Dnipropetrovsk Region: Ancient Gold, Cossacks, and Space

Dnipropetrovsk region (Ukr. oblast), with its centre in the city of Dnipro, lies in the very heart of Ukraine. And like every heart, it beats together with the whole organism, the state. Probably the Dnipropetrovsk region reflects Ukraine’s diversity and abundance most vividly: it used to be where grand civilizations thrived, famous trade routes ran, and arts and industry developed. Moreover, people here have always been able to fight for their values — from the widely known Cossacks to the current war for freedom.

The Lands in the Epicenter

The Dnipropetrovsk region has always been in the thick of things. It was exactly these lands that were kind of a corridor for the well-known populations moving to Europe: the Huns, the Avars, the Bulgars, the Magyars, etc. 

And in the 15th century, a unique Ukrainian phenomenon emerged here — the Cossackdom: a union of free people who, being extremely skilled warriors, won their own state — the Zaporozhian Sich.

It was the Dnipropetrovsk region that served as a kind of ‘hub’ for the Cossacks. Due to various reasons, throughout different epochs, the Zaporozhian Sich — the Cossacks’ fortress and capital — was located in eight different places. Five of them were situated on the territory of modern Dnipropetrovsk region. Moreover, the region was the starting point of the Cossacks’ struggle for their own independent state. Bohdan Khmelnytskyi, an outstanding Ukrainian statesman who led the struggle, was elected hetman on today’s territory of Nikopol city.

Symbolically, Nikopol has become a fighting arena again — Russians bombard the city nearly every day now.

The Cossacks’ freedom-loving nature clearly posed an obstacle to the Russian tsarism — and the then Russian troops destroyed the Sich. However, the 21st century’s full-scale war with Russia shows that the spirit of the free warriors — the Cossacks — is still alive both in the Dnipropetrovsk region and throughout Ukraine. And this time freedom will definitely win. 

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The Jewel that Fascinated the Whole World

What is the biggest piece of jewelry that you have? A bracelet, a ring, or maybe a pair of heavy earrings? Now, imagine a jewel weighing over a kilogram [~2.2 lb] and consisting of 160 different details, made of pure gold of 958 sample. Managed? Maybe, you have just imagined the Golden Pectoral

This “necklace” was found in the Tovsta Mohyla burial mound. Actually, it was plundered already in ancient times, as it is often the case with ancient graves — from Egyptian pyramids to European mausoleums. 

Nevertheless, in 1971, when the expedition leader was leaving for archeological excavations in the Dnipropetrovsk region, he promised half-jokingly:

“I vow to find something big and sparkling.” And he kept his promise.

Although the main grave had been robbed long ago, Ukrainian archeologists found lots of emblematic artifacts nearby. And yet they decided to also explore the main chamber of the desolate burial. 10 cm [~3.94 in] away from the place messed up by the thieves, hidden under the collapsed soil, they found something. And this something was a golden pectoral made of three sections over 30 cm [~11.81 in] in diameter. This masterpiece was created 2500 years ago on the order of the Scythians by Greek craftsmen who utilized different techniques: casting, embossment, filigree, soldering, incrustation, and graving

The jewel is currently stored in one of the Kyiv museums. After decades of research and attention of nearly all archeologists from all over the world, the symbolism of many sculptural images of the pectoral is yet to be discovered.

By the way, speaking of attention: UNESCO has called it “one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century.” Sometimes, the desire to find something big and sparkling yields results that are indeed amazing. 

A World-Scale Art Village

The village of Petrykivka has its own ‘author’: it was founded in 1772 by a prominent politician and the last Cossack Otaman Petro Kalnyshevskyi. He was an outstanding figure who arrived at the Sich at the age of 8 and worked his way up from a squire to a Cossack leader. Such genealogy could not fail to influence the village, therefore Petrykivka has also its unique art. 

It was this village that developed its distinctive style of decorative folk painting, now known worldwide. The Petrykivka painting masters have weaved bright flowers into marvelous ornaments, painting walls, tableware, or trunks. 

Over time, these phantasmagoric floral themes have become one of the symbols of Ukrainian art. For instance, the Paris house where Alen Delon used to live is decorated with ornaments in this style. Nowadays, it hosts the Ukrainian Culture Centre. 

A Trade Route that United Civilizations

Today, one needs just a few hours to get from Istanbul to Stockholm by plane — in the past, one had to travel the same track for months. There was a pleasant bonus though — all the lands of modern Ukraine could be observed during such a trip! 

The Route from the Varangians to the Greeks was an old trade path that united Byzantium and Northern Europe. On their way, the merchants passed seas, rivers, and lakes, and even dragged their ships overland — everything to sell at a profit.

Important sites on this route were ancient Ukrainian cities, in particular in the Dnipropetrovsk region, along one of Europe’s largest rivers — the Dnipro. One could hear numerous European and Asian languages spoken at local markets to bargain for bread, fur, honey, wax, weapons, amber, jewelry, wine, spices, fabrics, glass, and much more.

People used this route for centuries until the Crusades set a more convenient way to the East. However, people still remember the ancient way that facilitated knowledge exchange between different cultures and helped to explore the world thousands of kilometers away.

Great Water Hurdles that Humans Conquered

For thousands of years, people were scared of the section in the middle reaches of the Dnipro river. There, the river would become hell — with rapid water flows, boulders, vortexes, and even seven-meter-high [~22.97 ft] waterfalls. Only the bravest dared to pass through these areas by water; others, including the travelers of the “Route from the Varangians to the Greeks,” had to drag their ships overland.

It was Herodot, who first mentioned the rapids of the Dnipro river. And some fifteen hundred years later, the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus also warned of the dangers, speaking about those deadly places: Ne Spy (“Do Not Sleep”), Nenasytets (“The Roaring Rapid”), and Burkhlyvyi (“The Turbulent”). 

It took people centuries to find a way to conquer the rapids, but neither plan worked. Eventually, an entire separate caste of the Dnipro river “maritime pilots” emerged, who lived near the rapids for centuries and helped navigate the ships through this area. In the 18th century, their number reached up to 700 people.

However, 100 years ago this epoch ended, as Ukrainians built the Dniprohes — once a gigantic hydroelectric station that raised the water level and forever buried the horrific rapids. We tell more about the Dniprohes in the material about Zaporizhzhia.

The Most Eco-Friendly Space Exploration in the World

A few years ago, Elon Musk, the space exploration adept, was asked about the best rockets in the world. 

“The ‘Zenit’ is probably the next best rocket [after ours],” Musk said undoubtedly. 

The “Zenit” rockets were developed by the Pivdenne (lit. Southern) Design Office in Dnipro. With almost 70 years of working experience and over 1,100 satellites put into orbit, including Ukrainian satellites “Sich-1” and “Sich-2,” the company is believed to be the most experienced and professional in the entire space industry.

The Pivdenne Design Office is part of a real industrial innovations giant — the Pivdennyi Machine-Building Plant (Pivdenmash). The enterprise produces, for instance, trucks and trolleybuses, as well as the most eco-friendly launch vehicles in the world. 

Ukrainian designs are regularly used worldwide for space launches. For example, in 2022 alone, the Antares launch system, co-developed by the Pivdenne Design Office, flew twice to the International Space Station, each time delivering there almost 4 tons of payload.

The Russian Federation could not ignore such an important plant: in 2022, it repeatedly shelled the Pivdenmash with cruise missiles. Yet, both the Office and the plant continue operating

In particular, they participate in the development of the light-class launch rocket carrier Vega for the European Space Agency. Ukrainians provide the project with liquid engines responsible for producing thrust and controlling the flight of the launch vehicle’s fourth stage. Such engines work longer than all other rocket engines together. Moreover, it is the only machine that allows to turn on the rocket carrier again and again. Therefore, if the world needs again to turn the rocket engine on and off — welcome to Dnipro.

Even more so, in 2018, the aerospace company Firefly Aerospace opened the research and development center in the city — with over 150 top-class employees, 3D printers working with steel, and the most relevant challenges of space exploration. And all that in Dnipro!

The Women Who Looked for a New Worldview

“To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color,” sounds like a good idea — even though utopic — doesn’t it? Some 150 years ago a Dnipro-born philosopher Olena Blavatska raved about this initiative.

Blavatska’s works were translated into the majority of European as well as key Asian languages. The woman co-founded the famous Theosophical Society, within which she developed her unique philosophy combining traditional European doctrines with Hinduist and Buddhist ideas as well as other Oriental beliefs. Some find her ideas esoteric and occult while others consider them to be deep philosophy and a chance for humanity.

Anyway, numerous prominent people joined the Society, for example, the inventor Thomas Edison and the Nobel laureate in literature William Yeats, and the most influential personality in India’s history, Mahatma Gandhi, highly appreciated Blavatska, and once allegedly said: “It would be a pleasure for me to touch the verge of her clothes.”

The Symbol of Mutual Understanding and the Link Between Generations

Right in the center of the city, there is a building embodying the link between generations and mutual understanding of different cultures. This is “Menorah”, the biggest Jewish complex in the world. The matter is that Dnipro has a very strong Jewish diaspora and the city regularly hosts thematic festivals, exhibitions, and lectures while the Jewish charm itself has been since long a vital element of the city.

The grand complex of “Menorah” is comprised of seven towers (with the highest having 20 storeys and being 77 meters [252.62 ft] high), symbolizing the sacred seven-light candelabrum found in Jewish temples. Occupying an area of 50,000 sq. meters [538,195.52 sq ft], the complex’s premises house different spaces providing the city residents and guests with the most diverse services: hotels, souvenir shops, cafes, artistic workshops, touristic agencies, banks, etc.

The first two floors constitute the Gallery connecting all seven towers of the building. Its wall spans are shaped as facades of Dnipro’s well-known buildings, and there are three separate areas laid out of special Jerusalem stone. It has been tailor-made for “Menorah.” Since the production line was later disassembled, it is impossible to replicate the material. The part of the building decorated with marble and Jerusalem stone is a symbolic “continuation” of the famous Western Wall.

Even the “Menorah” center itself is a sort of continuation, as the center is located around the ancient Golden Rose Synagogue. Therefore, “Menorah” is a vivid example of the past and the present uniting in Dnipro for the sake of the future. 

Right now, the entire Ukraine fights for the sake of the future.

Not just its own but also the future of the whole free world. Peaceful cities located in the heart of Ukraine hear air raid sirens daily, but the rockets attack not only houses and buildings — they attack the values of freedom and justice. It’s not new for the Dnipropetrovsk region to fight on the bright side. And it will definitely win — together with the whole world.

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Last updated 11.03.2024

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