History of Vladivostok

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Streets of Vladivostok in the 1910s

The history of Vladivostok can roughly be divided into the history of the territory where Vladivostok is now located, and the history of the city per se.


The area that is now Vladivostok was successively settled by ancient peoples and kingdoms such as the Mohe, Goguryeo, Balhae, and later, Liao Dynasty and Jīn Dynasty.

On Chinese maps from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), it is called Yongmingcheng (永明城 [Yǒngmíngchéng], literally "city of eternal light"). During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), it was visited by Chinese expeditions, and a relic of that time — a Chongning stela — is displayed in the local museum. The Treaty of Nerchinsk of 1689 defined the area as a part of China, under the Manchu Qing Dynasty. Later on, as the Manchus banned Han Chinese from most of Manchuria including the Vladivostok area — it was only visited by shēnzéi (參賊, lit. either ginseng or sea cucumber thieves) who illegally entered the area seeking ginseng or sea cucumbers (ambiguous since both terms use the Chinese 參, shēn). From this comes the current Chinese name for the city, 海參崴 (Hǎishēnwǎi) meaning "Sea Cucumber Cliffs". A French ship which is believed to have visited the area around 1858 discovered several huts of Chinese or Manchu fishermen.

Russian control[edit]

The area was ceded by China to Russia as a result of the Treaty of Aigun of 1858 and the Treaty of Peking of 1860.

In the summer of 1859, Governor-General of Eastern Siberia, Nikolay N. Muravyov, visited the peninsula and the bay, which was somewhat similar to the Bay of the Golden Horn in Constantinople (now Istanbul), aboard the steam corvette Amerika. The peninsula was named Muravyov-Amursky in his honor.

The first Europeans to visit the local bay (later named the Golden Horn Bay) were the crews of the British warships HMS Winchester and HMS Barracouta in 1855.

Beginning of the modern city[edit]

On June 20 (July 2 Gregorian style), 1860 the military supply ship Manchur, under the command of Captain-Lieutenant Alexey K. Shefner, called at the Golden Horn Bay to found an outpost called Vladivostok. Warrant officer Nikolay Komarov with 28 soldiers and two non-commissioned officers under his command were brought from Nikolayevsk-on-Amur by ship to construct the first buildings of the future city. They pitched a camp, selecting a place from where the entrance to the Golden Horn Bay was always visible.

In 1862, under the leadership of Yevgeny Burachyok, the outpost of Vladivostok officially became a port. To encourage foreign trade, a Free Port status, or a Free Trade Status for imported goods, was established. In 1864, the Command of the Southern Harbours was moved to Vladivostok from Nikolayevsk-on-Amur. A year later a Shipbuilding Yard was established in Vladivostok and the first settlers from Nikolayevsk-na-Amure began arriving. Foreigners started visiting Vladivostok. In 1871 it was decided that the Naval Port, Military Governor's Residence, and the main base of the Siberian Military Flotilla were to be moved from Nikolayevsk-na-Amure to Vladivostok. The same year the Great Northern Telegraph Company connected Vladivostok to Nagasaki and Shanghai by means of underwater International cable.

Vladivostok's first street was Amerikanskaya Street (ул. Американская), which was named to commemorate the above-mentioned corvette America in 1871. Two years later it was renamed Svetlanskaya Street (ул. Светланская), in honor of the frigate Svetlana, on which the Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia visited Vladivostok. At that time it consisted of a part of today's Svetlanskaya Street, from the Amursky Bay to house #85. Its other parts were then considered as separate streets and had the names of Portovaya (Портовая), Afanasyevskaya (Афанасьевская), Ekipazhnaya (Экипажная), etc.

In 1878, 40% of over 4,000 residents of Vladivostok were foreigners. This was reflected in the names of the young city streets, such as Koreyskaya (Korean), Pekinskaya (Peking), Kitayskaya (Chinese), etc. Their present names are Pogranichnaya (ул. Пограничная), Admirala Fokina (ул. Адмирала Фокина), and Okeansky Avenue (Океанский проспект).

Imperial Russian Navy Torpedo boat Sungari at Vladivostok

In 1880 the Russian Volunteer Fleet, with the help of the government, organized regular trips between Odessa, St. Petersburg, and Vladivostok. On April 28 (May 10 Gregorian style), 1880 Vladivostok was officially proclaimed a city, and a separate administrative unit, independent from Primorskaya Oblast. At that time the city population totalled 7,300 people, which is twice as many as in 1878. Three hotels operated in Vladivostok at that time, including Moscow, Vladivostok, and Hotel de Louvre.

In 1883, the Resettlement Administration was established in Vladivostok, and the steamships of the Russian Volunteer Fleet began a mass transport of peasants from European Russia to the Far East, where active settling had recently begun. Vladivostok became the main shipping center. This resulted in a greater increase in the city's significance. In 1888 the residence of the Oblast Governor was moved from Khabarovsk to Vladivostok. In 1889 Vladivostok was proclaimed a Fortress, and two torpedo-boats, brought disassembled from the Black Sea, were launched.

Trans-Siberian railway Terminal in Vladivostok

In the 1880s, the cultural life in Vladivostok became more active, and a music school at the Siberian Fleet Depot was opened. In 1883, the first newspaper (Vladivostok) began circulation. In 1884, the Society of the Amursky Territory Study, headed by Fyodor F. Busse, was established. In 1887, the public Reading-Hall was opened in Vladivostok and the professional theater performed in Vladivostok for the first time. The city began to acquire modern amenities. The trees were planted along the main streets and 120 kerosene streetlamps were installed on the city streets.

By the end of 1880s Vladivostok had approximately 600 wooden and more than 50 stone houses, some of them were two- and three-story buildings. The main urban buildings were grouped in the area of today's central square and the Matrosskaya Sloboda (Sailors' Suburb)—a territory from the Obyasneniya River as far as Gaydamak tram stop. These figures are not large for a city which was about 30 years old. But considering the fact that it is located 10,000 km from the major cultural centers of the Russian Empire and that it took three to four months for the mail to arrive from those places, one can admire the persistence and stubbornness of the first settlers.

In the 1890s, the shipping lines Kobe–Nagasaki–Vladivostok and Shanghai–Nagasaki–Vladivostok were opened.

In 1891, the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad began in Vladivostok. This is one of the world's longest railroads, and has been very important for the development of many remote Russian outlying districts.

In 1897, a new Commercial Port was opened in Vladivostok and regular traffic to Khabarovsk by rail began.

In 1899, the first Far Eastern higher educational institution—the Oriental Institute—was established. Today it houses the main building of the Far Eastern State Technical University (FESTU).

From 1899 through 1909 four theaters were opened in Vladivostok. They were the Tikhy Okean Theater (the Pacific Ocean), the Public Theater, which followed the creative methods of Moscow Artistic Theater, the Zolotoy Rog Theater (the Golden Horn), the Pushkin Theater, where the guest performance by Vera Kommisarzhevskaya, a famous Russian actress, took place. In 1912 The Theater and Music Newspaper was first published.

Cruiser Varyag in Golden Horn Bay, Vladivostok, 1903

During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 a Japanese squadron of warships attacked the city with over a hundred shots. The Vladivostok Cruiser Group participated in the war, blocking the approaches to the besieged Port-Arthur.

During the first Russian Revolution the city was involved in the conflict. In the beginning of 1906 it was even governed by the rebelling military units. The revolution in the city was pacified through combining force and diplomacy by General Georgi Kazbek.

In the period between the two Russian Revolutions (1907–1917) a Railway Station of Russian architecture of the 17th century style, the city power station, two girls' schools, the School of Commerce, and Versailles Hotel were constructed. Trams began operating in the city streets. In 1909, for example, the port was visited by a total of 795 steamships, including 477 foreign ships. There were approximately 3,000 shops and stores in Vladivostok. In 1913, the local publishing houses issued 61 different books in Russian and foreign languages.

By 1917 Vladivostok had become a scientific, cultural, and industrial center, the largest in the Far East and Eastern Siberia. Many newspapers and magazines were published, and the first theater buildings of stone were constructed in the city.

After the Revolution[edit]

American "Wolfhounds" on parade in Vladivostok, August 1918
A 1919 poster depicting the Japanese occupation of Vladivostok.

After the October Revolution of 1917 a new stage of life began in Vladivostok, as it did in the rest of the country.

On December 31, 1917 Japanese, British, and American cruisers entered the Golden Horn Bay. In April 1918, the Japanese firm Isido was attacked in Vladivostok. After this incident the Japanese and British Commands landed their troops under the pretext of protecting their citizens. The Entente soon expanded the goals of their Siberian Intervention and sent many more troops. Canada sent 4,000 troops, with headquarters in the Pushkinskaya Theatre and barracks at Second River and Gornostai Bay.[1][2]

The supporters of the Bolsheviks conducted a partisan struggle in the city. From 1916 through 1922 the population of Vladivostok increased from 97,000 to 410,000 people, as a result of the opponents of the new regime settling in the port city while retreating to the East together with the White Army. Among them were many Russian cultural workers.

From 1920 through 1922, 650 representatives of the Moscow and St. Petersburg creative intelligentsia lived in Vladivostok. They established two conservatories, two theaters, and several symphony orchestras and published a number of art magazines. After the victory of Bolsheviks the majority of these people moved to Australia, China, United States, and other countries. By 1926 the population of Vladivostok totalled 108,000 people.

On October 25, 1922 the last units of the interventionists left the city, and the units of the Red Army completely took control. On November 15, 1922 the Far Eastern Republic, which existed from 1920 through 1922, was included into the RSFSR.

The Bolsheviks who won control of Russia understood very well the importance of Vladivostok as a major Russian port on the Pacific Coast and as an outpost of the Soviet Union in the East. In the 1920s–1930s the reconstruction of the Vladivostok port began. In the beginning of the 1930s direct air traffic to Moscow and Vladivostok began. In 1932, Vladivostok became the base of the Pacific Naval Fleet.

Science and culture acquired the spirit of that time, which was reflected in their zigzag development. In the beginning of the 1920s the Far Eastern State University was established in Vladivostok. At the end of the 1930s, during Stalin's regime, it was closed for twenty years. In 1925, the Pacific Scientific-Commercial Station was established in Vladivostok. It was reorganized into the Pacific Scientific-Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (TINRO) in 1930. In 1932 the Far Eastern Division of the USSR Academy of Sciences was created in the city.

In 1926, a radio station began broadcasting in Vladivostok. Three theaters and three new movie-theaters were opened in the city in 1931. The collection of the Primorye Picture Gallery was formed during 1929–1931. About 1,000 pictures were brought here from the Hermitage, Russian Museum, and Tretyakovskaya Gallery. After the Revolution of 1917 many museums located in the Russian provinces were formed by this principle.

Many ethnic groups that seemed rebellious in Stalin's eyes, including Chinese, Manchu, Jews, Ukrainians, Poles, Crimean Tartars, Chechens, and Armenians, were deported out.[3] In the 1930s the mass repressions began in the country, and the transit camp for political prisoners carried from the Western regions of Russia to Kolyma, was opened in Vladivostok. The prisoners were arriving by trains and later transported on prison ships, in terrible conditions. The prisoners, at first Soviet, after 1939 from Eastern Europe and after the end of the World War II the Japanese POWs, constituted a considerable part of the labor force which built factories, ports, and cities in the Far East from 1930 through 1940. After American aviators had bombed Tokyo, Japan on April 18, 1942, one of the sixteen B-25 bombers landed in Vladivostok, due to shortage of fuel. The bomber was confiscated and the crew was interned. Although Captain Edward York and his crew mates were well-treated, diplomatic attempts to return them to the United States ultimately failed. Eventually they were relocated to Ashgabat (20 miles (32 km) from the Iranian border), and York managed to bribe a smuggler, who helped them cross the border and reach a nearby British consulate on 11 May 1943. The smuggling was actually staged by the NKVD, according to declassified Soviet archives, because the Soviet government felt unable to repatriate them legally in the face of the neutrality pact with Japan.[4]

In 1954, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, visited Vladivostok. Nikita Khrushchev was the first acting leader of Russia and the whole USSR, who visited the city. Khrushchev became famous worldwide for his eccentric statements and actions. He also used to compare Vladivostok with San Francisco. After his visit intensive development of the city began.

Vladivostok in 2003

In 1956, the Far Eastern State University, the only classical university in the Russian Far East until today, was reopened. The microdistricts of Vtoraya Rechka (the Second River) (since the early 1960s), Morgorodok (since the early 1960s), Churkin (since the late 1950s), and Tikhaya Bay have been built intensively. Vladivostok's last large district built with the new multistory houses is the region of Patrisa Lumumby Street and Neybuta Street where the multistory construction works began in 1980.

From the 1950s to the 1980s the fisheries industry was developed. For many years the ports of Vladivostok ranked first in terms of freight turnover in the Far East of Russia, having only recently yielded to Nakhodka. Vladivostok produced a large volume of military goods.

From 1930 till the 1970s foreigners were not allowed to visit Vladivostok. In 1974 a historic meeting between the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) Leonid Brezhnev and the president of the USA, Gerald Ford, was held in Vladivostok. Nevertheless, after Ford's visit to Vladivostok the ordinary citizens of the USA and other countries could not visit the city, which was home base of the Pacific Fleet, for almost 20 years. In 1992, for the first time in 70 years, Vladivostok was officially opened for visits by foreigners.

In December 2008 Vladivostok protests against higher import duties on used cars were reported around the world, though with only limited coverage in Russia. These protests have been seen as potentially the first visible public anger at one of the government's responses to the global financial crisis.[5] Police clad in riot gear detained some protesters as other demonstrators blocked roads, lit flares and bonfires in Sunday's protests that blocked traffic in the city centre. A separate protest later blockaded the city's airport for a short period. [6]

As of 1996, there are six consulates, correspondent offices of four Japanese TV-companies, information service of the USA, more than 100 representative offices of foreign firms and approximately 600 joint venture enterprises in Vladivostok.

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