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Potemkin sailor monument


On June 13th, 1905 the Odessa authorities shot several workers from metalworking and machine-construction factories who had been on strike since the beginning of May.

On June 14th, workers retaliated against these shootings by engaging in massive worker stoppages and attacking the police with guns and rocks. That same day, there was a mutiny of the battleship Potemkin. That night the ship entered the harbor bearing the Soviet red flag.

On June 15th, the strikers enthusiastically greeted the ship, jamming the port, to view the battleship and rally behind the mutinous soldiers. The port workers provided the ship with more supplies. The mutinous workers of that port wanted assistance in the capture of the city. But the crew was hesitant, and only fired two shots from a gun aimed at the seat of the local Governmental Council, which missed their target. The striking workers gathered at the port to witness the sailors bring ashore the body of Grigory Vakulenchuk, one of the slain leaders of the mutiny. (Click here for more on the monument of Vakulenchuk)

By late afternoon, fires began in the wooden warehouses. Soviet-era publications blame the authorities for setting the fire. Western publications write that the fire was actually started by the mob. In the ensuing panic of the blaze, the troops cordoned off the port and opened fire on the crowds. Over 1,000 people were killed the night of June 15th, 1905, shot, drowned, or burned in the fire.

A squadron of Russian warships approached Odessa with the intention to capture the battleship Potemkin.

Through an appeal to the crew of the Potemkin, the Russian warships called them to arrest their mutinous leaders, but his flag signals failed to convince the mutineers.

In fact, one of the ships of his own squadron, the Pobiedonosetz, broke out of formation and followed the mutinous Potemkin. The Pobiedonosetz was soon overtaken by her crewmembers loyal to the czar and deliberately run aground in the harbor. The Pobiedonosetz was then boarded by local troops.

Battleship Potemkin

Isolated from the coast by the navy and short on supplies, the Battleship Potemkin sailed out of Odessa on the evening of June 18th.

On June 25th the Potemkin sailors landed their ship and became political refugees in the port town of Constanta, Romania.

S O (Russian) , page 24 photo of Prince Grigori Potemkin

The Battleship Potemkin was named after Prince Grigori Potemkin (1739-1791). Because of his brief relationship with Katherine the Great, Potemkin quickly rose from a low rank in the Russian army to field marshal. He later became a statesman, accumulating great wealth.

(Click here for more on the social unrest in Odessa in 1905)

Why did the Potemkin sailors mutiny?
The Potemkin sailors mutinied for two reasons:

First, the entire Russian fleet was discouraged by the failures of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05, and the incompetent naval leadership leading the war. A large wave of mutinous outbreaks had already occurred in the Russian navy.

Second, the conditions on Russian ships were horrible for the sailors.

The actual mutiny on the Potemkin started in a small way. The Potemkin sailors protested about rotten meat. It soon escalated into a shooting between the officers and the crew, during which Captain Golikov and most of the officers were killed, and the remaining officers were arrested. The same day the ship sailed into Odessa.

Architects for the statue were M. Volkov and U. Lapin,. It was sculpted by V. Bogdanov, and unveiled in 1965, on the 60th anniversary of mutiny. The memorial captures the first moments of the uprising when the commanding officers gave orders to shot the mutinous soldiers. By tearing off their hats before being shot, the sailors were symbolically casting aside the reigns of czarism.

The bronze figures stand proudly on a high granite pedestal. The pedestal bears Lenin's words:
The Battleship Potemkin remains unconquered territory of the revolution.

The pedestal also reads:

To the sailors of the Potemkin, from their descendants.

Odessites call this monument "10 kopecks" because some of the sailors appear to be looking for money at the base.

S O (Russian) , page 178 photo of Former monument to Queen Katherine
Originally this site had a beautiful monument to Queen Katherine, designed by Y. Dmirienko. Zealous communist city officials ordered the statue tore down in the 1930's. Fragments of the statue, including the bust of Katherine and the base of the monument, can be found in the courtyard of the History and Local Lore Museum.

The statue was an imitation of a similar monument in St. Petersburg. Remarkably, the original Katherine the Great statue was not demolished, and still stands today.