ODESSA, Ukraine—When controversial former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was tapped as governor of Odessa, the strategic region on the Black Sea, last year, he hired a young team to build a showcase for reform in post-revolutionary Ukraine. Though largely shunned backed home in his native Georgia, Saakashvili was welcomed here by those fed up with the slow pace of change after the 2014 street revolution.
But today the prospects for success seem to be growing dimmer by the day. Many locals in politically divided Odessa remain resistant to radical change. Saakashvili himself has fallen out with top Ukrainian officials in Kiev while his team feels squeezed by the powerful mayor of Odessa, whom critics accuse of running the vital port city like a fiefdom.
“We’re poorly received by everyone,” Georgii Zubko, who was hired by Saakashvili last year to oversee the region’s transport and maritime sectors, says of their opponents. “We’re alien, we can’t be bargained with.”