Russia’s New Odessa File
Six months after the tragic events on May 2 in Odessa which claimed 48 lives, Russia’s Investigative Committee has initiated another of its memorable ‘criminal cases’. This Committee has been responsible in recent months for the preposterous charges against abducted Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko and the claims of genocide committed against Russian speakers in Donbas. It has now declared war on ‘armed nationalist radicals in Ukraine, this time in defence of “one Russian national” who is nowhere named, but whose only fault, the Committee feels confident to assert, was that he is Russian.
It would be nice to believe that Russia’s investigators so cherish the life and health of each citizen of the Russian Federation. Nice but impossible given the numerous cases which Russia has lost at the European Court of Human Rights over the involvement of federal forces in disappearances and extra-judicial killings in Chechnya, as well as over its failure to carry out any real investigation.
One unnamed Russian individual has, however, attracted the attention of the Investigative Committee [IC] attention and prompted it to initiate a criminal case. The alleged perpetrators are unnamed individuals said to be from armed nationalist radical ‘Right Sector’ and ‘Maidan Self-Defence’ formations; Ukrainian football fans and officials from Ukraine’s Interior Ministry and SBU [Security Service]. The charges are of attempted murder and torture.
The IC account of events coincides with that presented by the pro-Kremlin media, but differs widely from the findings of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, not to mention those of Ukrainian civic organizations and journalists who have sifted through all the evidence.
It is primarily Russian sources which claim that the pro-Ukrainian groups began the disturbances. All video footage, and reports, show that the first fatal shot and the violent attack came from a group of ‘anti-Maidan’ [pro-federalism] protesters, many of whom were in masks.
This innocent Russian bystander is alleged to have feared for his life and tried to hide in a safe place, by heading towards the Trade Union building on Kulikovo Pole, together with other civilians. All were allegedly trying to escape the members of Right Sector, etc. who, the IC says, were hurling stones and Molotov cocktails while chanting “anti-Russian and nationalist slogans”.
There is ample evidence that the vast majority of people caught by the fire in the Trade Union building had been tricked into entering it by a small core of pro-federalism activists who had prepared barricades and provisions well in advance of the clashes between pro-unity and pro-federalism activists.
There is also considerable video footage demonstrating that the IC’s version of events is gravely distorted. The footage shows shots fired and Molotov cocktails hurled from the roof and from a window of the building. This certainly does not excuse those pro-Ukrainian unity protesters outside who continued hurling Molotov cocktails, nor Mykola, the activist who fired shots at the building, but it does indicate that blame for the situation was shared. The footage shows that people taking part in the rescue operation were shot at from pro-federalism activists on the roof (at around 1.50 here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CB6axlE-sRQ#t=46 and from 0.44 to the end here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mPAZ6SW1kk (these and another videos are described in more detail here)
IC claims that having suffered from smoke inhalation, “the Russian” managed to get out of the building but was detained by police and taken to the police station, his only fault being that he was Russian. Instead of being treated as a victim and receiving medical treatment, he “was charged with a crime he could not have committed, and subjected to violence and torture to extract a confession”.
In this predominantly Russian-speaking city he was supposedly provided with all procedural documents in Ukrainian, and not given a translator. His requests to meet with the Russian consul were ignored for three months, it is claimed. This, the IC, says compares most unfavourably with the treatment that Nadiya Savchenko has received in Russia.
“It should be borne in mind that Savchenko is accused of particularly grave crimes which according to Russian legislation can carry life imprisonment. The Ukrainian law enforcement officers, instead of defending a Russian citizen from a maddened crowd of nationalists and fascists first shut their eyes to these crimes, and then continued the Russian’s torture, effectively becoming accomplices to the crimes. That is the fundamental difference between Russian and Ukrainian justice.”
A stirring moment for Russian readers, only wildly at variance with the facts. Ukraine’s SBU announced on May 3 that 3 Russian nationals had been detained, one a supporter of EuroMaidan, two suspected of involvement on the pro-federalism side. According to the newspaper Dumskaya, whose journalists are among the members of the May 3 Group investigating the events, the Russian consulate was informed of the men’s whereabouts immediately.
Since the fate of EuroMaidan supporter Andrei Krasilnikov who was wounded in the arm from a hunting rifle fired from the third floor of the Trade Union building, i.e. by pro-federalism activists, seriously clashes with the IC narrative, it seems likely that he is not the ‘Russian national’ hero of this investigation. Dumskaya believes it to be Yevgeny Mefedov. Despite learning of his detention on May 3, the Russian consulate in Odessa showed no interest in seeing him until the beginning of August, i.e. three months after the events. Maria Koleda, a young Russian woman detained by the SBU on April 8 stated in an interview that she had received no support at all from the Russian consulate in Ukraine.
Another three months on and the IC has suddenly decided that their ‘Russian national’ is innocent of all charges, and a victim first of ‘nationalists and fascists’ then of ‘Ukrainian justice’ with a confession having been tortured out of him. How they reached this conclusion is not explained.
Dumskaya suggests that the IC may be trying to justify the long refusal to allow Ukraine’s consul to visit Nadiya Savchenko. If so, the chances are next to nil for those with even the slightest knowledge of the case.
In fact, however, the IC is pitching its message at a different audience, one fed largely on claims that the events of May 3 were a ‘massacre’ carried out by Right Sector and Maidan supporters. The facts are against them, but in fighting Russia’s heavily funded propaganda machine the force of the truth should not be over-estimated. There are plenty of reports of young men having come to Donbas because of the lies they were fed about Odessa. The lies are repeated and toxic, and the antidote useless unless repeated just as often.