Sevastopol ( or ; previously Sebastopol; ; ) is one of two cities with special status in Ukraine (the other being the capital, Kiev), located on the Black Sea coast of the Crimean Peninsula. It has a population of 342,451 (2001). Sevastopol is the second largest port in Ukraine, after the Port of Odessa.
The unique geographic location and navigation conditions of the city's harbours make Sevastopol a strategically important naval point. It is also a popular seaside resort and tourist destination, mainly for visitors from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries. The city, formerly the home of the Russian - then Soviet - Black Sea Fleet, is now home to a Ukrainian naval base and a Russian naval base in facilities leased by the Russian Navy. The headquarters of both the Ukrainian Naval Forces and Russia's Black Sea Fleet are located in the city.
The trade and shipbuilding importance of Sevastopol's port has been growing since the fall of the Soviet Union, despite the difficulties that arise from the joint military control over its harbours and piers. Sevastopol is also an important centre of marine biology research. In particular, studying and training of dolphins has been conducted in the city since the end of World War II. It was first conducted as a secret naval programme to use the animals for special undersea operations. Sevastopol enjoys one of the warmest climates in Ukraine, with mild winters and moderate warm summers.
Sevastopol together with Kronstadt and Gibraltar is one of the most famous naval citadels in Europe. It was founded in 1783 by Rear Admiral Makenzie, in Russian service, as a base for a naval squadron, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula. Five years earlier, Aleksandr Suvorov ordered that earthworks be erected along the harbour and Russian troops be located there. At first, the place was called by its ancient name, Akhtiar. In February 1784, Catherine II (the Great) ordered Grigory Potyomkin (Grigoriy Potemkin) to build a fortress there and call it Sevastopol. The realisation of the initial building plans fell to Captain F.F. Ushakov, in 1788 named commander of the port and of the Black Sea squadron. It became an important naval base and later a commercial port. In 1797 under an edict issued by Emperor Paul I, the military stronghold was renamed Akhtiar. Finally, on April 29 (May 10), 1826, the Senate returned the city's name to Sevastopol.
One of the most notable events involving the city is the Siege of Sevastopol (1854–1855) carried out by the British, French, Sardinian, and Turkish troops during the Crimean War, which lasted for 11 months. Despite its efforts, the Russian army had to leave its stronghold and evacuate over a pontoon bridge to the north shore of the inlet. The Russians had to sink their entire fleet to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy and at the same time to block the entrance of the Western ships into the inlet. When the enemy troops entered Sevastopol, they were faced with the ruins of a formerly glorious city.
A panorama of the siege originally was created by Franz Roubaud. Later after its destruction in 1942 during WWII, it was restored and is being housed in a specially constructed circular building in the city. It portrays the situation in the height of the siege, on 18 June 1855.
In 1957, the town of Balaklava was incorporated into Sevastopol.
During the Soviet era, Sevastopol, became a so-called "closed city". This meant that any non-residents had to apply to the authorities for a temporary permit to visit the city. It was directly subordinate to the central Russian SFSR authorities rather than the local oblast and later (after 1978) to the Ukrainian SSR administration.
On December 11, 1992, the President of Ukraine called the attempt of "the Russian deputies to charge the Russian parliament with a task to define the status of Sevastopol as an imperial disease". On December 17, 1992, the office of the Ukrainian presidential representative in Crimea was created, which caused a wave of protests a month later. Among the protesters who organised the unsanctioned rally were the Sevastopol branches of the National Salvation Front, the Russian Popular Assembly, and the All-Crimean Movement of the Voters for the Republic of Crimea. The protest was held in Sevastopol on January 10 at the Nakhimov Square.
On July 10, 1993, the Russian parliament passed a resolution declaring Sevastopol to be "a federal Russian city". At the time, many supporters of the president, Boris Yeltsin, had ceased taking part in the Parliament's work.
On April 14, 1993, the Presidium of the Crimean Parliament called for the creation of the presidential post of the Crimean Republic. A week later, the Russian deputy, Valentin Agafonov, stated that Russia is ready to supervise the referendum on Crimean independence and include the republic as a separate entity in the CIS. On July 28, 1993, one of the leaders of the Russian Society of Crimea, Viktor Prusakov, stated that his organisation was ready for an armed mutiny and establishment of the Russian administration in Sevastopol. In September, Eduard Baltin accused Ukraine of converting some of his fleet and conducting an armed assault on his personnel, and threatened to take countermeasures of placing the fleet on alert. In May 1997, Russia and Ukraine signed the Peace and Friendship Treaty, ruling out Moscow's territorial claims to Ukraine.
Like in the rest of the Crimea, Russian remains the predominant language in the city, although following the independence of Ukraine there have been some attempts at Ukrainization with very little success. The administration from the Government of Ukraine retains formal control of Sevastopol's life (such as of taxation and police) and tries to avoid confrontation with the Black Sea Fleet command and pro-Russian groups. A few years ago, the city council, dominated by the Communist Party of Ukraine, rejected a European Bank for Reconstruction and Development loan to renovate Sevastopol's poor sewage system, declaring that the project was intended to increase the city's dependence on the Ukrainian government and the Western world.
The WE Youth Political Organization, which advocates Russian citizenship for Sevastopol residents, published a poll in 2004 claiming "72% of the Sevastopol citizens support the idea of the independent status of Crimea. The Crimea is an autonomous Republic within Ukraine. Besides, 95% of the respondents support the constant stationing of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol even after 2045, when the time of the corresponding agreement between Russia and Ukraine is up. Also, 100% of those polled are for the having the option for citizens of Sevastopol of dual citizenship, Russian and Ukrainian. It is notable, however, that of those expressing a desire to be able to obtain Russian citizenship only 16% of the Sevastopol citizens are ready to give up the Ukrainian one."