Ukraine: The Latest – Bessarabia re-examines its history after relentless Russian strikes

Our Senior Foreign Correspondent Roland Oliphant relays his experiences reporting in Bessarabia 

So the situation is, there’s this little bit of Ukraine that sticks out to the southwest of Odessa. It’s quite remote from the rest of the country. It’s an area called Bessarabia. 

Anyway, the point is there is one quite narrow road that goes down from Odesa all the way to the border which is on a branch of the Danube River. The Danube divides into several branches, on one branch, there is the border, and since the grain deal collapsed in July it’s become extremely important, but actually since the beginning of the war, this has been one of the main export routes for Ukrainian grain, pretty much any kind of goods.

So that whole road is clogged with grain lorries, fuel tankers, any other kind of articulated truck, you can imagine they’re all going down to these three river ports. Ukraine has he cargoes lived on to barges, the barges go up river and then around and down and across by canal, and by that point, they’re inside Romania. They come to the port of Constanza, then it’s reloaded onts seagoing ships, and that’s the main route now for grain to get out. 

Now we come to the grain deal, which, as we remember, was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey. The idea was that Ukrainian ships carrying foodstuffs would still be allowed to set out from Ukraine’s black seaports, places like Odesa.

Russia walked out of that in July saying it wasn’t fair that there were still restrictions on Russia’s own exports. And that put an end to that. The Russians, almost as soon as that happened, began hitting all of the infrastructure associated with that export. So the first strikes, I was told by locals, happened at the port of Reni on the 25th of July.

Since then, relentless drone attacks, usually Shahed kamikaze drones hitting specifically port infrastructure, grain silos, anything like that. It’s all about the export infrastructure down there. It’s been a very sustained campaign. If you go down there, you can see damage around the place.

Francis Dearnley gives an interesting update about insurance for exporters using this route out of Ukraine.

As we’ve talked about in previous episodes, one of the major impediments for exporters is getting insurance for making what is obviously a dangerous trip in any circumstance, given the military situation. Ukraine has reported that it is starting exporting grain via Croatian seaports, aiming to broaden its export routes.

While it’s Black Sea ports are blocked, but in a sign that perhaps conversations taking place behind the scenes are making progress after the starting gun was fired with Erdogan and Putin’s meeting last week, Lloyd’s of London is in talks with the UN over providing insurance cover for Ukrainian grain shipments if a new Black Sea Corridor deal can be reached.

Roland ends by giving some history of the region and explaining the towns relationship with its ancient conqueror Alexander Suvorov. 

It’s really interesting that the personality of Alexander Suvorov kind of dominates Izmail even, you know, the main street is Suvorov street. The oldest building in town is this this mosque, 14th or 15th century which was the only remaining part of the fortress that he stormed. It’s not functioning as a mosque, the soviets put a diorama of the battle inside it So it looks like a a beautiful bit of architecture from Istanbul.

You pay your 40 hryvnia and you go inside and there’s a huge diorama of Russian soldiers and Cossacks storming this fortress and it emphasizes Suvorov’s role. It’s fascinating how this guy’s a Russian imperial hero and right now, he is not flavour of the month for obvious reasons. 

So they’ve taken down his statue and the city authorities are thinking about what to do about it. One woman who we were talking to there we visited this exhibition and when we came out after listening to the recorded audio guide, She said how it mentioned Suvorov and she said he’s just like all the rest of them, isn’t he? So basically, her point of view was like, this guy who for a long time has dominated the history of our town, we now look at him the same way we’d look at Vladimir Putin, Sergei Shoigu, Gerasimov, Sorovikin.

I mean, basically as a Russian war criminal who came here and slaughtered people in order to to extend an empire. 

Listen to Ukraine: the Latest, The Telegraph’s daily podcast, using the audio player at the top of this article or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite podcast app.

War in Ukraine is reshaping our world. Every weekday The Telegraph’s top journalists analyse the invasion from all angles – military, humanitarian, political, economic, historical – and tell you what you need to know to stay updated.

With over 40 million downloads, our Ukraine: The Latest podcast is your go-to source for all the latest analysis, live reaction and correspondents reporting on the ground. We have been broadcasting ever since the full-scale invasion began.

Ukraine: The Latest’s regular contributors are:

David Knowles

David is Head of Audio Development at The Telegraph, where he has worked for nearly three years. He has reported from across Ukraine during the full-scale invasion. 

Dominic Nicholls

Dom is Associate Editor (Defence) at The Telegraph, having joined in 2018. He previously served for 23 years in the British Army, in tank and helicopter units. He had operational deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. 

Francis Dearnley

Francis is assistant comment editor at The Telegraph. Prior to working as a journalist, he was chief of staff to the Chair of the Prime Minister’s Policy Board at the Houses of Parliament in London. He studied History at Cambridge University and on the podcast explores how the past shines a light on the latest diplomatic, political, and strategic developments.

They are also regularly joined by The Telegraph’s foreign correspondents around the world, including Joe Barnes (Brussels), Sophia Yan (China), Nataliya Vasilyeva (Russia), Roland Oliphant (Senior Reporter) and Colin Freeman (Reporter). In London, Venetia Rainey (Weekend Foreign Editor), Katie O’Neill (Assistant Foreign Editor), and Verity Bowman (News Reporter) also frequently appear to offer updates. 

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