Odesa is Ukraine

"Zrada," Museum of Modern Art of OdesaA common misperception is that Odesa is a city of the Russian Empire: “founded by Catherine the Great” and all that. Odesans speak Russian, and this is confused with the country that today calls itself the Russian Federation. But this confusion is deliberate and malicious. In fact, Odesa is a Ukrainian city, a European city, and a multicultural city, and this has only been obscured by a couple of centuries of foreign occupation. “Treason” or “betrayal” is an apt term for the perversion of history and culture and language that was carried out by the Russian Empire and by Soviet Russia against Odesa. In Ukrainian the word is ЗРАДА, zrada. I’m sitting in front of a mural at the Museum of Modern Art of Odesa, and that is the word that is repeated along its border.

Odesa census 1851In the middle of the 19th century, Odesa was overwhelmingly Ukrainian. This census of 1851 shows that 69% of the residents of Odesa were Ukrainians (derogatively called “Little Russians” under foreign occupation by Muscovy). Russians were only the fifth most numerous ethnic group, after Ukrainians, Moldovans, Jews, and Germans. After 1991 independence but even more after the 2013-14 “EuroMaidan” events which became known as the Revolution of Dignity, Odesa is Ukraine. It is Ukrainian once more, and Ukrainian as always.

Odesa at peace and at war

Art installation on Prymors'kyi Boulevard, Odesa - "Peace"Odesa is not an ancient city like some cities in Ukraine, but nevertheless war has come to this Black Sea port many times. When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, Odesa was briefly the scene of a “hybrid war” attack by Russia, which was defeated by Ukrainian patriots. Unfortunately, these attacks succeeded in Crimea and Luhansk and Donetsk, and the foreign invaders from Muscovy have not yet been pushed out of those regions of Ukraine. Odesa has the feel of a Home Front city — the war seems far away, and has no noticeable effect on day-to-day life. Street entertainers play music on Primorsky Boulevard near the famous Primorsky Stairs or Richelieu steps. A photo exhibit shows scenes of Odesa at peace.

Art installation on Prymors'kyi Boulevard, Odesa - "War"On the panels facing in the opposite direction, the photo exhibit shows scenes of Odesa at war. The men photographed are volunteers who serve on the front line in Luhansk and Donetsk regions, in the trenches against the Russian invaders. A war is raging 600 km to the east, but the only sign of that in Odesa is this art installation and the soldiers in uniform you see often in the streets.