- Print This Post Print This Post

By John Helmer, Moscow

The news from Odessa, the third city of the Ukraine and its leading port, is there is almost no news.

This has strategic significance. It means there is no Russian plan for a battle for Odessa, no artillery, missile, air, or naval attack on the city. The Odessans know this, and  they appreciate it privately.

Instead, sources say different things to different callers. “There is a fear of being misunderstood, misinterpreted, or overheard,” says one source. “Everyone I talk to is very guarded recently on phone calls. Everyone says some template words. It’s difficult to have a good frank and free conversation. They will say all the Zelensky-friendly or Putin-hostile things to a US or British reporter. When they speak in Russian though, there is ambiguity, caution, double meaning.”

The only talkative source from inside the city is DTEK, the national electric utility owned by Rinat Akhmetov, which is issuing daily bulletins and customer notices advising power outages and blackout schedules. https://dtek.com/en/ 

The Odessa Journal, the English language publication of the city, has not been publishing local news, deciding instead to republish national media bulletins originating in Kiev. A search of Strana.ua, vilified in Kiev as pro-Russian,  reveals almost no Odessa-source coverage.   

A city source, a well-informed journalist, says off the record there is “no need” because there is an understanding among the city residents there will be no Russian attack on the city itself, and the city residents and administration are confident this is the Kremlin’s intention. “Right now we think Odessa is protected because of the grain corridor”, and the terms of agreement between Russia, Turkey, the United Nations, and Kiev.

Politically, the source adds, the city is split down the middle:  the evidence is clear in the public reaction to attempts by anti-Russian groups to attack the statue of Catherine II (lead images) in the old city centre and force its demolition or removal.

The digital vote in favour, announced in the Kiev and western media, was fabricated, the source says. “Registration to vote was very strange. It was impossible for many people to vote. In reality, 50% of the population are in favour of removal; 50% are in favour of the statue remaining. There has been a big intrigue, and there are some very aggressive members of the city council using the situation for their own PR. Right now, the statue is covered so as not to be damaged [lead image, right]. In the current situation people just want to do something.”

The city council  headed by Gennady Trukhanov — narrowly elected mayor in 2020 —   is scheduled to meet and vote its decision on November 30.  But there is a compromise formula in negotiation, the source reveals, between the pro-Russian and anti-Russian factions, in order to bridge the deep division in the city at large.

In the meantime, protection of civility between the factions, like the black cover over the Catherine statue, has been agreed. No news from Odessa means this is the news.

Since the Russian strikes against the power infrastructure countrywide on October 22,  the loss of power in Odessa has been significant. Six autotransformer and substation control points were targeted that day.  

A DTEK official for the Odessa network acknowledged that “rolling power outages” were likely in the city until next March. “The use of shutdown schedules is becoming our daily routine,” Dmitry Grigoriev of DTEK announced.    “Therefore we are trying to take simple steps for our clients to understand what is happening.” That was on November 3.

Two days before, DTEK had told Odessa consumers that “updated schedules of rolling power outages have been introduced. Also, people are asked to save electricity during the hours when there is light in order to avoid emergency shutdowns…. To find out when there will be no light in your house, you need to enter your data on the company’s website…You need to specify the name of the street, the house number, after that you will find out your group and the time of possible absence of light. If the time is not determined at your address, there will probably be no disconnection in your house… there may be a small time error within 30 to 40 minutes for reconnecting the power supply between groups… Due to terrorist attacks by Russians on infrastructure, people were urged to save electricity as much as possible, turn on energy-intensive devices alternately and reduce electricity consumption as much as possible in the morning from 06:00 to 11:00 and in the evening from 17:00 to 23:00.”  

Through Grigoriev’s press conference,  DTEK has warned that 12-hour blackouts have become possible. “Outages are planned for no more than four hours in a row, but several times a day. There is no need to apply shutdown schedules yet, but you need to be ready for them. In Odessa, they are only planning restrictions three times a day… Currently, a lot of work has been done by DTEK employees to adjust schedules to make them socially fair. Thus, electricity will be supplied at least by the hour, but absolutely to everyone. Depending on the day, blackouts will occur at different times of the day. The schedule provides for intervals with disconnection of 4 hours, but there may be force majeure, because the equipment also fails, [Grigoriev] noted. ‘Today, there are already agreements with Ukrenergo, according to which DTEK will be informed during the day how much electricity will need to be given the next day. Thus, it will be clear how much the graph needs to be applied. But this is provided that there will be no new destruction.’”  

Left: Odessa Mayor Gennady Trukhanov; right, DTEK Odessa chief, Dmitry Grigoriev. Follow the daily country coverage at the Strana.ua telegram channel  and in English.

Since Grigoriev on November 3, the only explosion several city sources have mentioned by telephone, or the social media reported, occurred on November 6. That was when an anti-ship mine, probably of Ukrainian origin but reported in Kiev to be Russian,  washed ashore, and was then detonated by a local bomb squad.    The only source for another recent explosion inside Odessa is Boris Rozhin’s Colonel Cassad website and Telegram channel; his report of this was dated October 16.  

Source: Strana.ua
The regional Ukrainian military command also issued a fresh advisory to Odessans: “We remind you that the mine danger is one of the risks to which you expose yourself by neglecting the restrictions of visiting the coastal zone during martial law. The radius of the debris damage of such a projectile can reach 100 meters. And a mine can detonate involuntarily in the immediate vicinity of water.”

The bellwether for Odessans of what happens next is the Catherine statue. Strana.ua has reported that the electronic vote for demolition was 3,914.  

 On November 5, after announcing this result of the poll, Mayor Trukhanov appeared to confirm the vote of the “majority [sic] of Odessa citizens… For my part, I have already appealed to the relevant committee of the City Council with a request to hold a meeting and prepare an appropriate draft decision.”   Suspicion of vote rigging has been widely published in the local Telegram channels. There commentaries acknowledge the pressure Trukhanov is under from Kiev.  “Earlier, the Analytical Centre of the Kiev Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine on countering hybrid threats stated that the Mayor of Odessa Gennady Trukhanov shows insufficient hatred for Russia.” Following that warning Trukhanov, who has opposed demolishing the statue until now, changed his public line.

There is a compromise, according to the journalist source. This is for the official Ukrainian application for UNESCO protection of the city centre to include the Catherine statue, as well as all other monuments inside the geographical boundary of the site which has been designated.  President Vladimir Zelensky made the application in a speech to the UNESCO Executive Board  on October 11.  

“The city centre has to be protected by UNESCO,” according to the source. “This means the square [Catherine Square, with the Catherine statue] should be protected by UNESCO. We have a lot of heritage so what about the other statues? The statue of the Duc de Richelieu, for example. France did bad things in [Crimea], and Richelieu was French; he was the founder of the city, and he was an officer in the Russian imperial army.  The statue of the duke was the first statue in the city. So we ask where is the logic of this outcome [removing Catherine, not Richelieu]?”

Richelieu was governor of Odessa from 1803 to 1814. He then returned to France where he was prime minister twice, the second term ending in 1821; he died the next year. His statue was unveiled in Odessa in 1828. The Catherine statue was first erected, with those of other city founders, in 1893. It was dismantled in 1920; then re-erected in 2007.  

Left: the first  inauguration of the 1893 Catherine statue.  Right: the 1828 statue of the Duc de Richelieu on Primorsky Bulvar.

“The people who are shouting to get rid of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union” the source said —  “it’s not because they are such patriots. They forget this city was founded in the Russian Empire. We also have a lot of heritage from the Soviet times, ” the source adds. “You need to remove a third of the city – the statues of [Isaac] Babel and [Anna] Akhmatova.  We don’t support this kind of nationalist stuff. This is a sad truth.”

Leave a Reply