Odesa region: melting pot, outstanding wines, and a fearless struggle for freedom at all times

Land in the south of Ukraine, where the steppes meet the sea and different cultures have learned to live peacefully, enriching each other. Famous wines are made here, grandiose solar power plants are built, the people are proud of their outstanding architecture, and the main city of the region, Odesa, is known throughout the world.

People from the Odesa region (Ukr. oblast) developed cinema, art, literature, engineering, and many other fields. And over the last year, the local Ukrainians once again proved their courage — for example, with the already legendary history of the defense of Zmiinyi (Eng. Snake) Island. 

So here are just a few out of thousands reasons to admire Odesa!

Life on water

Welcome to Vylkove, be careful not to get your feet wet. The fact is that this is the last settlement on the Danube river before it flows into the Black Sea, and the city is located not so much on the shores as directly in the water. And instead of streets, there are canals through which everyone moves.

Vylkove was formed in the middle of the 18th century, when Old Believer Christians, followed by Cossacks, fled from inhabited territories to the Danube floodplains to escape the Russian Empire’s regular repressions. Finally, everyone worked together to dig canals between the islands at the mouth of the Danube and create a life between water and land. 

The main activity of Vylkove residents is fishing. In the spring, herring come to the mouth of the Danube, and local fishermen take to the river in hundreds of boats. Other important species include sturgeon and salmon. Everyone at Vylkove is convinced that the taste of their fish is absolutely unique because it feeds on Danube plankton.

Pelicans will also agree with people — in the Ukrainian part of the delta, there is one of the largest colonies of these birds in the world. And in general, more than 250 different species of birds live here, which are looking not without interest at Vylkove — an unusual city on the water — from above.

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A city at the intersection of cultures

Port cities always have their own flavor, but Odesa breaks all records here. Ukrainian culture with a Jewish flavor against the background of European architecture with a Crimean Tatar background — the cocktail turned out to be unique.

Even 2,500 years ago, there were a dozen Greek colonies in the area of modern Odesa. In the 13th century, there was a Genoese trading factory here, and in 1415, the first written mention of the Kochubiiv settlement appears. Under the transformed name of Khadjibey, together with the Cossack outposts and the expanded port at the end of the 18th century, all this developed into a city.

After the Russo-Turkish war, Khadjibey became part of the Russian Empire and was renamed Odesa in 1794. Russian propaganda has manipulated this date as the year of the city’s founding for centuries, but all myths are sooner or later debunked. As well as the very figure of the “founder”, Empress Catherine II, who during her reign managed to liquidate the Zaporozhian Sich, ban the printing of books in Ukrainian, introduce serfdom… In 2022, the people of Odesa proudly demolished her monument.

The city also celebrated diversity. The Spanish Jose de Ribas became the first mayor, the French aristocrats Duke de Richelieu and Louis Langeron turned the city into a real European pearl, the German Paul Kotzebue built a railway and a port, the Greek Grigorios Marazli launched a tram, and the Italians, who opened bakeries in Odesa, played an important role in architecture: macaroni and galette factories, casinos, hotels, restaurants, and confectionery.

Foreign cultures that rhymed with Ukraine did so peacefully and successfully. The 1897 census shows that at least fifty languages were spoken in the city. At the same time, according to the General Staff of the Russian Empire, in 1851, in Kherson province, which included the Odesa region at that time, there were more than 703 thousand Ukrainians or about 70% of the total population. By the way, there were only 30,000 Russians or 3%.

The trade turned Odesa into a world-class city. In the middle of the 19th century, there was a huge demand for wheat in Europe. It was this grain that was exported through the Odesa port in tens of millions of tons per year.

Ukraine is still an extremely important country for planetary food security. However, due to the Russian invasion, exports by sea were totally blocked for a long time, and many countries felt the effects of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The tragedy of one country affects us all. That is why the world should support Ukraine in its battle for freedom.

Well, for now, Odesa continues to fight against evil. Residents of Odesa have stood up to protect their homeland since the beginning of the full-fledged war, when there was a daily threat of landing in the city. Ordinary townspeople hauled sandbags for roadblocks and fortifications and signed up as volunteers in the Territorial Defense Forces and the Armed Forces. And in front of one of the symbols of the city — the opera house — people hung a huge poster: “Odesa — Ukraine!”

A grape that has become a cult

Odesa region is located at almost the same latitude as the famous French wine-growing regions, so it is not surprising that people started making wine in these lands a long time ago. And they’ve been drinking it for a long time! So, in the ancient city of Niconium, which existed 2.5 thousand years ago on the territory of the Odesa region, archaeologists discovered a wine cup on which the owner scratched his name and address — all so that good people could bring it home if the party got out of hand. 

The first modern vineyard in Odesa was planted in 1798. Since then, this industry in the region has been unstoppable. Currently, there are tens of thousands of hectares of plantations in Odesa, and high-quality wines are produced by both the state and numerous private companies. An entire institute of viticulture and winemaking works in Odesa, and the famous producer Shabo opened a wine culture center right on the territory of the enterprise. However, the war also affected this area—now this complex does not work due to the threat of shelling.

The city of the birth of cinema

What do you think of when you hear about the invention of cinema? Paris, Boulevard des Capucines, Lumière Brothers? What about Odesa, Derybasivska Street, and Yosyp Tymchenko?

The outstanding Ukrainian inventor was born in 1852 into the family of a serf, which was the name given to peasants who were enslaved and dependent on their masters in the Russian Empire. His extraordinary talent allowed him to get an education, escape from poverty, and take up mechanics. In 1893, two years before the famous Lumière show, he showed one of his inventions in Odesa, a prototype of modern cinema. Amazed townspeople saw footage from the local racecourse on the screen, and the newspapers did not even know what to call it, and chose the wording “live photos”. Unfortunately, Tymchenko could not develop his invention — either he did not understand all the prospects of cinema or he could not find the money.

If he could travel back in time, he would be astounded by the magnitude of events taking place around the world. For example, in 1907, a private film studio opened in the city, which later grew into the Odesa film studio. The famous director Oleksandr Dovzhenko shot many of his masterpieces on it, which you can read about in the text about the Chernihiv region.

Tymchenko would also be impressed by the Odesa International Film Festival, which from 2010 until the full-scale invasion brought important premieres and world stars to Ukraine every year, such as Isabelle Huppert, Agnieszka Holland, or Catherine Deneuve. Or Kira Muratova from Odesa, who was one of the main directors of the late USSR and independent Ukraine, won prizes at the Berlinale and Locarno and was also a member of the jury that awards the Oscars. In 2022, due to the war, the festival was forced to be held abroad — film forums in Norway, the Czech Republic, Poland, and other countries provided their sites for it. Well, the heart of the Odesa festival is the opera house. This year, Russia was surrounded not by stars, fans, and a red carpet, but by anti-tank hedgehogs and sandbags.

A land of outstanding people who created not because of, but against

However, let’s return to outstanding people. Odesa is a region with an extraordinary concentration of talents in a wide variety of fields.

Here, for example, in 1964 and the first woman in history with a personal exhibition in the Louvre. This is Sonia Delaunay, aka Sarah Stern, originally from Odesa. In 1908, she moved to Paris, where she later married the French artist Robert Delaunay. Together, they became ideologists of their own direction in art, and Sonya herself was also engaged in design; she created covers for Vogue and dressed the main stars of those times in her fashion collections.

Of course, Russia could not ignore such a success by a Ukrainian woman, and it traditionally tried to appropriate it, declaring the artist its own. Although Sonia Delaunay received the following “gifts” from Moscow, her brother died in a Soviet prison after fifteen years of imprisonment, her mother, despite the money she received from her children, lived in hunger in recent years, and her house was nationalized. The artist herself remembered her homeland as follows: “I love the clean, bright colors of my childhood, Ukraine. I remember the peasant weddings of my country, where red and green dresses decorated with numerous bows flew in a dance. I remember how watermelons and melons grow: tomatoes gird the house with red, and large sunflowers — yellow with a black core — shine in the light, under a very high blue sky.” So it is quite possible that the bright colors of Sonia Delaunay’s art come from Ukraine.

Another prominent Odesa writer, Isaac Babel, also suffered from the totalitarian government. In his stories, he painted a portrait of his beloved Odesa with incredible humor. However, his life ended tragically: in 1940, Babel was executed on the charge of espionage, which was disproved only 15 years later.

Valentyn Hlushko from Odesa also had to survive imprisonment. In the second half of the 20th century, he headed the Soviet space program for a decade and a half and oversaw the development, in particular, of the “Soyuz” and the “Mir” orbital station. However, for more than six years before that, Hlushko was forced to develop the aerospace field behind bars, in a closed technical bureau.

Unbreakable island

662 meters (2172 feet) long, 560 meters (1837 feet) wide — not too impressive dimensions for a piece of land. However, if it is about Zmiinyi (Eng. Snake) Island in the Black Sea, then the concentration of events around these meters is incredible.

For the first time, they learned about the island back in antiquity and immediately attached great importance to Zmiinyi. In ancient times, it was believed that the famous hero Achilles was buried here, in his honor, a temple was even built on the island. Travelers invariably stopped here to pay their respects to the mythical warrior and ask advice from the oracle, who probably had a permanent place of work in the temple.

During the time of independent Ukraine, the island lived a rather quiet life. A border outpost was located here, and scientists were engaged in various studies — in particular, they found a sunken ancient Greek ship near the shores of the island.

The world will hear about Zmiinyi again in 2022. Already on February 24, the first day of the full-scale invasion, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the cruiser “Moscow”, approached the island. To the ultimatum from the Russians with a call to surrender or perish, the Ukrainians responded with the phrase that has become legendary: “Russian warship, go **** yourself.” Then the occupiers still managed to capture the border guards and capture the island. However, within a couple of months, the flagship fulfilled the wishes of the Ukrainians and sank. And at the end of June, accurate strikes by the Armed Forces of Ukraine on the island forced the occupation garrison to flee from Zmiinyi.

In a few weeks, the so-called “Black Sea Grain Initiative” was signed in Istanbul, and Moscow actually admitted that after the loss of “Moscow” and Zmiinyi, it could no longer dictate conditions in the Black Sea. Soon, dozens of massive dry trucks could be seen en route to Ukrainian ports carrying grain for the rest of the world. Although, Russia still continues its attempts to disrupt exports, putting millions of people around the world at risk of starvation.

During its history, the Odesa region has gone through many trials.

However, at the same time, it maintained an ironic view of the world and ensured the peaceful coexistence of different cultures. Now this peace and freedom have again been challenged by evil. Odesa itself was threatened by amphibious assaults, and Zmiinyi Island became a battlefield. But the Ukrainians proved that they were ready to fight for their land to the last, and not a single meter of Odesa is occupied anymore. With the free world’s support, it will be the same for all of Ukraine.

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Last updated 24.02.2023

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