Dnipro National University

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Dnipro National University [Дніпровський національний університет імені Олеся Гончара; Dniprovs'kyi natsional'nyi universtytet imeni Olesia Honchara]. Higher education institution in Dnipro, one of the leading universities in Ukraine.

Although an idea to found a university in the city of Katerynoslav first appeared in the late 18th century, a modern university in the city was established only in 1918 by the Hetman government of Pavlo Skoropadsky. The immediate predecessor of this university was an institution of the education of women: the Higher Courses for Women. Established in 1916, with the university-level curriculum, it included two departments: physics and mathematics, and medicine. At the same time, the city leaders continued to lobby the imperial government to open a classical university in Katerynoslav, but to no avail. This initiative was realized only after the Revolution of 1917. A new plan that envisioned the transformation of the Higher Courses for Women into a full-fledged university gained support from both the municipal government and the ministry of people’s education of the Ukrainian State headed by Hetman Pavlo Skoropadsky. A prominent role in this process was played by the eminent scientist Volodymyr Vernadsky, then head of the Kyiv-based Commission on the Institutions of Higher Learning. Based on the commission’s recommendation, the minister of people’s education Mykola Vasylenko approved the establishment a university in Katerynoslav. On 20 August 1918 he signed a statute of the new university as a private institution financed by the city.

Initially, Katerynoslav University consisted of four departments: history and philology; physics and mathematics; law; and medicine. Unlike the existing universities in Ukraine funded by the state, Katerynoslav University’s highest financial and economic organ was the board of trustees responsible for fund-raising. The language of instruction at the university was Russian (although some courses, such as the Ukrainian literature, a history of Ukraine, and a history of law in Ukraine were offered in Ukrainian). The student enrollment in the first academic year, 1918/19, was 2,750 (1,150 studied medicine, 600 law, 500 natural sciences, and 500 the humanities). The first university ball took place on November 3, 1918 in the Potemkin palace, in the presence of the movie star Vira Kholodna. A number of faculty members were invited from Moscow, Petrograd, and Kharkiv to teach at Katerynoslav University. Among the prominent locals was the historian of the Zaporozhian Cossacks Dmytro Yavornytsky, who agreed to teach Ukrainian history; the mining engineer Petro Leontovsky appointed to teach geology; and the world-renowned chemist Dmytro Konovalov, professor of organic chemistry. Writer Valeriian Pidmohylny was briefly a student of mathematics at Katerynoslav University in 1919. When the Bolsheviks captured Katerynoslav in the winter of 1919, they changed the status of the university from a private into a state institution. In March 1919 the enrollment increased to 4,100 students (1,855 in the department of medicine; 770 in the department of physics and mathematics; 485 in the department of history and philology; and 990 in the department of law).

In 1920 the Soviet regime began a radical restructuring of Ukraine’s educational system. The universities across Soviet Ukraine were replaced by institutes of people's education and Katerynoslav University was reorganized into Katerynoslav Institute of People's Education (since 1921 Katerynoslav Higher Institute of People's Education), a pedagogical institution with a three-year program and with little place for science and research. The former university’s department of medicine was reorganized in 1920 into an independent institution of higher learning: Medical Academy (from 1921, Medical institute; today the Dnipropetrovsk Medical Academy of the Ministry of Health of Ukraine). In 1926, following the renaming of the city of Katerynoslav into Dnipropetrovsk, the local institute of people's education was renamed into Dnipropetrovsk Institute of People's Education (DINO). During this time DINO lost many of its most prominent faculty members, primarily due to repressions against the intelligentsia and the suspension of university-level scholarly research. In 1925 only 12 percent of all faculty members were Communist party members, but that proportion grew substantially over the next decade. In 1929, DINO was named after Nadezhda Krupskaia, an old Bolshevik and Vladimir Lenin’s widow. In contrast to other educational centers of Ukraine, the policy of Ukrainization in Dnipropetrovsk proceeded rather slowly. By 1927/28, DINO was Ukrainized by merely 46.6 percent (based on the percentage of instructors teaching in Ukrainian), the lowest figure among Ukraine’s all institutes of people's education. (Of the other institutes, two – in Kherson and Mykolaiv – were completely Ukrainized; the institute in Kyiv by 94%; in Chernihiv by 91.7%; in Nizhyn by 86.2%; in Kharkiv by 74.4%, in Odesa by 62.2%; and in Luhansk by 50%).

In 1933 Dnipropetrovsk University was restored by merging DINO with the Dnipropetrovsk Institute of Social Education and Dnipropetrovsk Physical-Chemical-Mathematical Institute. The restored university initially consisted of four faculties: physics and mathematics; chemistry; geology; and biology. The entrance exams were restored, while the student enrollment based on social origins (with preference given to children of workers and peasants) was supplanted by merit-based admissions. In 1937–9 two new faculties were opened: geography (soon to be merged with geology into the faculty of geology and geography) and philology. The following year the physics and mathematics faculty was split into the mechanics and mathematics faculty, and the physics faculty. Also, a new faculty of history was opened. In addition, there were several cross-faculty chairs, among them political economy; Marxism-Leninism; foreign languages; and pedagogy. Enrollment rose rapidly in the 1930s from around 1,000 (1933) to 2,234 (1940). Despite this intense growth, the university suffered from inadequate infrastructure and lacked a compact campus (its construction started in 1938 but was soon abandoned due to the lack of funds). Among the most prominent faculty members and affiliates of the university during the interwar period was chemist and member of the All-Ukrainian Academy of Sciences (VUAN), a founder of the Ukrainian Institute of Physical Chemistry in Kyiv Lev Pisarzhevsky; physicist of metals and VUAN member Heorhii Kurdiumov; another physicist and later academician Vitalii Danylov; and biologist and VUAN corresponding member Dmytro Svyrenko.

Dnipropetrovsk and its main institution of higher learning were not spared during the repressions of intellectuals at the time of Stalinist Terror. The first wave of political repressions swept over the city in the late 1920s, particularly in the wake of the show trial of the Union for the Liberation of Ukraine (SVU). Two DINO professors, philologist Petro Yefremov and historian Volodymyr Parkhomenko, were prosecuted as SVU members. In 1932 several other humanities professors (including Dmytro Yavornytsky) lost their jobs after being accused of ‘bourgeois’ and ‘anti-Soviet’ tendencies in their teaching and research. One of them, linguist Ivan Zavadovsky became a target of particularly vile denunciations and attacks in press, and he died prematurely of a heart attack in 1932. In 1934 several professors were accused of ‘national opportunism’ and ‘bourgeois nationalism’ and expelled from the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine, and two first rectors of the restored university were fired from their jobs and later arrested and executed. In 1937 more than a dozen faculty members (including four other rectors) and several students were arrested; most of them were executed or perished in the GULAG.

At the beginning of the Second World War, more than 600 faculty members and students were enlisted or volunteered in the Soviet Army. During the war the majority of the faculty members were evacuated to Chkalov (today Orenburg) where they were employed at Chkalov State Pedagogical Institute; others were evacuated to the Ural region (the city of Magnitogorsk, mostly physicists) and Kuban region (faculty of biology); still others remained on occupied territory. Meanwhile, in occupied Dnipropetrovsk, a new institution of higher learning was opened by the German military authorities. State Ukrainian University of the City of Dnipropetrovsk opened on the basis of several prewar institutions under a close supervision of the occupiers and consisted of seven faculties: philology; chemistry; biology; medicine; physics and mathematics; history and geography; and agriculture. The student enrollment in 1941 was 3,168 (most of them in the faculty of medicine), larger than it was during the last prewar year. Jews were not permitted to study or teach. Most classes were abruptly stopped in the winter of 1941 and spring of 1942. Before their retreat from the city in October 1943, the German occupiers blew up the university’s main building and set the buildings that housed the faculties of chemistry, physics, and mathematics on fire.

On 6 November 1943, Dnipropetrovsk University became the first university in Ukraine to be reopened after the expulsion of the German troops. In January 1944 the university consisted of seven faculties (physics and mathematics; biology; chemistry; geology and geography; history; philology; and Western languages and literatures). It had an enrollment of 540. More than any other university in postwar Soviet Ukraine, Dnipropetrovsk University was expected to cater to the demands of military-industrial complex. In 1950 the city of Dnipropetrovsk was chosen as the site for serial production of the R-1 and R-2 tactical ballistic missiles. Two years later the university opened the new faculty of physics and technology intended to support rocket and missile production, as the city was designated a major center of armaments industry in the Soviet Union. From 1959 to 1987 Dnipropetrovsk was a ‘closed city’, that is, a city totally closed to foreign visitors, and even immigration to the city from other parts of the Soviet Union was largely limited to skilled workers and engineers. The city’s special status mirrored the university’s privileged status. In contrast to virtually all other universities in Soviet Ukraine that were supervised by the government of the Ukrainian SSR, Dnipropetrovsk University, as a ‘base university’ (bazovyi universytet), was placed in 1966 directly under the jurisdiction of the USSR Ministry of Higher Education in Moscow. The faculty of physics and technology received preferential treatment, at times at the expense of other disciplines (the faculty of history, for instance, was merged with that of philology in 1957, and until 1965 the university fully suspended the training of historians). In 1959 the faculty of geology was closed, and the following year the university consisted of only five faculties: physics and technology; physics and mathematics; biology; chemistry; and philology. In 1961/62 the faculty of physics and mathematics was divided into two independent units: physics; and mechanics with mathematics. Due to its affiliation with rocket and missile production, the university was more tightly supervised by the KGB; on the other hand, being subordinate directly to Moscow, the local academics felt less constrained by the more narrow-minded bureaucratic establishment of the Ukrainian SSR.

The student enrollment grew from 2,022 in 1950 to 3,023 in 1959, largely thanks to the increased enrollments at the faculties of physics and mathematics (their students made up 80% of all students in 1960). The university’s graduates in the 1950s and the 1960s included Ukraine’s second president Leonid Kuchma (1994–2005); the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Volodymyr Horbulin (in 1996–9 and 2006); the university rector (in 1964–86) and NANU member Volodymyr Mossakovsky; the chief designer of the guided-missile system of the Pivdenne Design Office (since 1985) Stanislav Us; and writers, including Oles Honchar and Pavlo Zahrebelny.

Between 1964 and the early 1980s, under technocratic leadership of rector Volodymyr Mossakovsky, the new university campus—one of the largest in Ukraine—was completed. In 1967 the faculty of teachers’ professional development was added. In the 1970s the university had eight faculties: mechanics and mathematics; physics; chemistry; physics and technology; history and philology; biology; distance learning; and teachers’ professional development. In 1971 a separate faculty of history was restored. The 1970s saw two more faculties opened: economics in 1976 and radiophysics in 1977. In 1984 the faculty of applied mathematics was separated from the faculty of mechanics and mathematics. The student enrollment increased to 12,000 (half of them full-time students). During the 1970s and the 1980s the faculty members of Dnipropetrovsk University included a number of noted scholars, such as mathematicians Viktor Chernyshenko, Mykola Korneichuk, and Vitalii Motorny; geologist Mykhailo Nosovsky; biologist Zinaida Dontsova; botanist Oleksandr Belhard; and physicists Fedir Kolomoitsev, Mykola Herasiuta (director of Pivdenmash Plant), Viacheslav Kovtunenko (chief designer of the Pivdenne Design Office), and Volodymyr Prisniakov (the university’s rector in 1986–98). Despite an obvious priority of physics and technology, the 1970s and 1980s witnessed an intense growth of the humanities at the university. The faculty of history in particular has been widely considered as one of the very best history faculties in Soviet Ukraine and post-Soviet Ukraine. Its professors and graduates have included such renowned historians as Dmytro Poida, Mykola P. Kovalsky (a founder of the school of historical source studies of early modern Ukraine), Viktor Kalashnikov, Iurii Mytsyk, Serhii Plokhy, Serhii Zhuk, and Viktor Brekhunenko.

After Dnipropetrovsk was opened to foreigners in 1988, the university welcomed its first foreign students in 1989. The same year the faculty of history opened the law section (which formed a separate faculty—law and sociology—in 1994). In 1990 the faculty of geology and geography was opened. In 1991 the faculty of history opened the department of sociology and political science. In 1992 yet another faculty—psychology and pedagogy—was added (in 1997 psychology merged with sociology into a separate faculty). Subsequently, several more faculties were formed: journalism; philology and art history; and international economics.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Dnipropetrovsk University was forced to revise its decades-old curriculum and downsize because of the decrease in the number of its graduates, particularly in the fields of engineering and technology. In line with the rapid changes at home and abroad, the university no longer needed, or could afford, to prioritize disciplines catering to military-industrial complex. Consequently, the demand for specialists in civilian professions, such as economists, computer programmers, lawyers, sociologists, political scientists, and managers, grew exponentially. The university also introduced a wide range of departments and courses in Ukrainian studies, among them the history of Ukraine; Ukrainian history and ethno-politics (the former department of the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union); and Ukrainian philology. At the same time, due to an increasingly dire economic situation in post-Soviet Ukraine, the funding of the university decreased dramatically, along with the number of its faculty members.

In the early 2000s the university’s financial situation rebounded, in no small measure by expanding fee-paying education, increasing enrollments of foreign students, and introducing more market-oriented disciplines (among them public administration, business, international economics, banking, and accounting). In 2000 the university was granted the prestigious status of the national institution of higher learning. A series of internal changes took place in 2004–5: the faculty of medicine was closed (with its members joining the faculty of biology); the Institute of Economics was transformed into the Faculty of Economics; the Institute of Physics and Technology became again the Faculty of Physics and Technology; and the Institute of Pre-College Learning was transformed into the Faculty of Postgraduate Education. The entirely new faculty—social sciences and humanities—was created by taking over the existing programs in sociology, political science, social work, and philosophy. In 2007 the faculties of physics and radio physics merged into the new Faculty of Physics, Electronics, and Computer Systems. In 2008 Dnipropetrovsk National University was named in honor of one of its graduates, writer Oles Honchar. In 2017, with the renaming of the city of Dnipropetrovsk to Dnipro, the university assumed its current name.

DNU students have been among the most active champions of the Ukrainian national identity and democratic pro-European values in the city of Dnipro and its region. They took an active part in the Orange Revolution of 2004–5 and the Euromaidan Revolution in Dnipro in 2013–4. Many have also participated in the Russo-Ukrainian war (officially known as the ATO) in the Donbas region. More than a dozen graduates lost their lives in the war, and a dozen ATO veterans are currently employed by the university.

Today Dnipro National University is one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in Ukraine. It has been consistently ranked among nation’s best universities, particularly in the fields of physics, mathematics, technology, and history. In 2019 it was ranked tenth in the Consolidated Ranking of all Ukrainian universities conducted by the influential educational web portal Osvita.ua. The same year it was ranked eighth among circa 170 universities and colleges based on the number of publications in the Scopus scientific database. The enrollment, however, has been decreasing since 2009 from 14,000 to approximately 10,000 in 2017, due to the demographic decline in the student cohort, a decrease in state-funded enrollments, and a growing competition from other state and private universities. At the same time, DNU has continued to train foreign students, primarily from Africa and Asia (the total of 2,700 since 1989). As of 2020 the university encompasses 14 faculties: Ukrainian and foreign philology and art history; social sciences and international relations; history; psychology and special education; applied mathematics; economics; systems and means of mass communication; law; physics, electronics, and computer systems; physics and technology; mechanics and mathematics; chemistry; biology and ecology; and medical technologies, diagnostics, and rehabilitation, as well as 4 affiliated professional colleges: machine-building; space rocket machine-building; economics and business; and the Zhovti Vody industrial college. The university also operates a dozen research, educational, and consulting centers, among them the Educational Methods Center for Distance Learning; the Center for the History and Development of the Ukrainian Language; the Regional Center for Continuous Education; the Legal clinic; and the Regional Center for Research, Expertise, and Consulting in Social and Humanitarian Issues.

The university houses a scholarly library with a collection of over 2 million volumes (including rare publications dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, from the collection of Katerynoslav First gymnasium), a botanical garden (opened in 1929), and a zoological museum (founded in 1924). It has published a number of scholarly journals and almanacs, including Visnyk Dniprovs'koho Universytetu (since 1993), in more than twenty series, several of them published exclusively or primarily in English (such as Biosystems Diversity and Regulatory Mechanisms in Biosystems which are included in the international scientific database Web of Science).

Dnepropetrovskomu gosudarstvennomu universitetu – 70 let (Dnipropetrovsk 1988)
Ivanenko, V., Prisniakov, V. et al, Povernennia iz nebuttia: dokumenty i materialy pro zhertvy stalins'koho svavillia u Dnipropetrovs'komu universtyteti (Dnipropetrovsk 1995)
Zhuk, Sergei. Rock and Roll in the Rocket City: The West, Identity, and Ideology in Soviet Dniepropetrovsk, 1960–1985 (Baltimore 2010)
Istoriia Dniprovs'koho natsional'noho universytetu imeni Olesia Honchara, 1918–2018 (Dnipro 2018);
Poliakov, M., Savchuk, V., and Svitlenko. S. ‘U vytokiv Dniprovs'koho natsional'noho universytetu imeni Olesia Honchara,’ Hrani 21 (6) (2018)
DNU official web site: http://www.dnu.dp.ua/

Serhiy Bilenky

[This article was written in 2020.]

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