by Vladislav Davidzon
Monday, 4
July 2022
Dispatch
16:15

In Odessa, a culture war brews inside a real war

Locals cannot agree on whether to rename Pushkinska street
by Vladislav Davidzon
The Pushkin statue on Pushkinska street

Taking back Snake Island was not just a symbolic victory for Ukraine, but a strategic one too. Located around 150 kilometres from the Odessa port, it serves as an important redoubt for the passage of grain through Black Sea trading lanes from the southern Odessa region through the Bosphorus. 

But it appears as though Putin’s forces still plan to take control of Odessa in order to deprive Ukraine of sea access. The night after the Ukrainian assault on the island, a barrage of Russian missiles fanned out over the Odessa region, leading to the destruction of an apartment building and the loss of at least 21 Ukrainian lives (including two children). Dozens more were wounded.

Odessa has long been seen by Putin as a potential weak link due to its deep historical and cultural ties with Russia. The region is fiercely independent and a large swath of the population — especially older and less educated Odessans — had typically looked to Moscow rather than Kyiv as their political lodestar. This Russophilia derived from a nostalgia for 19th century Russian imperial culture, which is visible everywhere you look in the city; the centre brims with masterpieces of Italianate revival architecture where many of the canonical Russian writers and composers had spent their summers. 

But the war has begun to change that dynamic, particularly among younger Odessans. As Ukrainian writer Julia Gorodetskaya notes:

Many of those Odessans who had previously supported Moscow- because the region is still predominantly Russophone and has an intense relation to its past – have now become vocally supportive of the Ukrainian state in the time of war. Of course some of these newly patriotic personages are also keen to demonstrate that they are on the right side of things in order to avoid repercussions for their previous support of Russia.
- Julia Gorodetskaya

A lively debate has also erupted in the city over the legacy of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin and a street named after him. The young Pushkin, an unhappy Russian Imperial bureaucrat, attended aristocratic balls and worked on his epochal poem ‘Eugene Onegin’ in the city. The bombing has renewed calls for the renaming of Pushkinska street, but the mayor is a staunch supporter of leaving it as is. Within a real war, a culture war has thus emerged.

Like many Odessan Russian-speaking citizens, Gorodetskaya had once been ambivalent about the jettisoning of the historical connection of the poet to the city where he misspent his youth. Yet now it looks as though she has changed her mind. ‘The more of their rockets fall on our homes,’ she wrote, ‘the less I am interested in resisting the changing of the name of the street, or continuing to glorify the Russian part of our history here.’

Ultimately, nothing builds inclusive national identity like a Russian missile destroying an entire apartment building in the middle of the night.

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Neven Curlin
Neven Curlin
2 months ago

Why not rename it to Stepan Bandera Street? His accomplishments are so much more dramatic than Pushkin’s.

martin logan
martin logan
2 months ago
Reply to  Neven Curlin

I suspect many Russophone Odessans would now agree with you.
It’s doubtful that they like being indiscriminately rocketed in the way Hitler bombed London.
Naturally, I disagree with the statue replacement. One could find fault with every human who ever lived. Keep Pushkin up there.
Yevgeniy Onegin is truly great.

Last edited 2 months ago by Martin Logan
D Walsh
D Walsh
2 months ago
Reply to  Neven Curlin

Why not rename it Vladimir Putin Street, Odessa will be part of Russia soon

God bless Vladimir Putin

martin logan
martin logan
2 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

We have to wait and see.
Girkin, the Russian who started the war in 2014, thinks that the recent offensives have pretty much wrecked the Russian army.
When Russia reaches half a million casualties by the end of the year, we’ll have a much better idea of what’s what.
The only credible game changer is a full mobilization, which also means this will last for years.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
2 months ago
Reply to  D Walsh

Far cough.

Thoughts Anonymous
Thoughts Anonymous
2 months ago

If renaming streets in the UK is wrong, then it is wrong in Ukraine no matter what. This war is of its time no matter how horrible that sounds, and there should be not attempt to interfere with the identity the past citizens of Odessa gave to that street.

Andy E
Andy E
2 months ago

The projected 2022 harvest in Ukraine is going to be 25-30% of the past, pre-war year. All this rush to take the grains from Ukrainian ports is not being done to benefit people of the country. I would rather thank Russians for blocking that and forcing food to stay and not to be exchanged for weapons.

martin logan
martin logan
2 months ago
Reply to  Andy E

The weapons will come regardless of whether Ukraine pays.
NATO can’t afford NOT to send them, since it cannot afford NOT to humiliate Russia this time. Giving Putin an out will only mean another war. That’s why the MiGs and HIMARs are coming.
The only people who will suffer from the grain blockade will be the poorest people on the planet.
At least it’s nice to see oil below $100–and the Russian stock market drop 100 points today.

Last edited 2 months ago by Martin Logan