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Budjak on the map of Ukraine
The 14th-century Moldovan fortress of Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi (Cetatea Albă) in Budjak.
Shepherd in Budjak (1940).
Wessela Dolyna (Cleaștiţa/Klöstitz until 1940), village in Budjak, initially German.

Budjak or Budzhak (Russian, Ukrainian, and Bulgarian: Буджак; Romanian: Bugeac) is a historical region in the Odessa Oblast (province) of Ukraine. Lying along the Black Sea between the Danube and Dniester rivers, this multi-ethnic region of 13,188 km² was the southern part of Bessarabia. The region is bordered in the north and west by Moldova, in the south by Romania and in the east by the Black Sea.

Name and geography

Historically, Budjak was a smaller, southeastern steppe region of Moldavia. Bordered by the northern Trajan's Wall at its north end, by the Danube river and Black Sea to its south, by Tigheci Hills (just east of the Prut River) to the west, and Dniester river to the east, it was known as historic Bessarabia until 1812, when this name was given to the larger region situated between the two rivers, including Budjak. As used in Middle Ages, the term might (if referred to the geographical area) or might not (if referred to the area predominated by Nogai Tatars) include Cetatea Albă, Chilia and Izmail counties. After the Soviet occupation of Bessarabia in 1940, its southern part that was included in the Ukrainian SSR and did not form Moldavian SSR, became known as Budjak, thus being slightly smaller than the historical term.

The name Budjak itself was given to the area during Ottoman rule (1484–1812) and derives from the Turkish word bucak, meaning "borderland" or "corner", referring roughly to the land between what was then Akkerman (now Bilhorod-Dnistrovs'kyi), Bender and Ismail.

After 1812, the term Bessarabia came to apply to all of Moldavia east of the Prut River. Consequently, Budjak is sometimes referred to as "Southern Bessarabia".

Besides Southern Bessarabia, other descriptive terms that have been applied to the region include Bulgarian Bessarabia (Ukrainian: Болгарська Бессарабія, translit. Bolhars'ka Bessarabiia), Akkermanshchyna (Ukrainian: Аккерманщина), and Western Odessa Oblast (Ukrainian: Західнa Одещина, translit. Zakhidna Odeshchyna).

The area has been termed variously in the English language, including Budjak, Budzhak, Bujak, Buchak, and even Budziac Tartary. In the Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and Russian languages, the area is referred to as Budzhak (Cyrillic: Буджак, pronounced [ˈbudʒak]), in Polish it is Budziak, in Romanian it is Bugeac, while in Turkish it is Bucak.


Early history

The Budjak culture of the North-West Black Sea region is considered to be important in the context of the Pit-Grave or Yamnaya culture of the Pontic steppe, dating to 3,600–2,300 BC. In particular, Budjak may have given rise to the Balkan-Carpathian variant of Yamnaya culture.[1]

In Classical antiquity, Budjak was inhabited by Tyragetae, Bastarnae, Scythians and Roxolani. In 6th century BC Ancient Greek colonists established a colony at the mouths of Dnister river, Tyras.[2] Around 2nd century BC, also a Celt tribe settled at Aliobrix (present day Cartal/Orlovka).

Budjak area, the northern Lower Danube, was described as the “wasteland of the Getae” by the ancient Greek geographer Strabo (1st century BC). In fact, based on recent archaeological research, in this period of time, the area was most likely populated by sedentary farmers; among them were the Dacians, and the Daco-Romans. The nomad peoples, such as the Sarmatians also passed through the area.[3]

The Romans acquired the area in the 1st century AD, rebuilt and encamped Tyras and Aliobrix. As with the rest of the port cities around the Black Sea, the local population absorbed a mixture of Greek and Roman cultures, with Greek being mainly the language of trade, and Latin the language of politics. After the division of the Roman Empire in 395, the area was included in the East Roman or Byzantine Empire. From 1st century AD, and until the invasion of Avars in 558, the Romans had established cities (poleis), military camps and some stations for the veterans and for the colons (apoikion) sent by the emperors.[4]

The area lay along the predominant route for migratory peoples, as it was the westernmost portion of the Euro-Asian steppe. Going westward, only the banks of the Dniester and Danube rivers were less forested (comparatively to the surrounding areas, which nowadays form Moldova, and Romania, therefore providing a natural route for herdsmen all the way from Mongolia to the Pannonian plains (modern Hungary). The region, therefore, passed as a temporary settling ground for the Huns under the leader Uldin (387), the Avars (558–567), the Slavs (end of 6th century), the Bulgars under Asparuh (679), the Magyars (9th century), the Pechenegs (11th century, and again 12th century), the Cumans (12th century) and others.

Although the Byzantines held nominal suzerainty of the region (at least of the sea shore) until the 14th century, they had little or no sway over the hinterland.

In the early Middle Ages a Tigheci "Republic" was formed by several villages occupying the nearby Tigheci hills, in order to offer more security for themselves, while the steppe area between that and the seashore, unsuited for agriculture due to lack of water and frequently invaded by Eastern populations, remained void of permanent settlements. From the 7th to the 12th centuries, the region was under the authority of the First Bulgarian Empire, Pechenegs, and later of Cumans, who irregularly collected tribute from the indigenous villagers.

Moldavian and Ottoman rule

After the Mongol invasion of 1241, the rebuilt coastal cities of Budjak (Maurocastron and Licostomo), came under the domination of Genoese traders. The interior however remained under the direct Mongol rule of the Golden Horde. After the 1330s, Wallachia's princes of the House of Basarab extended their authority over part of the territory, who came to be called Bessarabia. The region remained under Wallachian influence until the early 14th century, during the reign of Mircea the Elder, when the area was integrated into Moldavia by prince Alexander the Kind in still not fully clarified circumstances. Nogai Tatars, who had settled herds in the region after the 1240s, inhabited the steppe, while Romanians inhabited the surrounding hills and the port cities.

In 1484 Stephen the Great of Moldavia was forced to surrender the two main fortresses of Chilia (Kiliya) and Cetatea Albă (Bilhorod-Dnistrovs'kyi) to the Ottoman Empire, the last Black Sea ports to fall into Ottoman hands. In 1538 the Ottomans forced prince Petru Rares of Moldavia to give up the fortress-city Tighina as well.

Under the Ottomans, Tighina was renamed Bender, while Chilia lost importance due to the construction of the Ismail fortress at the location of the Moldavian village Smil.[5][6] Despite returning from Muslim to Orthodox Christian sovereignty, the latter names were retained by the Russian Empire.

Under Ottoman rule, the three major cities each were the center of a sanjak, and were together officially part of Silistra (or Özi) Eyalet although Bender was north of Trajan's Wall and outside of the steppe region. The Nogai Tatar-inhabited steppe, which then acquired the name Budjak, served as a buffer area between these sanjaks and the Principality of Moldavia. Although it was a tributary of the Ottoman Empire, Moldavia was independent in its internal affairs until the start of the Russo-Turkish Wars forced the Ottomans to ensure that the Romanian princes did not switch sides too often.

The region of Budjak within historical Moldavia

Modern history

During the Napoleonic Era, Budjak was overrun by Russia in the course of the Russo-Turkish War of 1806–1812. The 1812 Treaty of Bucharest transferred the territories of Moldavia and Ottoman Empire east of the Prut River, including Budjak, to Russian control. With the Russian annexation, the name Bessarabia began to be applied not only to the original southern region, but to the entire eastern half of historical Moldavia acquired by the Russian Empire, while Budjak was applied to southern Bessarabia, mainly to the steppe.

With Russia's 1856 defeat in the Crimean War, a part of southern Bessarabia including a part of Budjak (Reni, Ismail, Bolgrad, Kilia) was ceded by the Russian Empire back to the Principality of Moldavia, which soon united with Wallachia to form the United Principalities (which was made a personal union in 1859 to then be deepened into a full union in 1862). Following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, the Treaty of San Stefano and the Treaty of Berlin recognized the full independence of the new Kingdom of Romania (the principalities that formed it had already been de facto independent for half a century), but transferred the territories subject to the 1856 re-configuration back to the Russian Empire.

After World War I, Budjak, which was part of the Russian province of Bessarabia that voted to join Romania, was administered as parts of Tighina, Ismail and Cetatea Albă counties (judeţe). As the region was inhabited by non-Romanian majorities, it witnessed several revolts against the central authorities, such as the Bender Uprising of 1919 and the Tatarbunary Uprising of 1924.

In 1939, the secret appendix to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact assigned Bessarabia to the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence and, in June 1940, the Soviets issued an ultimatum demanding the transfer of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. King Carol II of Romania acquiesced and the area was annexed. Central and northern Bessarabia formed the center of the new Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic but part of the south, now known as Budjak, was apportioned to the Ukrainian SSR. The commission that decided the administrative border between the Ukrainian SSR and Moldavian SSR inside the Soviet Union was chaired by Nikita Khrushchev, the then leader of the Ukrainian SSR and the future USSR leader who would add Crimea to the Ukrainian SSR.

On 7 August 1940 the Soviets formed Akkerman Oblast, which was administratively subdivided into 13 raions. The city of Akkerman (Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi) was the center of the oblast. Four months later, on 7 December 1940 the oblast was renamed Izmail Oblast, and the oblast center was moved to the city of Izmail.

Upon Nazi Germany’s June 1941 declaration of war on the Soviet Union, Romania sided with the Axis Powers and retook the territories previously annexed by the Soviet Union, including Budjak, but then also continued the war into proper Soviet territory. The area was regained by the Soviets in 1944 and, despite a royal coup by Michael I of Romania that led to Romania joining the Allies in August 1944, was annexed by the Soviets in the 1940 political configuration.

During the administrative reform of Ukrainian SSR, on 15 February 1954, Izmail Oblast was liquidated, and all raions of the oblast were included into Odessa Oblast. By territory, Odessa oblast is now the largest oblast in Ukraine.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, each of the fifteen republics that formally had the right to secede became independent, with boundaries preserved as were inside Soviet Union, since the same Soviet Constitution stipulated that they could not be changed without the mutual consent of both republics, and no discussions between the two upon such an issue were ever held.

Budjak is now a part of independent Ukraine. It is connected to the rest of Odessa oblast by two bridges across the Dniester River. The more northerly of the two connections passes for 7.4 km through the territory of Moldova, but is Ukrainian-controlled by an agreement between the two countries.

Response to Ukrainian-Russian conflict

In the spring of 2014 Russian-speakers in parts of eastern and southern Ukraine were incited to take up arms against the Ukrainian authorities. It was later revealed that what originally was claimed to be an insurgency organised by local people against the new authorities in Kyiv who were ostensibly discriminating against Russian-speakers was in fact supported, financed and coordinated by Russia's special services. In the autumn of 2014 there were reports of plots to proclaim a pro-Russian People's Republic in the Budjak region of Bessarabia, along the lines of the separatist 'people's republics' established in the Donbas region. However, the growing intensity of the war in the Donbas cooled the enthusiasm for separatism and any plans that may have existed failed to materialise. By the end of the year there were reports of drones over the Budjak, apparently from Russian-backed militants in Transnistria or the Black Sea.[7]


Raion subdivision of Budjak territory

The historical territory of Budjak is now subdivided into two cities and nine administrative districts (raions) of Ukraine's Odessa Oblast:

Name Ukrainian Name Area
Census 2001
1 Jan 2012
Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi (city) Білгород-Дністровськ (місто) 31 58,436 57,206 Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi
Izmail (city) Ізмаїл (місто) 53 84,815 73,651 -
Artsyz Raion Арцизький район 1,379 51,251 46,213 Artsyz
Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi Raion Білгород-Дністровський район 1,852 62,255 60,378 Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi
Bolhrad Raion Болградський район 1,364 73,991 69,572 Bolhrad
Izmail Raion Ізмаїльський район 1,194 54,550 52,031 Izmail
Kiliya Raion Кілійський район 1,358 58,707 53,585 Kilia
Reni Raion Ренійський район 861 39,903 37,986 Reni
Sarata Raion Саратський район 1,474 49,911 45,813 Sarata
Tarutyne Raion Тарутинський район 1,874 45,175 41,975 Tarutyne
Tatarbunary Raion Татарбунарський район 1,748 41,573 39,164 Tatarbunary
Totals 13,188 620,567 577,574

Ethnic groups and demographics

Ethnic division of Budjak with yellow representing Ukrainians, red for Russians, purple for Bulgarians, brown for Gagauz, and green and the dark dots indicating Moldovan populated villages, according to the Ukrainian census.

The main ethnic groups in Budjak today are Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Russians, and Moldovans. The region was inhabited by Moldovans (Romanians / Vlachs) and Nogai Tatars through the Middle Ages, but became a home to several other ethnicities and religious groups in the 19th century when it was part of the Russian Empire. The examples are Bessarabian Bulgarians, Bessarabian Germans, Gagauzians and Lipovan Russians who settled in compact areas.

Muslim, Turkic-speaking Nogai Tatars inhabited Ottoman-dominated Budjak until the start of the 19th century, but were forced to abandon the region once the Russian Empire got control over the territory. They resettled in the Caucasus, Dobruja (both in the Romanian and Bulgarian parts) or in modern Turkey.

Budjak was also home to a number of ethnic Germans known as Bessarabian Germans, originally from Württemberg and Prussia, who settled the region in the early 19th century, after it became part of the Russian Empire. A large number of them cultivated the Budjak steppes, known also as Kronsland (see also map). They were deported in the Nazi-Soviet population transfers following the Soviet takeover of Bessarabia in 1940. These "Germans from outside Germany", or Volksdeutsche, were mostly resettled in areas of Nazi occupied Poland, and had to move again at the end of World War II (one example was the family of the former president of Germany Horst Köhler).

Like Moldova, Budjak is home to a small minority of Gagauzes: an Orthodox Christian Turkic people who arrived from the eastern Balkans in the early 19th century, and settled part of the area vacated by the Nogais.

The Bulgarians of the region are known as Bessarabian Bulgarians, and, like the Gagauzes, are descendants of settlers from the eastern Balkans (today eastern Bulgaria) who moved to the area vacated by the Nogais, in order to escape Muslim domination.

During the same period, Lipovan Russians settled in the area close to the mouth of the Danube river.

Until World War II, the region was also home to a significant number of Jews, a portion of whom were killed in the Holocaust along with other Bessarabian Jews. Still, Jews remained a sizeable minority in several towns, first of all in Bilhorod-Dnistrovs'kyi until mass emigration to Israel in the 1980s and 1990s. Budjak was the only region within the former Russian Empire where a significant number of Sephardic Ladino-speaking Jews could be found as late as the second half of the 19th century. These Sephardim later assimilated with the majority of local Ashkenazic Jewry, but many retained surnames of either Turkic origin or otherwise suggestive of Sephardic descent.

According to the 2001 Ukrainian census, Budjak has a population of 617,200 people, distributed among the ethnic groups as follows: Ukrainians 248,000 (40%), Bulgarians 129,000 (21%), Russians 124,500 (20%), Moldovans 78,300 (13%) and Gagauzians 24,700 (4%).[9](See also the table below.) Note, that the total population of the Odessa Oblast is, by the 2001 Ukrainian Census, 2,469,000.

Although the majority of Russians and Moldovans declared the language of their ethnicity as their mother tongue, only roughly half of Ukrainians did so, while the other half indicated Russian as their native language. The Bulgarians also tend to use Russian more than Bulgarian, especially in public. The above numbers reflect the declared ethnicity, not the native language. The most common spoken language in everyday public use in Budjak is Russian.

Bulgarians are the largest ethnic group in the Artsyz (39%), Bolhrad (61%), and Tarutyne (38%) districts (raions), Moldovans – in the Reni (50%) district (raion), Russians – in the city of Izmayil (44%), and Ukrainians – in the Kilia (45%), Tatarbunary (71%), Sarata (44%), and Bilhorod-Dnistrovs'kyi (82%) districts (raions), and in the city of Bilhorod-Dnistrovs'kyi (63%).

In the Izmail raion, 29% of the population is Ukrainian, 28% Moldovan, and 26% Bulgarian. Since the previous census in 1989, its Moldovan population increased by 1% relative to the number of Ukrainian and Bulgarians, although the actual number of Moldovans has decreased in absolute terms, yet at a slower rate than that of Ukrainians, Russians and Bulgarians, probably due to the fact that a portion of the non-Moldovan population of the area were relatively recent arrivals from other regions of the former Soviet Union, and chose to return upon its dissolution.

Ethnic composition of Budjak according to the 2001 Ukrainian census1
Raion (district) or City Total Ukrainians Bessarabian Bulgarians Russians Moldovans Gagauzians Other ethnic groups2 Number of settlements3
Artsyzskyi Raion 51,700 14,200 20,200 11,500 3,300 900 1,600 1+0+17(26)
Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi Raion 62,300 51,000 800 5,500 3,900 200 900 0+0+27(57)
Bolhradskyi Raion 75,000 5,700 45,600 6,000 1,200 14,000 2,500 1+0+18 (21)
Izmailsky Raion 54,700 15,800 14,100 8,900 15,100 200 600 0+1+18 (22)
Kiliyskyi Raion 59,800 26,700 2,600 18,000 9,400 2,300 800 1+1+13 (17)
Reniyskyi Raion 40,700 7,200 3,400 6,100 19,900 3,200 900 1+0+7 (7)
Saratskyi Raion 49,900 21,900 10,000 7,900 9,400 200 500 0+1+22 (37)
Tarutynskyi Raion 45 200 11,100 17,000 6,300 7,500 2,700 600 0+4+23 (28)
Tatarbunarskyi Raion 41,700 29,700 4,800 2,700 3,900 600 1+0+18 (35)
city of Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi 51,100 32,200 1,900 14,400 1,000 200 1,400 1+2+0 (0)
city of Izmayil 85,100 32,500 8,600 37,200 3,700 800 2,300 1+0+0 (0)
Total 617,2001 248,0001 129,0001 124,5001 78,3001,2 24,7001 12,7001 7 cities + 9 towns
+ 163 incorporated administrations (250 villages)
= 266 settlements
1 All numbers are averaged to hundreds for each raion and city. The entries of the row "total" contain the sums of the respective entries for each line, hence bears a theoretical margin error of plus/minus 550. Numbers provided by other sources differ, but fit within this margin of error.
2 The "Others" category includes people who declared themselves as Romanians. For the entire Odessa Oblast (which includes the raions that comprise historic Budjak) 724 people declared themselves as Romanians.[10] For discussion about Moldovan / Romanian identity controversy, see Moldovenism.
3 Certain settlements are called "cities" (7 here). Some of them are called "regional cities" (2 here), and have administrations that are financed and receive directions from the oblast administration. Others are called "raion cities" (5 here), and are component parts of raions. Raions have administrations just like regional cities, only that they consist of mainly rural areas.
Some settlements (9 here) have an intermediate status, between that of a village and that of a city. They are designated in Russian as PGT, which literally means "urban-type settlement" and is often translated as town in English. Villages are incorporated either alone, or as a small group. Here we have 163 incorporations (literally called selsoviets, "village Soviets"), containing a total of 250 villages. Each raion contains raion towns, PGTs, and village Soviets, and finances and directs their activity.

Local and regional authorities do not collect taxes. They are considered state institutions of the country at the local level, not institutions of local self-administration.


  1. Ivanova S.V., Balkan-Carpathian variant of the Yamnaya culture-historical region. Российская археология, Number 2, 2014 (in Russian)
  2. Unknown article. Viaţa Basarabiei. I.6 (June 1932). (Romanian)
  3. Niculiţă, Ion; Sîrbu, Valeriu; Vanchiugov, Vladimir, The Historical Evolution of Budjak in the 1st-4th c. AD. A few observations. ISTROS (Vol. 14/2007)
  4. "Toponymy and ethnic Realities at the Lower Danube in the 10th Century. 'The deserted Cities' in the Constantine Porphyrogenitus' De administrando imperio." Stelian Brezeanu.
  5. Ion Nistor, "Istoria Basarabiei".
  6. C. Stamati, "Despre Basarabia si cetatile ei vechi", Odessa Geographical Society, 1837 (translation from Russian, 1986)
  7. The Economist, 3 January 2015, p 24.
  8. State Statistics Committee of Ukraine, Kiev.
  9. http://2001.ukrcensus.gov.ua/results/general/nationality/odesa/
  10. Romania si Ucraina vor monitoriza respectarea drepturilor minoritatilor", Buletin Divers, nr. 25 (265) / 6 iulie 2006

External links