By Iryna Nazarchuk
(Reuters) – Tourists once flocked to the Ukrainian resort of Odesa to lie on its Black Sea beaches, but the white sands are now covered in mines because of the war with Russia and police officers patrol the boardwalks.
Ukraine’s military planted mines along the coast in case of a Russian amphibious assault after Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion, cordoning off beach entrances with red and white tape to ensure civilians don’t get hurt.
Already reeling from the war, the local economy of the port city of Odesa in southwestern Ukraine will take a huge hit to its tourism industry this year. Long-time residents cannot imagine life in Odesa without the sand and sea.
“We can’t live without the sea. If not for the sea, there would probably be no Odesa,” said 82-year-old resident Viktor Holchenko.
In early May, Russian forces pounded the port with missiles, leaving buildings in Odesa in ruin.
Signs posted by Ukraine’s military warn residents to stay away from the beaches where mines have been buried. From a seaside restaurant, the view is now of a “Danger! mines” sign.
A Reuters witness saw a family with a small child walk down a cordoned off beach, splashing around in the sea after nightfall, in defiance of the rules.
Other residents laid out beach towels along boardwalks instead of on beaches to tan in their bathing suits.
“They (the military) said not to go there (to the seaside),” said 18-year-old resident Kyrylo Zinchenko. “Why would you go there? This is the summer we will have.”
Once a driver of the local economy, tourism in Odesa has dried up.
“We realize that the tourism business and recreational component is an important element … but we also realize that if we don’t hold the defence of our region, there will be no budget to fill,” said Nataliia Humeniuk, a spokeswoman of the southern military command.
The local economy will take a broad hit, said tourism office owner Oleksandr Babich. “It is hotels, restaurants, souvenirs, all kinds of beach services. It is things related to the cultural sector … I don’t know how the city economy will do without them.”
(Additional reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Writing by Diane Craft; Editing by Tom Balmforth and Janet Lawrence)