Ukraine

Ukraine: Where is Odessa and why is it important to Russia?

Odessa is central to Ukraine's maritime transportation, with roughly 65% of imports and exports coming through the Black Sea port.

Located in southwest Ukraine, Odessa is a seaport on the Black Sea coast located in the Odessa Oblast (province).

It is Ukraine's third-largest city and serves as a major hub for both shipping and transportation.

As Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, Odessa has been subject to a number of missile strikes – so why is Odessa important to Russia?

Access to north Ukraine and Moldova

Located in the south of Ukraine, Odessa is on the Black Sea and, if it falls into Russian hands, the whole of the Black Sea coast would belong to Russia.

But Sergej Sumlenny, an Eastern Europe expert, told Forces News Odessa is also a "gate to the north".

"If you own Odessa, you actually can go through Ukraine to the north, dividing Ukraine in two halves and there is literally nothing that can stop you," Mr Sumlenny said.

He also said Odessa is located very close to Moldova and would be "key" to controlling Transnistria – a Russian-backed separatist region of Moldova.

"Odessa is located very close to Moldova, to [a] Russia-controlled part of Moldova, Transnistria, so it's a key to control Transnistria and to annex Transnistria completely from Moldova," he added.

Trade

Odessa is not only home to the Ukrainian Navy but is central to Ukraine's maritime transportation and trade.

The Rhine-Main-Danube Canal runs through Odessa and is one of the best-placed waterways connecting northern and central Europe with the Middle East and Asia.

The canal also connects the North Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Black Sea – an obvious benefit for international trade passing through Ukraine.

If lost, it would cut Ukraine off from overseas trade – the majority of Ukrainian imports and exports are in the form of sea cargo.

It is not just waterways that make Odessa important, with both the rail network and international airport in Odessa allowing for transport throughout Europe.

Watch: Russia needs to be pushed 'out of the whole of Ukraine', says Truss.

The city is also important as petroleum is both transported through or refined in Odessa. 

This is of major interest to Russia as, alongside natural resources from the Middle East, Asia and the Caspian Sea, Russia transports crude oil and natural gas through both Odessa's ports and via pipelines – with a facility in Odessa also refining Russian crude oil.

On 26 April, Russia carried out a strike on a bridge in the Dnister estuary, in the Odessa region and it is not the first time Russian missiles have landed in Odessa, with Ukrainian oil facilities hit near the key port of the city earlier this month.

Watch: Transnistria explained – and why it could be important to Russia.

Historical significance

A lot has been made of Vladimir Putin's ambition to announce some sort of 'victory' on Russia's Victory Day.

The occasion, marked on 9 May, celebrates the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War.

And, as Russia gears up to celebrate Victory Day, flowers are laid outside the Kremlin at a memorial to the 12 'Hero Cities' – an honorary Soviet title.

Odessa is one of these 'Hero Cities', alongside Sevastopol and Kerch in Crimea and Kyiv, Ukraine's capital city.

Mr Sumlenny told Forces News this makes Odessa "a very important part of Russian theology" and not just in the current conflict.

"Odessa has successfully repelled Russian attack in 2014 and has not fallen into Putin's hands in May 2014," he said.

"That was an insult for Putin until now. It's a very important, fundamental part of Russian hate propaganda against Ukrainians.

"Historically, Odessa was always in Soviet history, in Russian history, a port of so-called glorious Russian history on the Black Sea," he added.

Other cities include Moscow, St Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad), Novorossiisk, Minsk, Tula, Murmansk and Smolensk, with Brest listed as a 'Hero Fortress'.

Cover image: An aerial view of Odessa (Picture: Oleksandr Perepelytsia/Alamy Stock Photo).