Usually, in Odessa, at the end of July, at any time of the day or night, you can hear the deafening bass of techno, the hordes of tourists from all over Ukraine. We fight to find a parking space at the entrance to one of the city’s countless beaches, or a place in one of the bars or beach clubs. But that was in the life before. This summer, the Odesites are having a lonely season. With their city all to themselves and with the sound of war. A deserted city, sometimes bombarded, and above all, supreme tragedy for these lovers of the big blue, the ban on treading the sandy beaches and putting a toe in the water.
Swimming has become dangerous because of the mines
Tuesday, 11 a.m., Langeron beach, one of the institutions on the coast: hardly a cat. Plastic tape marks sandy areas. “Look around, you will only see old Odessites, like me, who have been there since early morning, unable to do without their sunbathing, teenage girls working on their tans, but not a single young man and hardly any of children,” explains Tetiana, 62, retired, who came with her 5-year-old grandson Kolya. “I made him, she says, he has to get some fresh air, but now even the children are afraid to come to the beach”.
Since the spring, the authorities of Odessa have strictly prohibited residents from walking on the beaches and swimming. “Our army has scattered mines all over the bay to protect the port from incursions by Russian ships,” Tetiana explains. The mines move with the wind and the current and it is now very dangerous to bathe”. Since the beginning of July, there have been at least two deaths on the beaches of the Odessa region, by the explosion of floating mines: a reveler from the Zatoka resort who was swimming with friends on his birthday and an unconscious Donbass refugee.
Three million tourists in Odessa in 2019
Result, the Odessites are content with pontoons and paths, death in the soul. “There is another danger, for us men, explains Sergii Mukaielants, a young thirty-year-old cameraman by profession: the police raid the beaches and the few open cafes, and as soon as they find more men 18, she checks the papers, and you can be sent directly to the army recruiting center”. At the Terrasse café on Langeron beach, at 1 p.m., a chic fish, shellfish and champagne bar, not a single customer: just two women who reload their Instagram on the terrace with a photo assistant.
“Today is worse than usual,” says cafe administrator Anastasia Velikjanina. Last week, there were a few people, but after the bombing of the port on Saturday by the Russians, people go out even less. We decided to stay open no matter what, and the majority of the team agreed to cut their salaries in half. In 2019, more than 3.3 million tourists came to Odessa. Many Ukrainians, but also Belarusians, sometimes Russians, revelers from all over Europe, attracted by the mythical aura of “Ukrainian Marseille”, crazy nights and its alcohol galore.
“Holidays that have become taboo”
This year, in the heart of summer, Deribasivska Street, the main artery in the center of this city with its listed architecture, is completely empty. The opera house where the Odessa International Film Festival, the Cannes of Eastern Europe, usually takes place, is barricaded with sandbags. The festival has gone into exile in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic. “We are now living in a parallel reality, it’s incredibly sad,” says Violetta Skrinnik, 25, manager of a small boutique hotel decorated as in the 1920s, in the center of the city.
“Since last year, our turnover has been divided by ten,” she says. How to explain to Kievans to come to bathe in Odessa, whereas it is less dangerous to swim in the Dnieper in the center of kyiv! The only clients I have are Odessites, who decide to buy a nice hotel room for one night, to disconnect from everyday life”. The young woman sighs. “I think the very idea of taking a vacation has become a taboo,” she says. It has become vulgar to say: I’m tired, I need a vacation. I can’t, while my husband fights and sleeps in a hole in the Donbass. So, I work, for nothing.
letelegramme Fr Trans