Odessa sees ‘new normal’ as blocked air and sea routes cripple economy

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While Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has left cities like Mariupol and Severodonetsk in ruins, and others like Karkiv and Mykolaiv come under almost hourly shelling from Russian artillery, life Daily life in other major Ukrainian cities, such as Kyiv and Lviv, has returned to something approaching pre-war normal.

The same can be said for Odessa, Ukraine’s historic Black Sea port, where visitors can enjoy a plate of locally sourced cheese pancakes topped with thick sour cream and wild blueberries at a sidewalk cafe near an eerily quiet Catherine place for the hryvnia equivalent of $4.

But there are few visitors to see.

Odessa city councilor Petro Obukhov, who finished third in the 2020 mayoral race, described what has become the “new normal” in his city.

A plate of Black Sea mussels sits on an outdoor table at the Dizyngoff restaurant in Odessa, Ukraine, July 31, 2022. The city’s Catherine Square area is usually crowded with tourists on summer days, but l he Russian invasion of Ukraine drastically reduced the number of visitors to the historic seaport.
MICHAEL WASIURA/NEWSWEEK

“Because of the mines, the beaches are closed,” Obukhov said. Newsweek. “A few of the clubs have opened swimming pools, but these don’t attract as many tourists as a sea where you can swim for free – or, at least, where you can swim for free under normal circumstances. Before the war , people would come here from Kyiv, and also from Europe.Now there is nothing to attract them to Odessa in such large numbers.

A nationwide 11 p.m. curfew means nightlife has all but disappeared.

“Even strip clubs don’t work,” Obukhov said. “It may be embarrassing to admit it, but strip clubs are quite popular in Odessa. Many men have come from Turkey to visit them.”

Odessa beach closed mines
A sign reading “Caution: mines” is taped on a beach on May 27, 2022 in Odessa, Ukraine.
Yehven Zinchenko/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

Today, however, the only way for potential tourists to arrive is by land.

“The airport has really been modernized, we recently added another runway,” Obukhov said. “Last year, Qatar Airways even opened a direct flight from Doha. Now the airport is closed, as is the seaport. In a good year, more than 150 cruise ships would dock in Odessa. ‘there’s more.”

Ukrainian anti-ship mines combined with a Russian naval blockade have cut off Odessa’s main economic lifeline. While a recent deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations offers at least hope that grain ships may soon be swarming in and out of the docks, the situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon for the the city’s second most important industry: tourism.

The effect of such isolation is palpable in the city’s restaurants. Odessa is home to the bustling Privoz Bazaar, a sprawling local institution where merchants sell everything from salted hake to homemade Isabella wine. Local residents know how to choose and prepare fresh ingredients. As a result, they demand a high level of quality from their restaurants, and these restaurants often deliver.

“We only use fresh, local ingredients, and we’re suffering because there’s no fresh deep-sea fish,” said Nika Lozovska, founder of chic bistro Dizyngoff. Newsweek.

“We can only get mussels and other seafood caught closer to shore,” she said, “because the mines prevent the fishing boats from working.”

Privoz Odessa Market
Assortment of salted fish for sale at the Privoz market in Odessa, Ukraine, on July 30, 2022.
MICHAEL WASIURA/NEWSWEEK

In addition to curfew restrictions, which force most kitchens to stop taking orders at 8:30 p.m., Dizyngoff’s central location meant it was stuck behind a downtown checkpoint until a few more city blocks reopen to the public in mid-July.

“We are very happy that we were able to open, but the only way to cover our costs is to make do with less,” Lozovska said. “We have had to reduce our menu and we are operating with limited staff.”

“A lot of people are out of work, which means their budget for eating out is smaller than before,” she added. “At the same time, the price of everything is higher. Since our opening, our revenues have dropped by approximately 30% compared to a normal year.

While the situation is obviously worse in Ukrainian cities near the front lines of the war and, in some cases, behind them, it is also significantly better elsewhere. Yuliia Kostiana, COO of Kyiv and Odessa cafes, witnessed the fall and rise of the capital’s foodie scene.

“In Kyiv, the recovery is going much faster,” she said. “Wages there are rising, and more and more restaurants are opening and looking for workers. It’s almost back to pre-war levels.”

The reality in Kyiv serves as a demonstration of what might be possible for Odessa after the Russian blockade is lifted, ports are cleared and economic life returns to normal.

Unlike western Ukrainian cities such as Lviv, Kyiv was directly threatened by Russian troops early in the war.

“Our restaurant in Kyiv, like most restaurants in Ukraine, closed on February 24, but on the 26th we were already back in the kitchen, voluntarily cooking hot meals for civilians in need, for soldiers at military posts. control and for internally displaced people coming from the east,” Kostiana said. Newsweek.

“Restaurants had a huge amount of inventory on hand, and we started cooking whatever we could before it went bad,” she said. “We made buckwheat kasha with marinated salmon, because there was a lot of salmon, and if we hadn’t given it, we would have had to throw it away in two days.”

After the Ukrainian army drove Russian forces out of the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions in early April, Kostiana’s restaurant in Kyiv, Kharms, continued to serve meals until there was no more demand for it. such services.

“After June 27, we resumed our normal activities,” she said. “It was a very nice ending. We did everything we could and the volunteer work ended because there was just no need.”

Kostiana remains hopeful that her Odessa restaurant, Minimalist, will soon experience a similar revival.

“In Odessa there is the nuance that summer is usually the busy season,” she said. “In my five years working on the Odessa project, this is the most trying time for us, and that includes the COVID period.”

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