Conflict & Justice

Why Ukrainians in Odessa are feeling jittery

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Credit:

Yevgeny Volokin/Reuters

Pro-Russian demonstrators hold a huge Russian national flag as they take part in a rally in the Black Sea port of Odessa, April 10, 2014.

Odessa is Ukraine's third-largest city and home to the country's largest remaining port, now that Crimea is under Russian control. It could also be the next stop for pro-Russia protesters.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

If pro-Russian protesters can take control of Odessa, it could effectively cut Ukraine in two. That's the subject of an article, "The Self-Defense of Odessa," in Foreign Policy by Christian Caryl.

"There are very clear pro-Ukraine, pro-Euromaidan groups which support the overthrow of Yanukovych," said Caryl. "And there are also very clear pro-Russian groups who call themselves the anti-Maidan. When you talk to those people, they aren’t necessarily in favor of joining Russia, but you do hear them talking about this new word President Putin used in his address the other day, 'Novorossiya,' which is a word that was still used in the 19th century for southern and eastern Ukraine ... so there’s this idea that one might actually create a new state out of the eastern republic."

Caryl spoke with pro-Russian supporters about their issues with the Ukrainian government.

"Odessa is a magnificent city. It’s all these glorious 19th century buildings. I really can’t talk the architecture up enough, but it’s all falling apart. There really has not been much done in the 20 years since Ukraine became independent. And people have the usual list of complaints — corruption, incompetence," she said.

But many stop short of wanting to be under Russian control.

"You hear all these complaints and grievances, and then people say 'well, you know, actually, I wouldn’t want to become part of Russia. I’d still like to stay part of Ukraine, because I don’t want outsiders coming here and telling us what to do'," she added.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry is now asking Odessans to help protect the city from a possible Russian invasion.

In the event of trouble, groups of pro-Ukrainian militiamen are planning to form cordons around key strategic points.

"This whole spectacle of the so-called "little green men," these mysterious insurgents, wearing camouflage, well-armed, well-trained, taking over key government buildings in eastern Ukraine, has come as quite a shock to these pro-Kiev people in Odessa," said Caryl. "So what the pro-Maidan forces are talking about in Odessa now is putting in place a plan of action that would thwart that kind of takeover in Odessa."

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