2018-01-12 / Travel

Memories of Ukraine

Part 4: Pearl of the Black Sea
by Warner M. Montgomery, Ph.D.


These legendary Potemkin Steps leading from the Black Sea into Odessa, completed in 1841, were the site of a 1905 battle between mutinying sailors and forces loyal to the Czar. These legendary Potemkin Steps leading from the Black Sea into Odessa, completed in 1841, were the site of a 1905 battle between mutinying sailors and forces loyal to the Czar. Odessa, the Pearl of the Black Sea, resides in Ukraine, the Bread Basket of Europe. The ancient Greeks established a colony where Odessa’s city hall now stands. In the tenth century, the Slavic tribes around Odessa adopted Christianity. The Poles, Russians, Tatars, and Cossacks fought for the rich farmland for hundreds of years.

It was in Odessa in 1854, during the Crimean War, where the charge of the British Light Brigade lost heavily to Russians on horseback.

This, along with the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War, symbolized the last of polite wars and the beginning of the Scorched Earth Policy of modern warfare.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Odessa was a modern European city, adorned with Italian, French, and Viennese architecture. It was the home of aristocrats and artists. But in 1922, Communists gained control and helped form the USSR. They drove out the bourgeoisie and brought in the proletariat.


Catherine the Great was the most renowned female leader of Russia (1762 -1796). She conquered lands to the Black Sea and is credited with founding Odessa as this statue of her attests. Catherine the Great was the most renowned female leader of Russia (1762 -1796). She conquered lands to the Black Sea and is credited with founding Odessa as this statue of her attests. After World War II, Ukraine became the center of Soviet arms industry and high-tech research. Ukraine declared itself an independent state in 1991, and voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum formalizing independence and the USSR soon ceased to exist.

Odessa is now the major seaport of Ukraine, a city of over three million in a new nation that was once the second largest republic in the Soviet Union. After 70 years of Soviet rule, Ukraine was finally free, but, “what price freedom?”


This poster of Lenin was a fading reminder of the Soviet days in Ukraine. This poster of Lenin was a fading reminder of the Soviet days in Ukraine. The purpose of our trip across the Black Sea from Istanbul was to see for ourselves the price that our friend Andrew was having to pay for freedom.

The capital city of the nation, Kiev, is 275 miles north of Odessa, five and a half hours by train.

The first true sign of the decline of the Soviet Empire was when I discovered all drinks at the ship’s bar had to be paid for in dollars. The Russian cruise ship would not accept Russian currency, not even from Russians.

At four o’clock, we sighted land, the Potemkin Steps of Odessa. It was on these steps at the beginning of the Russian Revolution where Czarist soldiers massacred the crowd as they rushed to help the mutineers from the Potemkin anchored in the harbor.

As we pulled into port, we spied Andrew on the dock, waving madly. But it wasn’t until seven that we disembarked. First, a full five course dinner was served in the ship’s restaurant.

After dessert, pandemonium erupted. Captain Alexandros called it “passport formalities,” and told us, “Don’t worry.” We were shuffled off to one side by the immigration officer who said, “Americans, this way.”

Preferential treatment? Yes and no. Our backpacks were not subjected to the thorough search our fellow passengers were getting, but he asked to see all our money. We showed him the money in our wallets but not the money hidden in other places.

Andrew greeted us as the customs officer was counting our money. The two men spoke a few pleasantries, the amount of our money was recorded on a triplicate form, and we pushed through the swinging doors into Ukraine.

It was pouring down rain and just getting dark. Everything was gray. It remained gray for our entire visit.

We were met by Andrew’s father, Lev, and a friend with a car. We put our backpacks in the trunk and jumped in the Russian– assembled Fiat. The first indication of the state of affairs in Odessa was when the driver reached in the glove compartment, took out the wiper blades, and installed them outside the windshield. Andrew said they had to do that, otherwise, the blades would disappear.

The 18 kilometer drive to Andrew’s flat ( apartment) took us around the bay through flooded streets and by a faded poster of Lenin on dilapidated factory walls.

Continued next week

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