The mass murder of May 2 happened because the Anti-Maidan leaders in Odessa weren’t even considering that they’d need to fight. They tried to have a conversation and organized roundtable discussions, while the Ukrainian nationalists were getting ready for extremist activities. The pro-Russian forces weren’t ready for a real standoff. Many of them thought that things in Odessa would go down just as they had in Crimea, i.e. that the Russian army would come and everything would be over, and the Ukrainian nationalists and extremists would be neutralized. But the difference was that in Crimea, the authorities supported the protesters. They wanted to hold a referendum. The MPs who didn’t want to participate in the parliamentary sessions were practically dragged there by the militia units. They forced the politicians to do their job. Nothing of the sort happened in Odessa.
Some people lived there permanently. They were taking care of the camp in shifts. But you must understand that Kulikovo Field wasn’t just some symbolic center of the protest. First and foremost, it was a target. It was a vulnerable camp in the city center that could be attacked and bombed with Molotov cocktails at any moment. There were hysterical discussions on social media all the time – people kept posting reports that they saw
“Nazis who were coming to burn us down.” They would get spooked three or four times a night sometimes. Eventually, everybody stopped paying attention to such messages. It was a ‘boy who cried wolf’ situation. But in the end, the Ukrainian Nazis really did come to destroy the camp – and nobody believed it was happening. We tried to convince people to leave after the clashes in Grecheskaya Square. We told them that a crowd was coming to kill them, but they didn’t believe us.
The Nazis were obviously getting ready for a raid. They brought numerous militants to the city, including some from the so-called Maidan Self-Defense and football fans. They were housed at retreat centers around the city. Some of them were Ukrainian military and Security Service officers in plain clothes.
I personally think that they weren’t going to conduct a deadly attack. They planned the same scenario as in Nikolaev, where they provoked the Anti-Maidan forces to storm the government building and used it as a pretext to interfere and crush the resistance by beating up the activists.
FILE PHOTO. A firefighter puts off burning rubbish outside the burnt trade union building where more than 30 people died trying to escape during clashes in Odessa, Ukraine, on Friday, May 2, 2014. © AP Photo/Sergei Poliakov
The Ukronazis were well equipped and armed for street clashes. I remember seeing people with machine guns standing in courtyards near Grecheskaya Square. I think they were tasked with intervening if we won. And what happened is what we saw in Mariupol on May 9, 2014, when people were simply gunned down in the streets and squares. In Odessa, it was possible to cope with the activists, but the authorities were ready to use this trump card. It was not a tragedy or an accident. The basis of all the events of May 2 was ideological hatred of Russians, Soviets, and of all the people who did not support Maidan.
— What did the police do after many people were wounded and killed?
It should be understood that there were many wounded among the security forces themselves. Those who stood in the cordon were wounded by buckshot. The security forces, as well as our activists, were fired on with hunting rifles. My comrades carried wounded law enforcement officers out of the center of clashes because the Nazis simply sprayed the crowd with buckshot. However, the security forces did not react to this in any way. I remember perfectly well how, at a certain point in the confrontation, the security forces began to withdraw under pressure from the radicals and eventually pushed us away from Grecheskaya Street, where we could prevent the nationalists from using their numerical advantage. And it was the security forces – who were also being shot at – that helped the Ukronazis gain the upper hand, because at a certain moment their cordon simply parted. We retreated in an orderly fashion, but after that there was no chance to defend the tent camp.
Meanwhile, the law enforcement agencies’ leadership had been paralyzed. All the bosses had been called to a meeting and their mobile phones were simply taken away. The policemen simply did not know what to do when they were shot at. Their comrades were being shot at, but the security forces did not use their weapons.
— Why did the conflict move to Kulikovo Field when it seemed that it had already run its course?
Some of those on Grecheskaya Square had scattered and part of them retreated to Kulikovo Field. The problem was a lack of coordination. There was no single leader that could give the order to retreat, while people continued to flock in from all over the city. The clashes generally started spontaneously. Many were not prepared for these. They left the city to have barbeques. Just the day before, on May 1, there had been a big rally that was held without incident. I knew there would be a crackdown, but most believed the authorities wouldn’t dare.
— Do you think the events of May 2 were a deliberate punitive action or a spontaneous incident?
The truth is somewhere in between. The people directly organizing the crackdown didn’t necessarily want bloodshed, but the situation in the city got out of control. However, it’s necessary to understand that a huge number of activists sent to clear out the activists were Nazis who were ready to maim and kill. And kill they did. The people who jumped out of windows were burned and slaughtered on the cobblestones. But another point is telling. These events could have been written off to excess – a crowd intoxicated by blood.
But most disgusting is what happened afterwards.
The mob entered the House of Trade Unions and began to openly mock the corpses, thus demonstrating that they did not consider what they had done to be a mistake, but that everything had been done deliberately, that they considered this to be OK, and, moreover, had enjoyed the process.
They were photographed putting their feet on people’s bodies. They joked merrily and mocked the dead. For example, there was a young man and a girl incinerated on the stairs, their bodies fused together. They joked that they were Romeo and Juliet. Alexey Goncharenko, now a Verkhovna Rada deputy, kicked bodies as he walked by. They reveled in what they had done. There was no remorse over the tragedy, and everyone saw the true face of Ukrainian Nazism. Everyone saw that the Ukrainian Nazis did not consider us to be people. And they still don’t consider us human. Therefore, you can’t negotiate with them, and shouldn’t try. That’s the most important thing to remember. They will never consider us as equals, which means that, by their logic, it is always possible to deceive, betray, and kill, so there is no need to comply with agreements. And they won’t consider any of this to be crimes – it’s like crushing cockroaches for them.
FILE PHOTO. A clash, started between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian activists in the centre of Odessa, Ukraine, on May 2, 2014. © Getty Images / Maksym Voytenko
Unfortunately, not everyone has come to realize this over the eight years that have transpired since then, but people are gradually waking up. They are beginning to understand that Ukrainian Nazism must be destroyed and the Ukronazis eradicated at the root. We need to draw a clear line between us and them, because they drew it long ago.
— Many believe the tragedy of May 2, 2014, was the point of no return in the civil war. What do you think and why?
It wasn’t a tragedy, but an act of genocide. And it became the detonator of the civil war. It showed the true intentions of people with respect to the unfolding events. There is a thesis that there is nothing worse than war, that Igor Strelkov and Russian volunteers brought war to Donbass, and this is very bad, because there is nothing worse than war. And I think that war, of course, is monstrous, but there are things worse than war. For example, a massacre. May 2 showed that the alternative to war is massacre. Like in Odessa, where we were clearly shown what would happen if we did not put up armed resistance to the Ukrainian Nazis. A huge number of people in the southeastern regions of Ukraine, in the Donbass, and in Russia understood this.
Having seen what happened on May 2, they took up their backpacks and went to fight the Ukronazis to the death, to destroy them. They protected the population from slaughter. And on February 24, 2022, the process of protecting the population from slaughter simply moved into a new phase. Therefore, truth is on our side, justice is on our side. And there is no way to come to an agreement as long as the Ukrainian Nazis hold power. They do not consider us to be people. Therefore, I repeat: war is terrible, but we are in a situation where the alternative is even worse.
— Why was the investigation into the tragedy at the House of Trade Unions constantly impeded? Was it advantageous for the authorities to hide the reasons for what happened?
Yes, of course, it was a conscious decision by the authorities. At the trial concerning the events of May 2, they tried not those who did the killing, but those who were the victims. Kulikovo Field activists were tried for inciting mass riots, but not a single Nazi was ever in the dock. Moreover, when I was tried, Ukrainian activists approached me right in the courtroom, in the presence of judges and prosecutors, and said:
“We burned them, we will burn you too.” And the judges turned away or smiled and pretended not to notice. Ukraine after February 2014 is a country of legal nihilism.
The authorities also deliberately destroyed evidence. For example, there is a video showing our activists and law enforcement officers being shot at. No one was held responsible for this. What kind of dialogue can be conducted here within a legal framework? This is a terrorist state.
— What happened to the Russian movement in Odessa after May 2?
Some people tried to form an underground resistance, especially those who expected the Russian Federation to enter Odessa. Part of Odessa’s inhabitants left for Donbass and joined the militia. Some remained in the legal field, like a journalist named Yuri Tkachev, who has now been arrested by the SBU. He tried to engage in journalism, despite realizing he could be imprisoned at any moment, and tried to be objective. Some engaged in public activities, organizing events in memory of the May 2 victims, and tried to help our activists who were in jail. But unfortunately, they do not receive any support. Odessa residents usually take an interest only on May 2, because it’s necessary to write about the ‘tragedy’ then, but on the other 364 days of the year the victims are forgotten. No conclusions from this mass murder, the traces of which are visible in everything, have ever been reached.
This turned out to be a very strong blow to the pro-Russian movement because people received no support from the Russian establishment. They were told,
“Here is the party of Viktor Medvedchuk” – who himself, in general, is a Ukrainian nationalist – “He is one of ours, here he is, shaking Putin’s hand. Vote for him.” An underground resistance did form, but it wasn’t very big, because people didn’t understand why they should take the risk. Will Russia come? Why risk it if even if the Donbass, awash in blood for the right to become part of Russia, had been pushed back into the Ukronazi state for seven and a half years by the Minsk agreements. Our people saw that the Nazis were ready to cut and burn them for their position. And there was simply no centralized support.
And because of this, now we need to fight for the minds of these people who are very traumatized. To restore their faith. To give them meaning, to let them understand what narrative Russia is going with. They will rise when they realize that Russia is here forever.
— Is there a chance for those who swore allegiance to the Ukrainian national project out of fear or for the sake of profit to return to the Russian fold?
First of all, it is necessary to determine who is ‘pro-Russian,’ because not only Russians are included in this category. There are also people with a Soviet identity, Ukrainians who were against Maidan and believe that their country needs normal relations with Russia. Moreover, there are people of this mindset in Western Ukraine. A huge number of Ukrainian-speaking citizens opposed Maidan, and there were Russian speakers and even ethnic Russians who supported it. Even now in Russia itself, in the very capital of Moscow no less, there is a stratum of people who support Ukrainian Nazism. This is not a conflict between Russia and Ukraine. It is a clash of ideological and civilizational trajectories, and it is in this way that what is happening should be discussed.
FILE PHOTO. People watch as firefighters work at the burned Trade Union building late on May 2, 2014 in Odessa. © AFP PHOTO / STRINGER
As for those who swore an oath to the Ukrainian national project, I will say the following: a person who has honor can swear an oath and will be ready to defend his ideals to the end. If he swears to something, he will see it through to the end. He can change his views and beliefs, but this will happen organically. This is not a change of flags for short-term gain. However, a person who changes stripes in such a fashion is an opportunist. There are a lot of opportunists. And if we combine two factors – the ruthless suppression and extermination of those who took up arms and the preservation of life for those who did not take up arms – then the battle for the minds of the opportunists will be won. Because they will always choose a normal life and the path of least resistance, rather than death for some ideal.
To protect Russian identity in the former Ukraine, it must first be nurtured in the Russian Federation itself. And now, thanks to Special Operation Z, our identity is sprouting. And it is shared not only by ethnic Russians, but also by Ukrainians and people of various nationalities throughout the post-Soviet space. They shouldn’t be ignored either. And we need to start openly saying what we want in a global sense as soon as possible. Tactical and operational plans can be hidden, but strategic plans should be made public. They can’t help but be public. People need a clear idea of where we are going.
We need to tell them that they are our people, that we will build a happy future together. Then the battle for minds will be won.
By Dmitry Plotnikov, a political journalist exploring the history and current events of ex-Soviet states
paradox. All rights reserved.