What It’s Like to Live in Odessa, Ukraine
Odessa is Ukraine’s fifth largest city, nestled on the Black Sea and a hub of commerce, nightlife, and seaside living. Having spent two months living in Odessa in the summer of 2016, I figured it would be good to share some thoughts on the subject.
Odessa, Ukraine is often referred to as “Odessa Mama”—referencing that name many of it’s inhabitants have given the city—which is quite beautiful. Indeed, the beachside setting that led to much global trade and breeding has given it a more unique taste than many of the other cities in Ukraine. Odessa’s streets are littered with architecture with Italian, French, and Spanish origin as opposed to the more bland Soviet-style architecture.
Odessa has a beautiful setting overlooking a harbor, and summer is hot but more than tolerable. With that being said, not all of Odessa is flowers and unicorns. While undoubtedly one of the more beautiful cities in the Oblasts of Ukraine, it falls off quickly as you head out of the streets that line the city center.
This rapid fall-off, combined with the “scamming” nature naturally expected of a historic seaport town, makes me wonder what truly makes Odessa motherly at all.
WHAT SHOULD YOU EXPECT FROM ODESSA, UKRAINE?
Some people love Odessa, and others hate it. I’ve had friends who have raved about living here (and have for months on end), and I’ve also had friends who stayed for three days and decided that enough is enough.
Personally, my relationship with Odessa Mama was more or less love-hate.
You can get an idea of Odessa hotel prices, tourist attractions, and flights here.
Quality Of Life
As stated, the center of Odessa is absolutely stunning. Especially during the summertime. I lived there during all of June and most of July, and so I naturally experienced the absolute highs of Odessa’s weather. Most days in June were very hot and humid—touching close to 90 degrees. However, come July it mellowed out a bit and most days were in the low 70s to mid 80s—albeit with an absurd amount of humidity.
Everything is blooming, the beautiful women of Ukraine are all in their summer dresses, and everybody is happy.
But that’s only in the center area, which really only stretches a few blocks. As soon as you step a half-kilometer or so away from Deribasovskaya Street, it starts to sink in…
Ukraine is not a first-world country.
Many Ukrainian cities are not as nice.
The drop-off is fast, too. One minute you’ll be passing the historic and gorgeous Odessa Opera House, the next moment you’re looking at something more like this:
Simply put, Soviet-style housing like you see in the above photo is just depressing. There’s absolutely nothing that can done about it at this point, and I hate to be judgmental, but there is simply no other way to put it. It’s not pretty to look at. Rarely does anything interesting accompany it. And there is just a general feeling of unhappiness that seeps from the apartment buildings and all over the neighborhoods.
The point is, much of Odessa looks more like that than the nice photos you see on all of the touristic websites. That’s not much different from the rest of the world, but there is actually so little of the “fun” area that it’s important to make note. If you are planning a prolonged stay in Odessa, there may not be a lot to do after the first week or so.
Side note: is Ukraine Living a “tourist” site? I’d like to think no.
Arcadia: The Super Tourist Area
If you’re the type who is looking for a real summer party, there is Arcadia. Nestled right on the water about five or so miles from the Deribasovskaya area, Arcadia is the closest thing you’ll find to Las Vegas in Ukraine.
It might even be the closest thing you’ll find to Vegas in all of Europe with the exception of Ibiza and Barcelona. (Probably not) coincidentally, the biggest club in Arcadia is named…Ibiza.
The thing is, it’s the kind of area most people will burn out of very quickly. Bodies can only take staying up drinking until 4-5am so often. The entire Arcadia district is built around this drinking and partying scene. There is little else to do besides sit on the beach (where they deliver drinks to you), eat, and party at night.
While I flip-flopped between whether I wanted to live in Odessa’s main area or Arcadia, I ultimately picked the center area around Deribasovskaya. I’m glad I did—or else I might not be alive to write this 😉
Now that you know the low-down on the general areas in Odessa, let’s do a quick comparison:
Odessa vs. Kiev
These two cities (and maybe Lviv) are probably the most likely to be considered as a destination spot for tourists and expats from Western countries. With that being said, here’s a few key differences between the two:
- Odessa has a reputation for being more “scammy”; think mail order brides and other scams along those lines. Kiev tends to be a bit more adapted to tourists who aren’t actually from Ukraine.
- Odessa has far, far worse levels of English.
- Kiev is much bigger and fast—New York City of Eastern Europe. While it’s only three times the size (population wise) of Odessa, that’s significant when you realize we’re talking in millions of people.
- Odessa has better seafood—fairly obvious as to why.
- Kiev will have more quantity and quality choices as for food. Partially due to size. Keep in mind if your Russian isn’t up to date, you might struggle with some menus in Odessa. Places outside of the central areas won’t have English menus.
While I enjoyed my time in Odessa at first, by the end of it I was tired of it. There simply wasn’t enough to do to keep me occupied. It was just walk around the streets of the center, or go to the beach and party.
You can only go to the beach so much before you’re just sick of it, and it’s not feasible to party as an online-business-owning expat all of the time.
I’d say that by the end of the first two weeks I was beginning to regret my decision to live in Odessa for the period of time that I did. While I would certainly recommend it to any and all tourists who are looking for a fun summer hotspot, I wouldn’t be so keen to recommend an expat go there as a place to settle in for a month.
‘Til next time,
PS: More information about Odessa is here.
PPS: If you’d like to check out some of the women of Odessa, click here to take a browse.