Kharkiv National University (Харківський національний університет ім. В.Н. Каразина; Kharkivskyi natsional’nyi universytet im. V. N. Karazyna). An institution of higher learning in Kharkiv, one of the oldest and most important universities in Ukraine. It was founded in 1805 as the first university in Russian-ruled Ukrainian territory. It was established on the initiative of Vasyl Karazyn, and with the financial support of the local nobility, burghers, and the municipal council. Initially, the university enjoyed a broad autonomy: its highest governing body was the Professorial Council, which elected the rector and all the professors. Count Seweryn Potocki was appointed curator of the university, and the first rector was the philologist Ivan Rizhsky. During the first decade the faculty consisted mostly of foreign scholars, the majority of whom were German. The more noted ones were the philosopher Johann Baptist Schad and the historian D.C. von Rommel.

During the 19th century the university consisted of four faculties: physics-mathematics, history-philology, law, and medicine. A veterinary school, which was added to the medical faculty in 1839, became an independent institute in 1850. The university was provided with a surgical laboratory and clinic; art, astronomy, physics, technology, zoology, and mineralogy cabinets; a botanical garden; a library; and a printing press. The Philotechnical Society (est 1811) and the Kharkiv Learned Society (est 1812) admitted not only university professors but also interested members of the public. The first periodicals in eastern Ukraine, including Khar’kovskii ezhenedel’nik (1812), Ukrainskii vestnik (Kharkiv) (1816–19), and Ukrainskii zhurnal (1824–5), were published by cultural circles closely connected with the university. In the 1830s a number of professors and students of Kharkiv University formed a literary group known as the Kharkiv Romantic School. Until 1832 the university oversaw the whole educational system in Slobidska Ukraine. In the first 30 years of its existence Kharkiv University was an important cultural force in Ukraine. It introduced Western ideas and trends and recognized the cultural significance of Ukrainian folklore. Its cultural role declined as the university's autonomy was abolished.

In 1835 a new charter strengthened the power of the centralized bureaucracy. A government-approved curator and rector were put in charge of the university. By 1848 all publications and even lectures were subjected to censorship. Scholars were prohibited from traveling abroad. After the death of Nicholas I the restrictions were lifted gradually. The new charter of 1863 enlarged the powers of the Professorial Council and the rector. Funds for museums and libraries, and particularly for scientific research, were increased greatly. These changes inaugurated the university’s golden age of scholarship. Its professors made some important contributions to various sciences. In the early 1860s the faculty numbered about 50 and the enrollment was 425. Several learned societies with a broad membership promoted research: the Kharkiv Society of Naturalists (est 1869), the Kharkiv Historical-Philological Society (est 1876), and the Kharkiv Mathematics Society (est 1879). The university began to publish Zapiski Imperatorskogo Khar'kovskogo universiteta in 1874. During the period of reaction after the assassination of Alexander II, the university’s autonomy was again severely restricted. In 1884 the Ministry of Education acquired control over appointments and even the curriculum. In spite of political interference, studies in the history of Ukraine, Ukrainian literature, and Ukrainian language continued to expand. The Kharkiv Historical-Philological Society published a wealth of materials in these fields. Many professors of the university became active in the city’s cultural institutions, such as the public library and the Kharkiv Literacy Society. Enrollment rose, reaching some 1,500 in 1887. Student hromadas sprang up and became involved in political activities. The Revolution of 1905 led to an easing of government controls and a quickening of the development of national consciousness. On the initiative of Mykola Sumtsov, Dmytro Bahalii, and Anastasii Zaikevych, the Professorial Council issued a memorandum in 1905 recommending an end to the censorship of Ukrainian publications. Although the Ministry of Education rejected in 1906 the rector’s proposal to set up a chair of Ukrainian history and a chair of Ukrainian language and literature, it permitted a course in the history of ‘Little Russian’ literature. The course was conducted in the following year by Sumtsov in Ukrainian, as were Bahalii’s and Mykhailo Khalansky’s courses in Ukrainian history and the history of the Ukrainian language. In 1905 the university conferred honorary doctorates on Mykhailo Hrushevsky and Ivan Franko, and in 1910 on Aleksandra Yefymenko. Enrollment grew rapidly from 1,486 in 1904 to 3,450 in 1907.

The building complex housing the university changed little during the 19th century. In the second half of the century, Ivan Kharytonenko financed the construction of a medical building and a student residence. During Dmytro Bahalii’s rectorship at the beginning of the 20th century, additional facilities were built.

Before 1917 the more notable professors of Kharkiv University were the philologists Izmail Sreznevsky, Nikolai Lavrovsky, Oleksander Potebnia, Petr Lavrovsky, and Stepan Kulbakin; the ethnographers Amvrosii Metlynsky and Mykola Sumtsov; the historians Dmytro Bahalii and Vladyslav Buzeskul; the jurists and sociologists Illia Tymkovsky, Dmitrii Kachenovsky, and Maksym Kovalevsky; the economist Volodymyr F. Levytsky; the statisticians Oleksander Roslavsky-Petrovsky and Peter Köppen; the mathematicians Aleksandr Liapunov and Timofei Osipovsky; the physicists Mykola Pylchykov and Dmytro Rozhansky; the chemists Nikolai Beketov, V. Tymofieiev, and Oleksander Danylevsky; the botanists V. Palladin and Andrei Krasnov; and the geologists Nykyfor Borysiak and Ivan Levakovsky. Among the professors of medicine were Mykola Trinkler, Volodymyr Vorobiov, Vladimir Krylov, and Mykola Melnikov-Razvedenkov.

During the Ukrainian struggle for independence (1917–20) the predominantly Russian faculty recognized the linguistic and cultural rights of the Ukrainian people but resisted the idea of political independence. Control of the university changed several times before the Bolsheviks finally established their power in Kharkiv. Under Soviet rule the university’s autonomy, along with the position of rector and vice-rector, was abolished and the ultimate power in the university was now in the hands of a Bolshevik-appointed commissar. In 1920 the university was reorganized into various institutes such as the Academy of Theoretical Sciences (in 1921 turned into the Kharkiv Institute of People's Education), the Kharkiv Medical Institute (reorganized from the former faculty of medicine and Kharkiv’s Women’s Medical Institute), and the Kharkiv Institute of the National Economy (on the basis of the former faculty of law merged with Kharkiv Commercial Institute). These structural changes were caused partly by ideological considerations (i.e., the mistrust by the Bolsheviks of the pre-revolutionary academic institutions) and partly by the low educational level of the majority of incoming students (as the children of workers and peasants were now preferred to those belonging to other social groups). As the capital of Soviet Ukraine at the time, Kharkiv was also its main scholarly center. In the early 1920s research in Ukrainian history, literature, and the Ukrainian language developed vigorously, but in the late 1920s and early 1930s almost all the scholars in Ukrainian studies were arrested. Pavlo Ritter perished in prison. Others were exiled, many of them never to return: Stefan Taranushchenko, A. Kovalevsky, Ahapii Shamrai, Yurii Savchenko, Pavlo Petrenko, Ivan Kapustiansky, Kostiantyn Nimchynov, Borys Tkachenko, Maik Yohansen, I. Troian, O. Matviienko, Mykola Plevako, and Oleksa Syniavsky. In total 25 associates of the chair (institute) of the history of Ukrainian culture were repressed. Scholars from other disciplines were also affected, including a group of world-renowned physicists from the Ukrainian Institute of Physics and Technology who were accused of spying. In 1933 the institutes were consolidated into one university—Kharkiv State University (KhDU)—with seven faculties: physics-mathematics, chemistry, biology, geology-geography, literature-linguistics, history (including the philosophy department), and economics (including the economic geography department). Eight scientific research institutes were brought under the university and large funds were provided to stimulate research. In 1936 the university was named after the Russian writer Maxim Gorky although he had never been connected with it in any way. Its enrollment rose from 1,900 in 1933–4 to 2,900 in 1938–9, but few students specialized in Ukrainian studies. During the Second World War the university was partially evacuated to Kzyl-Orda in Kazakhstan. Thousands of students, professors, and academic staff perished on the battlefields or died of hunger and diseases.

After the war the biologist Ivan Bulankin served for a long time (1945–60) as the university’s non-elected rector. During the 1950s and 1960s the university was relocated to the reconstructed Development House (budynok proiektnykh orhanizatsii)—a current location of most of its faculties. In 1958 KhDU acquired a computer—the first one in Kharkiv. In 1960 the university incorporated Kharkiv Pedagogical Institute of Foreign Languages (transformed into the faculty of foreign languages). From the 1960s KhDU was the leading institution of higher learning in Soviet Ukraine in the area of training international students. By the mid-1970s KhDU had 9 faculties: mechanics-mathematics; physics; physics-technology; geology-geography; economics; history; philology; foreign languages; and radio physics. In contrast to early Soviet decades when a majority of students hailed from the working class or peasantry, the students’ social profile changed considerably in the 1960s: by the end of the decade 55 percent of the students came from white-collar, 30 percent from worker, and 15 percent from peasant families. These years also saw an increased Russification of higher education in Ukraine and Kharkiv in particular. For instance, in KhDU, out of 777 lecturers (1965), only 104 or 13 percent lectured in Ukrainian. Several other negative trends became evident in the late-Soviet period, among them, the destruction of old university traditions; a growing competition that KhDU faced from other institutions of higher learning located in the city; an imminent turn in higher education away from fundamental research and towards the training of engineers for the industry; and the centralization of education.

A number of noted professors who worked at Kharkiv University before the Revolution of 1917 stayed on its faculty under the Soviet regime. They were joined by some other prominent faculty members: the mathematicians Serhii Bernshtein, Naum Akhiiezer, Volodymyr Marchenko, Dmytro Syntsov, Anton Sushkevych, and Oleksii Pohorielov; the physicists Oleksander Akhiiezer, Alexander Walter, Yevhen Lifshyts, and Andrii Zhelekhivsky; the astronomer Mykola Barabashov; the physiologists Oleksander Nahorny and Volodymyr Nikitin; the biochemist Viacheslav Zalesky; the geologist Dmytro Soboliev; the economist Ovsii Liberman; the classical philologist Andrii Kotsevalov; the literary scholar Oleksander Biletsky; and the linguist Leonid Bulakhovsky. Some faculty members of Kharkiv University, such as Kotsevalov, Oleksa Paradysky, Volodymyr Derzhavyn, Mykola Hlobenko, and George Yurii Shevelov, emigrated after 1943. Kharkiv University is the only university in Ukraine, in which one Nobel Prize winner—biologist Illia Mechnikov—studied and another one—physicist Lev Landau—worked. One more Nobel Prize winner—economist Semen (Simon) Kuznets—studied either at Kharkiv University or at Kharkiv Commercial Institute (in which most courses were taught by faculty members of Kharkiv University).  

After 1991 KhDU has retained its status of a leading classical university in independent Ukraine. In 1999 it was granted a national university status, renamed in honor of Vasyl Karazyn, and assumed its present name Kharkiv National University (KhNU). In 2003 it became an autonomous (self-governing) institution of higher education. Today KhNU has 17 faculties: mathematics and information science; physics; radio-physics, biomedical electronics, and computer systems; chemistry; biology; psychology; geology, geography, recreation, and tourism; economics; sociology; history; philology; philosophy; law; medicine; foreign languages; computer sciences; and international economic relations and tourist business. There are also 8 educational and scientific research institutes (ecology; public administration; the Karazyn Banking Institute; continuous education; the Karazyn Business School; computer physics and energetics; international education; and physics and technology), dozens of laboratories, the Kharkiv Astronomical Observatory, a botanical garden (established in 1804, the oldest in Ukraine), 4 museums (including the museum of nature founded in 1807), a central library (founded in 1805), and 50 departmental libraries. The enrollment is over 20,000 students (including more than 4,000 international students) and the faculty numbers about 1,500.

Today KhNU is one of the most prestigious higher educational institutions in Ukraine. It has been consistently ranked among the nation’s top universities. For instance, in 2021 it was ranked fourth in the Consolidated Ranking of all Ukrainian universities conducted by the influential educational web portal In the same ranking it was also featured as the third best classical university in Ukraine. In 2014 it was ranked highest (the group 500+) of all Ukrainian universities in The Academic Ranking of World Universities, also known as the Shanghai Ranking.

KhNU boasts one of the oldest and largest scholarly libraries in Ukraine, dating back to 1805. Over time the library incorporated a number of personal collections donated by scholars and state officials. Today the library has over 3.5 million volumes, including 50,000 unique editions (17 incunabula, 300 rare old books in multiple languages and more than 1000 manuscripts (among them the 1704 universal of Hetman Ivan Mazepa). KhNU has published more than a dozen scholarly journals and almanacs, including Visnyk Kharkivs'koho nasional'noho universytetu imeni V.N. Karazyna, in 23 series, such as biology, geography, geology, economy, ecology, mathematics and mechanics, law, philology, history, medicine, and others. Other notable publications include: Sotsial'na ekonomika (61 vols, 2000–), Ukraїns'kyi sotsiolohichnyi zhurnal (23 vols, 2008–), Filolohichni traktaty (12 vols, 1994–), Fotobiolohiia ta fotomedytsyna (28 vols, 2003–), Chasopys sotsial'no-ekonomichnoї heohrafiї (29 vols, 2005–), Aktual'ni problemy suchasnoї medytsyny (7 vols, 2018–), Cognition, communication, discourse (22 vols, 2010–), Aktual'ni problemy vitchyznianoї ta vsesvitnioї istorii (22 vols, 2000–), Drevnosti: Khar'kovskii istoriko-arkheologicheskii ezhegodnik (17 vols, 1994–), and Kharkivs'kyi istoriohrafichnyi zbirnyk (16 vols, 2001–).

Bagalei, D. Opyt istorii Khar'kovskogo universiteta, 2 vols (Kharkiv 1893, 1904)
Bagalei, D.; Sumtsov, N.; Buzeskul, V. Kratkii ocherk istorii Khar'kovskogo universiteta za pervye sto let ego sushchestvovaniia (Kharkiv 1905)
Khar'kovskii Gosudarstvennyi Universitet im. M. Gor'kogo za 150 let (Kharkiv 1955)
Kharkivs'kyi Natsional'nyi Universytet im. V. V. Karazina za 200 rokiv (Kharkiv 2004)

Serhiy Bilenky, Vasyl Markus

[This article was updated in 2021.]

Encyclopedia of Ukraine