Since ancient times Khortytsia has attracted people. The first settlers appeared on the island during the Paleolithic and Mesolithic, as evidenced by the finds of flint products of that period. Archaeological research indicates the settlement of the island and the surrounding area in the Neolithic-Eneolithic (7th-3rd millennium BC). Since then, traces of the stay of people on the island have been left in every historical period.
In the Bronze Age (3rd-2nd millennium BC), there were agricultural tribes who left behind numerous settlements, a site with stone fortifications, burials and places of worship – sanctuaries. In 2005, during archaeological excavations (at the site of the construction of the new bridge pylons over the Dnipro) on the east coast of the island, the archaeologists discovered the oldest remains of a stone building in Zaporizhzhya region, which is more than 3.5 thousand years old.
In the 7th century BC – 3rd century AD the nomadic Iranian-speaking peoples had been staying in the southern part of modern Ukraine: Cimmerians, Scythians and Sarmatians. Scythians appeared on Khortytsia in the 6th century BC and left numerous monuments: mounds, burial grounds, a powerful fortified settlement on Sovutina rock (the only island Scythian settlement explored!). The archaeological finds of that period include the Scythian sword – acinaces, exquisite jewelry of Scythian women, amphorae, Greek coins.
The early Slavic period of Khortytsia (from the 2nd century AD) is represented by separate monuments of Chernyakhov culture discovered by archaeologists on Baida island and in the ravine Korneychikha. Since 4th century various Türkic tribes had passed through the Khortytsia steppes: Huns (4th-5th centuries), Avars (from the 5th century), Khazars (8th-9th centuries), Pechenegs (9th-11th centuries), Polovtsy (11th – beginning of 13th century), Tatar-Mongols (13th-15th centuries). On the top of the island the ancient peoples left mounds with stone sculptures – Kurgan stelae. Altogether in the 19th century there were 129 mounds of different ages, but only about thirty of them have survived to this day. The early written mention of the island is found in the treatise of the Byzantine emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus “On the management of the empire” (952). According to the emperor’s description, after the difficult passage of the merchant flotilla through the Dnipro rapids, the Rus passed the Krariy crossing (later it was called Kichkass crossing) and stopped on the island of St. George (the ancient name of the island, in other translations – St. Gregory): “They (the Rus) bring their donations on this island: there is a huge oak tree… “.
In the days of Kievan Rus Khortytsia was visited by princes. According to “The Tale of Bygone Years”, the militant prince Svyatoslav Igorevich “The Brave” was killed off the coast of Khortytsia in the battle with the Pechenegs in the spring of 972. It is proved by the discovery of swords of that period in 1928 and in the fall of 2011. In the Kievan Rus chronicles of 1103 and 1190, the island was already mentioned under its modern name, as a gathering place for Rus troops before the battles with Polovtsy. According to “The Tale of Bygone Years”, in the spring of 1223, prince retinue gathered on Khortytsia before the tragic battle of the Kalka River with the Tatar-Mongols.
Since the 15th century, Khortytsia has been inextricably linked with the history of the Zaporozhzhya Kozaks. The Cherkassy starosta (community elder) Eustachy Daszkiewicz planned to create an outpost on the island to protect it from the Tatars. His work was continued by Prince Dmytro Vyshnevetsky. In the 50’s of the 16th century he built the “town” – the first Zaporozhzhya Sich on the island of Malaya Khortytsia (now Baida island). In the people’s memory Khortytsia is associated with the names of the Kozak leaders: Yacov Shakh, Petro Sahaidachny, Mark Zhmaylo, Ivan Sulima, Taras Tryasylo. In 1648 the army of Bohdan Khmelnitsky stayed there.
Numerous names testify to the stay of the Kozaks on Khortytsia: the ravines Sovutina, Hromushyna, Chavunova, the rocks Dumna, Karakayka, Durna, Naumova. Each of these names has its own history, which has come down to us from folk traditions and legends. During the war with the Ottoman Empire (1735-1739), the Zaporozhzhya shipyard and fortress, where Kozak kurins and military dugouts were located, were founded on the island of Malaya Khortytsia (Baida) and the western coast of the Dnipro.
After the liquidation of the Zaporozhzhya Sich in 1775, the Khortytsia island for some time belonged to the prince Grigory Potemkin. Later, the prince transferred it to the royal treasury, and in 1790, at the invitation of Empress Catherine II, the first families of Mennonite colonists arrived from Danzig and owned the island until 1916. In 1843, Taras Shevchenko came to the island. Later, it was visited by the historians Nikolai Kostomarov, Dmytro Yavornitsky, artists Ilya Repin and Valentin Serov, the future Nobel laureate – writer Ivan Bunin. It was at these times that the romantic image of Khortytsia as the cradle of the Zaporozhzhya Kozak movement was formed. In 1910, the Khortytsia Society for the Conservation of Nature was established, which attracted the attention of the public to the preservation of its unique nature.
The beginning of the 20th century was full of important events for the country and a theater of operations for the White Guard and Red Army, as well as the troops of the UPR. In April 1918, during the gathering of troops of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, before the Crimean campaign of Colonel Petro Bolbochan, Khortytsia became a place of unity of fighters for the newly formed Ukrainian independent state. The celebrations of that time became a kind of “prologue” to the reunification of the UPR and ZUNR on January 22, 1919.
In the 30s of the 20th century a commercial farm unit, gardens, berry plantations, cropland, and even rice fields were established on Khortytsia to provide Dniprostroy participants with food. In 1930, a branch of the All-Union Institute for Electrification of Agriculture was founded here.
During the World War II, the Khortytsia island was the scene of fierce battles. There in the fall of 1941, during the two-month defense of Zaporizhzhya from the forces of Germany and Romania, one of the first successful counter-offensives of the Red Army units took place. After two years of occupation at the turn of 1943 and 1944, the island was finally liberated from the enemy. Khortytsia witnessed the construction of the Dnipro hydroelectric station, its destruction by Soviet and German troops, as well as its post-war reconstruction.
The process of recognition of Khortytsia at the state level was difficult and long. In 1958, Khortytsia was recognized as a local nature monument. In 1963, the island became a natural monument of the republican level, and two years later, on September 18, 1965, the Council of Ministers of the Ukrainian SSR issued a historical decree, which proclaimed Khortytsia the State Historical and Cultural Reserve. The decisive role in the creation of the reserve was played by real patriots, statesmen, scientists, writers: Mykola Kytsenko, Stepan Kyrychenko, Petro Tronko, Maxym Rylsky, Pavlo Tychyna, Oles Honchar.
During the second half of the 1960s, a series of competitions of the best projects to equip the Kozaks memorial on Khortytsia were held.
In 1990, Khortytsia attracted worldwide attention with celebrations on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Zaporozhzhya Kozaks.
In 1993, by the resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, the Khortytsia Reserve, was the first in the country, to obtain the high status of National reserve. Since 2009, the monument of national importance “Kamyanska Sich” in the Beryslav district of the Kherson region has been a part of the reserve.