Report from, Odessa by Phil Wilayto
May 2, 2016
There are a lot of inaccuracies in this article, but least it marks one of the first times this year that the Western media has actually reported on the situation in Odessa. I was at the memorial today outside the locked gates of Kulikovo Square. There were three of us in a delegation sponsored by the United National Antiwar Coalition to monitor and report on the memorial. Other monitors came from about 10 European countries.
Odessa is a very independent city. It neither wants to be totally controlled by a right-wing government in Kiev nor incorporated into Russia. It isn't separatist, it wants to be part of a free and independent Ukraine, but with some local autonomy, in a federated country.
There was a very tense atmosphere today in this multicultural city of 1 million on the Black Sea. One right-wing group, called Maidan, had told the city government it wanted to bring machine guns to Kulikovo Square where the memorial was to be held. The leader of a group called the Brotherhood arrived in Odessa last night, threatening another May 2, meaning another massacre, at today's rally. The three of us with UNAC were in the bus that brought some of the Mother's Committee for May 2 to the memorial. We had to stop at an intersection for a few minutes, with about 25 Azov members lined up on the sidewalk. This is an openly fascist organization now incorporated into the National Guard. When these cretins realized there were memorial supporters in the bus, they started jeering and flashing the Nazi salute. Then about 40 more ran toward us from across the street. Something hit the side of the bus just as were pulling away.
But when we arrived at the memorial just two blocks further on, the huge crowd that met us wasn't jeering - it was supporters, who were wildly cheering the mothers.
The Guardian piece also mixes up two separate gatherings today. In the morning, at least 2,000 people spontaneously gathered outside the locked gates to the square and laid flowers to honor the 46 people who died in the fire two years ago. Then at 4 pm at least 1,500 gathered again for a more formal memorial. This time the Right Sector group - out-and-out fascists - staged a march through the area about 50 yards from the memorial. But it was just a quick show of force, with no attacks. Throughout the day, around 4,000 attended the memorial in Odessa.
What in fact happened today was that the fascist forces couldn't gather enough political or paramilitary force to stop the memorial, as they had swore they would do, even after calling in reinforcements from other areas. The courageous people of Odessa defied their threats and came out en masse to honor those who died in the fire at the House of Trade Unions and to press their demand for an international investigation into the massacre in order to bring those responsible to justice.
This was a critically important victory over the tide of right-wing violence that is emerging in Europe. We'll have a formal report when I get back to Richmond. In the meantime, look for updates at www.unacpeace.org, where you can also read about UNAC's Odessa Solidarity Campaign, in which the Defenders have played a leading role.