Thursday, 19 May 2022

Putin Lied About the 2014 Odessa Tragedy - Part I

An investigation into one of the first of Putin's war crimes in Ukraine. Part two will follow tomorrow.

From Bitter Winter

By Willy Fautré

“Nazis burned alive peaceful pro-Russians,” Putin said. Willy Fautré went to Odessa to investigate in 2014. The real story was different.

Pro-Russian anti-Maidan activists in Odessa in 2014.
Pro-Russian anti-Maidan activists in Odessa in 2014. Credits.

In his address at the military parade on Red Square on 9 May, Vladimir Putin asked all the participants and attendees to bow their heads “to the memory of the Odessa martyrs who were burned alive in the House of Trade Unions in May 2014, to the memory of the old people, women and children of Donbass who were killed in atrocious and barbaric shelling by neo-Nazis,” and to their fighting comrades “who died a brave death in the righteous battle—for Russia.”

This passage of his speech concerning Odessa was, to say the least, inaccurate.

First, Putin was associating the street fighting in Odessa in 2014 initiated by anti-Maidan activists with the conflict in Donbass and the current “special military operation.”

Second, Putin only paid tribute to the victims of the anti-Maidan demonstrators picketing outside the House of Trade Unions on Kulikovo Square near the railway station whilst anti-Maidan activists had deliberately attacked and killed pro-Maidan activists in the center of Odessa several hours earlier and a hundred people had been injured.

Third, Putin’s words support the thesis that two months after the annexation of Crimea, the clashes between anti-Maidan and pro-Maidan activists in the center of the city were not spontaneous or accidental but had been the next step of a Russian-made plan meant to destabilize the strategic city of Odessa, create chaos, and provoke its fall under the control of anti-Maidan activists.

For eight years, Putin’s propaganda and propagandists in the West have been hammering the message that Ukrainian pro-Maidan activists, particularly “radicals” and Right Sector “ultra-nationalists” had willfully burnt alive dozens of non-violent Russophile anti-Maidan activists in Odessa. The theory has been repeated even at some conferences organized at the European Parliament by MEPs elected by the Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic States. These were lies.

I was in Odessa two weeks after the May 2, 2014, tragedy in which about 50 people lost their lives. With a local correspondent, I visited all the places where some violence had been premeditated and perpetrated, interviewed people directly and indirectly involved, confronted the facts with biased or unfounded rumors, and tried to reconstruct the chronological sequence of events hour after hour. My purpose was to facilitate the work of an international independent commission of investigation that I believed should be put in place after the tragedy.

Table of Contents

Mapping the street fighting area

Act I: Pro-Russian anti-Maidan activists first killed no less than four pro-Maidan activists in the center of Odessa
Street fighting left six dead, more than 100 wounded
The role of the medical services
The role of the police

Mapping the street fighting area

A map of the events. Click here to enlarge the map.

Location of the main events on the map

1. Gathering of anti-Maidan supporters in Alexandrovskiy Ave. at 14:30

2. Gunshot by an unidentified man according to an anti-Maidan source

3. Anti-Maidan supporters tried to attack the premises of pro-Maidan self-defence forces located nearby

Greek Square Area (Zhukov Street)

4. Various locations of police forces

5. Column of anti-Maidan supporters going to Greek Square (Red arrows)

6. Clashes between anti-Maidan supporters and pro-Maidan demonstrators (Black arrows)

Greek Square Area (Greek Street)

7. Barricades

8. Pro-Maidan supporters going to Greek Street, Deribasovskaya St. and Bunina

9. Pro-Maidan supporters heading to Greek Square from various streets

10. Clashes between anti-Maidan supporters and pro-Maidan supporters (Greek Square parking)

11.Anti-Maidan people run away

(The map was published by an anti-Maidan newspaper: the red lines show the movements of the anti-Maidan supporters and the black lines the movements of the pro-Maidan supporters. The comments are based on my investigation. See detailed chronological narrative below)

Act I: Pro-Russian anti-Maidan activists first killed no less than four pro-Maidan activists in the center of Odessa

On May 2, a football match was to take place between the local club of Chernomorets Odessa and Metalist of Karkhiv (from Eastern Ukraine) in the afternoon. Fan clubs of these teams traditionally maintain friendly relations.

The match was scheduled to start at 17:00. A few days before, it was announced that fans and pro-Maidan supporters would gather at 15:00 on Cathedral Square for a “March of Unity of Ukraine.” It was supposed to be a joint march along Deribasovskaya Street and further to the Chernomorets stadium in the Central Park of Culture and Leisure named after Shevchenko.

Around 14:00-15:00 on that day, Odessa and Kharkiv fans, pro-Maidan supporters, and several dozens of members of self-defence units gathered in the centre of the city at Soborna Square near the Orthodox Cathedral to march for the “Unity of Ukraine.” Soborna Square is one block and a half from the Greek Square area. They are interconnected by Greek street. The pro-Maidan self-defence units, a paramilitary patriotic organization formed during Euro-Maidan events in Kiyv, were equipped to protect the demonstrators in case of attack.

A number of participants in the march for the “Unity of Ukraine” supported the national idea, others were against dictatorship, and then there were ordinary football fans, the majority. According to some sources, they numbered about 1,500-2,000 altogether.

At about the same time, some 200-300 armed anti-Maidan activists left their camp in Kulikovo Square, situated near the railway station, walked for about 2-3 km and gathered in Alexandrovskiy Avenue near the city centre. They had guns, bats, knives, and wore helmets and bulletproof vests.

According to an anti-Maidan source, the first gunshot happened close to Alexandrovskiy Avenue, about 300 m from the rally of the pro-Maidan supporters. It was however not confirmed by other sources but if it is true, it could not be directly related to the pro-Maidan and pro-Odessa-Football-Club demonstration. Nobody was wounded or killed.

According to the same source, after this first shot, the group of anti-Maidan fighters moved towards the nearby premises of a pro-Maidan self-defence militia and tried to attack it. However, police forces protected the building.

In most media sources and also according to testimonies I collected, the first person was killed on the corner of Deribasovskaya Street and Preobrazhenskaya Street: a 25-year-old man was shot by an anti-Maidan supporter (his picture surrounded by flowers was hanging for months on a fence at the place he died). According to Zoya Kazanzhy (one of the leaders of Euromaidan in Odessa, a journalist then recently appointed as a vice-governor of Odessa oblast), the victim was just passing by and was not a demonstrator.

Anti-Maidan activists came with weapons to the city centre with the obvious intention to attack pro-Maidan activists.

Around 3:00pm, fans of the two teams from Odessa and Kharkiv started walking, chanting patriotic slogans such as “Odessa, Kharkiv, Ukraine,” singing the Ukrainian national anthem and songs against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Violence started when both groups met in Greek Street and Greek Square. The anti-Maidan activists started to behave aggressively: they began to destroy the pavement and to throw the tiles at the pro-Maidan demonstrators.

The members of the self-defence units formed a chain and put up their shields at the crossing with Greek Street to protect the football fans. This didn’t stop the attackers: they threw rocks and grenades into the column. People were injured with rocks, hit in their faces and heads. In response, football fans and self-defence units threw fireworks and smoke grenades at the aggressors.

The street was filled with smoke and the attackers retreated to Greek Street and the Athina mall in Greek Square.

While the self-defence members stood in a line in front of the demonstrators for the “Unity of Ukraine,” covering themselves with shields, police officers formed a similar line next to the anti-Maidan activists. Despite the cordon, they continued throwing rocks and other objects.

The anti-Maidan crowd was outnumbered and soon went on the defensive. Angry football fans went on the attack, pelted the aggressors with rocks and chased them from nearby side streets.

Gunshots were fired by anti-Maidan aggressors; a first person was killed in Greek Square Area. That’s when the first gunshots were fired in Greek Square. One of the anti-Maidan supporters, armed with a Kalashnikov machine gun, opened fire in a lane leading to Odessa’s main Deribasovskaya Street. A bullet hit a young football fan in the chest, killing him. Several dozen others, injured by rocks, were taken away by ambulance.

After the first blood spilled, the violence escalated on both sides.

Street fighting left six dead, more than 100 wounded

Police officers attempted to protect the anti-Maidan fighters, who were the attackers but who were in minority. However, they were thrown back by Molotov cocktails and rocks. The pro-Maidan side began using firearms too, according to some sources.

The street fighting went on for a few hours, initially claiming the lives of four men and injuring about 100 people. The deputy chief of Odessa police, Dmitriy Fuchedzhy, and the chief editor of the popular local online newspaper, Oleh Konstantinov, were among the injured.

Around 5pm, pro-Maidan activists captured a fire truck and drove it into the crowd of anti-Maidan people, using its water cannon to disperse the fighting crowd. The football fans chased the opponents, and beat some of them, while pro-Maidan self-defence members tried to restrain them from lynching their victims. By this time, many ambulances were at the scene.

By the end of the afternoon, six people had been killed in the city centre. While their names are known, there was still contradictory reports about their political affiliation one month after the events. Four or five pro-Maidan demonstrators were killed with firearms. Yevgeniy Losinskiy, an anti-Maidan activist, died eleven days later. Another anti-Maidan activist was also said to have been killed in the city center. Andrey Biryukov, 36, was said to be just a passer-by.

The role of the medical services

At Odessa city hospitals No 1, No 10, and No 11 volunteer collection centers were put in place to help victims of the recent violence, reported Ukrainska Pravda on May 4.

As stated on the Odessa City Council website, Odessa residents, volunteer groups from Kyiv, Odessa pro-Maidan activists and the leadership of self-defense units actively helped city hospitals and victims of the events of May 2.

After the violent clashes, some 214 people sought medical attention or were brought in by ambulances. Of those 88 were hospitalized. The rest received outpatient care or refused hospitalization. As of Saturday May 3, of the 88 hospitalized patients, three had died: one from gunshot wounds, the second from trauma during a fall, the third one from burns.

According to the available data on March 4, 46 people had died as a result of clashes between the supporters and opponents of Maidan in Odessa.

The role of the police

There were then 3,000 policemen in the city and 11,000 in the entire oblast. They knew there would be clashes and nothing was done to prevent the first phase of the cycle of violence. High-ranking officers said they had been in a meeting from 12.00 until 16.00 and that they were without their cell phones! This is really hard to believe.

The number of police officers on the street was insufficient, and they were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the violence. Their loyalty was also questionable. Anti-Maidan activists were hiding behind the policemen to shoot at the pro-Maidan demonstrators as videos have shown. Many people were injured during the clashes, including police, and had to be transported to several hospitals.

The head of the city police, Andrei Netrebskiy, was put under house arrest. The oblast police head, Piotr Lutsyuk, and his deputy, Dmitriy Fuczedzhi, disappeared and were being tracked down. Fuczedzhi had taken refuge in the pro-Russian region of Transnistria, a part of Moldova that was and still is outside their control. He then gave a long interview to a Russian television channel about the events in Odessa.

Obviously, the provocation had been planned and Russia was behind these violent incidents.

[to be continued in Article 2 of 2]

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