ODESA, Ukraine - Only tense-looking soldiers were allowed to leave their homes in Odesa on Monday, with the silence on the streets almost audible in this city known for its vibrancy.
The first week of May brings tourists, barbecues, and blooming flowers to Odesa, an international jewel of culture and commerce in the Black Sea. The curfew was lifted this year because authorities feared the presence of Russian agents aimed at discord and destruction.
Monday is the anniversary of a deadly clash between pro-Russian and pro-European activists in the city in 2014, which killed 48 people and injured dozens more. Faced with a war and the memory of a tragic incident in Moscow this year, many worried that they would have to fend off Russian rockets and Kremlin saboteurs.
Many believed Odesa, a key city in the southwest of Ukraine, would be a target of Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion. While Russian forces have failed to pose a real threat, city leaders are still wary.
Odesa Mayor Genadiy Trukhanov, sporting a navy blue track jacket and New Balance sneakers on Sunday, declined to share any specific information about the threat of saboteurs, but he said that the curfew was necessary to fully control the city and hamper the activities of saboteur-reconnaissance groups. We do not understand that the Russian Federation may deploy its special agents and saboteur-reconnaissance groups during the wartime, and presumably there are already such people here, who have been recruited by Russia - we cannot deny such possibility," Trukhanov said from inside his grand Odesa office that featured crystal chandeliers, a plaque containing St. Michael's prayer and a large wall-hanging of the port city's symbol, an anchor.
We will monitor and investigate all of the actions that are likely to be coordinated. Security tightened throughout the city, according to NBC News. The alleged Russian proxies, a missile strike on a key bridge and the loud explosion of what Ukraine s military said was a Russian drone shot down by defense forces appeared to show authorities had reason for concern.
This comes days after a missile strike on Odesa airport and the arrests of others accused of planning civil unrest in the city. It was only a week since an attack on an apartment building killed eight people, including a mother and her newborn.
Experts said Odesa's blurry identity, appearing to be stuck between Moscow and Kyiv, has long served as a painful point of contention.
Vladislav Davidzon, a fellow at the Atlantic Council and author of From Odesa With Love, said the Bohemian city with a large Russian-speaking population was key to Putin's hopes to rebuild the Russian empire.
They had made a decision to destroy Mariupol, but they really want Odesa in one piece because it is so important psychologically to them," Davidzon said in a hotel bar the night before he and his Odesan father-in- law left Ukraine. It is a big piece of their narrative and a jewel in their crown.