How things are done in Odesa Aug. 20, 2022

from The Documentary Podcast· ·

Odesa, legendary Black Sea port city and vital geo-strategic nexus of global trade, is living through Russia's war against Ukraine. Always fiercely independent, both from Moscow and Kiev, its legendary past has given the city a reputation of possibility and promise. A quarter of a million people have left Odesa. Its beloved holiday beaches are closed and mined, yet life has gradually returned to its performance spaces: concerts, opera, spoken word. Recordings made since the first days of the war interweave with the fabulously rich cultural history of the city. Founded in 1794 by Catherine the Great as part of …



Odesa, legendary Black Sea port city and vital geo-strategic nexus of global trade, is living through Russia's war against Ukraine. Always fiercely independent, both from Moscow and Kiev, its legendary past has given the city a reputation of possibility and promise. A quarter of a million people have left Odesa. Its beloved holiday beaches are closed and mined, yet life has gradually returned to its performance spaces: concerts, opera, spoken word. Recordings made since the first days of the war interweave with the fabulously rich cultural history of the city. Founded in 1794 by Catherine the Great as part of her expanding empire of Novo Rossiya, Odesa began as a dusty boom town of enormous opportunity and possibility that connected the chill of Imperial Russia to the warmth of the wider world. In some ways nothing has changed. A port city possessed of a unique argot - 'Odesski Iazyk' (a fusion of Yiddish and Russian); eternal optimism; a wicked sense of humour; more violinists than you can shake a bow at; poets and writers galore; and a gallery of rogues, real and imagined. Perhaps its most beloved literary son is Isaac Babel. Raised in the Moldovanka- still a place of liminal existence, his Odessa Tales of gangster anti-heroes like Benya Krik are forever interwoven with how Odesites and the wider world imagine the city - beautiful and bad! It is of course only partially true. Film-maker Sergei Eisenstein's Battle Ship Potemkin also put the city on the world map and the first film studios in Russia sprang up there. with its ready supply of sunlight. From foundational boom town days onwards its streets and people could make you rich, or ruin you. In the crumbling days of the Soviet empire it was a place to dream of escape to a world beyond. Babel and Eisenstein are just two among many who, since the 19th Century have helped created the myth of Old Odessa -poets and writers, musicians and comedians who flourished in what was a largely Jewish city until 1941 and the Nazi invasion of Russia. Legendary violinists ever since David Oistrakh are forged there at the Stolyarsky School, now closed due to war. Musician Alec Koypt, who grew up in the mean streets of Molodvanka, shipping proprietor Roman Morgenshtern, journalist Vlad Davidson, translator Boris Dralyuk, poets Boris and Lyudmila Kershonsky and others are our contemporary guides as the voices of the past bring forth their very Odesan genius.