Two well-known architectural landmarks of the Ukrainian Odessa show the war at first glance, even though no rocket or artillery shell has yet hit them.
From our special correspondents – The neo-baroque building of the theater and opera house is surrounded by sandbags and the nearby Potemkin steps to the coast, made famous by director Sergei Eisenstein in his film The Cruiser Potemkin, are inaccessible. There are military patrols around them.
But in other parts of Odessa, the people of Odessa are resisting the war and the bombing by trying to carry on with their normal lives. Děribasovská street, full of cafes, restaurants and clubs, is full every evening. Ice cream is sold in the parks, mothers walk with strollers, and one of the local residents sells Ukrainian flags and other national symbols. And it spreads optimism.
Building of the Odessa Theater and Opera. | Photo: Jakub Plíhal
“We will win because we will not give up,” he says with conviction. “A lot of people left Odessa at the beginning of the war. There were a lot of boarded-up windows and empty apartments. But people came from other parts of Ukraine. Ask Alexander Sergeevich here, for example, he immigrated from Kherson.”
So we go to Alexander Sergeevich, an older gentleman who wears an American flag T-shirt and prefers English to Russian in conversation. And he immediately offers an explanation: “In the 1990s, I went to work in America. Now I have returned home on retirement, I wanted to be with my family again.”
But he was very unlucky. He returned to Kherson and in two weeks war broke out. “I couldn’t stay there, because if the Russians found out that I lived in the USA for years, they would consider me a spy. In the city, many residents were arrested by the Russians, they simply disappeared without a trace, and no one knows where they are. In April, I decided to escape , and so now I’m here in Odessa,” explains Alexander, who is similarly optimistic. “Eventually we will win, even if it takes some time. And I will return to Kherson again.”
Center of Odessa in the evening. At eleven, however, everything stops and the curfew begins. | Photo: Jakub Plíhal
From Odessa, we head south to nearby Chornomorsk, from where, thanks to an agreement brokered by Turkey, cargo ships with Ukrainian grain leave again. But they don’t like to see journalists in the port. “Don’t be angry, we would like to tell you something and let you take photos, but now is not a good time for that. But we are loading the ships, which will then set sail. So far, everything is fine,” one of the managers escorts us out of the gatehouse.
All around the road are billboards convincing Ukrainians that victory will be theirs, that they will defeat the enemy and the aggressor, that they should trust the Ukrainian armed forces. Sometimes there is also a poster with the inscription “thank you” and the flags of the countries that helped Ukraine. The Czechia is among them.
Reports from Ukraine
Aktuálně.cz reporters Martin Novák and Jakub Plíhal have been traveling through Ukraine’s southern front half a year since the start of the Russian invasion and have brought a photo gallery directly from the reporting location. We have already published:
Along the road leading from the port, we pass large bins in which grain is stored in the port. And at the gas station, we start a conversation with a young man who pumps diesel into our car and offers to wash the windshield. His name is Alex and he is a sailor.
“I took this job because there was no sailing for five months, there was nothing to do. And I have to earn something. But now I have a chance to sail again soon,” he explains, saying that he graduated from a naval school.
Warehouses with grain in the port of Chornomorsk. | Photo: Jakub Plíhal
But the area around Odessa did not escape the war. In an area called Zatoka south of the city, the Russians bombed a road and railway bridge. In doing so, they cut off the area between Odessa and the Romanian border from the rest of Ukraine. Everyone heading north now has to take a different route in a complicated and long way.
The bay used to be a tourist destination on the shores of the Black Sea with a number of hotels, restaurants and houses for rent. It’s deserted now, and all we can hear are people clearing the rubble from their bombed-out houses.
Bombed-out houses in Zatoka, a tourist area south of Odessa. | Photo: Jakub Plíhal