Home Europe ‘If the Russians go through Ukraine, do you think they won’t go to Europe?’ – on Odesa’s front line

‘If the Russians go through Ukraine, do you think they won’t go to Europe?’ – on Odesa’s front line

by editor

Dima runs a perfume shop in Odesa that has now doubled up as a place where volunteers can restock supplies. He told Euronews about how it is to be in close contact with those fighting on the frontline whilst trying to keep hope.

A hidden gem in Odesa


Walking down the gorgeous pastel lined shops of Odesa, you could be forgiven for almost forgetting you’re in a war zone. Restaurants and bars throng with those defiant enough to try to forget the war. No one is wearing ballistic vests. But then you turn a corner and suddenly there it is again. Piles of sandbags stacked next to the Opera House. Or anti-tank traps lurking menacingly in the background.

Many of the city’s residents declare that Odesa is the pearl of Ukraine and that Russia wants to have it. It is a gorgeous city. A bit like Paris, but on the sea. And like Paris, Odesa also has lovely little boutiques lining the streets. But one is no ordinary boutique.

Dima has been a collector of perfumes for around 30 years. In the downstairs basement of a shop, more soldiers than customers come and go. This shop is special, because not only can you buy a limited-edition Chanel perfume from the 60s, but military volunteers can also go there to replenish supplies and pick up aid for the eastern border.

It’s a curious sight in this shop. Soldiers being fitted out for ballistic vests and helmets, in between 20-something girls perusing the shelves, spritzing samples on their wrists, both searching for something to calm them during these terrible times.

But Dima doesn’t just sell perfumes and supply volunteers with military equipment, he also builds sculptures out of smashed perfume bottles and the remnants of bombs and shrapnel that kill his people. Back in 2022, he acquired part of a bomb that killed several civilians in Mykolaiv over Easter and will use this for a sculpture. One of his perfumes is sitting in none other than former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnsons’ home in London.

“There were actual fragments from the rocket, small pieces. And I incorporated them into the composition, which, as it turned out, reached Boris Johnson. So, my perfume is there at Boris Johnson’s house, it’s cool,” Dima says over a Zoom interview. He arches his pointy eyebrows and pauses for a second.

“Both the perfume and the scent that went into it are quite unpleasant in their nature. It’s a leather, woody kind of scent, not from the category of everyday wear, so to speak,” he adds.

When I first met Dima during the first few months of Russia’s full-scale invasion, there was a worldwide shortage of ballistic vests. Colleagues of mine who work for several of the best news agencies in the world scrambled to try to buy them so they could report from inside Ukraine. One had a friend of his buy one of the last vests in Madrid and fly to Poland to drive to the border to deliver it, so scarce was the supply in Europe. Military supply shops across Europe, including Berlin, Prague and Warsaw had sold out long before. It was impossible to get a vest remotely close to Ukraine.

“We made these body armours without plates initially. Then we made the plates ourselves, and we produced them from field work tools because there were no body armours available. The demand was very high,” Dima says, although he no longer produces the plates since the EU has stepped up deliveries into Ukraine. He also tells us the vests have saved three lives.

“People sent me photos of their bulletproof vests that took hits, and no one got killed.”

Whilst Dima physically isn’t on the front lines himself, he funds the production of soft stretchers and blankets, bags, drones, ammunition. The stretchers, Dima says, can hold up to 250kg, which is essential for the volunteers on the frontlines themselves.

“[Ukrainian] Stormtroopers are unlikely to take me because I have leg problems, but I can perform some functions in the rear, for example, or there, on the second line of defence. Maybe I’d introduce drones, I don’t know,” Dima says, when we ask what he would do if called to fight.

Many of the volunteers who pass through the glass doors of the Odesa perfumery were forced down alternative career paths when the war broke out, including Dima’s son, who now sews fabric used for body armour.

“He was initially far from any kind of production, especially ammunition, let alone sewing. He worked as a carpenter, specifically in the workshop that made sculptures, and that was his main occupation.”

Perfume collector to volunteer

Dima’s shop also helps facilitate evacuations of civilians from cities including Kharkiv and helps other volunteers deliver aid to the countryside surrounding Odesa. Some of the people living there are entirely reliant on Telegram groups, which other volunteer groups use to coordinate deliveries, for essential items including nappies and canned foods. These places are surrounded by trenches and military checkpoints and have no public transport.

I accompanied a couple of these missions back in 2022. Each time, we drove out of the city for two hours with limited fuel, the sun beating down on fields of sunflowers on a backdrop of blue sky as far as the eye could see, surely the inspiration for the Ukrainian flag. Many of the people who were living in these remote villages were internal refugees, who had fled to the west for safety. Many were single mothers with several children, and both their men and cars were fighting on the frontlines in the east of the country. Without a car, there is no access to supermarkets for them. The volunteers who tirelessly deliver the aid do this alongside other jobs. Dima supplies these volunteers out of his own pocket with ballistic vests and helmets just in case of Russian strikes. One volunteer group already lost a driver and a bus to a fighter jet.

How is the mood amongst the military volunteers, who tirelessly defend the borders in the east of the country and carry out these aid deliveries? It’s mixed, Dima says, “because if we stop, we’ll essentially lose not just the word ‘Ukraine’ or our homes; we’ll have to flee somewhere, primarily as volunteers, because we will be the first to face torture, abuse, and death.”

Dima says that things have changed since the start of the war. “In the early days, people were so affected by it, not to say they went insane, but, let’s say, the war absolutely boosted the spirit of the Ukrainian people by 100%.”


It brought people together, with everyone pitching in during those first few months. He says in every Odesa neighbourhood, there were people on the streets making Molotov cocktails, ready to defend their city against invaders.

“But those first hours, those initial moments were, of course, terrifying because the feeling that, here it is, war has come. It is the thing that I feared the most in my life. War is the worst thing that can happen, like some deadly disease. And war, unlike other challenges in life, can’t be overcome with money or other friends,” he adds melancholically. Dima’s eyes close when he begins to talk about the first moments of the war. His eyes open when he comes back to the present, as if he’s peering directly at reality.

Dima describes the first missile strike that hit Odesa as “a horror that lives in my heart until now. It now occupies a part of my life. It’s like the first love, you know, impossible to forget. And this is approximately the same, only it’s not a positive emotion, but an extremely negative one. The horror survived. No, it has grown. A part of my heart.”

Family torn apart

The missile strikes, asides from being physically terrifying have also had a more emotional effect on those in Odesa. Dima’s family has been completely ripped apart because of it. He is no longer on speaking terms with relatives who live in Russia.

“Many of us haven’t spoken since February 20th (2022). I tried to tell them about how terrible it is and urged them to protest. They say, ‘Why should we protest? We have everything we need, everything is fine.’ And they blame you for the fact that [the Russian army] came to you.” It’s horrifying just to hear.


“We stopped communicating a week after the full-scale invasion,” he adds. “Our relationship, to put it mildly, is strained. At least with my cousin, she probably doesn’t distinguish between the words ‘Nazi’ and ‘patriot.’ But the difference between a patriot and a Nazi is very significant. A patriot loves their homeland, while a Nazi is someone who believes that their nation is significantly better than others, much better than everyone else.

Dima blames Russian TV propaganda for this.

“We are, for them, monkeys with a hand grenade. We are anything but humans. That’s it. Hence the hatred and a large number of crimes against humanity, where people, not only are they simply killed, but it has become a habit to bombard us with a thousand rockets.”

He has asked himself many times over the past three years why civilians are being targeted for what Russia calls its “special military operation.”

A difficult relationship with the Russian language

“Russia’s actions have led to the fact that now we all want to speak only in Ukrainian, and we do. For example, I communicate with people on Facebook exclusively in Ukrainian.” He says he started learning Ukrainian because of the invasion after the 2014 annexation of Crimea.


Dima’s relationship with Russia is complicated. He was born in Odesa, but like Ukrainian leader Zelenskyy, he is a native Russian speaker. He says many of the soldiers on the front lines speak Russian.

Dima believes Putin is seeking to annex Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

“As far as I understand, the ‘Russian world’ implies the absence of recognition of nationality, including national languages, cultures, and so on. They are levelled in favour of Russian culture, primarily. There are numerous national conflicts happening within Russia itself, but they are kept under control where authorities prevent the expression of opinions about them.”

Dima mentions Tatarstan, “where individuals advocating for their native language, culture, and environmental preservation have faced legal consequences.” He is talking about Fail Alsynov, the ex-leader of a banned Bashqort group, who promoted the Bashkir language and culture. Alsynov was sentenced to four years in prison, and claims the charges were politically motivated.

Dima sees similarities with Ukrainian culture.


“For us, anyone who seeks to take over our state is an enemy, plain and simple. I don’t want to receive any lessons from people who, at some point, were close to me but now are considered enemies. Those who take up arms against me, even metaphorically speaking, including relatives who have remained in significant numbers, are enemies,” he says.

Dima says he doesn’t understand the desire to belong to Russia.

“The motivation behind someone desiring the Russian world is unclear to me. People can at least look at what happened to Donetsk and Luhansk under Russia.” He has heard from volunteers that return from the east that much of the male population in Donetsk is depleted because they are either dead or shipped off to war.

“It’s some kind of archaic thinking, probably associated with phantom pains regarding the loss of the Soviet Union. There was the Soviet Union, and supposedly everyone lived happily, peacefully, and joyfully there, but if you delve into history and turn to various sources, for many, including my parents, everything was far from cloudless and far from joyful.” Dima remembers his father, who managed 12 farms. Although that sounds like it would generate a decent income, the reality was very far from that. Dima recounts celebrating the occasion of buying sneakers, because it was out of the ordinary for the family. He only had a single pair.

A sanctioned Russia is like North Korea

Dima says that in Russian territories “there is no development at all. Everything is under sanctions. Essentially, people who strive for the Russian world understand that Russia is under sanctions as well. In essence, they are striving for a country that is also under sanctions. Well, I don’t know how to compare it. It’s unlikely that anyone is trying to get to North Korea now. Well, its approximately like that.” It paints a bleak picture.


“The point is that a person who expects that moving to Russia will bring them happiness is deeply mistaken because it doesn’t matter where you live. If you are unhappy in Ukraine, you will be unhappy in Russia, Europe, or anywhere else. It doesn’t matter. Somehow, people think that someone is interested in their personal fate and that Russia, in particular, will help them. In a thousand stories, people living in the Russian world, literally waiting for it, received it, and ultimately suffered from it,” he laments.

He doesn’t know what the solution is. “Here, you are essentially facing death, which will come if you surrender, or you have to run somewhere where it’s unclear whether they welcome you or not. And as practice shows, many seem to have just grown tired of us, Ukrainians.”

The choice is impossible for many Ukrainians. Either they stay and wait for bombs to destroy their homes, dropped by a country they considered themselves to be related to, like siblings, or they flee to another country, where they must learn a new language, and often begin their studies again from the ground up, because some governments don’t recognise Ukrainian qualifications.

“Simply because if it’s written in his passport that he’s Ukrainian, the Russians will simply destroy him just because he is Ukrainian. That is fascism,” he says.

We ask him what he fears the most and he describes waking in the middle of the night, jolted awake by the sounds of civilian homes being targeted by bombs.


“The centre of the city of Odesa is definitely not a military object. How can they send [bombs] here, to the city centre that is protected by UNESCO?”

The day times are often punctuated by the wails of the air-raid sirens. If you’ve not experienced it yourself, it sounds exactly like it does in films or second world war museum exhibitions. Your skin prickles with goosebumps, but the eeriest thing about it is not the crying sound, but the fact that many people don’t even react. They have grown so used to it in Odesa that they don’t scuttle away. Sometimes during the night, between the sirens you can hear pops and small explosions. You hope it’s the sound of air defence keeping the city and its residence safe.

“These rockets hit our energy infrastructure or even some other critical targets. Let them be military objects, but there are people there too. Okay, it’s war; roughly speaking, it’s supposed to happen. There should be a goal to destroy, for example, some military object—that’s a norm, so to speak. But when the energy infrastructure is destroyed, and when the city is left without water, without heat, without anything…”

For months each year when there are massive power outages, many civilians flock to the shop, where Dima has installed generators. Residents cluster together, their faces illuminated by smart phones charging at hubs of power sockets.

“People just came to have some connection with the world.” Dima also installed a Starlink at his own cost.


We ask Dima what he will do when the war ends, but like many of those who live in Ukraine or have close ties to the country, he struggles to answer and he looks vulnerable, as if he might start to cry.

“It’s like asking, ‘is there life on Mars?’ Right now, it sounds something like that. I’ll cry, I promise,” he says, making a joke, perhaps to stop the tears in their tracks.

Dima says he thinks Russia won’t stop with Ukraine: “What is victory? To stop at the border? Is it the left bank of Ukraine? Or go further into Poland or further into Germany? Why not? If they go through Ukraine, do you think they won’t go to Europe? Yes, they will definitely go. They will start saying, ‘We’ve been to Berlin, why not visit there again one more time,’” he says.

He mentions the news channels in Russia who often broadcast blasé nuclear threats, including to Europe. Dima says the topic is discussed at least every two weeks.

The future

But Dima is hopeful about the future. Although he alludes to the corruption that has marred Ukraine’s history, he says joining the EU is not the only solution. “We should not rely only on some subsequent assistance from Europe, simply because we are intelligent and capable enough people to lift our country ourselves,” he says, but he does think Ukraine needs to be reformed in some respects.


“Many are ready to work and live honestly, believe me. A lot of people, at least those I’m currently communicating with say that we are ready. Just give us transparent laws, make it work, not just declaratively living in a legal state. But sometimes there are such options. I’m even taking a risk talking about it right now because tomorrow, something might happen.”

On the subject of the Ukrainian government, he says he respects President Zelenskyy as a leader: “he did not take advantage of all the opportunities to leave the country, hide somewhere in a safe place; he stayed right in Kyiv. He remained in the place where he directly performs his duties, and he didn’t abandon the people. He did everything to protect his people.” I’m sure it’s a thought that has crossed the mind of most people following the invasion, where you wonder if your own president would stand up against a world superpower in case of invasion.

Dima also applauds the work of the army, which he says many didn’t believe in, but has now proved itself over the past two years. He is also proud of himself, as he says he saved 28 people and has spent $3 million [Euronews was unable to independently verify this] during the course of the war. I saw him donate vests, helmets and supplies to volunteers during the time I spent in the shop.

And in his spare time, Dima is an avid photographer, taking photos of Odesa’s beauty. From striking red sunsets to micro photography of surrounding nature to creative shots of the sea and portraits of people. For him, it’s an outlet, a way to boost both his and the subjects’ morale.

“We help with medicine and all kinds of evacuation means. It’s all sad; it all gets heavy. People say your photos are just a bit of a break from this reality for us,” he says.


“Every day, every hour, if there’s an opportunity, we do something, but again, something to make people smile, something to make people, well, at least, feel not in a war,” he adds melancholily. Even taking photos, is another way for Dima to care for others.

From the photos to the sculptures pieced together from smashed perfume bottles and left over bombs and shrapnel, Dima is all about trying to create something gorgeous, something pleasant, even against the backdrop of the horror of his country being invaded. A true artist.

He shares an anecdote that I still think of today: “In the first days of the war, when the Russians came to Melitopol, a woman came out and approached a soldier to talk to him. There was an armoured personnel carrier (BTR) there. She approached the soldier and said, ‘put some sunflower seeds in your pocket. When you die sunflowers will sprout and we’ll extract oil from you.’”

Afterwards, many Ukrainians started wearing t-shirts with the sunflower seeds motto printed on it.

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