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Geopolitics

Is Odessa Next? Putin Sees A Gateway To Moldova — And Chance For Revenge

After the fall of Mariupol, Vladimir Putin appears to have his eye on another iconic southern coastal city, with a strong identity and strategic location.

Is Odessa Next? Putin Sees A Gateway To Moldova — And Chance For Revenge

Odessa after a missile attack

Vincenzo Circosta/ZUMA
Anna Akage

Air strikes on the port city of Odessa have become more frequent over the past three weeks, most often hitting residential buildings, shopping malls, and critical infrastructure rather than military targets. The missiles arrive from naval vessels on the Black Sea and across the sea from the nearby Crimean coast, with the toll including multiple civilian deaths and a growing sense of panic. In Odessa, fears are rising that it could follow Mariupol as Vladimir Putin’s next principal target.

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Since the beginning of the war, more than half of the population — about 500,000 people — have left the city, even as others are flowing into Odessa from other war-torn regions in southern Ukraine, where the situation is even worse: people from Nikolayev, Kherson, Crimea, and even from Moldovan Transnistria.


Ukrainian forces resisting in and around the city of Mykolaiv, 80 miles up the coast, have prevented Odessa from being encircled by Russian forces.

But now, after the fall of Mariupol, 380 miles to the east, the port city is increasingly seen as the next target for Putin.

Proud Ukrainian spirit

Not surprisingly, the "pearl by the sea" is unusually quiet ahead of the summer tourist season. In a report from what is still considered the prime resort capital of Ukraine, newspaper RBC writes that only the legendary Privoz market and a few other cafes on Deribasovskaya Street are reminders of what Odessa was like in peaceful times.

Despite everything, Odessa remains a proudly Ukrainian city.

An ancient Greek city with a uniquely modern culture and ethnically diverse composition, Odessa was as important to the Soviet Union as it is to Ukraine — and apparently, to Putin too. There is no shortage of symbolism: The people of Odessa are considered freedom-loving and open-minded. In 2014, after the annexation of Crimea, when Putin tried to seize major cities such as Mariupol and Kharkiv, and hold pseudo-referendums, Odessa was a non-starter and Russian troops were always unwelcome there.

According to Sergei Bratchuk, advisor to the head of the Odessa regional military administration, the purpose of the Russian army is to put psychological pressure on the residents and defenders of the region — but also to take revenge for the fact that, despite everything, Odessa remains a proudly Ukrainian city.

“So, unfortunately, we know that this will continue and there is a very high probability of more missile strikes,” Bratchuk says. “This is all revenge from the enemy, to show Odessa. But it means that we are on the right track and that we will endure it all."

photo of people at the beach

Still a moment to get some sun in Odessa

Viacheslav Onyshchenko/SOPA Images via ZUMA

Strategy or symbolism?

The other reason is more strategic than symbolic, and extends beyond Ukraine: Moscow is bombing Odessa in order to intimidate Moldova, whose border lies only 35 miles away.

Moldova has its own internal battle with pro-Russian separatists in the breakaway republic of Transnistria. The opposition leader in Transnistria, Gennady Chorbu, has warned that Putin may call on pro-Russian leadership in the territory to provoke a conflict with Moldova.

Thus for the Kremlin, Odessa is both a potential “next” symbolic victory after Mariupol, and the gateway to a wider, regional war — if that’s what Putin has in mind.

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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