2012 April 9 – Day 29 – Odessa, Ukraine (Part 2)

At noon we returned to the ship from our walk around Odessa so we had time for some lunch before boarding the bus for the half hour ride to the village of Nerubaiskoye and the catacombs museum.The gas line is raised over the roads or driveways to allow trucks to pass undeneath.

The tunnels were formed by the local people as they were digging limestone from underground for the construction of their houses and other buildings.  Dating back to the foundation of the city in 1794, this labyrinth has served as a hiding place first for thieves and smugglers, then for revolutionaries and the secret printing of propaganda literature and leaflets.  They were used by enterprising Odessans who made home-made vodka and printed false money. Finally the tunnels were used extensively by the members of partisan detachments actively fighting against the Nazis during the city’s occupation in WWII.

We began our tour at one of the many entrances to the catacombs and ended it at the museum. The catacombs (a word borrowed from Italian meaning “natural or artificial underground cavities”) are the most extensive and broad underground formations in the world.  They stretch 50 km (30 miles) out of Odessa into the countryside and are 2-3 stories deep (about 10-15 m or 32-50 feet).   Much of the labyrinth is uncharted even to this day (mainly due to the fact that the tunnel branches are always expanding due to excavation of the limestone.)  It is estimated that if the tunnels were stretched out straight and joined together they would reach a length of 2500-2700 km (1550-1670 miles), which is about the distance from Odessa on the Black Sea coast to St. Petersburg in Russia on the  Baltic Sea.

Jews and Gypsies (Roma) were fleeing the German armies and many ended up in Odessa with their back to the sea and no where to go.  After the city fell (it took 73 days and the city was designated a “Hero City” for the heroism displayed by its citizens) the Germans rounded up many of the them and they were either shot or sent to the death camps.  Over 300,000 people died in Odessa.

It did not take long before a very active and courageous group of resistance fighters began to make sneak attacks on German supply and munitions depots.  They harried and harassed them; disrupting power supply, destroying factories, production plants, ports, bridges, railway links, and roads, as well as distributing thousands of posters and leaflets with antifascist propaganda.                                                              Sleeping pallets

                                                Commander’s ‘office’

 They made bombs and molotov cocktails and had a shooting galleryThe German occupation lasted 907 days and there were 13 partisan detachments and 45 underground organizations with more than 4,000 members working in secret to fight the Nazis, aided by thousands of patriots that helped them.  They used the catacombs as living quarters and hideouts.  With all the entrances and tunnel branches resistance fighters could enter and exit from many different places and if German soldiers followed them into the tunnels they would quickly get confused in the maze and could be killed.  The Germans began to barricade any entrances they found and trapped some of the partisan cells, making for some incredible stories of endurance and escape.

The well still contains fresh water and this allowed many people to survive underground.

There was a memorial area commemorating the sacrifice of prominent resistance leaders who had been captured and executed.Rough carvings of the faces of four of them were on this wall.                                 The schoolroom for the childrenThe museum contained detailed accounts of the lives of many of the resistance fighters, tales of their exploits and memorabilia. Outside was an impressive commemorative statue.

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