I fell in love in Odessa – and these photos bring back the wild city I knew

I recall the Poppy brand matches, sunbathing on Soviet concrete, gaudy clothes bought at the Seventh-Kilometre Market. I remember the boys being sallow-skinned; the girls, killingly defiant – and everyone being very young or very old, with hardly any middle age between.

In the early 2000s, when I lived in Moldavanka, the old Jewish and criminal quarter of Odesa, the Ukrainian city felt exactly as it does in a new book of Yelena Yemchuk’s transporting photographs: wild, secret, half-dreaming, magical. I was just married, with a baby son, to a beautiful Odesan woman.

The boss of the Crimean mafia had been at our engagement party: he played guitar, sang folk songs and gave us a gold lighter. Only such men were wealthy back then, if they didn’t get shot or imprisoned.

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