Odesa: Ukrainian life and Russian failure

Author : Pierre Scordia

Source : The Huffington Post

Russian military aggression has led not only to the end of cultural and tourist exchanges between Russia and Odesa, but also to the decline in Russian economic investment
23:32, 31 July 2017

Read original article at The Huffington Post

112 Agency

Two years later I return to Odessa, the pearl of the Black Sea. On the plane from Warsaw, a Russian girl is sitting next to me. She goes to Bessarabia for the funeral of her grandfather. Once there are no more direct flights between Russia and Ukraine, she has to fly through Minsk, Istanbul, Riga or Central Europe. She is upset because of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, which broke family ties for almost two years: "We stopped talking to each other." She admits that she does not support the Ukrainian policy of Putin, but at the same time is upset by the decision of the Kyiv authorities to break all cultural ties with neighbors: there are no more flights, Russian information channels and social networks. Some publications made Russia and books were also banned. She fears that Ukraine will ultimately introduce visas for Russians, which may entail the expulsion of thousands of Ukrainians from the Russian Federation. Two weeks later, Kyiv announced the mandatory receipt of an entry permit for all Russian citizens.

When I arrive at the airport, I see that the new terminal has finally been completed, at least in appearance: the work has been going on for at least five years and stopped for a long time because of corruption. To my great disappointment, I hear that the new building has not been completed yet, and we have to use those that remained from the Soviet Union. Inside on screens in colors of Ukraine and the EU we see proud inscription: "Travel without a visa, Ukraine is getting closer to Europe". This achievement was a great victory for President Petro Poroshenko and had a serious psychological effect on the population. Victims of the Maidan have finally borne fruit. The desire to belong to the Western world is very strong, especially among people younger than 40 years.

In the center of the city the first impression is that Odesa regained its pre-war liveliness of the 2000s. At the end of June, many tourists from Europe, Turkey, Georgia, Israel and even Belarus can be seen on the streets. Cafes and restaurants are full of people, and Ukrainian blue-yellow flags flutter peacefully. There are no more military, checkpoints, or pro-Russian graffiti. All signs of the war in the Donbas completely disappeared. Local entrepreneur Taras says that no one in Odesa is any more interested in the return of Donetsk and Luhansk and is not going to pay for the restoration of these two lost regions. "Whatever it was, Ukraine must respond to the aggression of Russian terrorists and prevent them from moving forward," he adds. "Mariupol must be protected. We do not need a war, because it alienates us from reforms. This is precisely the goal of Vladimir Putin: destabilize and demoralize Ukraine. "

"What about Crimea?" Silence. It can be seen that the annexation of the peninsula left a wound, and that, unlike Donbas, they do not want to give it up. "Crimea is an economic catastrophe," he replies, "while it is occupied by Russia, it cannot develop. Russians prefer to travel to the Cote d'Azur, not to the Crimea, and the poorest go to Turkey. Crimea will become a new Transnistria."

On the streets of Odesa there are new policemen in Western cars and New York forms. A woman working in Odesa police says that corruption has perceptibly declined in 2016, but after the appointment of Serhiy Knyazev as a result of the reshuffling in the government, the old practices are gaining strength once again. As for the city government, it is still headed by Russophile Gennady Trukhanov. Since he owned an enterprise for the production of paving slabs, the embankment running along the Odesa beaches was repaved. And this is not the end of his plans. He wants to expand his activities and completely repave the famous French Boulevard, which caused protests from the public.

Having visited Tatarbunary, I again met Ukrainian pensioner (originally from Bulgaria), who in 2015 asked me to take his three daughters to the West. His melancholy and nostalgia for the Soviet Union and Russian culture have not gone away. Thanks to the satellite, he continues to listen to old Soviet songs and watch Russian television. He smiles hearing this propaganda, perfectly aware of the sounding lie. Russian media every day talk about lost Ukraine and the lack of prospects for sustainable peace.

He is still confident that his life was better under Yanukovych's regime. Does he still want me to take his daughters away? Eloquent silence. His daughters no longer dream of living in the West. In Odesa, you can have a pleasant life, and their work provides them with a worthy existence. But despite this, they would like to travel around Western Europe. The abolition of visas creates a sense of freedom, although two of them have already accepted Bulgarian citizenship in case of aggravation of the conflict with Russia.

Nevertheless, Poland and the Baltic States are doing everything to make Russian plans fail, and Ukraine remains closely connected with the West. The agreement on association signed by Kyiv and Brussels comes into force on September 1. Political, academic and cultural influence of Poland become stronger in Odesa. Turks can boast of strong positions in the economy. Istanbul finances the construction of beautiful gardens in the center of Odessa. More and more Turkish tourists go on a journey over the Black Sea to enjoy the hedonistic atmosphere of this city. Ukraine does not require visas from Turkish citizens, and they can enjoy the "sins" of Western civilization that President Erdogan seeks to eradicate in his country: its citizens do not remain indifferent to Ukrainian beauty and the relaxation of warm nights.

The policy of Vladimir Putin proved effectiveness in the short term, undermining the spirit of Ukrainians. But in the long term, it is fraught with a catastrophe for the relations between the two countries, as it led to the rise of Russophobic sentiments among the Russian-speaking population. Moscow's military aggression not only violated the cultural and tourist ties between Russia and Odesa, but also led to a decline in Russian investment. The EU and Turkey quickly filled the vacuum. It immediately catches your eye, for example, in the supermarket. Products with an inscription in the Latin alphabet filled the shelves.

In this region of Ukraine the cultural revolution is gaining strength. Young people choose English and are no longer afraid to smile at foreigners. Irreversible links with the European Union will eventually stop the chronic Ukrainian corruption.

And if the Russian aggression continues, it is possible that Ukraine once latinizes its alphabet in order to gain a foothold in the West.

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