Budzhak, Budjak, Bucak, Bugeac

Like his parents, Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko was born in the area between the estuaries of the Dniester and the Danube known by its old Turkic name, Budzhak, spelled Bucak in modern Turkish, where it means “corner“or “nook”.

Located in the southwest of Ukraine, it is remarkably diverse, ethnically and linguistically, with residents speaking Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Russian, Moldovan, Gagausian and Albanian as this Ukrainian map shows. It also has a rich history, possibly dating back to ancient Greek colonization.

Budzhak was part of the Russian empire in 1812-1917, except for 1856-76, as it was ceded to Romania in the aftermath of Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War. For more than three centuries before 1812, the area was ruled by the Ottomans. Romania was in control again in 1918-40 and 1941-44. Poroshenko’s parents are both Romanian-born Ukrainians.

This reconstructed Russian-language map, apparently from a brief period before toponyms in the area were Ukrainianized and Russified by Soviet authorities, shows the names of many towns in a Russian transcription. This Romanian map, which could have been the source from the Russian map, shows Budzhak as part of interwar Basarabia. The names on the maps are delightfully multilingual.

Bayramcha (Bairamcea) sounds like it’s derived from bayram, Turkish for “feast”. Tatarbunary sounds like “Tatar wells” if “bunar” has the same meaning as in Croatian and Serbian, akin to Turkish pınar “spring, fountain”. Fyntyna-Zenilor in Russian is Fântâna-Zânelor in Romanian/Moldovan, apparently “Elves’ Well”. Chishmyaua (Cișmeaua) and Dumitreshty (Dumitrești) are also Romanian.

Tuzly, or Tuzla in Romanian? There’s already a Tuzla in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a Tuzla island in the Black Sea once disputed between Russia and Ukraine – a name of Turkic origin, no doubt. Friedensfeld, Lichtenthal and Klastiz were probably founded by German colonists whose descendants were expelled in 1945. Also,  names from the 1812-15 Napoleonic wars: Borodino, Berezina, Tarutino, Paris… they are also found in the Russian Orenburg region.

Belgorod-Dnestrovsky sounds great but it’s better known from history as Akkerman – no relation to the German Ackermann but rather, ak-kermen in old Turkish, “white fortress”, Cetatea Albă in Romanian.

Poroshenko’s home town, Bolgrad, was founded as a settlement of Bulgarians who fled Ottoman rule in the 19th century, as the name indicates. In the 2001 census, a third of its residents named Bulgarian as their mother tongue.

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