An Albanian Village Near Odessa? Yes!

An Irish photographer, traveling around Ukraine,
chronicles its people and history

finalimage - <b>An Albanian Village Near Odessa? Yes!</b> An Irish photographer, traveling around Ukraine, chronicles its people and history - Заборона

Maria Bitova was born in the village of Zhovtneve, located in the Bolhrad district of Odessa region – a unique place in Ukraine, primarily populated by people of Albanian descent. In 2016, after the start of decommunization, the village was renamed Karakurt. Irish photographer Bradley Stafford traveled to Karakurt in order to meet Maria and document life in this multicultural place – and now shares his experiences with Zaborona. 

Karakurt is an Albanian village located in Ukrainian Bessarabia, an ethnically diverse region in southern Ukraine. Locals here are very proud of their Albanian roots. In addition to Albanians, the area is host to people of Bulgarian, Moldovan, and Gagauz descent – most of whose ancestors had moved to the Greater Bessarabia region during the Russian-Turkish war at the end of the 18th century. 

Maria Bitova studied library science in Chisinau, the Moldovan capital, returned to Karakurt after graduation, and started a family. She’s now a village librarian and explains that this is a very meaningful role for the community. Together with her colleagues and teachers from nearby schools, they organize events for young students in the village, in order to teach them about their history and to pass on the traditions of their families. Maria is also actively learning about the history of the area, and is doing all she can to document the life and stories of the village.

In front of the Karakurt House of Culture stands a monument to Albanian noble and military leader Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu, also known as Skanderbeg. This man is considered to be an icon of Albania, a national treasure of the Balkan country, which defended its land for thirty years against the encroaching Ottoman empire. 

A Bulgarian flag has been drawn on the walls of a house in the neighboring town of Bolhrad. Bolhrad is home to many Bessarabian Bulgarians. 

I walk along the streets of the village in order to gain a deeper understanding of local life here. Karakurt is an oasis of calm and tranquility. Life here moves slowly. I circle the village clockwise, stopping several times along the way, before returning to the House of Culture.