Odessa is known not only for its good beaches and beautiful architecture, but also for its criminal history. Many tourists and guests of the city have heard such names as Sonya Zolotaya Ruchka, Mishka Yaponchik, Grina Kot (Grigory Kotovsky), Yasha Blyuchkin and many others. But why is “Pearl by the Sea” known as the criminal capital of the Russian Empire and the USSR? I think everyone has heard “Odessa-mama – Rostov-papa”. Where does this glory come from and why?
So, we already know that Odessa was founded in 1794 on the site of the Turkish fortress Khadzhibey, and at first the city had concessions in terms of taxation, and the Russian Empire was also interested in the early settlement of this region. Therefore, Greeks, Moldovans, Armenians, Italians, Jews and other nationalities, as well as fugitive serfs and criminals, poured here. Such a versatile contingent has created a unique Odessa culture. The city opened up opportunities not only for business, but also for smuggling and scams.
Odessa catacombs as a haven for criminal elements
Odessa is famous for its catacombs. They appeared during the construction of the city, under it there were deposits of shell rock and, accordingly, in order not to bring materials from afar, people took it under their house, and more often under the house of a neighbor. Subsequently, these voids were used, and dens, gambling houses and brothels were opened there. And there were even special underground routes for transporting contraband goods to the port, as well as stolen girls to Turkey. You can find out more about the catacombs by reading our article – History of the Odessa catacombs.
Before the construction of the prison castle, the catacombs were used as prison pits. The prison castle was built in 1894, and the architect was A. Tomishko, who had created the project of the famous prison in St. Petersburg “Kresty”.
In the Odessa prison castle, who just did not sit: Leiba Bronstein, who took the name of the warden and became Trotsky, and Grigory Kotovsky (an ambiguous historical personality), the legend of the criminal world Moses Vinnitsky or Mishka Yaponchik and many others. It is known that in one of the cells there was a tunnel through which it was possible to go to the cemetery, which was located directly opposite.
Principles of Odessa bandits
Odessa bandits preferred to operate without casualties and not rob the poor and people of average income, for which they were respected by the townspeople. This is where the name “Odessa-Mama” came from. The well-known district of the city – Moldovanka, at first was just a poor suburb, but with the advent of Porto Franco everything changed, and it was here that thieves’ “raspberries” appeared.
The city developed rapidly and grew rich, it attracted not only people who wanted to work, but also adventurers and swindlers.
Unlike other cities, the bandits had a “code” here, which was introduced by Mishka Yapochnik. According to which, it was impossible to rob people of such professions as a doctor, lawyer, actor, artist and writer. Here Sonya Zolotaya Ruchka (Sheindlya-Sura Leibovna Bluestein) was one of the first to introduce and propose to create a “hostel” to help her “comrades” in trouble.
She also founded and maintained a pickpocket school, of which Moisha Oaks was the director. And there were trained orphans and pickpocket children who wanted to follow in the criminal footsteps. It is interesting that the children studied on a mannequin, in which bells were sewn in, and one had to have excellent abilities in order to complete the training and pass the exam.
In the pre-revolutionary and revolutionary period, criminals felt rather calm and some even tried to cooperate with the new Soviet government.
Post-war crime in Odessa
In the post-war period, such famous gangs as “Black Cat” and “Dodge – 3/4” operated in Odessa. Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov was sent to restore order in the city. Unfortunately, there are no confirmed sources, but there are rumors that, on his order, the officers were dressed in civilian clothes and were sent for a walk around the city at night to destroy criminal elements without warning. For these reasons, the famous film “Liquidation” was shot.
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