down Hitler's advance
Occupation October 16th, 1941
In the evening of October 16th, 1941 the Nazi's
entered Odessa. Immediately they issued marshal law.
Citizens were forbidden to leave there homes without
special passes, a night curfew was imposed, they were
forbidden from keeping Soviet propaganda books, and
they were not allowed to sing Russian or Ukrainian
Gallows were set up on the squares, and thousands
of people, mostly Jews,
were deported to concentration camps in the region.
During occupation it was under Romanian administration
as the capital of Tranistra.
Several partisan groups formed to resist the Nazi
occupation, for more on some of these groups see
Catacombs, and Nikolai
Arturovich Geft Memorial plaque.
Liberation of Odessa April 10th, 1944
On March 24th, 1944,
Malinovsky commander of the 3rd Ukrainian front,
began to attack the city. (Malinovsky
has a monument in Odessa, see Marshal Rodion Malinovsky
The Soviets knew that the Nazis were trapped and
had know were 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 with no preliminary artillery shelling
and without 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 Khadjibey Liman. This saved a significant part
of the city. The partisans stopped the Nazis from
blowing up the port, Scientists club, science library,
opera theater and other buildings. The partisans also
cut off roads of retreat for the fleeing Nazis.
By April 10th, 1944 Odessa had been liberated.
The rapid advance of Malinovsky's
troops and the help of the partisans had stopped many
of the Nazis 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 power station. The
Nazis stole all of the trolley cars and 127 tramcars.
The Odessa fleet had lost 75% of its cargo ships and
More than a quarter of a million people, 280,000
Odessites (mostly Jews)
were killed during the occupation, many in concentration
World War Two (The Great Patriotic War) 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.
Ukrainians believe that the Soviets won World War
Two. They refer to the fact that America only joined
the European land war in the later part of the conflict,
after the Axis was in retreat. Speaking with some
Ukrainians you get a sense that Ukrainians feel that
America in WW2 was opportunistic, only wanting to
control the spoils of what the Russians had already
won with their own blood. One historian said that
America "won the war" with the lives of
the Soviet soldiers. There is some justification to
this view; the USSR lost more lives in the Great Patriotic
War than any other nation.
Throughout the Cold War, the Soviets built hundreds
of thousands of monuments in memory of the Great Patriotic
War. 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.