Sevastopol: the Sacred Symbol of Russia
History and Modernity
Great Patriotic War
Sevastopol. The name of this extraordinary city, which occupies a special place in the history of our country, is Greek for "majestic, worthy of worship, heroic”. And the city’s marvelous destiny has justified this name in full measure. Sevastopol has no equal in heroism, which it demonstrated during a single century in 1854-1855 and in 1941-1945.
The name of the city and what is signifies has long become sacred for Russians. For millions of Russians, Sevastopol has become a proud symbol of valor, courage and unwavering strength. More than two thousand monuments remind us of the heroism of its citizens. However, Sevastopol is far more than a city of military glory. As the President of Russia Vladimir Putin has rightly pointed out in his annual address to the Federal Assembly on December 4th 2014, "for Russia, Cherson has a great cultural and sacred significance, as Jerusalem's Temple Mount does to Judaism and Islam. Cherson is currently Sevastopol, while Korsun is its ancient Russian name.
It was here, in Cherson in 988, where Prince Vladimir “the Red Sun” Svyatoslavovych, having captured the city, has converted to Christian Orthodoxy. Between the 9th and the 10th century, Slavs fought the Byzantium, a powerful empire at the time, for the northern Black Sea and Crimea. In the second half of the 11th century, the peninsula was invaded by the Cumans and later by the hordes of Khan Batu. After the collapse of the Golden Horde in 1443, the Crimean Khanate was born, which from 1475 was the vassal of Turkey, who used it as a weapon to attack Russian, Ukrainian and Polish lands. Cherson was completely destroyed and burned by the Mongol-Tatar invaders by the time. And on the ruins of the destroyed city of Cherson, Sevastopol was born - a city twice reborn from the ashes.
During the Russian-Turkish war of 1768 – 1774, Russian troops seized Crimea. By the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca (July 10th 1774), the Crimean Khanate was declared independent from Turkey and transferred under the protection of Russia. Alexander Suvorov was sent to command Russian troops in Crimea. He praised the excellent quality of Sevastopol bays and built the first fortifications there five years before the foundation of Sevastopol. The official date of birth of Sevastopol should be considered February 10th 1784, when by order of Empress Catherine II the city received its present name.
Already in 1804, Sevastopol became the main base of the Black Sea Fleet. Heroism and courage of the city and its inhabitants fully manifested during the Crimean War of 1853-1856. In September 1854, more than 60 thousand English and French troops with 134 guns landed near Yalta in Crimea and launched an attack on Sevastopol. The first clash took place on the Alma River, not far from the city. The Russian army bravely repelled the attacks of the enemy, who had twice as many troops and a considerable superiority in artillery and other weapons, but ultimately was forced to retreat. However, the Allies’ success came at too high a price. One of the British generals, the Duke of Cambridge, confessed: "Another such victory and England will not have an army”. The heroic defense of Sevastopol lasted for 349 days! For almost a year, did the defenders of the naval fortress repel the repeated attempts of the enemy to take it by storm. Still, the enemy forces had to leave Sevastopol in the end. Victor Hugo compared the defense of Sevastopol to the siege of Troy.
Sevastopol had to face new challenges from the beginning of the Great Patriotic War. On the very day the war began on June 22nd 1941, Sevastopol was subjected to German air strikes. On October 30th, the Nazis attempted to capture the city. The 54th Coastal Battery of the Black Sea Fleet made the first shot at a motorized formation of the 11th German Army led by General Manstein. Almost simultaneously with the Coastal Battery, the Russian Marine Corps, formed from students of the Naval Academy and sailors from the ships and the coastal parts of the Black Sea Fleet, also entered the battle. The Second heroic defense of Sevastopol, which lasted for 250 days, had thus begun.
The military and political significance of the defense of Sevastopol in the Patriotic War is enormous. By restricting a large number of German-Romanian troops, the defenders of the city thwarted the plans of the German Command. The staunch resistance of the citizens of Sevastopol was one of the main reasons for the failure of the Germans’ Spring and the Summer Offensive. The Germans lost time and momentum, and suffered huge human losses. In 8 months of the offensive of Sevastopol, the enemy had lost some 300 thousand men, 400 tanks, 900 aircraft and a large number of guns. All this had serious implications for the Battle of Stalingrad.
In April 1944, the Soviet troops launched an operation to liberate Sevastopol. On April the 15th, advanced units of the 4th Ukrainian Front reached the defensive lines of Sevastopol. On the 9th of May, the city was liberated.
A new serious test for Sevastopol came in 1991. Following the independence of Ukraine, Crimea and Sevastopol became part of the new Ukrainian state, getting separated from Russia. In 1997, Russia and Ukraine signed the Agreement on Friendship and Cooperation, which stipulated that the Russian fleet leased the naval base in Sevastopol.
The government coup in Kiev in the early 2014 forced the citizens of Crimea, including Sevastopol, to seriously think about their future. Immediate action was required. On March 17th 2014, based on the results of a referendum from the previous day, in which 96 (!) percent of the Crimean people voted in favor of reunification with Russia, the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea proclaimed Crimea an independent sovereign state - the Republic of Crimea, in which Sevastopol had a special status. The State Council of the Republic of Crimea appealed to the Russian Federation with a proposal to include the Republic of Crimea into Russia. And on March 21st, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law on ratification of the decision to reunify the Republic of Crimea with Russia.
This is how Crimea and Sevastopol returned to its historic motherland.