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History of Odessa


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Odessa History
8th century BC - 4th century AD

The city of Odessa 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 and Europe) and Ukraine's geographic features (the majority being lowland steppe) have historical made Ukraine a victim of marauding armies and inter-continental military conquests.

8th century BC - 4th century AD
Between the first millenium BC and the 1st century AD the following groups inhabited the steppes along the Black Sea coast:

Cimmerians (before 710 BC):
Cimmerians were steppe nomads that were famous for their skill in horsemanship. For several years they raided the northern kingdoms of the Middle East. They were driven of 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 repeated times. 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):
A relatively peaceful group, which eventually split into three smaller tribes, the Iazygians, the Roxolani, and the Alans. The Alans remained around the Caspian Sea. The other two tribes were assimilated into the invading Goths and Huns.

6th century BC
Greek colonists began to colonize the Odessa area around 6th century BC. The Greeks migrated because their homeland's soil was thin and rocky, not suited to raising grain or pasturing animals, yet their population was booming. Some of the Greek poleis (independent city-states) drained away their populations through colonization. These colonizes then became centers which 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 Odessa.

One of the most important Black Sea towns of the period was Olvia, on the Southern Buh River (31 miles (50 kilometers) north of Odessa) and the large trade center Tyras (31 miles (50 kilometers) southwest of Odessa at the site of present day Belgorod-Dniestrovsky). The distance between the two cities was 62 miles (100 kilometers), so an intermediate landing site was set up were present Odessa is today. Recently, near the children's palace, archaeologists found traces of this ancient Greek settlement.

1st and 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, Romans 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 smaller 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 covered all territory between the Baltic and Black Seas. Ermanarich reached the Volga and challenged the Huns; the Huns reaction was to destroy the Ostrogoth kingdom.

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.

Odessa History
5th century - 15th century

5th century - 10th 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 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 through 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 Southern Russia and Ukraine to consolidate their power and create the first East Slavic State.

The" primary chronicle" 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 Vladmir converted to Christianity in the Eastern Church and imposed baptism on his subjects.

In the 9th-12th centuries, Slavs built many townships, including present day Belgorod-Dnestrovsky.

What followed was a "golden Age" for Kyvian Rus. After Bysantium (the Eastern Roman Empire), Kievan Rus was the largest and most culturally advanced state in Eastern Europe.

13th century
In 1206 the tribes of Mongolia united under Genghis Khan to form the most formidable military force of the Middle Ages. The first casualty was northern China, followed by an invasion of Central Asia and Russia. Next the Mongols ravaged Ukraine. The resistance to the invasion was greatly weakened by the lack of any solidarity between the Kieven Rus principalities. So many of the Slavic people ended up in captivity that the name Slav, which originally meant "glorious," became the root for the English word "slave."

The Mongols withdrew to the East after receiving 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 Kiev. In 1237 they then enacted there 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 set up a new base of command in Hungary, but before ravaging Europe further, he received news that his uncle, the Great Khan Ugedey, had died in Mongolia. Since Batu was a candidate for Genghis Khan's throne, he called off his invasion and returned to Mongolia, sparing the rest of Europe from complete destruction.

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

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

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


14th Century
In the mid 1300's, Lithuanian princess increased their takeover of eastern principalities of Kyiv Rus', from 1360 to mid 1400's the Odessa 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 Kievan Rus into smaller principalities. The northwest coast of the Black Sea began to be settled by Ukrainians and Russians. One of settlements Khadjzibey, is located were present day Odessa is today.

The first mention of this site dates back to 1415 when Polish king Vladislav the second send corn from Khadjzibey to Constantinople. The exact foundation date and even the exact name of this settlement is unclear. Even at this time, Odessa 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.

Odessa History
18th century

18th century
The Ottoman Turks fortified many existing fortresses including the Belgorod Dnestrovsky fortress, which still stands today. The Ottoman Turks also built a fort in 1764, named Yeny-Dunya (New World), on the rugged cliffs of the Kadjibi Bay (today the Bay of Odessa), were present day Primorsky Boulevard is today. The fortress had had high walls with round towers and was situated from the Potemkin stairs up to the Children's Palace. The Kadjibi Bay fortress only stood for a quarter of a century.

Between 1768 and 1791 the Russian Empire fought the Ottoman Empire for control of Ukrainian territories. Russia wanted an outlet to the Black Sea and a return of the northern coast which had been captured by the Ottoman empire in the 15th century.

Russia invaded in 1768-1774. In 1770 the Russian fleet destroyed the Turkish fleet in the Black Sea. In the summer of 1773 ships successfully attacked Turkish transport vessels three times. Russian seamen burnt nine transport ships and took 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 the Russian forces. Numerical superiority in vessels and guns did not help the Turkish seamen, and after heavy defeats on land and sea the Turks surrendered. On 10 July the war ended with the signing of the Kuchuk-Kaynardji Peace Treaty. Under the 1774 peace treaty, Russia 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 14, 1789, during the Russian-Turkish war of 1787-1791, the Kadjibi Bay fortress was seized by Iosiph Mickailovich De Ribas. The Russian army continued to the Dniester and Danube rivers, and the Kadjibi 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 Vasilievich Suvorov's forces, completing the Northern Black Sea area conquest of the Turks.

At the end of the war, Ottoman Turks signed a treaty consolidating Russian hold on the Crimea and much of the Northern Black Sea.

The founding of Odessa, 1793-1794
In 1794 Katherine the Great formed the conquered Turkish territories into a province called Novorossiya (New Russia). With this new province, Russia immediately founded many new towns and ports to consolidate its control of Southern Ukraine. This included building the cities Kherson (1778), Nikolayev (1789), and Tiraspol (1793). A fortress was also built at the port of Khadjibey (modern day Odessa).

9271; 7A negatives only

Map of Hadjibei on Lanzjeronovskaya spusk
(decent/stairs) (Ланжероновская спуск)

The 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 exists from the fort, see page **)

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

Katherine the Great apparently considered making a port of Ochakov, near the mouth of the Buh river, the effective capital of Novorossiya. But Ochakov lacked a good natural harbor. De Ribas and his close collaborator, a Dutch engineer named Franz De Volan, Recommended Khadjibei as the site for the region's principal port. The group also oversaw the building of the fortifications in Ovidiopol and Tiraspol.

Suvorov also campaigned vigorously for a harbor and town to also be built in Khadjibei. Khadjibei's 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 of Novorossiya, Prince Platon Zubov - one of Katherine's favorites - gave decisive support to the latter proposal.

On May 27, 1794 Katherine the Second gave the following order:
"Taking into account the favorable position. of Khadjibei on the Black Sea and the possible profit connected with it, we declare it necessary to build a military harbor and merchants pier."

She immediately sent twenty-six thousand rubles to De Ribas and De Volan to build a harbor. On September 2nd, 1794, the first piles of the port were sunk. This is considered Odessa's birthday.

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 Khadjibei, but from the beginning of 1795 the name Odessa can be found in official documents.

There are many legends about the origin of the name Odessa, including that Katherine the Great made the decree herself, stating "Let Khadjibei bear the Greek name, but in the feminine gender, let it be known as Odessa."

Another legend says that the city was named after an ancient Greek colony, Odessos, in present day Varna, Bulgaria that mistakenly was thought to be at the site of Odessa. The name Odessos means "great trade way", a very fitting name for Odessa.

Like modern Odessites, the new inhabitants of Odessa could not part with the old name and the name "Khadjibei" remained for several years.

Odessa Mama
Odessa has many nicknames, including "Riviera of Russia", the "Pearl of the Black Sea", "Odessa Mama", "Window on Europe" for Russians, "Window on Russia" for foreigners, "Southern Palmyria" 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 1200 different buildings. By 1795 the population was 2349 residents. A census showed that there were:

1815 Russians and Ukrainians
240 Jews
224 Greeks
60 Bulgarians

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


Bulgarians in Odessa

Odessa 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 retrain the language and traditions of their forefathers. After the opening of the Richelieu institute in 1817, many Bulgarians traveled to Odessa to get an education. At the beginning of the twentieth century Bulgarian revolutionaries, students and workers risked their lives transporting through Varna, Bulgaria and Odessa the first Russian national underground Marxist paper "Iskra", founded by Lenin and published abroad under his guidance.

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

--From Odessa, a guide

Woman on Deribasovskaya
in traditional dress

Odessa History
19th century

Early 19th century Odessa
Katherine 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 of Novorossiya.

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 century.

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 Bulgarian revolutionaries.

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 development.

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 squadron.
(For more about the Crimean War, see page ** Crimean war cannon)

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 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 to the workers safety and health.

Neither group had any significant political or economical power.

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 sewage system.

1892 map of Odessa

Odessa History

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.

Odessa and the 1905 revolution

In response to bloody Sunday, the Odessa revolutionaries distributed leaflets calling for the overthrow of the government.

By May 1905, 1/3 of the city's workers were on strike.

For revolutionary events of the summer of 1905, including the Battleship Potemkin mutiny, refer to the Potemkin sailor monument.

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 Jewish. 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 neighbors.

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, the mirror of this
site can be found on this site here
. This site has a "virtual tour" of Jewish
historical events in Odessa.

1918-1920 Revolution

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 city.

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 blossomed.

Odessa History

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 and rocks.

Communist party headquarters
(Present day mayor's office)
bombed in 1941 during World War II.
From Corbis.com

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.

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 in the
Malenovski Region (Малиновский район) South Odessa
Photo by Galen Frysinger

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 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 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 on Russia.

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 songs.

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, Marshal Rodion Malinovsky commander of the 3rd Ukrainian front, began to attack the city. (Malinovsky has a monument in Odessa, see Marshal Rodion Malinovsky Bust)

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 passenger liners.

More than a quarter of a million people, 280,000 Odessites (mostly Jews) were killed during the occupation, many in concentration camps.

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.


From www.rybak-et-al.net/odessa.htm

"A boy in this photo is me in 1955. On the background you can see a sculpture of Lenin and Stalin sitting on the bench and talking to each other. For many years this sculpture was in Odessa in the Sobor Square whose name originates from a beautiful church (sobor) which had been destroyed earlier by the followers of Lenin and Stalin. It is interesting, that in 1956, right on the next morning after The Twentieth Congress of The Communist Party (which convicted Stalin), Stalin disappeared from the sculpture. It looked like he offended with the Party and left without answering the last Lenin's question. Lenin was left alone and was waiting for Stalin's answer for about ten years until the whole sculpture disappeared from the Sobor Square."

I beleive the same statue, without Lenin, can now be found here.

Odessa after the Great Patriotic War

Recovery 1946-1980s
Between 1946 and 1950 Odessa received 2,200,000 rubles to rebuild the industry and port. 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 Odessa's industrial output surpassed the pre-war level.

After the war, the Soviets focused more on industry in Odessa instead of international trade. New industries were built as dozens of new factories were opened. These included factories that made cable, presses, and steel.

Photo by Galen Frysinger

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, 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.

Suppressed Ukrainian nationalist feelings gradually awoke. In September of 1990 a huge demonstration in Kiev was held in commemoration of the Chernobyl 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 Kiev demanding democratic reforms. The newly democratically elected Ukrainian parliament declared the republics 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 the 90.3% of the Ukrainian people who voted in a general referendum on December 1st, 1991.

The new country's government has been slow to reform the Soviet Era state run economy. Real wages and standard of living for most Ukrainians, especially the elderly, has declines significantly since the fall of the Soviet Union. People are "voting with there feet" and leaving the country. The population has decreased by three million people since 1989, from 52 million to 49 million today. Lower birth rates (because couples feel they cannot afford to have a baby) and higher mortality rates are also responsible for this downward trend.

Scandals have not helped this fledgling democracy. The former Prime Minister of Ukraine sits in an American jail, charged with embezzling millions of public funds. Many political figures, businessmen, and journalists have been assassinated. The current president was accused of masterminding the assassination of a journalist after a bodyguard recorded his conversations.

Odessa after independence

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

But the government in Kiev objected to all this independence. Much of the cash wasn't getting back to the central government. The regional chairman, Ruslan Bodelan, a Soviet-era Communist Party chairman for Odessa Region, with support from Kuchma, the current President, 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, the editor and publisher of Vechernyaya Odessa (Odessa's most widely read newspaper) was shot to death. The editor was a strong Hurvits critic. Another Vechernyaya Odessa 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 Odessa 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 Malinovsky District Court ruled that Hurvit's name should be struck from the ballot. The courts entire case was absurdly 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 Odessa City Court had reversed the verdict in favor of Hurvits and voting had gone 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 Odessa City Hall in a dawn raid. Armed law enforcers also took over the ART television station, a strong supporter of the Hurvits administration.

Despite promises that he would never leave Odessa, Hurvits, a Jew, fled to Israel later that year, trailed by corruption charges.

Later in 1997 Bodelan became Odessa'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 Odessites dislike and mistrust Bodelan, calling him, in hushed tones, a member of the Mafia. (For information on Bodelan and the Nickolayev Church)

Today in Odessa, pensions are paid on time (though they are still less than $20 a month) and food prices are lower after anti-organized crime sweeps cut back racketeering in the city's farmers' markets. But many factories are working at a lower capacity and wages are miserly if they are paid at all.

In September 1999 a new Porto-Franco (free trade) economic zone began in Odessa. It is scheduled to run for 25 years.


One of hundreds of flags around Odessa on August 3rd, 2002, in memory of the 85 people who died in Lviv in the world's worst air show disaster. The second photo is of construction worker's below the flag

Click here to see the famous figures of Odessa