Kerch (kyĕrch) [key], city (1989 pop. 174,000), in Ukraine, in the Crimea. It lies on the Kerch Strait of the Black Sea and at the eastern end of the Kerch Peninsula, a strip of land between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. A seaport and major industrial center, it has iron and steel mills, shipyards, fisheries, and canneries. Iron ore and vanadium are extracted nearby.
The city was founded as Panticapaeum (6th cent. B.C.) by Greek colonists from Miletus and was the forerunner of all Milesian cities in the area. It was a large trade center and a terraced mountain city with self-government. It became (5th cent. B.C. to 4th cent. A.D.) the capital of the European part of the Kingdom of Bosporus (see Crimea). It was conquered (c.110 B.C.) by Mithradates VI of Pontus, then passed under Roman and Byzantine rule, and was taken by Novogorod in the 9th cent. and called Korchev. Later (13th cent.) it became a Genoese trade center called Cherkio and was conquered (1475) by the Crimean Tatars, who called it Cherzeti. It was captured (1771) by the Russians in the first Russo-Turkish War (1768–74), and the Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji (1774) formally gave it to Russia. Under Russia, Kerch was a military port and then became (1820) a commercial port.
There are ruins of the ancient acropolis on top of the steep hill of Mithradates. Archaeological remains, discovered in catacombs and burial mounds near the city, are in the archaeological museum (founded 1826), which is famous for its Greco-Scythian antiquities. The Church of St. John the Baptist dates from the 8th cent. The city has a marine fishery and oceanographic research institute.