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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Ukraine

17th October 2011

Bessarabia, Ukraine and Europe

The towers of the fortress rise above the Black Sea. Within mighty walls, bastions soar.

Our guide says it’s hard to be sure who built which bits: over the past two millennia, the site has been occupied by Greeks, Romans, Poles, Goths, Huns, Moldovans, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Tatars, Russians, Genoese and Turks.

Down the road there was even a settlement of German-speaking Swiss, producing wine from 1820 until evicted by the Soviet Union in 1940.

The bastions we’re admiring belong to the Fortress of Akkerman, located on the Black Sea coast at the settlement of Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, founded in the 6th Century BC about an hour south of what is now Odesa.

I’ve written before about Ukraine’s turbulent history; and how the way Moldova cuts off the southernmost part Ukraine illustrates the cruel legacy of the intra-Soviet borders drawn up by Stalin. This southern tip of Ukraine, part of the historic region of Bessarabia and home to around 600,000 people, also seems to have had more than its fair share of history.

South of Akkerman on the Danube lies Izmail, whose fortress was demolished under the Treaty of Paris in 1856 after the Crimean war. All that remains is a mosque, now home to a diorama depicting the Russian storming of Izmail in 1790.

Further east, near the mouth of the Danube, is the picturesque town of Vilkovo, founded in impenetrable marshland by Russian “Old Believers” escaping religious persecution.

The central part of the region contains agricultural land whose rich soil and warm climate are good for vineyards – hence those Swiss, some of whose houses still survive in the town of Shabo (supposedly from Asha-Abag, Turkish for “lower gardens”).

Modern wineries such as Guliyev, Shabo and Kolonist now produce high-quality wines with brand-new equipment imported from Europe.

As so often, Europe holds the key to the future. Isolated under the Soviet Union, the region now shares a border with Romania. The European Union is already engaged here, including at two projects we visit in the villages of Tatarburany (domestic solar heating and insulation) and Banivka (school improvements).

If Ukraine can successfully pursue its European integration process, that will help transform areas such as the Bessarabian region of Ukraine into the rich agricultural heartlands they potentially could be; and the striking sights of Akkerman and Vilkovo will begin to attract the tourism and investment they deserve.

The key question, as I said in a blog last week, is whether Ukraine is able to show by its actions that it wishes to pursue the path towards Europe.

To view more photos, click here.

About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.