When President Volodymyr Zelensky visits southern Ukraine’s Bessarabia region later this fall to discuss local economic development, a brand new wind farm, the area’s largest recent investment project, will be one of the first things to greet him. The newly completed array of ten wind turbines in the town of Belgorod-Dneistrovsky welcomes visitors traveling down Odesa Oblast’s M5 highway, gleaming white against a backdrop of blue sky and gently rolling hills. There might as well be an “open for business” sign.
Sparsely populated and dominated by small-scale agriculture, Bessarabia’s economic potential has been overlooked for decades by politicians in Kyiv and international investors alike. That paradigm is now shifting as the region’s strategic importance and business potential come into focus. Bessarabia is getting ready for its close-up.
Bessarabia lies tucked away in the southwestern corner of Ukraine between the Dniester River in the north and the Danube River to the south. The region has a long recorded history that stretches all the way back to antiquity. Ukrainian Bessarabia traded hands between the Principality of Moldavia and the Ottoman and Russian empires for much of its early modern history. It was then briefly absorbed into a unified Romania before incorporation into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic after World War II. It has been part of Ukraine’s Odesa Oblast since the country declared independence in 1991.
While its colorful and sometimes bloody history has helped give today’s Bessarabia its multi-ethnic tapestry, it has also meant that the region rarely got the opportunity to develop economically. Little more than an exotic outpost to imperial centers in Istanbul and Moscow, Bessarabia was a territory to be controlled rather than developed. Unfortunately, that legacy carried over into the region’s first decades as a part of independent Ukraine. Even in 2018, residents reported feeling neglected by Kyiv. The region is currently home to some of the poorest districts in Ukraine.
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