Tensions have been rising in many corners of Ukraine as the threat of a Russian intervention looms. Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odessa is one such corner of dispute between Moscow and Kiev, where macro-battles have been transformed into a seemingly endless chain of micro-conflicts.
Supporters of both countries have taken to marching through the streets, ominously threatening each other. The Ukrainian government is trying to wrest control of the local oil refinery — one of the country’s most important — away from a Russian bank. Tension is visible in the smallest aspects of life.
Odessa’s role as a site of unbridled Ukrainian-Russian competition is not surprising. Though within Ukraine, the city is overwhelmingly Russian-speaking. Prominent Russian political figures regularly proclaim their right to take back what was theirs — from Alaska to Finland.
In the case of Odessa, however, such a claim might be have historical justifation.
The city was, after all, a creation of the Russian Empire.
Yet Odessa has existed as a different sort of Russia than today’s nationalists take to be their own. The port city represents a Russia that always has been open to the world, with a wry smile that scoffs at the sort of ruffians and thugs dispatched by Russian President Vladimir Putin to “liberate” the city.