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Odesa History, Ukraine

Odesa (also spelt as Odessa), established as a city only in 1794, is quite a young city; but then, this opening chapter of Odesa history was preceded by an extended pre-history when the region witnessed rules and habitation by different people and empires – Greeks, Kiev Rus, Golden Horde, Crimean Khanate, Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Ottoman Empire. The rule of the Ottoman Empire came to an end with the Russo-Turkish War of 1787–1792, when the Turkish fortress of Yeny Dunya was captured by the Russian forces of Tsarina Catherine the Great.

Odesa History – The Establishment of the City Till 1859

Catherine the Great laid the foundation of the city of Odesa in 1794 following Russia’s victory over the Turks. Catherine dreamt of developing the city to match the standing, the eminence of St. Petersburg. Odesa soon became the Novorossiya’s chief seaport and started attracting merchants from far and wide.

Frenchman Duke de Richelieu was appointed the first gradonachalik or mayor of the city in 1803 by Tsar Alxander I. Duke de Richelieu and another nobleman of French-origin, Count Andrault de Langeron, share between them the honor of planning the city – complete with facilities and infrastructure. (Duke de Richelieu was elevated to the rank of the governor of Novorossiya in 1805 and when he left for France in 1814 after having served the Russian Empire ably, Count Andrault de Langeron succeeded him as the governor).

Odesa became a free-port in the year 1819 and it remained so until 1859. This period of Odesa history proved very significant as the city acquired a very cosmopolitan air with the arrival of hosts of foreign merchants and traders, who went on to adopt the city as their home. Odesa’s all-round progress in this period brought it recognition as Russia’s third most important city.

Then the Crimean War (1853 -1856) happened – the war not only halted Odesa’s development, damage and destruction to public property was caused by British and French bombardments. Odesa’s misfortune, however, did not continue for long and the end of the war saw Odesa walking once again on the path of progress and achieving success as a commercial hub.

Odesa ceased to be a free-port from 1859.

Odesa History – 1860 to 1960

Odesa’s success-story continued even as it entered the second-half of the 19th century. The city got some important railway links connecting it to other commercial hubs like Kiev, Kharkiv, etc. even as it became Russia’s chief grain-exporting port. Odesa also advanced culturally and socially, becoming a centre of arts and academics. By this time, Odesa had become home to followers of different faith and the Jewish-faith was among them.

The first half of the 20th century was rather turbulent – it all began with the workers’ uprising of 1905, which was given the name, Battleship Potemkin uprising because the revolt was supported by the crew-members of the Russian battleship.

The World War I days and the days of the Bolshevik Revolution again went against the interests of Odesa – different power-groups laid siege over the city at different points in time. By 1920, the city was captured by the Red Army and incorporated into the USSR.

World War II again saw the city occupied by German and Romanian forces. The initial days of occupation (which began in 1941 and lasted until 1944) proved most atrocious as Odesans, mostly Jews, were either killed or deported to Nazi extermination camps in hordes in the first six months. This gruesome, ghastly period of Odesa history was followed by slightly relaxed, lenient governance by the Romanian administration as it took a little notice of the plight of the Odesans. The Red Army liberated the city on 10 April 1944 after fierce battle that caused severe damage and destruction. The city somewhat recovered over the next decade or so under the Soviet Rule.

Odesa History – 1960 Onwards

The post-1960s period saw the city picking up momentum once again as it underwent development in different spheres, never compromising its rich cultural diversity and heritage. These were, however, one of the trying-times in the history of the city as it also witnessed mass exodus of Jews, denting its cosmopolitan verve, even if slightly.

Following the collapse of Communism in 1991, Odesa became a city of the newly created country, Ukraine. Present-day Odesa is not only one of the important cities of Ukraine, but it is also the chief commercial port of the nation.

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