2014 Odessa clashes
Clashes between Euromaidan and anti-Maidan demonstrators erupted in the southern Ukrainian port city of Odessa during January 2014, during the lead-up to the late February revolution. Many people in southern and eastern Ukraine opposed the revolution. Odessa, largely Russophone, witnessed continued unrest throughout 2014. The worst incident occurred on 2 May, when six pro-Ukrainian unity attendees and forty-two pro-Russian anti-Maidan protesters were killed and over 200 people were injured during a confrontation with pro-Ukrainian unity protesters at the Trade Unions House in central Odessa.
Up to 2,000 Euromaidan protesters marched on the regional state administration (RSA) building in Odessa on 26 January, but were repelled by pro-government supporters and municipal barricades. Odessa municipal administration fortified the RSA with concrete blocks to prevent further incursions on 28 January. Confrontations between Euromaidan and Anti-Madian protesters continued over the next month, and on 19 February, about 100 unidentified men wearing masks and helmets, and armed with baseball bats, assaulted a pro-Maidan demonstration. Three journalists and two cameramen were injured in the clashes. A number of Russian nationalist groups (Odesska Druzhyna, Anti-Maidan) were active throughout the period and actively supported by senior Russian politicians such as Sergey Glazyev.
After the ousting of president Viktor Yanukovych by Euromaidan protesters in late February, heightened tensions between Euromaidan and anti-Maidan protesters began in Odessa Oblast. Police reported that 5,000 participated in a pro-Russian demonstration in the city of Odessa on 1 March. Rolling demonstrations continued, and on 3 March 2014, 200–500 demonstrators with Russian flags attempted to seize the Odessa RSA building. They demanded that a referendum on the establishment of an "Odessa Autonomous Republic" be held.
On 30 March, Russian ultranationalist Anton Rayevsky was arrested and deported from the city for organizing pro-Russian subversive groups, allegedly for the Russian government. A member of the neo-Nazi Black Hundreds group, materials confiscated from Rayevsky called for the destruction of Ukrainians and Jews in the region, and for Russian military intervention. In an interview following his participation in the Donbas War, he reiterated his belief that Jews were the main enemy of Russia.
An 'Odessa People's Republic' was proclaimed by an internet group in Odessa Oblast on 16 April. Members of the Odessa anti-Maidan protest group later swore that they made no such declaration, and the leaders of the group said they had only heard about it through the media. The OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine later confirmed that the situation in Odessa remained calm. Local anti-Maidan and pro-Euromaidan leaders in Odessa Oblast voiced scepticism about the Geneva Statement on Ukraine on 20 April. The anti-Maidan leaders insisted that they aimed not at secession, but at the establishment of a wider federative state called 'Novorossiya' within Ukraine.
Pro-Russian Odesskaya Druzhina militants at the Trade Unions House encampment on 14 April
Meeting of pro-Russian activists in Odessa at Kulikovo Pole square on 20 April
2 May city centre clashes
|2 May clashes|
|Date||2 May 2014|
Odessa Oblast, Ukraine
|Parties to the civil conflict|
Total casualties: 48 dead, 247 injured (27 shot, 31 stabbed) and 99 hospitalised |
On 2 May 2014, as part of the rising unrest in Ukraine in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, clashes between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian groups broke out in multiple in the streets of Odessa. Six pro-Ukrainian unity attendees were killed during the clashes in the streets, three of bullet wounds. These clashes culminated in a large skirmish outside the Trade Unions House, an Odessa landmark located on Kulikovo Field in the city centre. That building then caught fire in unclear circumstances, resulting in the deaths of forty-two pro-Russian activists who had holed up in it. The events were the bloodiest civil conflict in Odessa since 1918.
A rally at 14:00 for national unity was held in Sobornaya Square by about 1,500 people, including many FC Chornomorets Odesa and FC Metalist Kharkiv fans, along with some right-wing Right Sector members, and many ordinary people. Joint marches among the sports fans are a regular tradition before all football matches in the area. As they marched down Deribasovskaya Street, fans of both teams sang the Ukrainian national anthem together, chanted patriotic slogans such as "Odessa, Kharkiv, Ukraine", and sang other songs against Russian President Vladimir Putin. OSCE monitors reported that they saw around one-hundred pro-unity activists in camouflage with sticks and shields participating in the march. There are claims that both Hennadiy Trukhanov, a pro-Russian candidate for mayor of Odessa, and Alexandr Dubovoy, a pro-Ukrainian who leads Yulia Tymoshenko's election campaign in the city, had placed titushky (paid thugs) in the crowd.
Attendees told journalists beforehand that they had found out through social media that "anti-Maidan supporters were calling for everyone to gather and crush the unification march." One of the pages called on their supporters in Odessa to "take after Donetsk," a reference to pro-Russian attacks that took place against pro-Ukrainian demonstrators in Donetsk days prior. A leaflet that said the pro-Russian groups would "defend Odessa from pogroms" was distributed across the city before the rally.
Escalation into clashes
|Odessa, the shooter at the Deribasivska Street video from YouTube|
This rally was later attacked by a pro-Russian mob of 300 from the group Odesskaya Druzhina armed with bats and firearms at Hretska Street. Both sides fought running battles against each other, exchanging stones and petrol bombs, and built barricades throughout the city during the afternoon. According to OHCHR both sides had various kinds of helmets, masks, shields, axes and wooden or metal sticks, and firearms.
According to an OmTV there were mostly air pistols and the first actual firearms used was brought by an Antimaidan activist Vitaly Budko ("Botsman") who opened fire from an AK-47 rifle using 5.45 bullets. Witnesses pointed out that he was shooting from behind the police line, effectively being covered by the law enforcement operatives. The first victim was Igor Ivanov, who died from a 5.45 bullet. Some shots were fired from the roof top of the Afina shopping centre to shoot down at the crowds. Budko later left the scene in ambulance together with police commander Dmitry Fuchedzhy.
Videos from the killing of Ivanov, rapidly spreading in social networks, was - according to people interviewed by OmTV - the tipping point in the conflict and resulted in bringing in a large number of Molotov cocktails, further airguns and hunting rifles to the conflict. A number of activists from both sides (Evgeniy Losinsky, Gennadiy Petrov, Alexandr Zhulkov, Nikolai Yavorskiy) died from hunting bullets wounds shortly after on Grecheskaya Square.
Trade Unions House fire
As soon as word spread about the attack by pro-Russian demonstrators, a call by pro-Ukrainian demonstrators to go to Kulikovo Field and destroy the anti-Maidan camp emerged on social networks. As a result, the pro-Russian crowd was later overwhelmed by the pro-Ukrainian demonstrators, and their encampment outside the Trade Unions House building was torched. This forced the pro-Russian activists to enter that building, and occupy it. The building is five storeys tall, and is the headquarters of the Odessa regional federation of trade unions. It is located on Kulikovo Field, in the city centre.
Reports about the precise sequence of events that followed vary between different sources, including several confirmed fake reports being spread through social networks. While defending the building, militants on the roof tossed rocks and petrol bombs at the protesters below. A report by the Ukrainian Independent Information Agency (UNIAN) said that the pro-Ukraine crowd began to throw petrol bombs into the building after having been fired upon by the pro-Russian group. BBC News said that the situation was unclear, with multiple sources indicating that both sides had been throwing petrol bombs at each other. One eyewitness told the BBC that the fire started on the third floor when a petrol bomb was thrown at a closed window from inside the building, and the Kyiv Post reported that several flaming bottles held by Ukrainian unity activists outside were thrown into the front entrance, and through the windows on the second and fourth floors. An official investigation conducted by the Ukrainian Interior Ministry stated that while no firearms were found inside the building, those on the roof were shooting at the crowd below, and accidentally set the building on fire whilst throwing petrol bombs from above. One of the pro-Ukrainian protesters who was shot (non-fatally) by a sniper from the trade unions building was Andrey Krasilnikov, a Russian citizen and Euromaidan activist. Russia Today, a television news network funded by the Russian state, disputed this report, saying that the fire was started intentionally by "pro-Kiev radicals", and that those who died were "anti-government activists."
Regardless of who started the fire, it is known that it started on the second and third floors of the building, and quickly spread. Firefighters were slow to respond, arriving an hour after the fire began. Thirteen units of fire and rescue apparatus were sent to the scene, but were prevented from operating because of the large number of people gathered around the building. Fifty pro-Russian activists remained on the roof, barricading themselves in and refusing to leave, while others were seen attempting to jump out of the windows. Some of those who tried to escape the fire were set upon and beaten during their attempts to flee by some Ukrainian unity demonstrators, while other demonstrators saved several dozen people in rooms on the second and third floor. Some outside the building chanted "burn Colorado, burn," referring to a derogatory term for pro-Russian activists who wear the Ribbon of Saint George. Local pro-Ukrainian unity protesters said that no one in Odessa's pro-Ukrainian movement knew the people that were seen chanting such slogans outside the burning building.
42 people died whilst trapped in the burning Trade Unions House; 32 from carbon monoxide poisoning, and 10 after leaping from windows to escape the flames. In total, 48 people died in one day as a result of the clashes. 6 people were shot dead, 5 of whom were from the pro-Ukraine side. Hospital staff reported that 174 were injured, and 25 were in critical condition. 172 people were reported arrested as a result of the conflict, and 38 pro-Russian militants were arrested by police after they had evacuated the burning building.
A TSN correspondent reported that of those who died in the fire, fifteen were Russian citizens, and five were from Transnistria. Odessa City Council deputy Dmitry Spivak also said that some of the rioters were from Transnistria. The Interior Ministry stated that the identity of most of the victims had not been determined on 2 May, despite these reports. On the day after the clashes, the Odessa office of the Interior Ministry issued another statement saying that eight of those who died in the fire were identified, and that all of them were from Odessa. It was later determined that all of those who died in the fire were from Odessa.
The city of Odessa announced that three days of mourning would be held in honour of those who lost their lives in the clashes. Ukrainian interim President Oleksandr Turchynov followed suit, declaring two days of national mourning for those who died in the clashes, also those who died during a government counter-offensive in Donetsk Oblast.
Both pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian demonstrators gathered outside the burnt Trade Unions House on the day after the clashes. Roughly 2,000 pro-Russian protesters gathered outside, chanting: "Odessa is a Russian city." There was a heavy police presence, and some minor scuffles between protesters. In another outbreak of unrest, the Interior Ministry's headquarters in Odessa was attacked by several hundred pro-Russian activists on 4 May. Originally a protest, the events later turned violent when masked demonstrators with improvised weapons started breaking windows, and forcing gates open. In an attempt to pacify the protesters, the officials inside the building released between 30 and 67 of those arrested in the aftermath of the clashes. Elsewhere in the city, supporters of federalisation attacked a Ukrainian reporter for Channel 5 news. A rally of several hundred pro-Ukrainian activists marched to the site of the fire, raised the Ukrainian flag from the central flagpole, and observed a moment of silence for the victims.
May 7, 2014 Nemirovsky accused Alexandr Dubovoy of organization of Odessa clashes. In July, the court ordered Nemirovsky to refute this false report.
Investigators are probing four theories: an order to extremist groups to destabilise the situation in Ukraine; unlawful activity by Odessa regional authorities and police aimed at discrediting the current central government; unchecked actions by football fans and pro-Russia groups; and a provocation by radical individuals.
Then-presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko told journalists about a closed session of parliament where evidence was presented that "toxic substances" had been placed in the Trade Unions House to facilitate an increased death toll, and that the events were organised in advance by Russian and local officials.
Amid the ingoing investigation, Ukraine's deputy Interior Minister and Chief Investigator Vitaliy Sakal told journalists on 19 May that traces of chloroform had been found in the building, and that thirty-two deaths in the building were attributed to the inhalation of an as yet unidentified substance. Sakal added that the mixture containing chloroform had been in the Trade Unions building for several days. Sakal said that an investigation to determine the substance's origin was ongoing, and that Ukrainian investigators have urged the Israeli Embassy to provide skilled professionals to assist Ukrainian specialists in this regard.
The day after the fire, the Interior Ministry released a statement saying that 172 people had been arrested. They said that the meticulous preparation of the unrest in the town was evident from the fact that the majority of the detainees who had been identified at the time were Russian nationals and residents of Transnistria. Police confiscated firearms and a significant amount of incendiary mixture during the arrests. That same day Vitaly Yarema, First Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, said there were foreigners among both the participants of mass riots and the victims in Odessa.
According to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), the clashes that took place involved the participation of 'illegal military groups' and mercenaries coordinated in Transnistria by subversive groups from Russia, and financed by former members of the Yanukovych government. Named were former Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov and former Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Klymenko. "Subversion in the Ukrainian city of Odessa that was financed by former top officials targeted at disrupting stability in the south of Ukraine," said Kateryna Kosareva, SBU press spokeswoman. "Its organizers were planning that it would be the beginning of full scale instability in the rest of the southern regions of our country."
The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVS) announced that among the conflict organizers it had detained, at least three were citizens of the Russian Federation. Among them were named Evgeny Mefedov, from Yoshkar-Ola; Andrei Krasilnikov, from Nizhny Novgorod; and Alexander Zolotashko. The SBU then identified other Russian citizens arrested: Boris Demylov; Sergei Pavlov; Alexander Vdovin; Sergei Sidorenko; and Dmitri Bormotov, from Evenk Autonomous Okrug.
Vladimir Nemirovsky, chairman of the Odessa regional government, stated that the conflict could have been avoided had police fulfilled their duties, and accused police of inciting the confrontation and taking bribes to switch allegiance to the separatists' side. Several police were seen donning the red armbands worn by pro-Russian rioters.
The leadership of the local police was then fired and may face criminal charges. "The police in Odessa acted outrageously, possibly in a criminal fashion," Interior Minister Avakov stated. "The 'honor of the uniform' will offer no cover." He then announced the formation of a new civilian-based special police force named "Kiev-1" to help police the city.
Arsen Avakov, the interior minister, blamed local politicians for the events. People suspected of complicity include city council members, elections workers, police, relatives of former police officers, and active anti-Maidan campaigners. Twelve people were arrested, but their names were not disclosed.
Ukraine – "We believe that a full and impartial investigation, which is being conducted by law enforcement agencies of Ukraine, will enable us to find not only the perpetrators of the tragedy, but also their puppeteers and sponsors both in Ukraine and in Russia," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "That which we saw in Odessa was a [Russian] Federal Security Service provocation to deflect attention from the anti-terrorist operation [in eastern Ukraine]" said acting presidential chief of staff Serhiy Pashynsky. "They [the FSB] want to show that situation [in the country] is not stable, but what happened in Odessa showed something else, that the people's patience has run out." Pashynsky also stated that the FSB armed pro-Russian militants in Odessa. Acting president Turchynov said Russian special forces were working with success to destabilise Ukraine, helped by "guest stars from Transnistria."
Russian Federation – Russia's Foreign Ministry said that the fire was "yet another manifestation of the criminal irresponsibility of the Kiev authorities who indulge insolent radical nationalists … which are engaging in a campaign of physical terror", against those wanting 'greater autonomy' living in Russian-speaking regions.
- Other countries
Bulgaria – Bulgarian Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin condemned the Odessa clashes "in the strongest possible terms" and expressed condolences to the victims' families. He urged the Ukrainian government to "abide by its obligations to disarm paramilitaries...limit the influence of far-right groups" and all parties to refrain from further provocations.
Belarus – President Alexander Lukashenko said during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin "The developments in Odessa are simply unimaginable. I would like to have a frank discussion, behind the scenes, so to speak, about the situation in Ukraine and to coordinate our actions, because clearly, this crisis is not going to end tomorrow, and it has a direct impact on you and on us."
Armenia – President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan said "Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned by the growth of violence in Ukraine, including the events in Odessa, Slavyansk, Kramatorsk and other regions. We cannot but worry about the current situation also because there are more than half a million Armenians living in Ukraine."
United States – US State Department: "The United States today mourns with all Ukrainians the heartbreaking loss of life in Odessa. Today the international community must stand together in support of the Ukrainian people as they cope with this tragedy".
Canada – Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, said the latest incidents were "very deeply concerning" and accused President Vladimir Putin of starting a "slow-motion invasion" of Ukraine.
Pro-Russian encampment outside the Trade Unions House
Memorial service in honour of those who died in the clashes, outside the burnt Trade Unions House on 10 May 2014
The memorial at the place of death of Andriy Biriykov, killed in the clashes
About sixty people gathered on Kulikovo Field to commemorate the 2 May fire on 13 July. The demonstration was peaceful. Another demonstration on the field on the same day drew about 120 people. They chanted "Donbass, we are with you", in reference to the ongoing War in Donbass. Odessa city mayor Hennadiy Trukhanov told OSCE monitors on 23 July that the "underlying tensions" of the 2 May clashes remained in the city, and that he feared for the city's security.
Odessa was struck by six bomb blasts in December 2014, one of which killed one person (the injuries sustained by the victim indicated that he had dealt with explosives). Internal Affairs Ministry advisor Zorian Shkiryak said on 25 December that Odessa and Kharkiv had become "cities which are being used to escalate tensions" in Ukraine. Shkiryak said that he suspected that these cities were singled out because of their "geographic position".
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