In hindsight I should have written this article much sooner and I’d like to extend my apology to the lady who survived this tragedy (Julia) and the victims that perished. Julia is a survivor of the Odessa tragedy and this article is based largely on her testimony as an eye witness. Julia’s speech wasn’t chronological but just as she remembered it so I’ve re-written it for it to make orderly sense. There is also context added to the political situation so that it’s clearer to a reader who has limited knowledge about the course of events.
I’d like to thank those who took the time to come to this event and of course MOBIUS which took the time to organize the exhibition. The sole purpose was to try to combat the information blockade imposed on us by ‘bigger interests’.
As some of you may or may not know, Ukraine has been engulfed not only in civil strife but also civil conflict for about eight months now. The impeachment of Yanukovych which was unconstitutional angered the Kremlin elite whom had an ally in him. It was not the removal of Yanukovych which angered the citizenry who identify as Russian but the steps taken by the new interim government.
An attempt was made to legislate the Russian language out of officialdom, however pressure from both the EU and the Russian speaking people of Ukraine forced the Ukrainian government to withdraw this motion. However, looking at those who proposed the motion it raises some serious questions. The party ‘Svoboda’ which initially supplied four ministers to the new interim government had a radical right wing agenda before 2012 and this was frequently highlighted by not only Russian media but by independent media in Ukraine which was against the impeachment of Yanukovych.
Further reading on Svoboda:
Coupled with the former radical agenda of the political party Svoboda, another movement that was prominent in the media had really ‘spooked’ the Russian speaking population of Ukraine: Right Sector & Radical Party. These units were successor organizations of the Congress of the Ukrainian Nationalists which idolized a famous Ukrainian freedom fighter (Stepan Bandera) who at one point in his fight for freedom actively co-operated with Nazi forces. In addition to this collaboration, the Banderites actively killed Polish people and Jews. World War II is a sensitive topic for any who identify themselves with either the old Soviet past or the Russian idea as it was the Soviet Union that largely bore the brunt of the Nazi assault losing anywhere between fifteen to twenty five million citizens to the Nazi war machine. Lviv, or Lvov had provided almost eighty thousand volunteers to a Waffen SS division to fight against the Red Army and the organization known as Right Sector glorified this.
Now, to glorify the horrors of Nazism and Fascism to people who were either born around the World War II era or actually fought as veterans of the Red Army is an insult that has no parallel. Imagine what the elderly thought? There is no doubt as to why internal friction exploded when EuroMaidan succeeded. The frustration against the Yanukovych presidency was utilized by the West to destabilize and exploit a relatively underdeveloped country. The assets? The extreme right and ‘noble’ liberals who were conned into believing the myths of Western style democracy.
Just before the May 2nd Odessa massacre a series of opinion polls were carried out in the Eastern Oblasts by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology asking people from the age of 18 a series of questions. These figures are revealing to not only the anti-Yanukovych sentiments but also to the lack of support that armed separatism at the time had. The link and the questions can be found here: http://kiis.com.ua/?lang=eng&cat=news&id=258, strikingly enough the question “Do you consider the civil war in Ukraine possible” received an overwhelming ‘positive’ reception. This survey was carried out from April 8th to the 16th, two weeks before the tragedy.
Julia is a native from Odessa, her entire family is from there and her sister got her diploma there and is a doctor. Her parents are retired. As is, she was there on holiday on annual holiday leave from University, visiting friends and family.
On the 2nd of May there was a scheduled football match between the local club of Chernomorets Odessa and Metalists of Kharkiv. These fans were hugely made up of people that would have been pro-Maidan, as shown later by their attendance at a ‘Unity for Ukraine’ march by Soborna Square. The participants of this march however were not only football fans, but as Julia states “well organized”, “well armed” and “highly militarized” groups of people. She specifically noted that the well organized and militarized units flew the flags of Right Sector.
Julia specifically mentioned that in the run up to the 2nd of May, there was a growing number at the pro-Maidan camp which was on the other side of the city from the “anti-Maidan” camp. She believes that pro-Maidan militant groups had ferried people into the city to bolster their numbers, their justification was that they would prevent the seizing of any administration buildings, by force if necessary.
Kulikovo square was the key location where “anti-Maidan” people were camped and Julia recollects going there a day before, on the 1st of May. She went there with her sister and they offered their aid, the nurses only asked them for material aid i.e they were short on a few materials that they might later need, Julia gave her number and left the scene. The scene at Kulikovo square was one of confusion and helplessness, but also of spirit.
Odessa was a city that withstood the Nazi armies for over two months, which would have been a great source of pride for those of the Soviet era or those who identified with the Soviet Union more than the new Ukraine. The Romanians who were actively co-operating with Hitler against the Soviet Union paid a high price and the city was later evacuated, 350,000 citizens and soldiers alike were brought away to Sevastopol to later stand against another Hitlerite invasion there. If you’re interested in reading a bit more on the topic: http://www.worldwar2.ro/operatii/?article=7 is a solid and well written account of the siege.
Never the less, it was most important to note that the ancestors of those who had defended Odessa against Nazism were now meeting face to face with some of the ancestors of those who helped the Nazi menace. This was not only a confrontation based on voting patterns for Yanukovych but also one of history, language and culture. It is impossible to accurately rate the amount of tension that would have existed between these groups, but suffice to say enough for them to despise each other.
Julia left Kulikovo square on the 1st of May without staying long and only returned the next day once more with her sister. The atmosphere of the square had changed as word was spread, especially in the evening that the pro-Maidan units were marching on the square and the police were creating a corridor for them to do so. Fear and even panic gripped the crowd, but a choice was made to stand ground and so those on Kulikovo square either dispersed or made their way towards the Trade Union Building.
Julia makes a note that the door of the building was already broken down so people had already went in and out of it. The building was also unmanned or not staffed as Julia pointed out so there was no resistance to whomever and whenever coming in. Never the less, leaving Kulikovo square her, her sister and a good group of people hastily set off to the Union building, quickly flooding it.
Inside the building Julia and her sister found the two nurses they had met previously met, they gave them the materials they had purchased. Julia’s impression of the situation was that panic and fear gripped the people inside, but also a resolute determination to resist. It was her sister who dragged her out before the front door was barricaded in and it was her sister who got her to leave the scene. Julia remembers how people were flooding inside the building and that her and her sister were the only two trying to leave.
Leave they did and I’m glad they survived the ordeal. Julia was able to tell her story, during the talk she had photographs from the day as well, of both camps, of the Ukrainian flags, of the Right Sector flag and of the Trade Union building burning only an hour after she and her sister had escaped to another part of town. The billowing smoke coming from it was pretty clear, it was on fire.
While Julia did not stand in Kulikovo square to observe the events that transpired, we know from a series of videos along with photographs from the day that show and verify a number of claims that Julia makes. That Right Sector were present in large number and heavily involved, that they hurled petrol bombs and incendiaries at the building – but there is also evidence footage of some of the “pro-maidan” protesters assisting people from fleeing inside the union building, in particular their anger at the treatment the survivors received from what could only be characterized as a mob.
A few tears rolled down her cheek as she continued. Four vans full of police were positioned behind the trade union building but they did not emerge as the violence escalated. The fire services also did not respond for a long period of time, even if the main fire station in Odessa is quite literally down the road from the Trade Union building. Julia and others who reported on the Odessa massacre are convinced that those who launched the attack had full support of the local security services as well as local politicians.
Fortunately, Julia and her sister got home safely, with regret however I write that this is not the case for many people in the trade center. Due to the lack of intervention by local authorities, it is hard to determine what truly occurred to many of the people inside the building. It is said by Julia however that the morgue worked for three days straight after bodies were elected and that there are still over a hundred people simply ‘missing’.
Another tear rolled down her cheek as she gave a few details about what happened overnight. The media which is fully under control of pro-Maidan individuals did not report on the on-goings, overnight nobody is sure of what happened but the inside of the Union building had not only blood all around but also the stench of burnt flesh. Julia is certain that while the police and fire brigades were absent, there were murders committed inside the building by radical right wing individuals from the organization Right Sector and she is adamant that the civil services in Odessa partook in actively covering this up, much as they facilitated both the movement and attack on the Union building as well.
It’s hard to know what happened there, but it should be all the more worrying that the media we have in the Western world told a much different picture, one that made the people inside the Union building far more involved, while those that threw the petrol bombs and potentially partook in murder less so. A piece that I had found interesting, some time ago, was reported by KyivPost, a paper that can be fairly said to be quite pro-Ukrainian and pro-Maidan, here is the link and excerpt:
Alyona, a 35-year-old native Odessan, was one of the protest camp’s volunteer medics. She and her colleagues had planned May 2 as a “training day.” She arrived to Kulykove Pole Square at much the same time as Tetiana, and also fled inside the building. There she set up a first-aid station on the second floor, expecting to treat minor injuries until the police arrived. When the stairwell filled very suddenly with choking black smoke and the lights went out, she ran and hid in a fourth floor office.
Both Alyona and Tetiana say attackers ran inside the building in pursuit when the protesters took refuge on upper floors. They think there may even have been people who were not from their group inside beforehand. They both think those on the building roof throwing Molotov cocktails, clearly seen in video footage, were not from their group.
However, Alyona says protesters inside may have been making Molotov cocktails, in panic, but were not very competent and failed to throw them outside.
But she thinks it impossible that the building was set on fire from the inside.
“It happened immediately, there was terrible black smoke everywhere, on all the floors at once,” she said.
She did not see any flames. At the same time as the smoke appeared, all the lights went out. Later, the water was turned off.
Alyona describes how she and four women and eight men barricaded themselves inside the fourth floor office because they could hear people coming to attack them from the corridor. She and the others shouted out of the window for help, but then the people in the corridor broke down the door. They were in camouflage and mostly wearing masks, and Alyona believes from the way they spoke that they were not from Odessa.
She says they threw gas canisters, broken glass and possibly sound-light grenades over the cupboard those inside had pushed over the entrance.
“We said ‘We give up,’ and they came in and made everyone lie on the floor,” Alyona recalls.
Then, Alyona says, others came who told the first attackers to leave the women alone. There was an argument, she says, then the second group protected her and her fellow protesters with shields and took them out by the back door. Alyona believes this second group, who were dressed in ordinary clothes and were not aggressive, were local pro-Ukrainians.
Meanwhile the Ukrainian State Security Service says toxic chemicals were used in the Trade Unions House fire, and the violence was orchestrated and financed from outside with the connivance of local police who, along with emergency services, did not arrive at Kulykove Pole Square until hours after the clashes began.”
This tragedy must be remembered and the information with it. I would like to echo the words of Julia who correctly stated that if this occurred in the West than a detailed investigation would have taken place with a lot of media coverage, the same cannot be said for this investigation.
I would like to thank Julia for bravely corresponding her experiences about this tragedy and anybody else who has come forward to reveal what truly occurred.