Kehilalinks Pochep Russia

 History from Early Settlement     

Pochep has existed as a fortress since the year 1500, and in 2000 the city celebrated its 500th anniversary.

Possibly it existed as a settlement as early as the ninth century. It was a natural place for a community because it was on a convenient trade route and was also protected from attack by the Sudost River and by surrounding thick forests and swamps.

In spite of this protection, the town was attacked throughout its history by Lithuanian, Polish, and German invaders and by raiding Crimean Tatars. Archaeologists have found ash layers indicating that Pochep was burned and rebuilt several times in its history. In the 13th century nomadic Tatar Mongols destroyed and looted the town and decimated its population.

In 1457 the village was mentioned in contemporary writings as part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was part of a chain of border fortresses on the southwestern border of the Moscow government.

After the Polish-Muscovite War the Treaty of Deulino in 1619 officially handed Pochep to Poland and granted the city the right to self-government under the Magdeburg Laws.

From ancient times Pochep was the site of four trading fairs a year, which drew 10,000 or more people. Since 1665 the autumn fair, which lasted a whole week, was known as the richest. Pochep residents traded bread, honey, pottery, hemp, hemp oil, wood, tar, and apples.

During the Great Northern War (1700-1721) the city was in the path of the army of Swedish King Karl XII. Under Tsar Peter I, Pochep's old wooden fortress with 31 watchtowers was renovated, and an earthen fortress was built on the left bank of the River Sudost. It had the shape of an irregular pentagon with five bastions. The Swedes did not reach the town.

After the Battle of Poltava in 1709 Ukrainian Hetman Skoropadsky made a grant of the town and its lands and peasants to Prince Aleksander Danilovich Menshikov as a reward for valor in the war against Sweden. With its self-government gone, the town's wealth was siphoned off to Menshikov's benefit. Outside the fortress Menshikov built a city he called Alexandropol to contain his local court and palace. He also launched a large sailcloth factory, which produced canvas for the Russian Navy and supplied the Russian fleet during the 1737-1739 Russian-Turkish war.

In 1727 Menshikov fell out of favor, replaced by new favorites at the royal court. He and his family were exiled to Siberia, where he died two years later. In 1760 Empress Elizabeth presented Hetman Kyrill Grigorivich Razumovsky with "hereditary possession of Pochep in perpetuity." In the late 18th century Razumovsky constructed a palace designed by a French architect. He also built Resurrection Cathedral, designed by Italian architect Antonio Rinaldi. The palace was destroyed in 1943, but Resurrection Cathedral remains as a cherished local landmark.

Next Pochep was inherited by Razumovsky's son Alexei Kyrillovich Razumovsky, the Russian minister of education; and after Alexei's death, his daughter Barbara Repnina Volkonskaya.

The last owners of Pochep were the family of Pyotr Aleksandrovich Kleinmikhel, who bought the Razumovsky estate and reconstructed it. Kleinmikhel was the Tsar's Railway Minister. In 1887 the Bryansk-Gomel railroad line was built through the city, spurring economic development around the railroad station and increased prosperity for Pochep. His son Konstantine Petrovich Kleinmikhel inherited the estate in 1869. He built a brick factory that produced bricks stamped " Kleinmikhel, Pochep" that were widely used for local construction.

During this time small businesses and artisans thrived. Factories produced hemp oil, rope, hops, cloth, paper, and wool products. Pochep was famous for its blacksmiths and potters. Successful merchants enhanced the town and built a number of churches, many of which were destroyed during World War I and the Russian Revolution.

Its location on the western edge of Russia quickly brought Pochep to the attention of the German Army in World War II. The town put up a fierce defense, but it was occupied by the Germans from August 22, 1941. Fighting in and around Pochep lasted for another 49 days, with as many as 400 partisans continuing to fight from the forest. The partisans killed more than 2,000 German soldiers and officers, blew up 25 km of railroad track, derailed 21 enemy trains, and blew up 5 bridges.

German occupation was disastrous for the city and particularly for its Jewish population. Jewish residents who had not already fled from the area were massacred in 1942. The city was liberated from the Nazis September 21, 1943. Retreating German troops burned hundreds of homes and blew up all the industrial enterprises and the Razumovsky palace. Hundreds of houses were burned. The Cathedral of the Resurrection was set on fire but local people managed to save the building.

Count Alexei Kirillovich Razumovsky
Photo from sign at entrance to City Park
Razumovsky Palace
Razumovsky Palace
Photo from sign at entrance to City Park
Count Pyotr Kleinmikhel
Pochep Market Fair, Early 20th Century
Fair People
People at Market Fair, Early 20th Century

Pochep: slavnyi gorod na Sudosti: sbornik istoricheskikh ocherkov, L.A. Demkhina, Klintsy, 2000. (Book in Russian, can be found at Library of Congress, Washington D.C.)

Museum of Local Lore, Pochep, Russia, tour and brochure, 2013.


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Compiled by Beth Galleto
Last Updated November 2018
Copyright © 2017  Beth Galleto