Among the things that will likely strike a visitor to Odessa are the busy seaport (the largest in Ukraine) and the gloriously crumbling 19th century architecture. Stay a little longer, and its cultural past begins to reveal itself in the monuments plentifully scattered throughout the city. But you could spend years here and never come across one of Odessa’s most unlikely curiosities, an English-language magazine called The Odessa Review.
Finding this bimonthly publication, a literary journal emulating The New Yorker and The Paris Review, is not easy. You’ll have to hunt it down at one of just a handful of locations in Odessa and Kiev. Once you open the cover, however, you will be rewarded with up-to-date and relevant coverage of issues related to contemporary Ukraine and the region.
A literary entrepreneur
The magazine’s chief editor is Vladislav Davidzon. Now in his early 30s, he was born in Uzbekistan to Russian-Jewish parents and moved to New York’s Brighton Beach, also known as “Little Odessa,” when he was seven years old. While he grew up in the United States, he spoke Russian at home and learned about Russian literature from his grandmother, who he describes as a “literatus and art connoisseur.” Thanks to his upbringing, he never lost touch with his Russian roots. He describes himself as “very deeply devoted to this part of the world” and “deeply Russian.”
In his early 20s he made the decision that he would move to eastern Europe. After graduating from The City University of New York with a double major in Slavic studies and philosophy, he met his future wife, Odessa native Regina Maryanovska, while studying at the Sorbonne in Paris. From there they moved to Venice, where Davidzon received a master’s degree in human rights law, and from there to Ukraine, where he became a journalist for “Ukraine Today,” a now defunct English-language Ukrainian television station.
Davidzon started The Odessa Review in 2016 with his wife and the financial backing of his publisher, the Ukrainian-Syrian philanthropist Hares Youssef. “I always wanted to have my own magazine, a literary journal,” Davidzon said. “No one’s done this before. No one’s ever had the ludicrous idea to have a Western-language, New Yorker-style literary journal of ideas in this region. It’s too weird.”
Chronicling the golden age
Where Odessa natives tend to be modest about the potential of their city, Davidzon gets visibly excited when talking about the cultural opportunities in Odessa. He says that Ukrainian culture is now seeing a “golden age.”
The Odessa Review has been riding this new wave of Ukrainian culture, providing commentary and reviews of events, literature and phenomena happening in Odessa and elsewhere in Ukraine. It often frames its coverage in terms of the idea of a contemporary Ukraine, constantly returning to themes of the Ukrainian nation and identity. After Maidan, the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass, it is almost impossible to have a political conversation in Ukraine without touching on what it means to be Ukrainian. That question is especially fraught in Odessa, a city of Russian-speakers where many identify more closely with Russia, and where 46 locals were killed in a fire in 2014 while protesting Maidan.