Rid­ing the cur­rents:

The ori­gins of Dnipro, the city and its name

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Oleh Repan

The his­tory of Dnipro

Modern eco­nomics says that pro­vid­ing ser­vices is a prof­itable busi­ness. How­ever, this is hardly a new no­tion. The an­ces­tors of modern Dnipri­ans es­tab­lished them­selves a city where it was pos­si­ble to make money, if not from thin air, then cer­tainly from the com­bi­na­tion of earth and wa­ter.


What does any­one re­ally know about the emer­gence of Dnipro, or Dnipropetro­vsk un­til re­cently? In of­fi­cial doc­u­ments and even on the ban­ners on the cen­tral av­enue, which was named af­ter Dmytro Ya­vornyt­skiy, the date is 1776. But this num­ber has about the same re­la­tion­ship to the birth of the city as a hus­band’s name taken on by a young woman has to her own birth. Who es­tab­lished this of­fi­cial date? None other than Leonid Brezh­nev. He was born there and much of his ca­reer is tied to the city and the oblast.

At one point, Brezh­nev’s ju­bilee spurred the then­mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment to be cre­ative in prepar­ing a pleas­ant gift: they brought the Gen­eral Sec­re­tary the ju­bilee of Dnipropetro­vsk—which meant chang­ing the of­fi­cial found­ing year from 1787 to 1776. The ba­sis for this new num­ber was the foun­da­tion plans for Katerynoslav-Kilchen­skiy, also known as Katerynoslav-1, which were found in the cor­re­spon­dence of Azov Gover­nor Vasiliy Chertkov. In­ter­est­ingly, de­spite the mod­ern­day city’s size, it still has not ex­panded to en­com­pass the ter­ri­tory where this Katerynoslav-Kilchen­skiy was built. The 200th an­niver­sary in 1976 was con­ve­nient: the city was given fund­ing from the bud­get for a wide range of projects and its coun­cil ended up look­ing very good in­deed.


Ul­ti­mately, both these years, 1776 and 1787, come from an­other in­ven­tion that was a weapon in Rus­sia’s late 18th cen­tury hy­brid war against Ukraini­ans. The point of this mythol­ogy was sim­ple: here, on the lands of the Za­porozhian Kozaks, bar­barism reigned, but when “Mother Yeka­te­rina”, i.e. Cather­ine II, came along, “Russkiy mir” brought civ­i­liza­tion and the good life. These were the bricks and mor­tar of which was made the foun­da­tion for the Rus­sian Em­pire to dom­i­nate Ukrainian ter­ri­tory. Af­ter all, it’s not enough to van­quish the peo­ple: force your own ver­sion of his­tory on them and you are free to do with them what you want.

This kind of ide­ol­ogy is also dan­ger­ous be­cause Rus­sians them­selves be­lieve it. In 2012, lo­cals found them­selves locked in de­bate with Rus­sian aca­demics that came to Dnipro to cel­e­brate the 225th an­niver­sary of Cather­ine [Yeka­te­rina] II’s visit to the Ukrainian steppe. All these pro­fes­sional his­to­ri­ans sin­cerely be­lieved that Dnipro was a Rus­sian city to its very roots.

So let’s look at what we get when we tear off the lay­ers of im­pe­rial ide­ol­ogy. The thing is that mod­ern­day Dnipro is a very busy com­mu­ni­ca­tion hub. For a set­tle­ment to arise nat­u­rally—and even­tu­ally be­come a city—, there have to be routes and, what is im­per­a­tive, nat­u­ral bar­ri­ers along them. Here we have the confluence of two great rivers: the Dnipro and the Sa­mara, and some­what be­low the mouth of the lat­ter, the first rapids be­gin. This meant that, prior to the build­ing of the reser­voirs and the flood­ing of the rapids, the water­way to Dnipro meant a manda­tory stop at the town, rest, repair work, cargo ser­vic­ing, and so on.

When wa­ter­ways are the main trav­el­ing route, they form a bar­rier to land routes, which means you need some­one to carry things across them. The town it­self was the cross­roads of very im­por­tant land routes that con­nected Right and Left Bank Ukraine, Crimea, the Don, Moldova with ac­cess to the Cen­tral European and Mus­covite mar­kets to the north and the Balkans, Cau­ca­sus and Ana­to­lia to the south.

The most im­por­tant cross­ing over the Dnipro was at Ko­dak, where the epony­mous city tow­ers today. Since na­ture is hard to fool, the sec­ond cross­ing, Lot­sKami­anka, was where the South­ern Bridge was even­tu­ally built. On the left bank, the big­gest, al­though not the only cross­ing over the Sa­mara ran on the out­skirts of the modern-day town of Shevchenko, in the city’s Sa­mara Dis­trict. Imag­ine you are a mer­chant. You’ve been wend­ing your way across the steppe and fi­nally ar­rive at the cross­ing. With­out any doubt, this will cost you some­thing: cus­toms and the ser­vices of the fer­ry­men. But since you have to stop, one way or the other, likely you will want to eat and drink, to spend the night un­der a roof, and to take care of your horse and repair your wagon. In short, you will need plenty of ser­vices and so the an­ces­tors of modern-day Dnipri­ans pro­vided them.

More­over, both banks of the river were set­tled, in or­der for the wealthy cus­tomer to be able to spend money in the great­est of com­fort! And so Stara Sa­mar and Odynivka arose on the Sa­mara’s banks, the Noviy Ko­dak and Kami­anka-Livoberezhna at the Ko­dak cross­ing, and Lots-Kami­anka and Ust-Sa­mara lower yet. And so that the con­ve­niently lo­cated land be­tween them did not go to waste, peo­ple es­tab­lished Manuilivka, Taromske, Diyivka, Sukhachivka, Polovyt­sia and so on. All these vil­lages were from the Kozak era. All this vi­brant econ­omy is com­pletely ig­nored by the city found­ing dates cur­rently in cir­cu­la­tion.


So when, ex­actly, did Dnipro start? Let’s try to un­der­stand the ma­te­rial ar­gu­ments and the method­ol­ogy. For a time, it seemed to make sense to start with Noviy

Ko­dak. The ar­gu­ments in fa­vor make a lot of sense: a town with an im­por­tant fortress sit­u­ated at a ma­jor river cross­ing, and it’s the cap­i­tal of the Ko­dak Palanka1. The colonel’s res­i­dence was there, taxes were col­lected and the courts handed down judg­ments there. In ad­di­tion, the town shared the lo­cal dis­trict with the fu­ture town of Katerynoslav, and the in­sti­tu­tions of the Katerynoslav Povit2 were lo­cated here. His­tor­i­cal facts are plenty to sup­port this ver­sion.

But sci­ence never stands in place. In the last 7-8 years, a num­ber of new arche­o­log­i­cal finds dis­cov­ered in Stara Sa­mar clearly show that the per­ma­nent set­tle­ments that served the cross­ings pre­dated Het­man Ivan Mazepa’s con­struc­tion of the Bo­horodyt­sia Fortress on or­ders from Moscow. Coins and seals on goods from the 16th to the mid-17th cen­turies have been found in closed cham­bers, along with house­hold items, a tav­ern, and a buried street… In­deed, the arche­ol­o­gist’s shovel pro­vides some of the best facts—ones that are hard to con­test. Most Dnipro his­to­ri­ans have con­curred with 1524 as the pos­si­ble year from which the town can be dated.

What is clear is that the con­tin­u­ous cul­tural layer at Stara Sa­mar be­gins in the first quar­ter of the 16th cen­tury. The temp­ta­tion is to start with the old­est coin from this era, from 1509. How­ever, it was in cir­cu­la­tion for sev­eral decades, so the start of the count is more re­li­ably based on the seal from 1524. In­deed, there is a sim­i­lar seal from the fol­low­ing year, 1525. Mer­chants placed such seals on large ship­ments of goods, which in this case was most likely woolen cloth, to guar­an­tee qual­ity with their own good name. So, in 1524 some mer­chant car­a­van brought a whole­sale lot of cloth to Stara Sa­mar and most likely sold it right there as re­tail. The fol­low­ing year, the same hap­pened. The pres­ence of the ferry cross­ing, res­i­dents and trad­ing all sug­gest a se­ri­ous, sta­ble set­tle­ment.


To some ex­tent, it made sense to check these facts against the the­o­ret­i­cal work of two Dnipro pro­fes­sors, Iryna Ko­valiova and Ser­hiy Svitlenko. In short, they talk about a bi­lin­ear and poly­cen­tric con­cept of the found­ing of Dnipro. It takes into ac­count the role of all the set­tle­ments, hence poly­cen­tric, on both sides of the river, hence bi­lin­ear, in the gen­e­sis of the ur­ban area. They emerged dur­ing dif­fer­ent years in the 16th through 18th cen­turies, but all of them form part of the his­tory of Dnipro, each con­tribut­ing its own unique part. This ap­proach makes it pos­si­ble to un­der­stand the his­tory of the city in a more com­pre­hen­sive and per­sua­sive man­ner.

By the end of the 17th cen­tury, Stara Sa­mar was the cause of end­less dis­putes be­tween lo­cal Za­porozhi­ans and Rus­sian in­ter­lop­ers. In 1688, the Kozak town was en­closed by the Bo­horodyt­sia Fortress, built for the Rus­sian Tsar. And al­though most of its set­tlers were peo­ple from the Het­manate and a Kozak troop was formed, the pres­ence of a Rus­sian gar­ri­son and a for­eign fortress an­noyed the lo­cals no end. In fact, it both­ered them so much that when Petro Iva­nenko launched an armed upris­ing against the Mus­covite state, a large num­ber of the Sich sup­ported him and stormed the fortress, along with al­lied Za­porozhian and Tatar forces. They were un­able to take the ci­tadel, but the un­pro­tected lower town was thor­oughly burned. The un­reg­is­tered Kozaks achieved this in 1711, this time in an al­liance with the Tatars and the Turks, when they

man­aged to force the Rus­sians to clear out un­der the Prut Peace Treaty.

How­ever, in the mid-1730s, the Rus­sians re­turned and the fortress, which was more and more of­ten re­ferred to as the Stara Sa­mar re­trench­ment. As one ex­am­ple, in 1749, a num­ber of Za­porozhian Kozaks came to town and had a merry time in the lo­cal tav­ern. They broke their Len­ten fast in the vil­lage of Sa­marchyk, today Novo­moskovsk, and planned to con­tinue cel­e­brat­ing in Noviy Ko­dak, but found them­selves in Stara Sa­mar in­stead. The Kozaks drank and started shoot­ing and threat­ened to burn down the fortress. The com­man­der, Ma­jor Ko­valiov, de­cided to set up ar­tillery in the fortress, which meant tak­ing out the can­nons that had been moth­balled since the pre­vi­ous war. Ob­vi­ously, the Kozaks’ ap­pear­ance did not go un­no­ticed.


In fact, how­ever, the Za­porozhi­ans had ev­ery rea­son, even on the day-to-day level, not to tol­er­ate the pres­ence of the Rus­sian in the free towns. The fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence in un­der­stand­ing the sta­tus and na­ture of the Za­porozhian Host of un­reg­is­tered Kozaks was clear in the bat­tle at Noviy Ko­dak, which took place in 1766. Vasiliy Pono­mar­iov, cap­tain of the Bri­ansk In­fantry Com­pany, com­plained that dur­ing a cross­ing, he was charged a cross­ing fee of 50 kopeks and his of­fi­cer’s honor was in­sulted. Un­for­tu­nately, the text of the of­fi­cer’s re­port was not pre­served. Most likely he in­cluded the words that the Za­porozhi­ans flung at him. A de­scrip­tion of the event has come down to us in the records of the Kish, the ad­min­is­tra­tion cen­ter of the Za­porozhian Host.

When Cap­tain Pono­mar­iov crossed from the left bank of the Dnipro and rode to­wards the Sich, he called his trip a ser­vice one, so no one charged him for the ferry. But on the re­turn trip, when he and his en­tourage made it clear that he had trav­eled to­gether with his wife to visit friends and make some pur­chases, the pro­vi­sor sug­gested that he pay for the cross­ing.

The of­fi­cer then be­gan to threaten and dis­par­age the honor of the Host: “You’re just a bunch of de­sert­ers and vile an­i­mals who don’t un­der­stand the rules and laws of the coun­try, that this ferry be­longs to your Sovereigns and all the peo­ple.” Pono­mar­iov then de­manded to be fer­ried with­out charge and threat­ened to poke the fer­ry­man’s eye out. Ac­cord­ing to the Host records, the pro­vi­sor had not in­sulted the of­fi­cer, only promised to re­move him from the ferry.

No less en­ter­tain­ing were re­la­tions among the rank-and-file. Two or­di­nary sol­diers gar­risoned at the Stara Sa­mar Re­trench­ment, Mikhail Naidy­onov and Filip Ch­ernikov, de­cided one fine Jan­uary day in 1762 to spend some time fish­ing in the Sa­mara, which was cov­ered in a thick layer of ice. Con­tem­po­rary chron­i­cles don’t say how suc­cess­ful the fish­ing expedition was, but the thor­oughly-chilled war­riors warmed them­selves up nicely in a tav­ern in Odynivka, which was lo­cated on the bank op­po­site the fortress. Hav­ing spent 4 kopeks to warm up, Naidy­onov and Ch­ernikov de­cided that they needed to top up their wal­lets and, as dark­ness de­scended on the town, they paid a visit to a pen with live­stock be­long­ing to a lo­cal, Sy­dor Samotkan. Be­yond that point, the tes­ti­monies of the sol­diers and the lo­cal res­i­dents di­verge. The lo­cal mili­tia clams that the thieves were cap­tured at the scene of the crime by 10 peo­ple. It seems that it’s eas­ier to be­lieve the lo­cals, be­cause ac­cord­ing to their ver­sion, Samotkan saw un­in­vited guests near his live­stock and called his neigh­bors Ivan Odym­chenko and Yakiv Taran. The three of them stopped the thieves.

As to what hap­pened fur­ther, then the Rus­sian ver­sion seems more re­li­able. The vil­lagers stated that they beat the sol­diers only while they held them, as the two were try­ing to use their knives. Ch­ernikov claimed that they were beaten when they were caught, then whips were used against them in Samotkan’s yard, and the fol­low­ing day Kozak Ota­man Hnat Horo­bets flogged them once more with a knot­ted whip while in­ter­ro­gat­ing them about the live­stock, which reg­u­larly dis­ap­peared on the res­i­dents of this set­tle­ment. Ch­ernikov knew to keep quiet, but Naidy­onov tat­tled on a num­ber of dra­goons from the Re­trench­ment who had stolen five horses and sold them at a mar­ket in the Belevsky Fortress in 1761.

There were plenty of sim­i­lar sto­ries. In the later 18th cen­tury, the Sich Kozaks no longer had the power to storm the fortress, but they did man­age to get out of the lo­cal set­tle­ment the ju­ris­dic­tion of the Het­manate, which was for­eign to them, and ac­tively pop­u­lated the area around the fortress with Kozak and com­mon­wealth set­tlers. When it came to a lo­ca­tion for Katerynoslav-Kilchen­skiy, Stara Sa­mar with its fortress that could de­fend the new im­pe­rial cen­ter was the ob­vi­ous choice. And so the lit­tle town be­came its sub­urb.

Today, Stara Sa­mar is once again the cen­ter of con­tro­versy, this time be­tween those who would pre­fer to keep the Rus­sian foun­da­tion dates for Dnipro and those who want to re­turn the Kozak era to its his­tory. Stay tuned.

Ar­ti­facts from the time be­fore the ar­rival of the Rus­sian Em­pire

Stara Sa­mar. A re­con­structed im­age by Olek­sandr Khar­lan An ad­min­is­tra­tive dis­trict un­der the New Sich (1734-1775) A prov­ince of that time

The draw of his­tory. Most bridges in Dnipro, such as the Kai­datskiy, were built at the sites of the one-time river cross­ings

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