May 2 in Odessa: a year after the tragedy

Despite serious concerns, commemorating events on 2 May in Odessa were peaceful and calm and not that mass as one could expect, perhaps due to unprecedented safety and security measures, or just because the dust has settled for the year passed.

This cloudy day, both sides gathered with flowers and candles, each in its own place, to pay tribute to their victims. 2 May last year was quite different. It was a sunny warm day-off, the city was preparing to a football match between its own football team and the one from Kharkiv. After Crimea annexation, and developments in eastern Ukraine, many public events all over the country were devoted to Ukraine’s unity and integrity. This football match was no exception: football fans of both teams announced a unity march from the Cathedral in the city centre to the stadium. Many Odessa residents, adults and children, gathered at the square near the Cathedral with Ukrainian flags, happy and smiling they were glad to show their support to the country. No one expected that soon they would be attacked by armed pro-Russian separatists just in a couple of metres from the place.


That is why this year pro-Ukrainian side gathered with flowers, candles and Ukrainian flags to commemorate their victims of the clashes near the Cathedral. The perimeter of the square was guarded by numerous police forces as well as the Odessa Self Defence, the Right Sector and other volunteer brigades.




After commemorating ceremony, the gathering moved to the place where the first person – a pro-Ukrainian activist – had been shot that day. People laid flowers and lit candles on the spot to commemorate those killed a year ago by Russia supporters. Overall, there were 6 pro-Ukrainian activists killed and more than 200 wounded in the result of the attack on peaceful rally of football fans and those who just wanted to express support to their country.

This year, the security measures around the square, where the sadly remembered Trade Union House is located, where even more enhanced than in the centre. The perimeter of the square was surrounded by special police forces, with several men on the roof of the House. To get to the commemoration place of the pro-Russian 2 May victims, one had to go through the specially installed metal detectors.


A year ago, a square around the House became for several months a camp of separatists with several tents and a screen where the whole day long Russian propaganda news was broadcast, and from where anti-Maidan activists made regular raids on peaceful gatherings of Maidan supporters. That is why, after attack in the centre with first pro-Ukrainian activists shot from firearms, people, frustrated and tired of constant aggression of pro-Russian separatists, moved to that square determined to dismantle the camp. It should be noted, the Trade Union House was fully operated a year ago, and no pro-Russian activists were stationed there. It’s a mystery, why they decided to break into the closed building (it was a day-off) and not just to freely leave the square.

Nowadays, the burnt building is empty, surrounded with a fence. For the 1-year anniversary, the front part of the fence was covered with black cloth with photos of those 42 killed by the fire, or died of asphyxiation, to be precise. Lots of flowers and candles were brought to the place as well. One could hardly spot a Ukrainian flag here (apart from the one on the House roof), only a few black and orange so-called ribbons of St. George that for the year passed had become symbol of Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.


Aleksandra Demskaya, EMPR

The publication is also available in Russian.

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