The situation seems rather dire, yet in the town of Reni, at the end of the road, things are even worse. Reni is an old industrial port on the Danube that is now in theory a crossing on the way to Moldova and Romania, but in reality is more of a dead end, now that traffic on the river has dried up.
In this town made up of 50 percent Romanian-speaking Moldavians, 17 percent Ukrainians and 15 percent Russians, the economy is at a near standstill. The factories are closed and infrastructure is falling apart. "Since Ukraine's independence, the central authorities have not paid even the slightest attention to Bessarabia, that's where all our problems are coming from," believes Sergiy Bilyouk, the head of administration of the Reni region.
"Why does Ukraine need Bessarabia? These last few years, the region was only given leftovers," he continues. "They paid more attention to the border regions in the west, Transcarpathia or Lviv. I don't want to make comparisons, but the road from Odessa to Reni is also extremely strategic. It leads to the southern border of the European Union, to Greece, the Balkans, Turkey." Sergey Bilyouk is bitter: "perhaps someone in Kiev was not interested in developing this region."
The region is suffering because it does not have the authority or stature to manage its own resources; at the same time, people do not want to be involved in the decentralization process because they do not believe that things can change. Moreover, they are not used to making decisions for themselves, by themselves. A legacy from the past.
"Look, today you drove on the highway from Odessa to Reni, there were potholes everywhere; we don't even have the right to cut the grass on the side of the road, because all decisions surrounding the roads are made in Kiev," explains Bilyouk. "The region can't even decide who will cut the grass and how we will pay for it."
The question of authority is also an issue impacting the region's lakes. 35,000 hectares, or half of the region of Reni, is covered by lakes. However, the local authorities do not have rights over them. All resources generated by fishing or leasing go directly to Kiev.
Reni, a former major port on the Danube, is in crisis. 3,500 people used to work in the port, but now there are less than 400. Twelve years ago, someone in the government decided to remove a part of the railroad system, and now all transport of goods goes towards Moldova. Between 1997 and 2001, the Ukrainian and Moldovan governments exchanged land and Ukraine gave Moldova a strip of 400 meters along the Danube to create a free port, Giurgiulesti, and thus gave Chisinau access to international maritime trade. The agreement was signed at the time by no one other than Petro Porochenko! Since then, Reni has sunk into oblivion.
According to Sergey Bilyouk, activities at the port last year were "zero". All commercial activities on the river have been taken over by the Moldavian port Giurgiulesti, located only 3 kilometers away. Since Mikheil Saasashvili took over the region of Odessa in the summer of 2015, he has been promising to build a ferry terminal connecting Reni to Romania, while there is today no barge that carries out cross-border trade. Excavation and grading for the new terminal have begun (see photos below), but construction has come to a halt.