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Ukraine’s Odessa remembers victims of May 2 tragedy

May 02, 2015, 6:45 UTC+3 ODESSA
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ODESSA, May 2. /TASS/. Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odessa is remembering the victims of the May 2, 2014 unrest, which claimed 48 lives.

On that day aggressive supporters of the Euromaidan campaign, who had arrived in Odessa in the guise of football fans, and local opponents of the new Ukrainian authorities clashed in the centre of the city. The skirmishes then moved towards Kulikovo Field Square. Radical members of the Right Sector group (an organization outlawed as extremist in Russia) and the so-called Maidan Self-Defence, sent from Kiev, raided a tent camp where local activists were collecting signatures in support of a federalization referendum.

A crowd of football fans and ultra-right militants drove the protesters into the House of Trade Unions. A short while later a fire began inside the building, besieged by Euromaidan activists. The radicals prevented fire-fighting vehicles from approaching the building, fired shots at people trying to escape from the blaze and finished off some survivors with sticks. A total of 42 people died in the fire or of wounds, six others were shot dead, and more than 200 were injured.

Only the Opposition on trial

The probe into the May 2 tragedy in Odessa has lasted for a year now. Investigators have gathered evidence proving the mass unrest had been well-organized and planned in advance. The Prosecutor-General’s Office says no secret services had anything to do with the blaze inside the House of Trade Unions. "We cannot say that it was a result of actions by some special services," Ukraine’s Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Guzyr told a news briefing in April 2015. "There has been no evidence it was a pre-planned fire."

Guzyr blamed the fire on the victims. He claimed that those who took refuge inside the House of Trade Unions "tried to create an obstacle and started a fire inside the building." Also, he said that forensic specialists had identified "no traces of torture, beating or other injuries."

In the meantime, the whole world has been able to see the videos showing radicals around the House of Trade Unions hurling flares and Molotov cocktails into the windows, and pictures taken the next morning of the mutilated bodies of victims with traces of torture lying inside the building.

A total of 21 people have been put on trial for involvement in the incident. Ten are kept in police custody. All of the accused are participants in the oppositional anti-Maidan demonstrations. In the meantime, all supporters of the current authorities suspected of killings are still at large. One week before the anniversary of the tragedy a district court in Odessa returned the bill of indictment to the Prosecutor-General’s Office for revision because, it said, there was no evidence proving the guilt of the accused.

UN mission observers, Russia’s OSCE envoy and the Russian Foreign Ministry have repeatedly pointed to the lack of progress in investigating the loss of human life in Odessa. Recently, Russia’s OSCE envoy Andrei Kelin said that the Ukrainian authorities’ probe into the affair still produced no results and "people involved in the tragic events of May 2 in Odessa and in their investigation have been dying mysterious deaths."

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s commissioner for human rights, democracy and rule of law, Konstantin Dolgov, said that procrastinations were merely breeding rumors of the authorities’ complicity in that tragedy. "The authorities in Kiev continue to play down the investigation on various excuses. None of the culprits has been punished - neither the rank-and-file, nor the organizers. Apparently, the Ukrainian authorities have some secrets to hide," Dolgov said.

Kiev’s "security sweep"

Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko, who visited Odessa on April 10, said that on the eve of the tragedy the Ukrainian Security Service carried out a security sweep to have detained "nearly 50 criminals." He argued the detainees were suspected of plotting provocations and terrorist attacks on the eve of May 2.

Two days before the day of mourn another tide of arrests followed. Police have jailed mother of Odessa’s anti-Maidan’s leaders - the Davidchenko brothers, Anton and Artyom, who together with other oppositional activists had to flee Ukraine to escape persecution by the authorities.

Alongside Lyubov Davidchenko the authorities arrested the leaders of the non-governmental organization Popular Rada of Bessarabia, Vera Shevchenko and Artyom Buzila, and a dozen other activists.

"The authorities are so scared of the Odessa people and of the responsibility for May 2 that they have been trying to lock up in prison whoever may come their way. Fifty people were arrested in Odessa alone in just one month of April. A clear reminder of Nazi Germany," the editor-in-chief of the popular Odessa Internet-portal Timer, Yuri Tkachyov, writes on his page in Facebook. He urged the people of Odessa not to give up and to take to the streets for a remembrance demonstration.

Right Sector to march under black-and-red flags

On the day of the tragedy’s first anniversary Odessa must see only remembrance meetings. "The parties agreed that on the day of mourning there should be no events other than remembrance ceremonies. The time and places of rallies by mourners have been agreed - Kulikovo Field Square and Cathedral Square," the coordinator of Self-Defence of Odessa, Vitaly Kozhukhar, has said.

The Headquarters of the Patriotic Forces of Odessa, incorporating Self-Defence of Odessa, the Right Sector and other nationalist organizations, has called for honoring "the memory of Ukrainian patriots who died for the ideals of Maidan." The radicals’ leaders warned they would be "on the alert and detain all people who might be wearing St. George ribbons." They promised to take to the streets under the black-and-red flags (the flag of the Bandera wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists OUN, currently the symbol of the Right Sector - TASS).

And the nationalist party Freedom in its statement has described as "heroes" those who set fire to the House of Trade Unions and people hiding inside. "Mourning for those who died there would be the same as honoring the memory of Russian invaders and their local henchmen," it said.

Authorities promise order

The authorities are concerned about security. "We will maintain order in the city on that day. First we will respond harshly and look into whether the detention was legal afterwards," said the chief of the regional state administration, Igor Palitsa.

Odessa will be patrolled by more than 3,000 security service agents, police and military. Armoured vehicles, volunteer squads and national guardsmen have been moved in from other regions.

The chief of the regional police force, General Ivan Katerinchuk, said security around the place of the tragedy would be tightened. "Admission to the square will be through frame metal detectors. Bringing in sound and other equipment, bags and large items is not allowed. Each person will be obliged to present an ID," Katerinchuk said.

On Friday, the Odessa authorities held a review of troops, including the national guardsmen and crack units of the Ukrainian Security Service. After the inspection the forces and vehicles marched across the Kulikovo Field Square in front of the building still bearing the scars of last year’s events.

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