2 yrs after Odessa killings: Bomb scare, fire at will order, EU still calling for transparent probe
The Ukrainian city of Odessa is marking the anniversary of the killings of pro-Russian protesters in 2014. The site of the tragedy was closed in the morning over a bomb threat, as the EU reiterated calls to independently investigate the massacre.
Activists and relatives of the victims of the May 2 killings in Odessa were blocked by the police from attending the site of the atrocity on Monday morning. The square, which was already surrounded by fences and troops to prevent possible violence, was closed off over a telephone call claiming there was a bomb there.
Hours later the police reported it was a false alarm, but the cordon wasn’t lifted. Thwarted mourners started laying flowers outside of the fence as snipers deployed on rooftops of nearby buildings kept an eye on the situation.
At least 12 people were reportedly detained by the police for causing a disturbance. Mobile phone services were reportedly down in many parts of the city, possibly on orders from the police aimed to disrupt communication by potential troublemakers.
Tension is high in the city, with some 3,000 troops deployed to provide security. Kiev sent additional troops to Odessa, including 300 men from the notorious Azov battalion, which is known for having many right-wing and neo-Nazi people in its ranks.
“The interior ministry is prepared for possible provocations by separatists,” Deputy Interior Minister Zoryan Shkiryak wrote on Facebook. He added that the security troops would act “tough and resolutely.”
Last week, the official said the troops were ordered to shoot to kill if armed people are spotted on the streets. The statement was blasted by Odessa region governor Mikhail Saakashvili, who said no such order was given and that Shkiryak was out of line. The two men have long been at each other’s throats, exchanging several dismissive public remarks over the last few days.
The Odessa mayor asked the people not to show up in the center on Monday for security concerns. The city authorities did not organize their own event to mark the tragedy. The mayor himself is facing protests that have gone on for weeks. The people accuse him of corruption and ties to Russia.
Worst since WWII massacres
The commemoration on Monday is being held for the victims of the mass killings, which happened in the wake of an armed coup in Kiev. Two years ago a rally of hardcore football fans and nationalists clashed with opponents of the new authorities. Both sides were armed, and bloodshed started as police failed to act and stop rioting.
The nationalists, who had the advantage in numbers, sent their opponents on retreat and pushed on to a camp tent in Kulikovo Pole Square, where peaceful protesters had been staying for days. The camp was torched and the pro-Russian activists tried take refuge in a nearby administrative building. What they found instead was a death trap, as petrol bombs thrown at the building set it on fire.
The mass killings were the worse incident of violence against civilians in the port city since massacres in World War II. The official death toll for the tragedy is 48, including seven women and one child, but independent groups claim it may be higher. So far the new Ukrainian authorities have failed to wrap up the investigation and only charged the opponents of the nationalists, who were allegedly involved in the initial clashes.
No justice for the victims
A number of international organizations, including the Council of Europe, criticized Kiev for its failure to administer justice. The EU’s ambassador to Ukraine, Jan Tombinski, reiterated the call for a proper investigation on Monday.
“I urge the government of Ukraine to follow up on the recommendations of the Council of Europe International Advisory Panel and to carry out an independent and transparent investigation,” he said in a statement.
Discontent was also voiced by opposition MPs in parliament. They accused the prosecutors of deliberately stalling the probe to shield nationalists, who were used to curb protests in Odessa two years ago.
“Some current officials should stand trial. We do not believe that the authorities can conduct an honest investigation,” the MPs said in a statement, calling for an internationally supervised probe.
The Odessa tragedy is one of the major issues of a report about the conditions of human rights in Ukraine, which the European parliament is to hear later this week.
Commemoration events for the victims of the Odessa tragedy are being held worldwide this week. People are paying their respects in Berlin, Vienna, London, Athens and Brussels. The eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Lugansk are marking the anniversary with church services and memorial concerts.
In Moscow, a rally in front of the Ukrainian embassy was marred by several radical activists, who threw flares at the building. They were detained by the police.