A small Slav settlement from which Chernihiv originated appeared in the last quarter of the seventh century A.D. here where the waters of the rivers Desna and Strizhen meet at the foot of a mountain covered with old oaks.
Chernihiv is one of the oldest and most interesting cities in Ukraine and the whole Eastern Europe. During centuries it was an important political, economic and cultural centre. It was first mentioned in the chronicles in 907, but as archaeological research proved the city had originated much earlier.
If you come to Chernihiv to relax you are wise. But even if you come here with another purpose, you are lucky because you will have a chance to see one of the most ancient and beautiful cities of Ukraine.
In the course of a few centuries it was transformed into a rich and strongly fortified city, which in its might was a rival of the mother of all Rus cities. It was not without justification that Chernihiv was listed immediately after Kiev in the pact Prince Oleg made with the Byzantine empire in 907.
The great number of pagan era burial mounds on the territory of the city is a reminder of those legendary times. A number of those mounds are widely known in the scientific world - the Chorna Mogila, Gulbishche, and Besimyaniy.
In 992 the capital of Chernihiv-Siversky land became the seat of a vast bishopric. Until 1118 it included the territory of modern Chernihiv, Kursk, Tula, Vladimir, Moscow, and parts of the Mogilev and Smolensk regions. This was a period of intensive construction of churches in the city, which grew to 450 hectares and was inhabited by twenty thousand people at the end of the XII-th century.
Unfortunately most of the churches and cathedrals which were built at that period were destroyed before our time, but in modern Chernihiv one can see five temples of the XI-th -Xlll-th centuries. This means that Chernihiv possesses a sixth of the surviving Old Rus architectural monuments.
As the main city of a principality whose borders reached north-eastward toward Murom and included Tmutaracan in the south (modern Taman), Chernihiv was a mighty fortress. Its wooden walls were an insuperable obstacle for hordes of warlike steppe neighbours and for the avaricious relatives of the Chernihiv princes.
Time has wiped the impregnable Chernihiv fortress from the earth, but the names of those who built its towers and walls are preserved in our memory. Princes Mstislav Vladimirovich (1024 - 1036), Svyatosdlav Yaroslavich (1054 - 1073), Vladimir Monomah (1076 - 1077, 1078 -1094) and David Svyatoslavich entered the history of Chernihiv forever.
Everybody knows the hero of the epic «The word about Igor's regiment» Chernihiv Prince Igor Svyatoslavich (1198 - 1201) and also Saint-prince Michael Vsevolodovich, who was executed by the Mongol horde (1224-1234). In 1239 Chernihiv was assaulted by Tatar-Mongolian Baty-khan's warriors for seven da¬ys. The city was destroyed and plundered. After that tragedy it was deserted for a long time.
The peak of old Chernihiv prosperity came in the 12th – beginning of the 13th centuries. Unlike other centers Chernihiv had not suffered great upheavals. It happened mainly because of consolidation of ruling prince dynasty of Olhovychi. Total area of the city reached 450 ha, population – about 40 000 inhabitants, that allows to consider it one of the biggest in Europe at that time. As archaeologists say, all kinds of crafts were developing fast here. Chernihiv kept trade relations with Byzantine, Scandinavia, Western Europe, Eastern countries, and local traders visited even far London.
Mongol invasion stopped the development of the city for some following centuries.
In early 14th century Chernihiv was under Lithuanian power. In 1320 Poland captured the city. In 1340 it came under Kyiv princes’ power and then again to Lithuania. After the Moscow-Lithuania war that continued till 1503 Chernihiv as well as the whole Sivers’kyi land got under Moscow power. The city became frontier. The most fortified part of the city was then on a high cape facing the Desna river (where monument to T.H. Shevchenko stands now) and it was a castle surrounded by deep moats and high ground ramparts with high wooden towers and walls. Behind the fortifications were temples, administrative buildings and houses, food and powder warehouses. We still don’t know the way they provided the garrison with water. Perhaps there had already been an underground way to Stryzhen’ river as it was in the 17th century. It is little known about the life in Chernihiv at that time as there are very few written sources from that time.
In 1611 the city was captured by Gornostay army.
In 1618 Chernihiv was devastated and went under Polish power according to the treaty of Dueling between Warsaw and Moscow.
In 1623 Chernihiv got the Magdeburg rule and Chernihiv magistrate was formed. Two miles of surrounding lands were given to maintain city self-governance. The same year noble zemstvo city pidkomorni (dealing with land measuring) courts were created and made equal to Kyiv ones, and the province was divided into two districts: Chernihiv and Novhorod-Sivers’kyi. An emblem was established that showed a two-head eagle under one crown. Letter V was depicted on its breast – the initial letter of king Vladyslav’s name. Magdeburg rule gave the citizens much privileges that promoted trade and craft. Merchants from other cities were forbidden to retail. They could only wholesale their goods to local trades who had much profit of it.
An appointed not elected headed the city. Other local authorities were elected and that proved a certain progress in the development of self-government. At the same time local people were being turned to Catholic faith. Borys and Hlib and Uspens’kyi cathedrals were given to a local Catholic community. That caused protest among native people dedicated to Orthodox church.
1648-1654 – National Liberation war led by B.Hmelnyts’kyi. In 1648 Chernihiv regiment commanded by Martyn Nebaba (perished in 1651) was formed. After the liberation from the Poles Chernihiv began the rebirth of Orthodox church. In 1649 Stepan Podobailo renewed St. Elijah monastery. 10 years later Borys and Hlib cathedral was returned to Orthodox church after being in the hands of Dominicans. Ancient Yeletskyi monastery again became Orthodox, Pyatnyts’kyi nunnery was renewed. After Polish state establishments and noble privileges had been abolished considerable changes in city life were observed. The basis for governance was a military unit – polk (regiment) divided into sotnias (Cossack squadrons numbered a hundred horsemen). Hetman, colonels, and sotniks became real authorities. Magistrate remained in Chernihiv as well as in other cities but they dealt with land questions and city courts. Gradually all power came to a colonel. At the same time Moscow tsar voivode (general) was present and had power over the upper citadel and garrison. Fortress and other construction was the duty of citizens as well as providing the army with dwellings and carts. Commerce started to revive/ But the basis for citizens’ life was still agriculture.
In the 17th century Chernihiv was a rather well fortified city. Early 17th century was marked by new construction. Engineers LaMotte and Deriver made a plan for a new fortress and headed the repair works of damaged fortifications. St. Trinity cathedral was built in the suburbs and sanctified in 1695. In early 18th century Chernihiv Collegium was built up. Gradually but confidently Chernihiv was turning into a cultural center of the region.
In the 18th century there were four gates in old city – Zamkova (Castle), Kyiv (Lyubech), Prohorili (Loyevs’ki) and Vodyani (Water). There were three streets in old city – Zamkova (Castle), Kyiv and Vodyana (Water) and some lanes too. There were four more big streets in a new city. Among the city buildings the “General revision” mentions two wooden huts, a magistrate made of stone, Colonel’s house, a shop, engineers premises, artillery yard, parochial school, regimental chancellery and temples. Most of the houses were wooden. In 1708 the first plan of Chernihiv Kremlin was made. At that time nearly 4 thousand people lived in the city among whom there were 2.5 thousand merchants, and 365 workshop craftsmen, masters and workers of different trades. There were fairs three times a year in Chernihiv. Local merchants bought goods from merchants from Ukraine and Russia and traded them far abroad.
The Desna river was an important trade way. There was a landing pier near the city. There not only ships were received and sent but also new ones were built and loaded with wooden dishes, burlap and other goods and sent to other cities. City’s population consisted mainly of Ukrainian citizens – 2381, Cossacks – 164, peasants – 1124, clergymen – 141, monks and nuns – 51. This is the information of 1786 year.
In 1781 privileged Ukrainian classes were given the rights of Russian nobles. Then Chernihiv vice-regency was established with Myloradovych as its first head. Two years before the end of the 18th century Chernihiv fortress was liquidated as useless. Fortifications were also demolished. The city that consisted of 705 citizens’ houses, 4 brick factories, 4 monasteries, 12 temples, 2 hospices and other secular and trade buildings got a chance to get new territories. In 1786 according to the order of Katherine II three monasteries of four were closed in Chernihiv – Borys and Hlib, St. Trinity-St. Elijah, Pyatnytskyi. Their premises and territories were given to secular institutions.
In the end of 19th – the beginning of the 20th centuries Chernihiv was a common provincial city with patriarchal life prevailing – celebrations during festivals, noblemen and zemstvo meetings, banquets and ballroom dancing…
At that time the city together with suburbs had an area of about 615 ha.
Revival of economic life after the reforms of 1861 lead to increasing of population: in 1897 – 27716, in 1913 – 35850.
Building was conducted according to the plans of the mid 19th century. the statistics refers Chernihiv after the reforms to the list of “exclusively wooden houses…”. The area of compulsory buildings was limited by the blocks around Red Square.
Streets, mainly central ones, were lit up with gas lamps and only since 1895 electricity has been used to light up streets.
Horses were used as the only city means of transportation.
At the beginning of the 20th century thanks to the highway Kyiv-St. Petersburg horse coaches constantly plied from Chernihiv to Homel and from Chernihiv to Kozelets’.
A post office and a telephone station servicing 138 users (in 1912) worked in the city.
In the end of the 19th century bank branches began to open in the city. City civil bank was established in Chernihiv in 1875. Rich citizens used the pawnshop, three savings banks and mutual credit society services.
Commerce played an important role in Chernihiv’s life. It concentrated on Red (Market) Square where trade rows were built in early 19th century. fairs were held four times a year and tree times a week – on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays market trades were held. The number of trading institutions was increasing: in 1910 there were 428 shops and stores in the city and in 1912 – 734.
There were 15 hotels, 9 pubs and 3 café in the city.
On the turn of the 19th-20th centuries there were two hospitals in our city: provincial hospital and “medical nurses community” hospital. At the beginning of the 20th century first private pre-school institutions appeared – two nurseries and a kindergarten.
Economical development caused professional education raise. At the beginning of the 20th century Chernihiv had 3 vocational schools, 2 merchants schools, and also a religious school and a seminary. A teachers training institute was opened in 1916 which gave incomplete higher pedagogical education. According to the data of the first general census in 1897 nearly 53% of Chernihivites could read and write. On the eve of WW I total number of students I Chernihiv was 6.2 thousand people.
In autumn of 1917 an admission of students to the first mixed gymnasium with Ukrainian language of teaching was announced.
The events of WW I and revolution broke peaceful life of a provincial city of the end of 19th – the beginning of 20th century.
In 1914 WW I began. Chernihiv was far from the battlefields but severe total misfortune touched it too. Most of men joined the army, food and convenience goods prices rose. The city was full of refugees, who were located on plans, in institutions and educational establishments. Hospitals appeared. Military medical nurses yearly training courses opened.
After the victory of February revolution in Russia a diarchy was established in Chernihiv. At the same time there worked workers and soldiers’ councils and local administrations of Temporary government. City Council also kept working. In 1917-1919 the power went from hands to hands in Chernihiv. First it belonged to Central Council (Tsentral’na Rada) then to Hetman Skoropads’kyi’s regime and finally – to Petlyura’s administration. At night on January 12, 1919 after heavy battles Bohun regiment led by Mykola Shchors captured the city. Soviet administration was established. Nationalization of industry began, evening adult schools opened in five districts of the city. The first performance of Professional actors Society was staged at the hall of noblemen’s meetings on February, 11. “Znamya Sovetov” newspaper was printed. On October 12 Chernihiv was captured by Denikin army. For about a month the city was kept by them. Red Army captured the city on November 7. Peaceful, but not absolutely quiet life began. On May 9, 1920 Polish army crossed the borders of Chernihiv province. Chernihiv did not suffer that time and Polish army had been driven out of Chernihiv region. The revival of industry, transport system, education system and cultural life continued. In 1921 a cast iron melting plant, a clinker plant, a brewery and a vinegar plant started working. On November 7, 1922 “Zhovtnevyi molot” (“October hammer”) plant was opened. In 1925 there were 11 state enterprises in the city. At that time there were 35500 people living in Chernihiv. City’s economy was reviving. In 1924 the activities for providing workers from suburbs with water started. The city development plan for the following 30 years had been made. It foresaw construction of administrative and residential buildings in the central part of the city and arranging huge green areas. Industrial enterprises were moved out of the residential area. In 1923 regional bacteriological station was established in Chernihiv. In 1927-1929 a new electrical power station was built in the city. In 1928 an association of Chernihiv brick-producing plants “Tsehla” (“Brick”) was created and the construction of Chernihiv-Homel railway was finished. Two years later Chernihiv-Ovruch railway was put into operation and at the beginning of 1931 one of the biggest railway junctions in northern Ukraine was functioning in Chernihiv. A year later ship-repairing workshops started their work. By that time the number of enterprises had reached 32 with more than 1000 people working at them. A number of significant events marked the following decade. In 1933 a regional scientific-medical library was opened, confectionary’s and furniture factories were built. In 1934 M.M. Kotsyubyns’kyi museum and regional philharmonic society were opened. In 1936 a stadium was built. In 1937 a children’s library was established. In 1939 M. Shchors cinema was built. 68.6 thousands people lived in Chernihiv at that time, 57 industrial enterprises operated, 109 retailing stores worked and there were 34 public dining rooms. Health care system consisted of a city hospital, 6 policlinics, 2 specialized dispensaries, mental and physiotherapeutic hospitals, 13 first aid stations and 5 X-ray rooms. There were 14 secondary and incomplete secondary schools, 2 institutes and 4 technical schools, and also 8 evening schools for adults.
When Great Patriotic war began thousands of Chernihivites joined the army. On September 9, 1941 Red Army left Chernihiv after heavy battles. A tragic period of German-fascist occupation began for its inhabitants, which was accompanied by mass shootings, robberies and forced work of peaceful citizens in Germany. Executions took place in the city prison where about 3000 people were killed as well as in parks Kryvolivshchyna – 20000, Podusivka – 15000, and Yalivshchyna, Rashevshchyna, Malyeyev Riv and Berezovyi Rih where thousands of our compatriots were also killed. During the occupation German fascists killed 52.5 thousands Chernihivites and Red Army prisoners of war in the city and its suburbs. But, in spite of the terror secret anti-fascist organization worked and instead of lost patriots came new heroes.
In the middle of September 1943 the 13th army of Central front began battle for Chernihiv. On September 21 the citizens who remained alive celebrated their liberation.
War turned Chernihiv into entire ruins. 50 industrial buildings were completely ruined and 57 ones were heavily damaged, a railway station, electrical power station, radio station, telephone station were destroyed. City lost 70 % of its residential buildings.All that had to be restored. In the end of 1943 secondary schools and in 1944 pedagogical institute continued their work. In 1946 the exhibits of M.M. Kotsyubyns’kyi museum were returned to Chernihiv from Ufa where they had been evacuated. In 1948 there were 91 doctors and 279 nurses in Chernihiv. In 1949 musical instruments factory continued its work. In 1950 a railway bridge was built over the Desna river and in 1951 a railway station was opened. In 1956 Chernihiv got natural gas and the following year the construction of synthetic fibre manufacturing plant began. An important cultural event in the life of the city was opening a new building of T.H. Shevchenko theatre in 1959. In 1961 the first turbine of a new Chernihiv CHP was put into operation. At that time nearly 100 thousand people lived in the city. But economic development led to the increase of population to 240 thousand in 1979 and 257 thousand in 1982. three last decades of the 20th century were marked by many important events of both local and state scale. In 1970 a new Pioneer Palace opened its doors, in 1973 Chernihiv was divided into Desnyans’kyi and Novozavods’kyi districts. In 1975 a trade center “Druzhba” opened, followed by a puppet theatre a year later. In 1980 a new plan of Chernihiv reconstruction was created. During its realization hotel “Hradets’kyi” (1981) and “Peremoha” cinema (1984) were built, and the construction of secondary school #12 and publishing complex “Desna” started. In 1986 Chornobyl APS disaster happened – the most terrible tragedy Chernihiv survived after the war. Many our compatriots who took part in its liquidation lost their health and lives. A bronze monument was erected to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the tragedy in the Alley of Heroes. In 1991 the Act of Ukraine’s independence was passed. A new stage in the history of Chernihiv-Sivers’kyi land began.
Today Chernihiv is an industrial and cultural centre of Ukraine.