Formed in 1939, the Zaporizhzhia Region is the youngest in Eastern Ukraine, with the landscape of carved loess plain, with a downward tilt towards the Dnipro Valley and the Sea of Azov. The most elevated, south-eastern part of the region lies on the Pre-Azov Upland descending into the Prychornomorya Lowland. The Dnipro Valley within Zaporizhzhia Oblast is almost entirely flooded by the Kakhovka and Dnipro waterreserves. Over centuries the small Pre-Azov rivers, i.e.Yushanly, Obytichna, Berda and others), have created sights of striking beauty by carving their way through the crystalloid rock of the Ukrainian Shield.
There is archeological evidence that the area has been populated since the mid-Paleolithic era (100 hundred years ago). The oldest archeological site is Kamyana Mohyla (5,000—1,000 BC), near the village of Terpinnia, on the river Molochna. It owes its name to a six-metre mound of compressed silt, covered by a sandstone plate, in the shape of a coffin lid. This mound emerged as part of the Sarmatian seabed about 12 million years ago, and was later shaped by weathering. The sandstone broke up into over 3000 pieces of rock, some of which still bear ancient drawings (petroglyphs) on them.
In the 7th с. BC, Prychornomorya (the territories to the North of the Black Sea), was inhabited by the Scythians. Their capital is believed to have been on the Dnipro banks in what is now known as Kamyanske Horodysche, somewhere near the present-day city of Kamyanka-Dniprovska. The two well known mounds, Solokha and Melitopol, date from the Scythian heyday (approx. 7th—4th c.c. BC). In the Solokha mound, archeologists unearthed numerous golden coins and an ornate comb, while in the Melitopol, which was a catacomb-type burial site for Skythian nobility, they unearthed remains of chariots and horse bones dating from the 4th с. BC. In the Princely times, the well-known waterway trade route from ‘the Varangians to the Greeks’ passed down the Dnipro, making it a much desired location to keep under control. In the mid-13th c., the Pre-Dnipro lands fell to the Golden Horde. In the next few centuries the land was fought for by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, followed by Rzeczpospolita, Muskovy and the Crimean Khanate.
At the end of the 15th c., the area became home to the Cossackdom (Brotherhood of Cossacks). Beyond the Dnipro Rapids, they started building ‘zasikas’ (fortresses), which gave the name to the Zaporozka Sich — a crucial point in Ukrainian history. Zaporozka Sich is, therefore, a general name for a large number of the Cossack fortified settlements, which existed during 15th—18th c.c. along the Dnipro in today’s Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk and Kherson regions.
The first full-size fortress built was the Khortytska Sich (1552—58), located on the island of Khortytsia, the largest on the river Dnipro at 12-km long, with an average width of 2 km, which was an ideal place to control the river. In 1557 the original fortress was ruined by the hostile Crimean Tatars. Nevertheless, the Khortytska Sich is honoured as the birthplace of the Ukrainian Cossackdom.
The spirit of Cossackdom can still be felt on the rocky northern tip of Khortytsya Island, where, in 1965, a History and Culture Heritage Reserve (23.6 sq. km) was made (National Heritage since 1993). Apart from Khortytsya, it incorporates Urochysche Vyrva on the Dnipro’s right bank and the neighbouring islands of Baida, Dybovyy, Try Stohy and smaller ones. One of the reserve’s attractions is the recently-opened Historical Museum of Zaporozky Cossacks, featuring Cossack artifacts excavated around the reserve, as well as a replica of a Cossack settlement nearby.
A large-scale development of what was known as the ‘Wild Fields’ began in the late 17th c., when the Turkish dominance in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov came to an end after the Russo-Turkish wars. Initially, the newly-liberated territories were used exclusively for agricultural purpose. The turbulent history of Zaporizhzhia left only a few relics of a distant past that survived. What can be seen nowadays is scattered Orthodox Churches and country estates of the 18th — early 19th c.c. Most other buildings are Soviet legacy.
The region’s capital, Zaporizhzhia, owes its birth to Russia’s 1770 Dnipro defense line, which ran across the country between the Dnipro and Berda rivers. Much significance in the ambitious project was attached to navigable waterways along the possible advance routes of the Turkish troops. One of such riverside fortresses built as part of the plan was Aleksandriya, named so after the architect of the project, Prince A. Golitsyn. In 1806 the rapidly-developing settlement was granted with a city status. In 1921 it received its present name, Zaporizhzhia (Beyond the Rapids). A hallmark in the city’s history was the construction of the Dnipro Hydroelectric Power Station (Dniprohes). The immediate aim of the Dniprohes, begun in 1927, was to provide cheap and uninterrupted power supply to the booming industries in the neighbouring Dnipropetrovsk, Kryvorizhzhya, and Donbas. At the same time the newly created water reserve flooded the rapids and made the Dnipro navigable.
The resort town of Berdiansk, formerly Berdy, acquired fame in 1830 as a port. The opening of a free-sea port was deslined to shape the future of the town. Fifty years later it became a huge industrial and commercial city, and in 1970 it obtained the status of the national sea-resort. Nowadays, the tourists can enjoy numerous sanatoria, health centres, and an ultramodern Aquatic Park.
Melitopol, the second most populous city in Zaporizhzhia, stretches along the banks of the Molochna. In 1784 a number of retired soldiers from Suvorov’s army and free Cossacks founded the Sloboda of Novooleksandrivka at the foot of Mt Pischana. In 1842 the settlement was granted with the status of a povit head town, and renamed Melitopol (‘brass city’ in Greek). The late 19th c. saw a rise of the city due to its lucrative location at the crossroads of busy trade routes, as well as the high reputation of the local colonists, who traded in wool. pure-bred cattle and wheat. The oldest church in Melitopol is St. Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral, which was re-built from an earlier Armenian church in the 18th c. Melitopol’s special pride is a History Museum founded in 1921 around the archeologi-cal collection of D. Serdyukov.
The Molochny leman is formed by a strip of land at the mouth of the Molochna River, flooded by the salty Sea of Azov. In 1974 the leman and adjacent coastal stretch of 190 sq. km became a national hydrological park, whose waters harbour fish creches, whereas its banks are the favoured nesting grounds for waterfowl and waders.
Obytichna is one of the five shell-laden sand spits formed off the Azov coast in the past 10,000 years. It divides the water area to Obytichna and Berdiansk inlets. In 1980 on a 36-km spit location a state landscape reserve (88.63 sq. km) was established to safeguard the biodiversity of the steppe and semi-arid lands.