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Luhansk оblastThis easternmost oblast of Ukraine, bordering on the Russian Federation, was created in 1938. In the North Luhanschyna occupies the lowhilled loess plain spurs of Serednyorusska Upland. In the South of the region lies Donetska Upland, an undulated loess plain, which is the location of the monument of Mohyla-Mechetna (367 meters), Left-bank Ukraine’s highest point. Rich in fossil fuels, Donetska Upland stretches across the eastern regions of Ukraine, Donetschyna and Luhanschyna to the Rostov Oblast of Russia. The main waterway of Luhanschyna is the Siversky Donets River with its left tributaries Krasna, Aidar and Derkul.

The earliest settlements located along the Siversky Donets date back to the Late Paleolithic Era (40,000— 12,000 years ago). In the 9lh—13th c.c. Luhanschyna was inhabited by the nomadic tribes of Turk origin, such as the Pechenegs, the Torks and for the longest period — the Cumans (Polovets). The evidence in support of their lasting dominance in the region are numerous carved- stone idols, so-called Polovetski Baby, which their des­cendants mention to have encountered throughout Lu­hanschyna.

The Tartar-Mongol yoke of the 13lh c. brought forth devastation to the land between the Dnipro and the Don, which became known as the Wild Field and eventually buffered Muscovy from the Crimean Khanate. In the 15lh—16th c.c. escaped serfs began to settle on these fertile lands. However, they were defenceless against the Tartar raids. In 1640 Cossacks from the Don set up a chain of outposts in the North of the region.

A rapid resettlement into the area began with the 1648—54 Liberation War, as it eased the way for refugees from the Polish controlled Right-bank Ukraine to migrate here, fleeing from the horrors of war.

During the Russo-Swedish War this area became the hotbed to a popular peasant and Cossack insur­gency of 1707—08 led by Kindrat Bulavin, ruthlessly suppressed by the Russian Crown.

In 1721, a well-known Russian mineralogist Grygoryi Kapustin discovered coal deposits of what later became the Donets Basin (Donbas) in the lower waters of the Siversky Donets, an event that was bound to have an im­pact on the development of the area seventy years later.

In 1730—60s by the Government's order, a Ukrainian defence line stretching from the Dnipro to the Siversky Donets was build to protect Russia’s southern borders from the Tartar raids. As a part of the defence plan, migrants from the Balkans who escaped the Turkish rule were invited to settle between the rivers of Siversky Donets and Luhanka in the newly formed district Slavyano-Serbia (1753).

A gradual transformation of the present-day Luhansk oblast into an industrial mining region started in the late 18th c., its impetus being the construction of the Luhansk cast-iron works in 1795, and the beginning of the in­dustrial mining of Donbas coal deposits. Towards the end of the 18lh c. almost all branches of the industry, such as coal, steel, heavy engineering and so on passed to the European industrialists, and remained under their ownership until the 1917 October Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution continued well into the Soviet time, often at the expense of civic construction. Therefore, most architectural accomplishments in the area date to the USSR period, with only a few Orthodox Churches of the 18lh—20lh c.c.

The capital and the largest city of the oblast, Luhansk (Voroshilovgrad from 1938—90) stretches along the Luhanka and the Vilkhivka Rivers. Luhansk was founded in 1795, as the steel mills construction began. In 1800 the first Ukrainian steel mill delivered its first cast-iron made from the locally-produced ore.

In 1896 a German industrialist, Gartman, founded ‘The Russian Conglomerate of Heavy Engineering fac­tories of Gartman V which began the construction of Rus­sia’s largest steam engine factory in Luhansk. In 10 years it accounted for every fifth steam engine produced in the Russion Empire, and at the turn of the 20th c. Luhansk became the heart of heavy industry in southern Russia.

During WW II Luhansk was heavily damaged, thus its architecture to a large extent is the product of the post­war years. Among the few 19th c. residential buildings that survived the ravages of time is the house (presently a museum) where Vladimir Dal, a prominent Russian lexicographer, and the compiler of The Comprehensive Dictionary of the Russian Language (published in 1863—67) was born.

The town of Lysychansk, situated on the Siversky Donets was founded at the same time as Luhansk. By the order of Empress Catherine II to supply the coal to the Luhansk Steel Works, the Donbas’s first coal mine was opened on the farmstead at Lysiacha Balka, which ushered in the industrial exploitation of the coal depos­its in Eastern Ukraine. Up until 1802 the Lysychansk coal mines remained the only mines throughout the Donbas, reaching the peak of production (around 11,500 tons per year) in the 1840s, when a new and ‘insatiable’ user of the coal emerged, ‘The Black-sea Steamship Line Company’. The deposits of this first coal mine have long been exhausted and the mine was closed in 1960. The local museum of coal-mining fea­tures documents and memorabilia of Lysychansk’s industrial times.

The true assets of the religious architecture in the area are the 1787 Mykolayivska Church built at the river mouth in Stary Aidar, and the 1802 Divine Inter­cession Cathedral (some wall paintings of the 19lh c. survived), the village of Osynove, both presenting an illustrative example of the transition from the Baroque to the Classicist style. Two fine examples of estate prayer chapels are the 1772 Resurrection Chapel in the town of Oleksandrivsk and the 1824 St. Mother of God Chapel in the village of Vesela Hora.

The Luhansk Nature Park was created in 1975. Its branches, the Striltsivsky Steppe and the Provalsky Steppe are the embodiment of an Eastern-European multi-herb-fescue-feather-grass steppe, while a branch, Stanychno-Luhanske (also known as the Pre-Donetska creek) typifies the creek ecosystem of the left-bank Siversky Donets river valley. The Park is a sanctuary to many species native to the area, some of them rare.

The little Striltsivskyy Steppe (4.94 sq. km) is the remains of the Starobylsky steppes, which once sprawled over 400 sq. km. Since 1805 this land belonged to the neighbouring horse-breeding plant, in 1936 it became a local nature reserve, and after WW II it was trans­formed into a state National Park. Since the foundation date the Striltsivsky Steppe has been a specialized sanc­tuary for the European mammot (babak).

The Stanychno-Luhansk branch (4.94 sq. km) occupies creeks and coniferous and deciduous groves adjacent to the left bank of the Siversky Donets, where it meanders the steeps of the Donetsk Ridge. Land- scape-wise, the branch is a delicate balance of mixed woods, picturesque meadows, placid creeks and undis­turbed lakes.

The Provalsky Steppe lies in the east of the region, in the most elevated part of the Donetsk Ridge. The patch (4.16 sq. km) was the property of the Provalsky horse-breeding plant since 1846 until it was reassigned to a local collective farm after WW II. The varied geo­graphic profile and composition of soil account for its heterogeneous vegetation, due to which the Provalsky Steppe stands out among steppe nature parks of Ukraine for its great herbal diversity.

Luhansk’s handmade wonder of conservationists’ effort is the Yunitskyy Botanical Nature Reserve, whose creation was a happy outcome of a natural disaster in the region. In 1891 a severe drought followed by a pro­longed dust storm struck the southern lands of the then Russian empire. An emergency expedition led by a fa­mous soil scientist, Vasiliy Dokuchayev, was put to­gether to come up with the recommendations for effi­cient agriculture in a drought-prone climate. The expedition selected a little acre in the Starobylsky Steppe in what is now Luganschyna as one of its three research stations. In 1892—99 various saplings were planted on the 90 ha of the Starobylskyy Steppe to fortify and forestate the land. A lot of those trees have survived and still grow there forming the so-called Dokuchayevskyy strip.

Konstantin Yunitskyy took over as the head of the project in 1894. He introduced a great variety of plants foreign to the area, including firs, pines, maples, ash- trees, and decorative park trees and bushes. He did so much for the park that eventually it was named after him. Thus, the endeavour, undertaken by the nature scientists two centuries ago, lives on.