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People in Odesa try to do business even after Russian attacks leave them in the dark


Before Russia invaded Ukraine, the southern city of Odesa, with its beaches and ports, was known for tourism and shipping. But the ports are all but shuttered, tourism has slowed and Russian strikes on the power grid have left many businesses in the dark. NPR's Tim Mak takes us there.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: The front door to Yaroslav Trofimov's jazz club was unlocked when I arrived.



MAK: Oh.

TROFIMOV: Go downstairs.

MAK: Go downstairs. OK.

TROFIMOV: Yes. I'm here with light. Hello.

MAK: It's good to see you. Well, I don't quite see you. It's pretty dark back here.

TROFIMOV: (Laughter) Yes. It's called blackout.

MAK: He cooks dinner under a flashlight.


MAK: Without power, he grills fresh meat over a propane flame because he never needs to freeze meat straight from the butcher. Hamburgers and fries are on the menu. His club, which shows plays and jazz shows, is still operating despite less than reliable power in the city. He hasn't made a profit since the war began. Regional officials say the local economy has shrunk 40% in that time frame. But Trofimov says businesses and entrepreneurs like himself somehow keep managing.

TROFIMOV: City does not give up. So something working - even on generators, you can always find a good shawarma on the street easily. During the total blackout, without even, as I told you, internet connection, mobile connection - but you can find the very big shawarmas working in very big generators and lots of people standing on the streets.

MAK: Some businesses have adjusted by finding clients and customers outside Ukraine.

ARTEM DOROKHOV: I won't say that a lot of businesses, like, closed or vanished.

MAK: That's marketing consultant Artem Dorokhov.

DOROKHOV: I think most of them, you know, they reinvented themselves.

MAK: Odesa's ports were central to the local economy, but they were shuttered in February due to the threat of waiting Russian warships. The vast majority of port traffic is still blocked, stranding people like Nik Viknanskyi, who owns a furniture manufacturing business and needs imported materials.

NIK VIKNANSKYI: We change the - our logistic. Now we use the Romanian ports, Turkish ports and then our trucks. Then we work.

MAK: Meaning he now gets his wood overland through other countries. He says that costs more than how it used to be, but he's cutting costs elsewhere to make it up. And the tourism industry, which is also vital to the economy in Odesa - it's struggling, but it's also adapting. Artur Lupashko, CEO of the Ribas Hotel Group, says many of his guests are now internally displaced people fleeing the war. He says his hotels, 26 in all of Ukraine, including 10 in Odesa, have managed to turn a profit this year.

ARTUR LUPASHKO: (Through interpreter) The apartment-style rooms that we own are still filled with people. The port is still operating somehow. Business is still ongoing. Even the curfew helps us a bit because people don't have the ability to move freely during the night.

MAK: But local officials say there will be a day when people can. And in a sign of confidence, the Odesa government is pressing forward with its bid to host the World's Fair in 2030, a bid it submitted before the war began. Roman Hrygoryshyn, the deputy head of the Odesa government, says the war has shown the world what Ukraine can do, creating a world-renowned brand.

ROMAN HRYGORYSHYN: The main important thing which we, as government, must to provide after the war is to transfer this brand to new investment, to new working place.

MAK: After all, one thing is clear. This southern port city has shown it can adapt.

Tim Mak, NPR News, Odesa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.