Tuesday, 25 September 2018. Odessa, Ukraine.
It’s mid-afternoon here, and our first full day in Odessa. It’s also our last full day in Odessa. After a half-day city tour I now know that Odessa has been worth every bump and jostle on the roadway here. The city is a beauty, built in the Imperial style that harkens to St. Petersburg, with a glorious setting over the Black Sea. It has restored churches, a world-renowned Opera House (which we toured), and a lovely pedestrian mall. Chestnut trees line the avenues, and the height of all buildings in the centre never blots out the sky. Oh, and we saw the famous “Potemkin Steps” or Odessa steps from top and bottom. Eisenstein immortalized these steps in his 1925 epic film, “The Battleship Potemkin”.
Odessa is also a very cosmopolitan city but I’ll have to finish this entry after I get back. We have the afternoon free as a group, perfect for a walk into the historic city. I’m always game for a stroll and so will join along.
I’m back from an afternoon walk. It is always gratifying to see how quickly travellers feel at home in a city. For others, it is such a pleasure to walk with them, and to help them make the best use of their time here. I should add that I’ve been here countless times, and so every visit now is a sort of homecoming.
I want to say this about Mennonites and Ukraine, or the Russian Empire for that matter. So many people talk about Mennonites as if they were aliens in a strange land while here, one that eventually showed them the door. But to do so is to distort the picture on both sides. Mennonites were very much a part of this land from the start, and fully integrated into it. And the land itself was much more diverse than we have been led to believe. That becomes clear in Odessa, a city that had a cosmopolitan flavour, with Jews, Bulgarians, Germans, Greeks, Russians, Romanians, Ukrainians and many more at home here from the start. That is still its character. Come see for yourself! In such a world, Mennonites were only a small (but important) part of a greater diversity.
It was a place that they felt at home in, and a land they loved. So it is with our group after our time here, which is almost at an end. It has been enjoyable and enriching, start to finish.