Photos: Odessa prepares its defenses against fears of a Russian attack | Gallery News

Odessa, which Ukraine fears is the next target of Russia’s southern offensive, is the country’s main port and vital to its economy.

But the city of one million inhabitants near the Romanian and Moldavian borders also occupies a special place in the Russian imagination.

A cosmopolitan port on the Black Sea with superb 19th century architecture, sandy beaches and a Mediterranean climate, it is predominantly Russian-speaking.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned on Sunday that Moscow was “preparing to bomb Odessa”, saying: “It will be a war crime…a historic crime”.

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed concerns to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call on Sunday about a possible imminent attack on the Ukrainian city of Odessa, according to a statement from Macron’s office.

Odessa is the main port complex in Ukraine. The one in the city itself handles gasoline and metals, while others in nearby Yuzhny and Illychyivsk handle chemicals and containers.

Much of Ukraine’s huge corn and barley exports pass through ports.

The city’s beaches, Italianate architecture and laid-back lifestyle have made it a tourist magnet, growing in number since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Odessa is located about 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Transnistria, the small, unrecognized breakaway Russian-speaking state that broke away from Moldova when the Soviet Union collapsed. Romania, a NATO member, is four hours away.

But the city resisted the separatist push that took parts of the mostly Russian-speaking Donbass region to the east out of Kiev’s control after Putin annexed Crimea.

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