The first people appeared in the area of Misto Dnipro around 150,000 years ago. Settlements of these people were found in the outskirts of the city and on Monastery Island. This unique island appears throughout the history of the Prydniprovye region, being in the center of historical events. After the last Ice Age - 10 thousand years ago - the Prydniprovye area became more and more inhabited. From 3500 till 2700 BC the first farmers lived here (the so-called Tripolye culture).
The broad Dnieper River (the Greeks called it 'Borisphen') surrounded by fertile lands with game and fish in abundance attracted hunters, fishermen, cattle-breeders and land-tillers. 3000 years ago the Cimmerians came from the east. They gradually overcame the Scythians (700 BC), who were known for their bronze art. The invasions from the east continued and in 200 BC the Sarmatians came. They assimilated the remaining Scythians.
In the 6th century, a new era was marked by the arrival of Slavic tribes. The Slavic tribes called 'Antes' and 'Sclaveni' make their first appearance in Byzantine records. Byzantine historiographers under Justinian I (527–565) - such as Procopius of Caesarea, Jordanes and Theophylact Simocatta - describe these tribes emerging from the area of the Carpathian Mountains, the lower Danube and the Black Sea, invading the Danubian provinces of the Eastern Empire.
Procopius wrote in 545 that "the Sclaveni and the Antae actually had a single name in the remote past; for they were both called Sporoi in olden times." He described them as barbarians, who lived under democracy, and that they believe in one god, the maker of lightning (Perun), to whom they made sacrifice.
They lived in scattered housing, and constantly changed settlement. Regarding warfare, they were mainly foot soldiers wielding small shields and battleaxes, lightly clothed, some entering battle naked with only their genitals covered. Their language "barbarous" (that is, not Greek), and the two tribes do not differ in appearance, being tall and robust, "while their bodies and hair are neither very fair or blond, nor indeed do they incline entirely to the dark type, but they are all slightly ruddy in color. And they live a hard life, giving no heed to bodily comforts..."
Jordanes described the Sclaveni having swamps and forests for their cities. Another 6th-century source refers to them living among nearly impenetrable forests, rivers, lakes, and marshes.
In the 9th century, monks from Byzantium founded a monastery on the island in the Dnieper, where later Misto Dnipro would be founded. Since then the island is referred to as 'Monastery Island'. It existed until 1240 when it was destroyed by Tatar invaders. The Dnieper River served for many centuries as a border between the East and the West, its banks often being the setting for battles between Slavs and Asian or Turkish nomads. This continued for many centuries. Until in the 15th century a new force appeared: the free people, the Cossacks
At the beginning of the 15th century, Tatar tribes inhabiting the right bank of the Dnieper were driven away by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. By the mid-15th century, the Nogai (living north of the Sea of Azov) and the Crimean Khanate invaded these lands. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Crimean Khanate agreed to a border along the Dnieper, and farther east along the Samara River (Dnieper), i.e. through what is today the city of Misto Dnipro. It was in this time that a new force appeared: the free people, the Cossacks. They later became known as Zaporozhian Cossacks (Zaporizhia is the territory south of Prydniprovye. The name translates to "the Land Beyond the Weirs"). This was a period of raids and fighting, causing considerable devastation and depopulation in that area; the area became known as the Wild Fields.
The first fortified town in what is now Misto Dnipro was built in the mid-16th century. In 1635, the Polish Government built the Kodak fortress above the Dnieper Rapids at Kodaky (on the south-eastern outskirts of modern Misto Dnipro), partly as a result of rivalry in the region between Poland, Turkey and Crimean Khanate, and partly to maintain control over Cossack activity (i.e. to suppress the Cossack raiders and to prevent peasants moving out of the area).
On the night of 3-4 August 1635, the Cossacks of Ivan Sulyma captured the fort by surprise, burning it down and butchering the garrison of about 200 West European mercenaries under Jean Marion. In 1638, the fort was rebuilt by the French engineer Guillaume Le Vasseur de Beauplan for the Polish Government, and a mercenary garrison was stationed there. In 1648 on the 1st of October, Kodak was captured again by Zaporozhian Cossacks. They kept the fort until its demolition in accordance with the Treaty of the Pruth in 1711. The ruins of the Kodak are still visible now. Currently there is a project to restore the fort and to create a tourist centre and a park-museum.
Under the Treaty of Pereyaslav of 1654, the territory became part of the Russian Empire. For practical reasons, the Prydniprovye lands remained a self-governing border area until the destruction of the Zaporizhian Sich in 1775.
The Zaporozhian village of Polovytsia was founded in the late-1760s, between the settlements of Stari and Novi (Old and New) Kodaky. It was located where now the centre of the city is, west of Central Terminal district and the Ozyorka farmers market.
Misto Dnipro was originally known as Ekaterinoslav, which could be approximately rendered as 'the glory of Catherine', referring to Empress Catherine the Great (but the naming might have been in honour of Saint Catherine of Alexandria). It was founded in 1776 as the administrative centre of Russia's newly re-established Azov Governorate, which in 1783 was merged into a much bigger Ekaterinoslav Viceroyalty. Later, from 1796 to 1802, it was known as Novorossiysk, the centre of the recreated Novorossiya Governorate, and subsequently, till 1925, of the Ekaterinoslav Governorate.
Cossacks and the Russian army fought the Ottoman Empire for control of this area in the Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774). The Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca ended this war in July 1774. In May 1775, the Russian army destroyed the Zaporozhian Sich (the independent Cossack collective), and so eliminating the political autonomy of Cossacks. In 1775, Prince Grigori Potemkin was appointed governor of Novorossiya, and after the destruction of the Zaporozhian Sich, he started founding cities in the region and encouraging foreign settlers.
The original town of Ekaterinoslav was not founded in its current location, but at the confluence of the River Samara with the River Kil'chen' at Loshakivka, north of the Dnieper. By 1782, the city population was 2,194. However, the site had been badly chosen because spring waters were transforming the city into a bog. The settlement was later renamed Novomoskovsk.
In 1783, Ekaterinoslav was re-founded on its current site: the south bank of the Dnieper, near the Zaporozhian village of Polovytsia. The population of Ekaterinoslav-Kil'chen' were (according to some sources) transferred to the new site. Potemkin's plans for the city were extremely ambitious. It was to be about 30 by 25 km (19 by 16 miles) in size, and included the Transfiguration Cathedral, the Potemkin palace, a university (the was never built), a botanical garden on Monastery Island and wide straight avenues through the city.
The cathedral's foundation stone was laid on the 20th of May 1787 by Empress Catherine II and Austrian Emperor Joseph II, during Catherine's Crimean journey. This date is regarded as the official date when the city was founded. Nevertheless, the cathedral as originally designed was never built. The site for the Potemkin palace was bought from the retired Cossack yesaul (colonel) Lazar' Globa, who owned much of the land near the city. Part of Lazar' Globa's gardens still exist and are now called Globa Park.
A combination of another Russo-Turkish war (1787), bureaucratic procrastination, defective workmanship, and theft resulted in less being built than originally planned. Construction stopped after the death of Potemkin and his sponsor Empress Catherine, who was succeeded by her son Paul I, known for his open antipathy to his mother's policies and undertakings. Plans were reconsidered and scaled back. The size of the cathedral was reduced and it was completed in 1835.
Despite the bridging of the Dnieper in 1796 and the growth of trade in the early 19th century, Ekaterinoslav remained small. During the 1880s, when the railway was built and industrialization began, the city started to grow. The 'boom' was caused by two men: John Hughes, a Welsh businessman who built an iron works at Yuzovka (now Donetsk) in 1869–1872 and developed the Donetsk coal deposits, and the Russian geologist Alexander Pol, who discovered iron ore at Krivoy Rog in 1866 during an archaeological research.
The Donetsk coal was necessary for smelting pig-iron from the Krivoy Rog ore, producing a need for a railway to connect Yozovka with Krivoy Rog. Permission to build the railway was given in 1881 and it was opened in 1884. The railway crossed the Dnieper at Ekaterinoslav. The city grew quickly; new suburbs appeared: Amur, Nyzhnodniprovsk and the factory areas developed.
In 1897, Ekaterinoslav became the third city in the Russian Empire to have electric trams. The Higher Mining School opened in 1899, and by 1913 it had grown into the Mining Institute.
Early 20th century
Russian defeat in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, among other things, resulted in widespread revolts against the government in many places of Russia, Ekaterinoslav being one of the major hot spots. Dozens of people were killed and hundreds wounded. There was a wave of anti-Semitic attacks. After the revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Civil War the city was dominated by ruin and an infinite change of leadership. All this resulted in a paralysis of industry and transport. During eight months in 1918, under the decree of Hetman Pavlo Skoropads'kyi the city was called 'Sicheslav'. At the end of 1920, the authority of the Bolshevik Party was established in Prydniprovye, but there were still some revolts up to the middle of 1921.
In 1926, the city was renamed: Dnipropetrovsk. The name consists of two words: 'Dnipro' (the Dnieper River) and 'Petrovsk' (Grigoriy Petrovsky). Petrovsky (1878-1958) was the first Parliament (Soviet) leader of the new communist Ukrainian republic. He was later involved in the organization of the Holodomor; the Soviet-made famine that cost 20 million people their lives.
After WWII: a secret city
Dnipropetrovsk was under Nazi occupation from 17 August 1941 to 25 October 1943. As early as July 1944, the State Committee of Defense in Moscow decided to build a large military machine-building factory in Dnipropetrovsk. In December 1945, thousands of German prisoners of war began construction and built the first sections and work shops in the new factory. This was to be the foundation of the Dnipropetrovsk Automobile Factory.
In 1954, the administration of this automobile factory opened a secret design office with the name 'Southern Bureau' to construct missiles and rocket engines. Hundreds of talented physicists, engineers and machine designers moved from Moscow and other large cities in the Soviet Union to Dnipropetrovsk to join this 'Southern design office'. In 1965, the secret Plant #586 was transferred to the Ministry of General Machine-Building of the USSR. The next year this plant officially changed its name into 'the Southern Machine-building Factory' (Yuzhmash).
The first 'General Constructor' and head of the Yuzhmash was Mikhail Yangel, a prominent scientist and outstanding designer of space rockets, who managed not only the design office, but also the entire factory from 1954 to 1971. Yangel designed the first powerful rockets and space military equipment for the Soviet Ministry of Defense.
In 1951, the Yuzhmash began manufacturing and testing new rockets for the battlefield. The range of these first missiles was only 270 kilometres (168 miles). By 1959, Soviet scientists and engineers developed new technology, and as a result, the 'Southern design office' started a new machine-building project making ballistic missiles. Under leadership of Yangel, the factory produced such powerful rocket engines, that the range of these ballistic missiles was practically limitless.
During the 1960s, these powerful rocket engines were used as launch vehicles for the first Soviet space ships. During Makarov’s directorship, the Southern Bureau designed and manufactured four generations of missile complexes of different types. These included space launch vehicles Kosmos, Tsyklon-2, Tsyklon-3 and Zenit.
Under the leadership of Yangel’s successor, V. Utkin, the Southern Bureau created a unique space-rocket system called 'Energia-Buran'. Southern Bureau's engineers manufactured 400 technical devices that were launched in artificial satellites (Sputniks). For the first time in space industry, the Dnipropetrovsk missile plant organised the serial production of space Sputniks. By the 1980s, this plant manufactured 67 different types of space ships, 12 space research complexes and 4 defense space rocket systems.
These systems were used not only for purely military purposes by the Ministry of Defense, but also for astronomic research, for global radio and television network and for ecological monitoring. Yuzhmash initiated and sponsored the international space program of socialist countries, called Interkosmos.
Officially, Yuzhmash manufactured agricultural tractors and special kitchen equipment for everyday needs, such as mincing-machines or juicers. In official reports for the general audience there was no information about the production of rockets or spaceships. However, hundreds of thousands of workers and engineers in the city of Dnipropetrovsk worked in this plant and members of their families (up to 60% of the city population!) knew about the real production of Yuzhmash. This missile plant became a significant factor in the arms race of the Cold War. This is why the Soviet government approved of the KGB’s secrecy about Yuzhmash and its products. According to the Soviet government’s decision, the city of Dnipropetrovsk was officially closed to foreign visitors in 1959. No citizen of a foreign country (even of the socialist ones) was allowed to visit the city or district. After the late 1950s ordinary Soviet people called Dnipropetrovsk 'the rocket closed city'. Only in 1987, during Gorbachov's 'perestroika' Dnipropetrovsk was opened to foreigners again.
On the 19th of May 2016, the city was renamed in Misto Dnipro by the law of 'Decommunisation of Ukraine'.
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