The Dnipropetrovsk Region, the largest in Central Ukraine, was formed in 1932. In the middle the region is divided in two by the 270-km long Dnipro valley, which accounts for the name of the region’s capital. The natural river scheme, however, was destroyed for the construction of two large water reserves, the Dnipro (1932) and the Dniprodzerzhynsk (1964).
Most of the region is undulating countryside with sloping hills in the grid of small rivers, gullies and ravines. On the Dnipro’s right bank is the Pre-Dnipro Upland, which gradually slants towards the south-east, while the left bank is predominantly the Pre-Dnipro Lowland, sloping into the Pre-Azov Upland.
A peculiar geographical feature of the area is the intricate latticework of the Dnipro tributaries, i.e. the Orel, Samara, Vbvcha, Mokra Sura, Bazavluk, Inhulets, Saksahan and others, which contribute to the natural beauty of the landscape.
According to archeological finds, some parts of the region have been inhabited since prehistoric times, middle Paleolithic period approximately 100 thousand years ago. In the 7th— 8th c.c. BC the area was inhabited by Scythian tribes: cattle breeding nomads. Numerous burial mounds of the Scythian nobility, the most known of which are Chortomlyk and Tovsta Mohyla (attr to the 4th с. ВС) near Nikopol, testify to the high level of applied arts with the nomads.
During the Princely times, the Dnipro was a popular trade route known as ‘from the Varangians to the Greeks’. In the mid-15th c., the Dnipro Rapids became favoured by free Cossacks who settled down in the area. The ‘over the rapids’ settlements gave birth to the freedom-loving Zaporozka Sich.
The end of the second Russo-Turkish war (1768—74) gave impetus to the rapid development of the area. As Russia gained control of the lower waters of the Dnipro, the Black Sea and Azov coastlines, as well as the Crimea, it eliminated the risk of the Ottomans raids.
With the advent of capitalism, the image of the area began to change. The discovery of iron ore in near Kryvy Rih (1881) and the newly built railway that connected the area with the coal-producing Donbas (1884), made the area the industrial heart of Ukraine.
Most civic architecture of the region belongs to the 19 — 20th c.c. The chronological range of church buildings is much wider, with some of them dating back to the 18th century. The historic sites of the Zaporozka Sich are commemorated with monuments. Overall, the area displays an abundance of reminders of the Soviet era.
Dnipropetrovsk, formerly Katerynoslav (till 1926, named after Catherine II) is the third largest city in Ukraine, situated where the Samara River flows into the Dnipro. The city was founded in 1787, when the Empress Catherine II, while travelling around the newly acquired Southern territories, lay a foundation stone in the fundament of the Transfiguration Cathedral. Her successor Paul I renamed the city Novorosiysk (New Russian city) in 1797, but in 1802 it regained its original name, along with its status as the main city of the region.
The history of Katerynoslav can be traced in the earliest city buildings, which include the 1790 Potyomkin Palace, the textile factory of 1794 and the office of the principal supervisor of Southern Russia resettlement (1818). Around the mid-19th c., the 1835 Transfiguration Cathedral, the 1845 Zemsky Hospital and the governor’s residence (1850) were built in a discernibly different style.
South off Dnipropetrovsk, on the slope of the Dnipro valley lies the historic village of Stari Kodaky. In the summer of 1635, Rzeczpospolita founded a fortress here to prevent Ukrainian serfs from reaching the Sich, and to cut the Sich from its supplies. The choice of the site was not random, for it stood over the first cascade of the Dnipro Rapids, which was almost un-navigable.
The unfinished fortress was razed to the ground by the Cossacks under Ivan Sulyma. In 1648, after a long siege, the Cossacks managed to retake the fortress. Under the 1711 Prut Peace Pact, the fortress was completely destroyed, with only a small Cossack settlement surviving until the 1730s, when it grew into a Polyanka Cossack regimental fortification. The 1910 Cossack Kodatska Fortress Monument was erected on the fragments of the old ramparts.
Nikopol, oldest city in the area located on a large spit protruding several miles into what is now the Kakhovka water reserve, was allegedly founded by the Cossack Mykyta, who in the 16th c. founded a ferry across the Dnipro named Mykytyn Rih (cape). In 1637—52 the place was used as a refuge by the Zaporozki Cossacks, who were at war with the Poles. It was here that Bohdan Khmelnytsky was elected Hetman of the Cossacks. The 1954 Khmelnytsky monument was erected in the centre of Nikopol in remembrance of the Mykytynska Sich.
Novomoskovsk lies in the mouth ol the river Samara, where it flows into the Dnipro. In the mid-17th c. the Cossacks built several winter outposts in the locality and the 1670 St. Nicholas (Mykolayivsky) Samara Monastery, of which only St. Nicholas Church and Brethren’s house (1786) have survived. In 1687 a Moscovite fortress was founded on the Samara River bank to keep the Crimean Tartars away from the Southern frontiers of Muscovy. The fortress grew into a settlement, where an outstanding craftsman called Yakym Pohrebniak erected a true masterpiece of Ukrainian wooden architecture, Holy Trinity Cathedral between 1775 and 1780. Built without a single nail, this magnificent building highlights the state-of-the-art carpentry of the Cossack builders. In the early 1800s, a belfry made using the same techniques was added to the cathedral.
Kytai-Horod (China Town) on the Oril River was first mentioned in 1667 chronicles, as a defensive outpost against the Tartars. By the 1730 Senate of the Russian Empire Decree, Kytai-Horod was turned into a fortified stronghold, one of many that formed a 300-km long defensive line stretching along the Left-bank Ukraine, which outlived its purpose in less than 50 years. Today’s Kytai-Horod can boast of the St. Barbara Church bell tower (1756) and the 1757 St. Nicholas Church, both fine architectural examples of the period.
In 1756, under the new Sich, the Cossack Petryk set up a new winter outpost in the mouth of the Chaplynka River, which expanded as Slobozhanschyna re-settlers moved into the region. By the early 1800s they had won widespread recognition for their artistic weaving. Local carpentry, traditional belts, towels and ornate, female headscarves and skirts, as well as uniquely patterned Petrykiv soon became known all over the country.
With the passage of time the Petrykiv design became a brand-name with the city acquiring fame as one of the recognized centres of Ukrainian embroidery. In Soviet times, the dispersed, separate workshops were united into a single factory called Druzhba, specializing in the production of souvenir-type embroidered goods, well known outside the Soviet Union.