Capital of the Odeska oblast, Odesa is a major port on the Black Sea coast. Under Russian rule in the nineteenth century, it was the most important city after Moscow and St Petersburg.
Odesa was mentioned in 1415 as a Tatar settlement named Khadzhibei. As a port of strategic importance it was controlled by Lithuania–Poland and, from 1764, the Ottoman Turks. During the Russo-Turkish war of 1787–1791 Black Sea Cossacks took the settlement and renamed it Odesa in 1795. Using slave labour they rebuilt the port and town. From 1803–14 it was governed by the Duke of Richelieu, a French nobleman in exile. It grew as a key port (especially for grain) and benefitted from the introduction of the railways in the 1860s.
The Russian revolution of 1905 took in the Potemkin mutiny in Odesa, later depicted in Sergey Eisenstein’s film, Battleship Potemkin. When Turkey blocked Allied access to the Dardanelles during World War I, the port of Odesa was closed and was subsequently attacked by Turkish forces. In the 1917 revolution the city changed hands several times before the Bosheviks prevailed. A famine hit the city in 1921–2 and it was besieged by Germans and Romanians in 1941. Capitulating after a long struggle, it served as capital of Transnistra under Romanian authority. Much of the fabric of the city was devastated during the occupation and an estimated 250,000 people (principally Jews) were murdered or deported. The Soviets liberated Odesa in April 1944 and during the Soviet era it remained a key port and ship-building centre.
Ukraine’s largest port, the local economy relies on fishing, whaling, ship-building and port-related activities. Engineering, chemicals, oil, food processing and consumer and heavy manufactures are also important.
Odesa has rail links with destinations throughout Ukraine, as well as Moldova and Romania, and there is an international airport. There is a university.
Places of Interest
Attractions include the catacombs, Prymorsky Bulvar (a seafront boulevard with parks and the steps featured in Battleship Potemkin), the classical Palace of Vorontsov, the Viennese-style Opera and Ballet theatre and the Pasazh shopping mall complete with Baroque sculptures. The cathedral of the Assumption, Pantelejmonovska church and Ilinsky cathedral are all popular. There are museums of archaeology, maritime history and literature. The Museum of Partisan Glory celebrates the resistance movement of World War II.