24 Nov 2020
Studded with Mediterranean-style cottages and modest low-rise homes, the winding descent toward the Golden Shore public beach might be charming — if it weren’t for the huge concrete hulk thrusting itself into view from below.
Here, on the southern outskirts of Ukraine’s Black Sea port city, beachgoers grab snacks and souvenirs under the looming presence of the unfinished 15-story Aura Apart housing complex, a towering gray skeleton that critics say represents the rampant and often illegal development that is ruining Odesa’s characteristic charm.
“This project is the most lawless,” said Oleh Mykhaylyk, a local anti-corruption activist. “It violates absolutely everything.”
Long cherished for its rich history, cultural eclecticism, and sprawling beaches, Odesa boasts a laid-back seaside atmosphere. In the historic center, regal buildings line leafy streets, with courtyards evoking the stories of Isaac Babel hidden on nearly every block. Down below, a maze of tunnels — one of the world’s largest underground labyrinths — snakes through the city.
As Ukraine’s best-known coastal gem, Odesa is rivaled by Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that has been controlled by Moscow since Russia seized it in 2014, sending in troops and staging a referendum rejected as illegitimate by Kyiv, the West, and the majority of countries.
But the city is also plagued with especially high levels of corruption, according to activists, investigative journalists, and officials. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy effectively acknowledged Odesa’s reputation as a smuggling haven after authorities arrested a so-called “godfather of contraband,” a prominent local businessman, last year. The mayor, Hennadiy Trukhanov, remains under investigation after being accused of lying about his wealth.
A particularly visible indicator of the scourge of corruption is unchecked housing development: Many structures go up in flagrant violation of various building and land codes, thanks to dubious documentation and complicit officials — and then result in major losses for investors if the projects go belly-up.
By Dan Peleschuk, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 22 November 2020
Read more at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
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