History of Odessa, an open city under siege, born thanks to a Neapolitan lover of Catherine the Great (and where “O sole mio” was born)

Founded by a Neapolitan, with a “Milanese” architecture, it has become a melting pot of nationality and culture. The massacre of the Jews, the burning of 50 pro-Russians in 2014. And the missiles raining down on the port

In Odessa Rabbi Avraham Wolff Yes prepare to war, he bought pasta and sugar and hired twenty Israeli security officers. The elders of the Jewish community still have memories of the atrocities suffered during the Second World War, when 80,000 Jews were killed and fear, with the arrival of the Russians, the return of anti-Semitism.

It is not just any place, Odessa, a city entirely rebuilt after the war, which has become
a cosmopolitan community with a European lifestylemelting pot of nationality
with modern infrastructures by Italian architects. Ugo Polettidirector ofOdessa Journal, he woke up under the bombs, as he tells the Rassegna: «At five in the morning I heard loud explosions. Were missiles aimed at Ukrainian patrol boats in one of the seven ports: 19 people died“.

Poletti has been in Odessa for 5 years and has founded the only one for two years online newspaper in English, which has become the reference point of the international community. Which is particularly rich here: the last census counted a hundred nationalities.

Odessa story begins with an Italian, Don Giuseppe de Ribas, from a Spanish family but born and lived for a long time in Naples. It was he, at the end of the 1700s, who understood the potential of that city overlooking the Black Sea, which at the time was called Khadjibey and it was a Turkish fort, with four houses. Don Josè (or in Russian Osip Michajlovic) is the commander of the Russian Black Sea fleet and is also the lover of Catherine the Great: “De Ribas convinces her to create a large port and thus Odessa was born, between the sheets – says Poletti – A bit like Italy was born, in the bed it housed Napoleon III and the Duchess of Castiglione“.

The new city, with seven ports, in 1794 became the strategic asset to market the products of the region: wheat, cereals, corn, soy. AND sunflower oilof which Odessa is still one of the largest exporters in the world today.

Odessa, explains Poletti, «is an iconic city in the history of European and Russian culture ». Here he was born

Isaac Babelwho told Moldavanka
the Jewish quarter, in a klezmer dance that mixes the stories of its inhabitants, a crowd of industrious people, a melting pot of ethnic groups, a Dionysian and fascinating mixture of traders, smugglers, swindlers and criminals.

And here he lived Aleksandr Sergeevi Pushkinwho wrote one of his masterpieces in its streets, Yevgeny Onegin“. It is not only a historical fact, but it renders well the cultural and linguistic intertwining between Russia and Ukraine: «Pushkin is a bit like the Russian Dante, he is the father of the modern Russian language and yet he writes from Ukraine. Where even today almost everyone speaks Russian, unlike other cities, like Lviv“.

De Ribas, when he decides to build the port, calls architects and men from the Kingdom of the two Sicilies. So much so that the first years the ruling class is Italian, there are shipowners, traders, architects. Francesco Boffoin the mid-nineteenth century, designs the mythical Potemkin staircase. The Milanese
Franz (Francesco) Morandi
(unknown to us)

projects an Academy and a Picture Gallery and many other works, so much so that it is said that he exported the Brera model to Odessa. The inevitable also arrives globetrotter

Giuseppe Garibaldi
, commander of the fleet that made the route between Marseille, Constantinople and Odessa. Then comes what Poletti now calls a “Italian Hong Kong on the Black Sea“. The road signs are bilingualRussian and Italian, the Opera House it stages performances in Italian, unlike the Moscow Bolshoi. Caterina La Grande is German and so she calls to populate the city Austrians, Germans and Swiss, granting a tax exemption. The first two mayors, after De Ribas, are French and then a Russian but who had lived in London and had an Enlightenment culture. The city was born thanks to Italian architects, but with designers from beyond the Alps, who design it with orthogonal streets, reminiscent of Turin.

Odessa in the 800 is an open, modern, tolerant city, forge of ideas and businesses. And also for this reason it attracts an increasing number of Jews, fleeing the violence of the tsarist regime. The city becomes a center for international Zionism.
Jerusalem University is built with money from Odessa.
And also the first mayor of Tel Aviv, the legendary Meir Dizengoff
comes from here.
Zionism was born in the city, with Leon Pinskerbefore Theodor Herzl.
In the Odessa prison
Lev Trotsky
he reads Antonio Labriola and theorizes proletarian internationalism and permanent revolution.

Then come the first ones pogrom. The first, Poletti says, is organized the Greeks, to eradicate competition in trade. Then there are those from the Tsarist era and finally,
in 1941with the extermination of 90,000 Jews in Odessa alonea hidden holocaust
given that one remembers more often (and only after the end of the USSR) that of Babij Jar, at the gates of Kiev. I’m the Romanians, together with the Nazi troops, to organize the massacre, hanging people on the street and sending them to the fields. In the city, after the war, 800 Jews remained. Of the 40 synagogues, only one remained.

And today? Poletti tells of a city in shock
. Seventy years of the USSR ended up assimilating nationalities, but many communities resist: “There is a Greek cultural center, there are many Poles. There are not many Italians but they would need a point of reference. There is no community or honorary consul, as Norwegians and Austrians have ”.
And the Russians? “It depends on how you calculate them. Those with Russian passports will be 10 percent
. Many are managers and have lived together peacefully until now. Until 2014, one could think that the majority were also Russophiles, but the war has changed sensibilities a lot. The Russians were perceived as oppressors and invaders. The pro-Russian parties, all Putinians, do not exceed 20 per cent“. And the mayor? “Gennadiy Trukhanova Ukrainian with a Russian passport, under investigation for links with organized crime. He is pro-government, for now, but he is a quick change ».

In 2014, a tragic episode.
On 2 May a group of pro-Russian demonstrators in the large square of Kulikovo are forced to take refuge in the trade union building to avoid the fury of far-right nationalist groups. The attackers surround the building and set a fire: rescue is hindered, 48 people die in the stake.

Poletti explains: «It is a black spot in the history of the city. In 2014, the government in Kiev was terrified that the city would fall into the hands of pro-Russian sympathizers. On 2 May, political instigators mobilized nationalist supporters organized to attack the demonstrators and “set an example” ».

Poletti arrived 5 years ago as a consultant of the Copernicus group, for a luxury hotel. Then he thought of founding a newspaper: “I saw that there was no such thing and for entrepreneurial spirit and passion I decided to cover this space”. What will happen now? «Good question – he sighs -.
Here Russians and Ukrainians have always lived in peacethere are relationships and close ties
. It is difficult to draw a line. And it is difficult to understand what will happen tomorrow, when the sun rises ».

That sun that, even if nobody knows and think about Naplesinspired O my sun. The most famous Neapolitan and Italian song ever, written by
Giuseppe Di Capua
in Odessa, watching a sunrise over the Black Sea.


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