While the separatist crisis continues in two small regions of eastern Ukraine, the rest of the country is trying to return to business as usual, including the port and resort city of Odessa in the south. The impact in Odessa continues from the revolution.
As the summer tourist season gets under way, Odessa’s main pedestrianized street of shops, bars and cafes is largely empty.
Just as few Ukrainians are venturing into occupied Crimea for their summer vacations, many Russians have been scared away from taking their holidays in Odessa. The Russian media portrays Ukraine’s revolution as ‘fascist,’ and focuses on violent incidents like what happened at Odessa’s trade unions building in May. Dozens of pro-Russian activists died after firebombs flew in both directions during a clash with anti-Russian protesters. The exact circumstances remains under investigation.
During the unrest, some of these tables and chairs were used to build street barricades for anti-Russia protesters. Now, café owner Vladislav Bass misses his former Russian customers.
“The main problem is Russian tourists. Now, unfortunately, they probably won’t want to come to Odessa because of Russian propaganda," said Bass. "But they should understand that we love them. It’s just governments that have a conflict. Visitors can come. Nothing bad will happen to Russians here.”
Odessa offers sun and sea to visitors, and the sea is also the city’s gateway to the world. Its deep water port on the Black Sea has easy access to Russia, Turkey and the Mediterranean. And billions of dollars of goods flow through the region, moving in all directions.
The crisis has made investors and other business executives nervous. But Odessa will bounce back quickly, according to Sergei Synyatynskyy of the city’s Employers’ Association.
“Odessa is a city with its own vector of development. You can’t say that all these events changed anything fundamentally," said Synyatynskyy. "Odessa has been integrated into the world economy for a long time. Naturally, we had lots of connections to Russia but they were not key connections.”
Still, Odessa needs more tourists, and officials recently appealed to Ukrainians to visit to help fill the void left by the missing Russian tourists. Vice-governor Zoya Kazanzhy said the city is promoting hospitality, good food and a cosmopolitan, easygoing lifestyle.
“Odessa is well known, it’s a city-brand. Anyone who comes here wants to return. We have a proverb: ‘You have one life, so spend it in Odessa,’” said Kazanzhy.
Instability is never good for business or tourism. So in Odessa, people seem eager to get past the conflict, and return to business, and life, as usual.