war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia Today, or why Odesa May 2 is different from Baltimore

Halya Coynash
There would be outrage if a TV channel broadcasting in Baltimore reported a fire started by accident and killing a number of Afro-Americans as having been deliberately lit. Still more so if the lie was spread via an English-language channel directly funded by the Kremlin. The latter has done precisely that in pushing a ‘massacre narrative’ about the tragic events on May 2, 2014 in Odesa.

Imagine that a television channel broadcasting in Baltimore reported on a fire started by accident in which a number of Afro-Americans had died, but claimed that it had been deliberately lit. Would there be any means of preventing a lie that could potentially cause still greater riots and even deaths? What if the lie was spread via an English-language channel directly funded by another country, but with licence to broadcast in the USA?

Public outrage would be guaranteed, and calls for a ban on the channel would surely be heard. Russia Today [RT] and its director, Margarita Simonyan (who just last week was invited to the White House Correspondents’ dinner with President Barack Obama) must know this. RT presents slanted coverage of the riots in Baltimore and the events that sparked them off, but seldom resorts to outright lies. 

Or not about events in the USA.  RT, its Russian-language counterpart and all pro-Kremlin media are bolder in reporting on Ukraine. For a year they have been claiming loudly and often that a terrible fire in Odesa on May 2, 2014, in which 42 people lost their lives was a ‘massacre’, and that the Kyiv government is hiding the real scale of the crime supposedly committed by ‘right-wing, pro-Maidan radicals’. 

Odesa is somewhere far away for most international media, and any information about the events of May 2 would at most be reported on the same day or shortly afterwards. This works out perfectly for those with a motivation to create a massacre story since the initial reports focused on graphic scenes and witness accounts, with sensationalism winning out over accuracy.

The essential facts, however, became clear soon after the events, and have been extensively reported, making it simply inconceivable that RT and other pro-Kremlin media are unaware of their distortions.

The images shown in the Russian media are always highly selective.  They brush over the disturbances in the centre which the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s Monitoring Mission confirmed in a June 2014 report had been provoked by aggressive pro-federalism [pro-Russian] activists.  They neglect to mention that during the disturbances weapons were used by both pro-federalism and pro-Ukrainian unity activists, with 6 deaths and multiple injuries on both sides.

Russian media shows activists from outside the Trade Union Building hurling Molotov cocktails inside, some breaking into a side entrance and chasing pro-federalism activists upstairs, and invariably the image of one man shooting at windows of the building.   

They ignore and edit out the ample video footage showing the pro-unity activists being shot at and having Molotov cocktails and flares hurled at them from the roof and parts of the Trade Union building.  They also remove the footage demonstrating that Molotov cocktails were thrown at the barricade in the foyer from both inside the building (by pro-federalism activists) and from outside (pro-unity).  If the aim is to push the claim that there was a massacre, then clearly such evidence demonstrating that the barricade could have been set alight by either incoming or outgoing incendiary devices is most inconvenient.  It nonetheless exists.

You can be certain that the Russian media won’t show their viewers the images of pro-unity activists bringing over a scaffolding frame and using it to rescue those stranded in the building. 

In its report Remember Odessa: Protesters across Europe recall May 2 massacre, RT describes the events as follows:

nationalists burnt a protester camp and then set fire to the Trade Unions House with anti-Kiev activists trapped inside.

The actual death toll could be much higher, as many of those who managed to escape the flames were then either strangled or beaten with bats by radicals, according to numerous witness reports.”

The May 2 Group, a civic initiative with members from both sides of the conflict, was set up to investigate the events.  Several of its members were themselves witnesses.  In the case of Serhiy Dibrov, journalist for, his testimony is easily verified by following the hours of footage which he streamed that day, including the above-mentioned rescue attempt. 

A detailed analysis of the course of the fire has been provided by May 2 Group member and biochemist Vladislav Balinsky (details here).  The Group has also just presented a chronology of the events on Kulikovo Pole, backed by video footage. 

This confirms that from the outset (19.20) stones, flares and Molotov cocktails were being thrown both by the pro-unity activists outside the building and pro-federalism activists from the roof of the Trade Union building and from the front windows.  By 19.31 when the first call was made to the fire services, three tents were alight.

At this time, shots were being fired at the square from the roof and offices on the second and third floors (see, for example, a shot fired from the second floor here). On the video here, the barricade outside the building is on fire, while people on the barricades are using, among other things, homemade cluster grenades.

The video here shows how pro-unity activists broke into the left wing of the building. It should be watched in full since images in isolation regularly accompany claims about murderous ‘radicals’.  The assailants were videoed throughout by accompanying journalists and streamers.  Despite the use of one image in the propaganda version, the Molotov cocktail burning on the stairs was hurled by pro-federalism activists on the second floor. 

At 19.40 fierce clashes begin between the pro-unity activists and the pro-federalism activists near the central entrance. “Both sides use Molotov cocktails, the pro-federalism activists hurl them from the roof and from the vestibule of the ground floor.”

Another of the standard images used is that of ‘Mykola’ (Mykola Volkov), a EuroMaidan self-defence activist using a pistol and aiming at the building. Alexander Marushevsky, adviser to the head of the regional police examined Volkov’s pistol at the time and ascertained that it was, as Volkov asserted, a shock pistol using rubber bullets.  Dibrov is also adamant that Volkov, who was standing only a metre or so away from him, was using a shock pistol.  The Group established that he had been shooting at the windows on the third floor from where activists were hurling cluster grenades.  Whether he could have been prosecuted for the use of a shock pistol is now academic: Mykola Volkov died of tuberculosis on Feb 15.  

Balinsky found that the fire went out of control with the emergence of a stack (chimney) effect at 19.54, with the temperature on the stairwell reaching up to around 700 ° C.   People near the windows began falling to the ground, probably already unconscious.

Within a minute at least 10 people fell or jumped out.  Video with distressing images

The Group reports that they are aware of one case where it does appear that a person ran up and dealt several blows to a person who had jumped out of the window (Video).  The man who had jumped was moving, therefore alive.  The Group says that they have not been able to ascertain either his identity or the consequences of the blows inflicted.

From the moment when the fire took hold and people began jumping or falling out, several dozen pro-unity activists, police officers and internal forces conscripts worked together to get the injured and the bodies of those killed away from the danger zone. 

The fire brigade had still not arrived at 19.59 when the first people trapped appeared at windows on the second and third floors, calling out for help.  The following video of the rescue attempts by pro-unity activists is well worth watching in full, especially given that none of these images are ever presented by the Russian media (a breakdown is given here).

The Group points out that the rescue was taking place while stones, glass and items to hand were still being hurled from the top storeys and shots were still being fired.  EuroMaidan activist Andrei Krasilnikov received a bullet wound from a hunting rifle from the window of the Trade Union building.  

One young man in a mask outside the building tried to throw another Molotov cocktail at a window on the third floor and got driven off by pro-unity activists trying to rescue people (around 11.00 on the tape).

The first fire engine only arrived at 20.14.  At 20.24 both the fire brigade and pro-unity activists were involved in evacuating people who had been on the third floor or in the area over the central entrance on the second floor.

As can be seen from the video, there were people on the square who tried to hit out at those evacuated and roughly interrogate them.  They were stopped by the police and organized groups of pro-unity activists.  

There were other occasions where pro-federalism activists evacuated from the building were dealt blows, however all those with serious injuries were taken immediately to ambulances. 

Nobody would justify such behaviour, however it is also difficult to fathom how pro-federalism activists who were not immediately in danger could have continued hurling Molotov cocktails and shooting at the pro-unity activists, many of whom were trying to rescue people in mortal danger.

As can be seen, the May 2 Group bases its findings not only on witness statements, but on scrupulous examination of video footage.  The Russian media know of the Group’s existence and report their criticism of the official investigation into the events and court trial of 22 pro-federalism activists.  They totally ignore the Group’s findings and stay with the selected images of the fire and protests which they used from the outset for headlines like that used by Russia Today ‘Odessa slaughter: How vicious mob burnt anti-govt activists alive (GRAPHIC IMAGES)

There are also ‘witnesses’ taking part in a lavishly funded exhibition which has been travelling around Europe since the summer of 2014.  The official Russian TASS agency quotes the “promoters” as saying:

Photographs presented at the exhibition provide documentary evidence of events on May 2, which has become a kind of doomsday for all Odessites, when dozens were burnt alive in a fire started by extremists from the neo-Nazi organisation Right Sector.”

Not so very different from Baltimore

Think about how families, friends and other members of a given ethnic, social or other group would react if they believed that people had been deliberately murdered as members of that group. 

This is how pogroms were deliberately started, it is how lynch squads often worked in America, and how massacres have often been provoked in different countries  The scale of the consequences can seldom be predicted, but they are always devastating.

There are numerous reports of fighters in Donbas saying that they joined the Kremlin-backed militants “because of Odesa”.  The events on May 2 are just one of the constant refrains on Russian television about the atrocities committed by Ukrainians and by the Kyiv ‘junta’. 

Among those fighting the lies was Boris Nemtsov, gunned down near the Kremlin on Feb 27, this year.  Other Russians have also been attacked or prosecuted after revealing details about Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

One of Russia’s fronts at the moment is the media, including channels directly targeting an international audience.  The invitation extended by the White House to  RT’s Simonyan last week, the unrestricted possibilities for broadcasting in Europe and wide availability of RT in hotels suggest that western countries have really not woken up to the danger such propaganda presents. 

Ukraine’s awakening was tragically violent.


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