The Ukraining Port of Odessa is Defiant and Putin's Ultimate Target
Saturday, April 13, 2024
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Odesa - Ukraine was Once Home to one of the Most Powerful Jewish Communities


Explore Odessa and Discover the Roots of Modern day Israel:    The Odessa Fine Arts Museum, a colonnaded early-19th-century palace, stands almost empty. Early in Russia’s war on Ukraine, its staff removed more than 12,000 works for safe keeping. One large portrait remained, depicting Catherine the Great, the Russian empress and founder of Odessa, as a just and victorious goddess. President Vladimir V. Putin knows that Ukraine’s fate, its access to the sea and its grain exports hinge on Odesa. Without it, the country shrivels to a landlocked rump state.Seen from below in Dmitry Levitzky’s painting, the empress is a towering figure in a pale gown with a golden train. The ships behind her symbolize Russia’s victory over the Ottoman Turks in 1792. “She’s textbook Russian imperial propaganda,” said Gera Grudev, a curator. “The painting’s too large to move, and besides, leaving it shows the Russian occupiers we don’t care.”


Catherine the Great abandoned. Leaving it shows the Russian occupiers we dont care a curator said of the painting.jpg

 Catherine the Great, Abandoned!  

Leaving it in the Museum Shows Russian Occupiers Ukranians Don’t Care 


The decision to let Catherine’s portrait hang in isolation in the first room of the shuttered museum reflects a sly Odessan bravura: an empress left to contemplate how the brutality of Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president who likens himself to a latter-day czar, has alienated the largely Russian-speaking population of this Black Sea port, established by her in 1794 as Moscow’s long-coveted conduit from the steppe to the Mediterranean.


 Odesas first killings of the war came in April when a missile ripped through an apartment building

Odessa’s First Killings of the War came in April, 2022

When a Missile Ripped Through an Apartment Building



The Odessa Opera Theater reopened on June 17, 2022


Odessa, grain port to the world, city of creative mingling, scarred metropolis steeped in Jewish history, is the big prize in the war and a personal obsession for Mr. Putin. In a speech three days before ordering the Russian invasion, Mr. Putin singled out Odessa with particular venom, making clear his intention to capture “criminals” there and “bring them to justice.”


A barley field in the Mykolaiv region

A Barley Field in the Mykolaiv Region


Mr. Putin believed at the outset of the war that he could decapitate the Ukrainian government and take Kyiv, only to discover that Ukraine was a nation ready to fight for the nationhood he dismissed. As the focus of the fighting shifts to southern Ukraine, Mr. Putin knows that on Odessa’s fate hinges Ukrainian access to the sea and, to some degree, the world’s access to food. Without this city, Ukraine shrivels to a landlocked rump state. “Odesa is the key, in my view,” said François Delattre, the secretary general of the French Foreign Ministry. “Militarily, it is the highest-value target. If you control it, you control the Black Sea.”


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For three summer weeks, as the Russian bombardment of the broader Odessa region intensified, I listened to children’s voices and the squeaking of swings in the Old Market Square. There, I contemplated the statue of a Cossack leader, an emblematic figure of tangled Ukrainian and Russian history. I lived with the blaring of sirens warning of imminent attack. I heard occasional explosions, journeyed east toward the front and pondered the fate that a fratricidal war holds for this city with a history of feast and famine.


Soldier and Young man in Odesa 1


Almost six months into the war, Odessa resists, not untouched, but unbowed. On its broad tree-lined avenues, redolent of linden blossom, where stray cats slither and a golden light bathes the gray-green, ocher and light blue buildings, a semblance of everyday life has returned. Restaurants and the storied Opera Theater, founded in 1810, have reopened. People sip coffee on the elegant Derybasivska Street. Insouciance is one expression of Odessan pride.




But an insidious unease lurks beneath it. The war is close, its front line no more than 80 miles to the east. Sandbags filled from deserted city beaches and anti-tank “hedgehog” obstacles of angled metal bars form barricades on many city blocks. Night patrols enforce an 11 p.m. curfew. “You go to sleep and you don’t know if you will wake up,” said Olga Tihaniy, an insurance agent.


The view from the restaurant Oblaka

The Vew from the Restaurant Oblaka - Insouciance is one Expression of Odessan Pride


Playing chess in Sobornaya Square 1

Playing Chess in Sobornaya Square


The Arcadia district used to be a popular beach resort

The Arcadia District Used to be a Popular Beach Resort -  Now the Beaches are Closed


Odessa is the crux of the war not only because it holds the key to the Black Sea but also because in it the battle between Russian and Ukrainian identity — an imperial past and a democratic future, a closed system and one connected to the world — plays out with particular intensity. This is the city, of fierce independence and stubborn inclusiveness, that symbolizes all Mr. Putin wants to annihilate in Ukraine.


After 11 p.m. the city is mostly deserted 1


Odessans look in the mirror, see a face like theirs, speaking the same Russian language, sharing much of the same history — yet the face now belongs to a stranger intent on killing them. They live in a state of shock. “Russia is destroying its claim to be a cultural nation, and Odesa is the intercultural capital of Ukraine,” said Gennadiy Trukhanov, 57, the mayor, himself a former Russian sympathizer. “Mr. Putin has turned Russia into the nation of killing and death.”


Clearing debris after a Russian strike in Mykolaiv in June 2 1


What follows here, told through the people who make Odesa, is a story of what happens when the barbarism that frenzied autocratic Russian nationalism has unleashed meets a city forged in diversity and openness.


Instead Mr. Putins crazed act has stirred an old defiance forged in suffering 2 1


This should have been the place, according to Mr. Putin’s understanding of Ukraine and his plans of capture, that would roll over for him as an invading savior. Instead, it did the opposite.


After curfew 2 1

After Curfew in Odessa


Echoes of Terror:   Perhaps the most famous flight of stairs in the world, the 192 granite steps and 10 landings immortalized in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent movie “Battleship Potemkin” tether Odessa on its plateau to the water below. Named the Potemkin Stairs in the Soviet era, they are now sometimes referred to by an earlier name, the Primorskiy Stairs, a sign of the ongoing battle for Odesa’s identity.



In the movie, the steps, now cordoned off for military reasons, were the scene of a brutal confrontation between Czarist troops and Odessan sympathizers with the revolutionaries on the Potemkin, who mutinied in 1905.  The implacable Cossacks firing down the steps, the crowd of every age in desperate tumbling flight, and above all a stroller propelled down the stairs by the baby’s mother as she fell to her death, have become universal symbols of the very terror now emanating from Moscow.


RELATED:       The Last Jew of Vinnitsa, Ukraine - 1942



Obelisque plaza 2 1


Mr. Putin seeks to seize Odessa by reviving, in twisted form, the spirit of the Great Patriotic War. But Odesa now finds itself in a war of disentanglement from Russia’s tenacious hold. Instead Mr. Putin’s crazed act has stirred an old defiance, forged in suffering.


Duc de Richellieu and steps 1


The steps lead up to a statue of the Duck of Richelieu, the city’s first governor, a work admired by Mark Twain when he visited in 1867 and predicted that Odessa would yet become “one of the great cities of the Old World.”   Many have heard about Duke, but what exactly? Who is the famous Duke de Richelieu and why is there a monument to this man in the very center of Odessa?  The surname Richelieu is familiar to everyone from the novel by Alexandre Dumas “The Three Musketeers”. And this is not a fictional character, in reality there was Cardinal Richelieu, who was a prominent political figure in France in the 17th century.


Statue of Duc de Richelieu

Duke of Richelieu, Mayor of Odessa


In March 1803 Richelieu arrives in Odessa, at that time, the city had been without a mayor for the last two years. There was practically no production, there were no large houses and cobbled streets. The Duke of Richelieu asked Alexander I for trade privileges – Porto-free (the port territory had the right to import and export goods duty-free). Thanks to his merits, already in 1805, he retained the post of mayor of Odessa, and also became the Kherson military governor. Under Richelieu and duty-free trade, Orthodox, Catholic, Old Believer churches, a synagogue, a market, a theater, the first city hospital, the Noble Institute, and the Commercial Gymnasium were built in Odessa in 11 years. The volume of grain sales increased, and animal husbandry and winemaking enterprises began to develop. De Richelieu brought the acacia to the city, in those days in Odessa there was a problem with water, but local residents found means to water these wonderful trees, because of which the city became famous. 


Vue de Odessa Giant Steps 2 1


Odessa always had that potential. In the 19th century, this was the Russian Eldorado, a raucous, polyglot city on the make, populated by Greeks, Italians, Tatars, Russians, Turks and Poles. Because they were freer here than anywhere else in Russia’s Pale of Settlement, the area of the empire where they were generally confined, Jews flocked from the shtetls of Eastern Europe to this booming port. By 1900, about 138,000 of Odesa’s 403,000 inhabitants were Jewish.


steps rolling flag in Odesa

Rolling the Ukrainian Flag on the Odessa Steps 


Odesas Moldovanka district was to the Jewish community what the Lower East Side once was to New Yorks Jews 1

Odessa's Moldovanka District was to the Jewish Community what the

Lower East Side Once was to New York's Jews


The bawdy world of smugglers, gangsters, shakedown artists and fast-talkers, concentrated in the Moldovanka district, is immortalized in Isaac Babel’s classic “Odessa Stories.” Babel — born in Odessa in 1894, executed by Stalin on fabricated charges in 1940 — captured in his antihero Benya Krik, the Robin Hood “King” of the underworld, some enduring essence of Odessa’s anarchic yet generous spirit.  “Benya Krik, he got his way, because he had passion, and passion rules the world,” Babel observes.



It is this freewheeling Odessan passion Mr. Putin seeks to quash by reviving, in twisted form, the spirit of what Russia calls the Great Patriotic War of 1941 to 1945. Then, in 1944, Red Army troops liberated the city from Nazi control; now Russian troops seek to impose on Odessa a repressive autocracy as part of the campaign to “denazify” a democratic Ukraine.



This twisted nightmare takes a particular form in Odessa, because its lingua franca is still Russian and its Russian sympathies lingered long after Ukrainian independence in 1991. A hub of the “New Russia” forged in the 18th century from conquered land bordering the Black Sea, the city now finds itself in a war of disentanglement from Russia’s tenacious hold. In the 5,000-word essay written last year that revealed the depth of his obsession with Ukraine, Mr. Putin wrote that Russia and Ukraine formed the “same historical and spiritual space” and that “Russia was robbed, indeed” by Ukrainian independence. Ukraine, in short, was a fictive nation. His response became clear on Feb. 24, 2022: the absorption by force of Ukraine into Russia.


Screen Shot 2022 08 21 at 11.26.54 AM


Mr. Putin has reminded humankind that the idiom fascism knows best is untruth so grotesque it begets unreason. It is of the nature of crazed acts to provoke the antithesis of their desired effect.



As Odessa, perhaps more than any other Ukrainian city, illustrates, Mr. Putin has spread and redoubled Ukrainian national consciousness. “There’s been a tectonic shift,” said Serhiy Dibrov, a researcher on recent Odesan history. “People crossed the line to full belief in Ukraine.” Still, he said, a substantial minority of Odessans retain some sympathy for Russia.


Moldovanka captures Odesas anarchic yet generous spirit

Moldovanka captures Odessa’s Anarchic yet Generous Spirit


Hospitable House one of the relief centers that have made Odesa a destination

Hospitable House, One of the Relief Centers that Have Made Odessa a Destination


Ukraines national colors are nearly everywhere 1

Ukraine’s National Colors are Nearly Everywhere


Lilia Leonidova, 46, and Natalia Bohachenko, 47, run Hospitable House, a center that provides help to some of the tens of thousands of displaced Ukrainians who have fled to Odessa since February. They listen to stories of rape; they see children from the devastated Kyiv suburbs of Bucha and Irpin who wet themselves when sirens sound. 


 Our Coverage of the Russia-Ukraine War


On the Ground: Analysts say that a new Ukrainian strategy of attacking logistical targets in Russian-held territory is proving successful — symbolically as well as militarily.Trading Accusations: Russian and Ukrainian militaries accused each other of preparing to stage an attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. The United Nations issued warnings about the risk of a nuclear disaster and called for a demilitarized zone around the plant.Crimea: Attacks by Ukrainian forces have tested security on the Black Sea peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014 and has become a vital staging ground for the invasion.Visa Ban: A proposal to bar Russian tourists from countries in the European Union over the invasion has stirred debate inside the bloc, with some questioning whether it would play into Kremlin claims of persecution by the West.



Sitting in a room full of blankets, clothes, eggs, diapers and stuffed animals, Ms. Leonidova, a former schoolteacher, told me: “Russia is close but Russia is very far away now. Our differences were not so explicit before, but with independence we grew completely apart.” “Yes,” said Ms. Bohachenko, who has volunteered to help the Ukrainian Army since Mr. Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. “Russia evolves backward.” “They want to rule as czars,” said Ms. Leonidova. Ms. Bohachenko laughed. “It’s such a huge country and almost no opposition to Putin! How come? When we were oppressed we had the Maidan” — a reference to the 2014 uprising that led to the ouster of Viktor F. Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president who had acted as Mr. Putin’s toady. “Russians can do the same!”


Odesa steps with ukrainian flag.jpg


Daubed on almost every building in Odessa are lines of blue and yellow paint, the national colors. Flags flutter over heavy wooden doors. A billboard proclaims, “Russian Soldier! Instead of getting flowers, you’ll get bullets here.” Another wastes no words: “1941: Fascist occupation. 2022: Russian occupation.” An old Odesan defiance, forged in suffering, has stirred. “People can’t live without Odessa. It’s like a magnet,” said Yevgeniy Golubovskiy, 86, a writer. “I watch some of the people who left coming back, even with a curfew, and the sea closed.” A loud explosion interrupted him. The book-lined room hung with the Odessan paintings that adorn his home shook. Mr. Golubovskiy scarcely flinched. “A few kilometers away,” he said. “I got used to it. What can we do? I am a fatalist.”



 Russians think its normal to attack others said Vlad Sorokin 21 a port worker from Odesa his lungs and liver torn by a cruise missile 2


Cherries, strawberries, cheese, sausages, tomatoes and bread adorned a table. Liudmyla Gryb has a firm family rule: no mention of Mr. Putin over a meal. Some Odessans have an app that provides a daily bulletin on whether Mr. Putin is alive or dead. Suffice to say the Russian president would not be missed. A cousin in Russia had sent greetings for Ms. Gryb’s 71st birthday the previous day but did not want to speak in order to avoid “these discussions.” Another relative in Odessa remains fiercely pro-Russian, nostalgic for the Soviet empire. Ms. Gryb’s husband, Andriy, cannot comprehend this. “We fought alongside Russians to defeat fascism and now they come to slaughter our grandchildren,” he said.


Sergiy and Oleg Gryb 2 1

Sergiy (rear) and Oleg Gryb at Oleg’s home - Mr. Putin Wants to Eradicate Us 


Everyone in Odessa, it seems, has a relative in Russia. Generally they have broken off all contact because any communication is futile. They share a language but have no shared conception of truth.We were gathered at the house of Oleg Gryb, 47, the couple’s older son, a doctor. As soon as the war broke out, he packed his wife and two children off to Switzerland, enlisted in the Territorial Defense Forces (akin to the National Guard), and put his skills as an emergency-room surgeon and anesthetist to work.His parents and younger brother, Sergiy, a financial adviser, moved in to take care of the house and the cat. As we ate, Ms. Gryb ironed her son’s military uniform with painstaking care. “When I joined up on Feb. 27, I told my commander that I am a Christian and a doctor and I want to take people off the battlefield and save lives,” Dr. Gryb, dressed in his olive-green military uniform, had told me earlier, when we met at a dismal self-serve restaurant near his base. In his Odesan youth, he said, he had thought China might invade Russia and he would then fight to defend the brotherhood of Slavic peoples. “Fighting against fellow Orthodox Christians, that I could never imagine,” he said. Dr. Gryb’s world has been upended. His private medical clinic, treating addictions and Covid, was a financial success. He had recently renovated his spacious house on a typical Odessan internal courtyard — vines grow on trellises, climbing roses crisscross walls, the scent of honeysuckle lingers, and neighbors are intimately, even critically, observed. Dr. Gryb’s son, 5, and daughter, 12, would play there. Now he misses them acutely. “I have told my family they have to stay away for another year,” Dr. Gryb said around the dinner table. “The Russians will attack. They will target Odessa ultimately. Mr. Putin wants to eradicate us.”


Much of life takes place on internal courtyards 1

Much of Life Takes Place on Internal Courtyards


Tetiana Melnyk renamed her Moscow sausage for a village where the Russians took heavy losses

Tetiana Melnyk Renamed her Moscow Sausage for a Village

Where the Russians Took Heavy Losses


Then, as suddenly, he laughed. Ms. Melnyk said she had renamed a local specialty known as Moscow sausage. It was now Chornobaivka sausage — a reference to a village near Kherson where Ukraine has repeatedly inflicted heavy losses on Russia. It’s curious, Mr. Gryb mused later, how many countries overcame the disease of imperialism in the 20th century, but not Russia.


over 1000 years of history


“Well, they cannot invent Microsoft or Tesla so they have to go back to history and re-fight the Great Patriotic War,” his brother, Dr. Gryb, said. Discussion turned to language. Dr. Gryb said that in his unit, “90 percent of people speak Russian, and maybe half of them can speak Ukrainian.” He himself can speak Ukrainian but is more comfortable in Russian — “the language of the hymns I learned and of Soviet schooling.” His 12-year-old daughter has already taken five years of Russian. Only recently, with the onset of war, have these classes been abolished. “The common ground is the nation, not the language,” Dr. Gryb said. “The war is not about language, it is about freedom.”


Democratic Spirit


‘We felt it was important not to just spread the word about Ukraine but also to find an appropriate form for it, which would be contemporary, characteristically Ukrainian, and easy for the European audience to digest. While at it, we noticed the Ukrainians were pioneers and inventors—avantgardists—throughout the entire process of history. This is why we picked avantgardism, which became a cornerstone for Europe’s contemporary visual culture back in the day, as a vehicle for visual narrative. It is vivid, full of character, and unique like Ukraine itself." Havas Engage’s creative team emphasized.


A memorial dedicated to Odesas defense during World War II 2 1

A Memorial Dedicated to Odesa's Defense During World War II


At the start of the war the only question was how Russia would attack Odessa, not if. Would the assault come from the sea? Would paratroopers land? Dr. Gryb’s unit scrambled from place to place. But Mykolaiv, an embattled city about 65 miles to the east, resisted, the Russians were pushed back at sea, and Odessa exhaled, for now. After Mykolaiv, about 65 miles east up the coast, resisted Russia’s assault, Odessa exhaled, for now. But families displaced from the fighting arrive in Odessa in need.


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“The city can lull you into a dream, but it is also a nightmare because the war is right there,” one Odessa resident said. Dr. Gryb’s younger brother, Sergiy, sat listening. “The city can lull you into a dream, but it is also a nightmare because the war is right there,” he said. One day I went to the sprawling central street market with Sergiy Gryb. He was buying rabbit sausage from Tetiana Melnyk, who talked of how worried she is about Ukrainian soldiers. As she described people willing to sacrifice themselves to safeguard something they believe in, he broke into uncontrollable sobs. Suddenly all the tension Odessa tries hard to hide was visible. It was not easy to ask Mr. Gryb why he sobbed: “It’s just a Ukrainian idea of our land and our freedom, and she to me is all of that.”


Anad Gard Embrace Ukraine


To celebrate Ukrainian Statehood Day, the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine joined forces with the State Agency of Ukraine for Arts and Art Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, and Havas Engage to launch the campaign dubbed the Avant-Garde Story of Ukraine.


avant garde story of ukraine


The Avant-Garde Story of Ukraine is a display of continuous evolutionary development, as Ukrainians have always been moving forward, pushing Europe’s and the entire world’s social, cultural, and scientific horizons. They have been innovating, standing for democracy and the right to self-determination, and remaining at the forefront of artistic context.


Morning service at the St. Ilyinskiy Male Orthodox Monastery 2 1

Morning service at the St. Ilyinskiy Male Orthodox Monastery


“I am a profoundly religious person,” Dr. Gryb said. “The Devil is the father of lies. Mr. Putin and all of Russia are now built on lies. The invaders are sick with his propaganda, and so the sad reality is I have to go out and shoot them.”  Andrij Sorakaletov, a Ukrainian soldier, was killed on May 27 in the Kherson region. His Russian mother, living in the Moscow suburbs, “would not accept that he was dead or that Russians could do such a thing,” said his sister-in-law, Oksana Magey, 27.  Ms. Magey fled to Odesa early in the war with her husband and two small children from Mykolaiv. She said her bereaved sister was in shock at the Russian refusal to see reality as lived in her family. I asked Dr. Gryb when all this would end. “This will only be over when God or some cosmic force brings common sense to the Russian leadership,” he said.



A new ‘de-Judaization’?

The seamy district of Moldovanka, filled with low-slung buildings and small factories, was to the Jewish community of Odessa what the Lower East Side once was to New York’s Jews.  I went for a walk. On one street corner, under an acacia tree, sat a musician playing “Hava Nagila.” Hearing “Let’s rejoice!” in Hebrew seemed an appropriate retort to revived Russian imperialism in the form of Uragan rockets and cluster munitions. Finishing the song, the musician said that he was now going to sing in Ukrainian and in Polish and in Hebrew. He announced all this in Russian. The flea market in Moldovanka stretched away down the cobblestone streets, filled with table after table of knickknacks, Soviet army knives and silver-plated flatware.


Morning prayer in the Chabad Jewish Community synagogue. 1

Morning Prayer in the Chabad Jewish Community Synagogue


A Holocaust memorial 1

A Holocaust Memorial


Rabbi Avraham Wolff says more than 20000 Jews have left 1

Rabbi Avraham Wolff says More than 20,000 Jews Have Left


A 1944 Soviet bond, inscribed with the words “Death to the German Occupier,” was on sale at a modest price. One merchant swept a bank note over every object on his table. “I do that because it’s my first sale of the day and it brings luck,” he said. Superstition, like fatalism, is big in Odessa, which has seen enough upheaval to suspect that mystical forces must be at work. Rules are not really its thing. Most of the drivers I met had a detached seatbelt tongue to insert into the buckle and so silence any beeping alarm. The market brought to mind Babel’s stories. If Jews thrived in this freewheeling city, then they also suffered.



In 1905, a savage Russian pogrom took hundreds of Jewish lives. Babel, translated by Boris Dralyuk, describes it in the largely autobiographical “The Story of My Dovecote.” He had always dreamed of a dovecote. His father gives him money for three pairs of doves. No sooner has he bought them than he is attacked. “I lay on the ground, the crushed bird’s innards sliding down my temple.” As the “tender gut” slips over his face, Babel, age 10, shuts his eyes so as not to see “the world laid bare before me. This world was small and terrible.” He walks “adorned in bloody feathers” past the window of a Jewish home being smashed. An old man lies dead. The Russians, a yard keeper observes, “they hate to forgive.” For Mr. Putin, Ukrainian independence was ultimately unforgivable. His “denazification” has entailed the “de-Judaization” of a city with deep Jewish roots. “My grandfather left Nuremberg for Palestine to survive the Nazis,” Rabbi Avraham Wolff said. “Now I bring Jewish children to Germany to save them from Russia! Can you believe it?”


Bible Given to Zelensky.jpg 1 


Rabbi Wolff, then 22, came to Odesa from Israel in the early 1990s to revive Judaism in an independent post-Soviet Ukraine. As the chief rabbi of the city and of southern Ukraine, he has overseen the building of Jewish kindergartens, schools, orphanages and a university — until the unraveling of his work began this year. Over the past five months, more than 20,000 Jews, or at least half the community, have left, many of them to Germany, Austria, Romania and Moldova. The Holocaust Museum is closed. The Jewish Museum is closed. Buses took 120 children from an orphanage to a hotel in Berlin, along with 180 mothers and children whose husbands and fathers had gone to the front. The women and children are under Rabbi Wolff’s direct care.

Rabbi Wollf and President Zolensky 1


The rabbi is incandescent. Odesa has been the best place after Israel for a Jew to live for the past three decades! Then Mr. Putin comes along and says he wants to free me from the Nazis! He starts killing what we have accomplished! Please, Mr. Putin, don’t liberate me, just let me live!


Odesa Circumsision makes history

Odessa's Jewish "Brit Milah" or Circumcision Makes History


“He wants to annihilate 40 million Ukrainians,” an Odessa Holocaust survivor said of Mr. Putin. “How much clearer does the West need him to be?” If Jewish children do not return to Odesa, the city’s chief rabbi said, it would be a victory for Mr. Putin’s nationalism. Odessa’s Moldovanka district was to the Jewish community what the Lower East Side once was to New York’s Jews. Seated in his office at the Beit Chabad Synagogue, Rabbi Wolff noted that Russian conquest had removed Crimea in 2014 and the city of Kherson in 2022 from his authority. “Now,” he said, “I am chief rabbi of Odessa and a small part of Berlin.” “We do not know if the Jews who left will come back,” Rabbi Wolff said. “I suspect that if the war continues until Sept. 1 and children start school wherever they are, they will never return.”


Putin Nationalism Strategy 1

Putin's Nationalism Strategy


This, he says, would be a disaster, a victory for Mr. Putin’s nationalism, and so the rabbi stays on with his wife and hopes his example will inspire others. Mr. Grudev, the art curator, who is Jewish, now lives in his mother’s apartment. She left for Italy at the start of the war. He moved in to look after her dog, and brought his cat. His partner, Bogdan Zinchenko, moved in with him. They bought plane tickets to leave for Israel, where Mr. Grudev’s sister lives, on March 7, but never used them. He could not bear to leave his books or paintings. Now when sirens blare, the couple takes refuge in the bathroom. The laundry hanging on a wrought-iron balcony opposite his mother’s apartment drove Mr. Grudev crazy. At one point he calculated that the pink shirt that caught his eye had been drying for 112 days. Before his epiphany: The laundry had been deliberately left to give the impression the apartment was still occupied and so deter thieves. This, he reckoned, was a very Odessan ruse; laundry as protection. Mr. Grudev, a stud in each ear, smiles. Humor is also a survival mechanism. An old joke, in a city famed for them, tells of a barber who insists on talking politics in time of Stalin’s terror. Exasperated, his client asks why. “Because your hair is easier to cut when it stands on end.” “Putin wants to save me — a gay, Jewish, Russian-speaking man living in Odessa — from Nazis!” Mr. Grudev says. “Please.” Roman Shvartsman, 85, is an Odessan Holocaust survivor. He lost his childhood, lived the antisemitism of the Soviet years, and had hoped for a quiet old age. Now he fears for his grandchildren.

Odessa Stories

In his pale blue eyes, one reddened by recent cataract surgery, was all of Babel’s terrible world and all of humanity’s defiant hope. “Putin says openly that there is no such state as Ukraine and that he wants to annihilate 40 million Ukrainians. How much clearer does the West need him to be?” Shifting identities One night, I joined a patrol composed of volunteers and police officers who enforce the 11 p.m. curfew. Closing down at that hour has not been an easy adjustment for a city notorious for its nightlife, particularly in the gaudy Arcadia district. Nikolay Iljin, a grain broker, drove. His business has collapsed as a result of the Russian blockade, now eased under a deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations. “You want to know the Russian principle on grain?” he said. “If you can steal it, steal it. If you can’t, destroy it.” Mr. Iljin was with a bunch of hunting buddies. They had brought their shotguns. Giving this time is their form of service. In some ways Odessa is like a city-state in the fierce allegiance it inspires. The car screeched to a halt. Two startled young men raised their hands. They showed their military IDs. Dmitrian, 20, military call sign “Skin,” and Dmitriy, 19, call sign “Ryzhyi,” said they were on leave from their unit in Mykolaiv, where the bombardment of Russian rockets is unrelenting. Each hastily married his girlfriend when they enlisted. “This is what Ukrainian young men do now,” Mr. Iljin said. “Marry and go to die.”


Nikolay Iljin second from left joined a patrol composed of volunteers and police officers 2 1

Nikolay Iljin (second from left) Joined a Patrol

Composed of Volunteers and Police Officers


Military and first aid training for Odesa residents 2

Military and First Aid Training for Odessa Residents


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Odesa Nuclear Bomb Shelter


Just about every postwar Odessa building constructed under Stalin has a nuclear bomb shelter. They are now being revived as protection against Mr. Putin, who draws some inspiration from Stalin. Mykola Chepelev, an architect, took me to one with a bed and even a carpet. “The metal door weighs over 4,000 pounds,” he said. The gyre of history keeps changing this city that conceals itself from outside powers and so arouses suspicion. Its independence always went with a certain conceit. Odessa stood alone. An old joke tells of a man in a well-cut suit who is asked where he found it. “Paris,” he says. And how far is that from Odessa? “Oh, about 1,300 miles.” The Odessan is astonished: “So far from here, and they know how to sew so well!”



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Zelensky and his wife lay flowers at a memorial

Zelensky Visits Kyiv Memorial for War Victims


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife, Olena Zelenska, visited a Kyiv memorial for Ukrainians killed during the war with Russia to mark the country’s Independence Day on August 24, 2022 . The Wall of Remembrance of the Fallen Defenders of Ukraine at St Michael’s Cathedral in Kyiv commemorates Ukrainians who have died in battle, including since the 2014 outbreak of war in the eastern Donbas region. “We remember the terrible price of freedom and independence that our people paid,” Zelensky said in an Instagram post. “Respect and gratitude to all those who died for our native land and our free future.”Kyiv has banned mass gatherings as a security measure as Ukraine marks its Independence Day on August 24, along with six months since the Russian invasion.


Zelensky visits War memorial in Independence Day August 24

President Zelensky and his Wife Olena Zelenska Lay Flowers at the Kyiv War Memorial