The second largest city in Ukraine after Kyiv, Kharkiv (known in Russian as ‘Kharkov’) is a heavy-industrial center specializing in military hardware, electronics, aerospace engineering and other industry. Founded in 1654 when the violent uprising against the Polish Crown led by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky caused thousands of Ukrainians to flee east. From a small fortress town, it would grow into a major metropolitan area. Kharkiv became the largest settlement of what became known as Sloboda Ukraine (or Slobozhanshchyna), which would transform into the Kharkov Governorate of the Russian Empire.
During the period of civil war following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the Bolshevik regime in Moscow established Kharkov as the capital of Soviet Ukraine, creating a center of agitation against the independent national Ukrainian government in Kyiv. The period witnessed some of the worst famine and atrocities committed by the Bolshevik political police (the ‘Cheka’) during the Russian Civil War. After the Bolsheviks finally overran Kyiv in 1920, Kharkiv remained the capital of Soviet Ukraine until 1934, when it was moved to Kyiv. The Kharkiv region had by this time been devastated by the state-sponsored famine (Holodomor) inflicted on Ukraine by the Stalin regime from 1932-33. Although much of the non-Russian-speaking population was wiped out during these years, and Kharkiv today is a Russian-speaking area, the city has an odd but distinctly Ukrainian feel, with prominent monuments to Ukrainian freedom and independence visible in the center.
Kharkiv today boasts a neat, clean city center, with numerous parks, trees and squares of mown grass. There are dozens of institutions of higher education in the city, which boasts of having created the first atomic reactor in the world in 1937. Several historic buildings have been renovated amid an abundance of Soviet architecture, including a cluster of constructivist buildings in Freedom Square that features the famous Derzhprom complex and the main university.
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