Eye-witnesses in Odessa

Submitted by cathy n on 5 May, 2014 - 12:30

We publish below abridged translations of articles by Ukrainian and Russian left activists (and one by the Russian Communist Party) about last Friday’s events in Odessa, when over 40 people were killed and nearly 200 injured in the most violent fighting in Ukraine since the overthrow of the Yanukovich regime.

The Eye-Witness Account

The following article is taken from the website of the Ukrainian Left Opposition. It is prefaced by the comment that the site’s editorial board does not agree with all its arguments and conclusions, but it is published because of its value as an eye-witness account.

Who bears the guilt for the tragedy in Odessa? For me, the answer is obvious: Russian fascists and the police.

Fascists are fascists. You can cover yourselves in St George’s Ribbons from head to toe, but that does not make you any the less a fascist. Your activities speak for themselves. Pro-Russian radicals deliberately came into the city centre to beat people up and even kill them.

Everybody knew that the “Chornamorets” and “Metallist” football fans would be meeting before the match to stage a demonstration for the unity of Ukraine The fact that activists from the Odessa Maidan would be joining them was also well known.

For several days before the planned demonstration the most radical element in the pro-Russian movement – the so-called “Odessa Militia”, which consists solely of Russian Nazis – were promising to break it up. On their social networks the calls to kill the “Maidanists” appeared with an almost enviable regularity.

The “Odessa Militia” assembled on Aleksandrovsky Prospect, around three or four hundred of them, almost all men (apart from some young women in the medical corps), not a single elderly person, all of them fighters, and equipped accordingly: in masks, a lot in bullet-proof vests, with shields, bats and truncheons.

Around the same time supporters of the unity march began to gather on Soborny Square: two or three thousand of them. The football ultras were no more than a third of them. As is usual in activities staged by the Odessa Maidan: a lot of women, pensioners, and people with children. Only the Maidan self-defence guard had weapons.

The terrible Kharkov “Banderist” football fans – the bogeymen used by the “Odessa Militia” to scare the city’s inhabitants – mostly headed off for the football match and did not take part in the clashes.

A single glance at the two groups was sufficient to understand who came for peaceful protest and came prepared for violence

It is also important to note that the separatists’ anti-Maidan camp had been had been pitched in Odessa city centre for several months. Every week pro-Russian marches have been taking place – with no reaction from the Maidan-supporters more significant than giving them two fingers.

And the day before the carnage the pro-Russian movement had staged a May Day demonstration through the city centre, chanting slogans such as “Odessa is a Russian city” and “Glory to the Berkut” – and no-one touched them.

Not the Maidan activists. Not football fans. Not the Right Sector (which, in Odessa, looks more like final-year school-students out on a day trip than violent radical militants).

When the unity march reached Grechesky Street, the “Militia” was already waiting for them. How a column of armed men could have reached their opponents’ location under the noses of the police remains a mystery for me.

But perhaps it isn’t such a mystery, given that several of the police were wearing the same red self-adhesive armbands as the separatist militants.

Stun grenades were thrown into the crowd of Maidan activists. And the sound of gunfire is unmistakable. Hence the gunshot wounds. Hence the bullet casings we found on Deribasovsky Street. They were also shooting at us from the roof of the “Afina” shopping centre.

The Maidan activists defended themselves as best they could. Under the gunfire my friend and his friends, ordinary guys from Odessa, football fans who always looked down on the “ultras” with thinly concealed contempt, were soon fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with the “ultras” against the militants.

It was here that young girls made the notorious Molotov cocktails – on the spot, in beer bottles bought in the nearest shops. And typical Odessa babushkas brought bricks for the Maidan activists to throw.

In the centre of the city all hell broke out.

But the police behaved as if it was the most typical spring day, on which nothing of any note was happening. Gunfire had already commenced, the wounded were already being carried out of the thick of battle when the police sauntered down to the side of Soborny Square in order to … disappear in an unknown direction.

“Odessa is not Crimea, we will not surrender Odessa,” chanted the activists. And we did not surrender Odessa. The militants clearly had not expected such resistance. The retaliatory march to Kulikovo Polye (site of the separatists’ camp, and also location of the Trade Unions House) was probably inevitable.

Many activists did not go there – for understandable reasons. Rather, it was the most radical section of the unity march who did. This was the scene of the second act of the tragedy.

In Grechesky Street people had been killed by bullets. Here they choked to death in smoke or died from their fractures after jumping out of windows. Who set fire to the House of the Trade Unions is unknown – Molotov cocktails were being thrown by both sides.

Pro-Russian sources write that radicals amongst the Maidan supporters beat up people who jumped out of the burning building. But, for some reason, there are other things they do not write about.

They do not write about how Maidanists themselves, above all the self-defence guard, defended the wounded from their own radicals and administered first aid.

Nor about how the same self-defence guard ensured that separatists who had been taken prisoner ended up in the hands of the police, not those of the enraged crowd.

And nor do they write about how there was gunfire from within the House of Trade Unions.

Kulikovo Polye (i.e. the separatists’ camp) was in a class of its own, it was a unique gathering of conservative forces of all shades. “All the forces of the old order”, as revolutionaries would have put it in the past, came together there.

Worshippers of Stalin and lovers of the “Father Czar”, Russian Nazis and music-hall Cossacks, Russian-Orthodox fanatics and grandmas who long for the return of Brezhnev, campaigners against juvenile delinquency, same-sex marriages and flu-jabs.

Whatever way you look at it, this is a black mass of reaction.

I’m long past that age when I shouted about revolution and sang about “drowning in blood the people’s grief” (a line from: “The March of the Anarchists”). I am a convinced humanist and pacifist, and regard any death – even that of a political opponent or an enemy – as a tragedy.

But what infuriates me is that this reactionary mass howls about people who suffered in the House of Trade Unions. What you lack is the honesty to say is that your intention was to beat and to kill, that you attacked first, and that you shot from the rooftops.

The fate of your supporters on Kulikove Polye is entirely on your conscience. You did everything possible to make sure that this is how things would end up. And that is further evidence that you are fascists.

All the Hallmarks of a Conspiracy

According to Ivan Ovsyannikov, a member of the Central Council of the Russian Socialist Movement in Petersburg, events in Odessa must be prevented from becoming the pretext for a new wave of violence by either Ukrainian or Russian reaction.

Insofar as it is possible to judge from the contradictory versions of what happened, the Odessa massacre has all the hallmarks of a conspiracy. This involved the leadership of the local police, ultra-right wing paramilitary organizations, and armed people who were either Russian mercenaries or Ukrainians provocateurs.

But whichever version may turn out to be correct, the fate of the people who died cannot be allowed to be used as a justification for military intervention or new killings. Anger with those guilty of the tragedy must not become the pretext for revenge on rank-and-file supporters of the mainstream “Maidan” or “Anti-Maidan”.

[Absurd ideas about the ‘cult of the hero’ and the ‘cleansing’ power of spilt blood] must have no place in our political thinking.

The sufferings of members of the Berkut do not make the Yanukovich regime any the less criminal, just at the “Nebesnaya Sotnya” (collective name given to those killed in the Kiev Maidan) does not sanctify Ukrainian nationalism.

The acts of savagery which have taken place in the Donets region, such as the killing of the Gorlovka regional councillor Rybak and of the Slavyansk student Popravko, do not justify violence against peaceful citizens in the course of the Kiev authorities’ anti-terrorist operation.

And in just the same way the tragedy in the Odessa House of Trade Unions cannot be used as a justification for using the Russian army or any paramilitary organizations in a civil war in Ukraine.

The only conclusion which can clearly be drawn from the tragedy is that the solidarity of workers in different regions of Ukraine must be counterposed to the savagery which crossed all boundaries on both sides.

We need to find a way to civil reconciliation and the creation of a united front against the nationalists, separatists and oligarchs who are breaking up our country.

A Settling of Accounts

For Andrei Ischchenko, a member of the Left Opposition organization based in Odessa, the events of 2nd May represented a settling of accounts by the Kiev government with its political opponents.

First and foremost, the events of 2nd May in Odessa represented an action by the new state authorities in Ukraine in which it used non-state armed formations to settle accounts with its political opponents, removing many of them physically.

What the non-state paramilitary formations did not manage to do on 2nd May is now being cleaned up and finished off by organs of the state – at the moment hundreds of activists of the Odessa Anti-Maidan have been arrested or detained, while nothing has been heard about anyone on the other side being arrested.

The governor of the Odessa region has spoken of “the legality of the activities of supporters of the Maidan.”

It can safely be stated that the events were precisely planned and directed, that they benefited both sides in the conflict, and that a further escalation of the conflict is guaranteed.

Nationalism, both Ukrainian and Russia, now triumphs over the bones of the deceased young inhabitants of Odessa and the unrestrained grief of Odessa mothers, while imperialism, having successfully used its nationalist lackeys, wipes its foul paws and cynically expresses ‘sympathy’.

Unavoidable Parallels

Sergei Kozlovsky, a Moscow member of the Central Council of the Russian Socialist Movemement, sees the hand of Moscow behind the strife in Odessa.

Of course, many people will say that this is just another conspiracy theory. They might be right. But the parallels are unavoidable and leap out at you of their own accord.

In Kiev the House of Trades Unions was set on fire and several dozen people died. After this the current Kiev authorities began to create the cult of the so-called “Nebesnaya Sotnya”, which has been used to justify many very dubious activities by the Kiev government.

Now the House of Trades Unions in Odessa has been set on fire and dozens died there as well. And that fact is now being actively used by pro-Russian forces to justify their activities and an escalation of the war. Overall, this matter has simply played into the hands of the Russian authorities.

Before now I was inclined to be sceptical about claims of links between right-wing Ukrainian nationalists and the Russian secret services. But after the strife in Odessa my doubts are dwindling away.

In contemporary Ukraine the Banderists would always be a marginal political force which would hardly be noticed in normal times and probably be written off as a bunch of clowns. Their only chances of real power lie in a partition of the country.

And if the Russian authorities were to initiate such a partition, then it would be perfectly logical for the Ukrainian nationalists to support it.

As long as Ukraine remains a unitary state in its current borders, more than half the population will prefer to use the Russian language in their everyday life and to identify with Russian culture.

Objectively, the interests of the Ukrainian nationalists and the Russian regime now coincide – to unleash a civil war and partition the country, so that both sides are as comfortable as possible on their territories.

Although there is no doubt that the Odessa bloodletting was carried out by Ukrainian-nationalist forces, there are very substantial suspicions that the Russian state supports them, just as it supports the separatists (in the south-east).

An Attack on the Left

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation – despite its name, an ultra-nationalist, anti-semitic organization which backed the annexation of the Crimea by Russian imperialism – had its own version of the events in Odessa.

Given its various other claims that the Kiev authorities are “a neo-Nazi clique” consisting of “successors of the Hitlerian hanger-on Bandera”, and that American special forces disguised as employees of private-security firms are engaged in the fighting in Ukraine, nothing different could have been expected of the CPRF.

The first reports have appeared on social networking sites of the political affiliations of the victims of the massacre carried out by militants of the “Right Sector” in Odessa.

Most of those burnt alive by the “Right Sector” were representatives of left-wing organizations – the (Ukrainian) Communist Party and Borotba [a ‘left-wing’ organization disowned by most Ukrainian socialist and anarchist organizations for reasons of its nationalist politics].

The “Odessa Militia” lives on, although it has members who are injured, detained or in hiding. But it would seem that it has not suffered any fatalities.

According to Yuri, a 49-year-old reserve officer who managed by a miracle to survive the terrible conflagration started by the [Kiev] junta’s killers, at the time of the clash with the “Right Sector” the activists from Kulikovo Polye numbered no more than 250, almost all middle-aged or elderly and including many women.

‘When the fascists began the attack on Kulikovo Polye,’ said Yuri, ‘they were several thousand. We were not the equal of them, especially as we had no weapons. We were forced to retreat and decided to barricade ourselves in the House of Trade Unions.’

‘Then the ‘Right Sector’ began to throw Molotov cocktails and shoot at us through the windows. They cried out ‘Glory to Ukraine’ and ‘Death to Enemies’. It was hell. We lost this battle because we were not organized and prepared.’

‘But all those from the Kulikovo Polye [camp] who died are heroes. They went to a certain death. This was Odessa’s Khatyn [a Byelorussian village whose population was massacred by the Nazis].’

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