THE ATROCITY IN ODESSA REFLECTS A MUCH DEEPER MALAISE AT THE CENTRE OF POWER IN UKRAINE
The unconscionable atrocity which took place in Odessa on the second of May 2014 was reported in the western world but with an almost eye-blink time frame.
If it had occurred almost anywhere else at any other time it would certainly have been deemed worthy of detailed and lengthy coverage over days rather than dismissed in a single article or news bulletin.
Forty-two individuals lost their lives on that day, most, but not all young adults. They met their fate in the most grisly ways imaginable. Trapped by a violent mob inside a building them set aflame. Unable to escape for fear of the mob waiting to kill them outside they ventured out onto high ledges far above them or resigned themselves to burning to death inside.
Those who fell from those ledges, due to the flames approaching them from inside, or through a final act of utter desperation, were beaten to death by the mob using baseball bats as their weapon of choice.
It was only days later that video footage showed that the building had not been sealed by fire initially. In the first hours some of the mob had entered the building of five stories and had begun killing at random. The images of these bodies, burned out of all recognition I will spare you. One, in an upper floor room shows a pregnant woman bent over backward over a desk, murdered by persons unknown.
What was the “crime” these people committed?
Their “crimes” were in fact several and it was these that consigned them to their deaths due to the “judgement” of the large mob of neo-Nazi, Ultras, so-called ‘football/soccer club supporters’ who killed them.
The first crime was to be labelled generally ‘pro-Russian’. In fact they were only Russian-speaking Ukrainians.
The second was for them to be taking part in a peaceful (tented) demonstration in support of autonomy for their region of Ukraine.
The third was to be seen as traitors to Ukraine by the ultra-nationalist western Ukrainians who formed the bulk of the Ultras in Odessa that day for some soccer match.
You may say, okay, this was an absolutely one-off happening and yes, Ultras are known across Europe and are universally composed of thugs so this was not all that surprising, very much worse than their normal activities but also very much in character for their type. If only this were true.
In Ukraine the minority who are willing to countenance such acts of total barbarity against those who just happen to live close to the Russian border than they do is large. It certainly comprises ten thousands and I suspect many more. You may say that is a small proportion of the Ukrainian population as a whole and that is true, but the power they wield through their willingness to use violence at will gives them influence far beyond what their numbers would indicate possible.
In the months after the president and government were toppled by similar acts of violence seen on Maidan Square those who were willing to perpetrate that total violence against authority saw themselves arrive at a position of power in Ukraine unimaginable before. Members of Parliament who did not speak and act as they wished were subjected to ritual humiliation by being carried bodily to large trash containers and dumped inside. Car tires were burned in front of the Ukrainian parliament as a warning to those inside. (In South Africa in previous years it became quite common to burn people alive within a ring of tires.)
Since 2014 such people have held a de facto veto over what the Ukrainian president and parliament says and does. Anyone who says or does something contrary to the mob knows what his or her fate might be. The fear generated permeates not only the political figures in Ukraine but those within the media sphere also. Those who say the “wrong” things have been murdered. This is how strongly the ultra-nationalists (some call them Nazis or neo-Nazis) feel about certain issues such as those in the east of the country they call ‘Moskals’ (Russians), ordinary Ukrainians who live closest to the Russian border and who naturally have many affiliations with Russia including inter-marriage, trade and a historical respect for the Soviet Red Army that liberated Ukraine from the Nazi Germany.
Those who came to Odessa that day were prone, as you can see in the example image above, to use the Hitler salute. The mythology behind this act is that Hitler and his Nazis were very positive in the long search for Ukrainian national sovereignty. Why this? Because in ‘Operation Barbarossa’, Hitler’s campaign to invade and occupy the Soviet Union he drove the Russians out of Ukraine. For this reason Swastika and other tattoos depicting Nazi motifs are favoured most among the ultra-nationalists. Organisations and even a political party have been formed around this potent myth in Ukraine, potent despite the horrors committed by the Nazis within Ukraine during WWII.
The organisation known as ‘The Azov Battalion’ is the most commonly known entity that uses symbols very closely resembling those used by the Nazis but there are more than a few with like-minded members. Then there is the political party which was once called ‘The Socialist National Party’ but which had its name changed to ‘Svoboda’ (Freedom). The leader of this party likes to give the Hitler salute and after the Maidan insurrection three leading members of his party received top positions in the government which took over.
The largest part of the Nazi-legacy-admiring entities of the militia type were taken into the Ukrainian army and Ukrainian National Guard. This occurred from 2014 and the effects of this and those who remained independent of these state institutions were seen most vividly during the random shelling of villages, towns and cities of eastern Ukraine from 2014 onward. To date some 14,000 people have died from that time to the present day, the majority of them being civilians including women, children and the elderly.
So you see, the horrific event which took place on May 2nd 2014 in Odessa was far from a one-off occurrence. The mentality embedded within a sizeable and extremely dangerous minority, hell bent on ethnically cleansing those who they see as sub-human traitors to Ukraine, even though their sole crime is in reality is living in that region, creates a unquenchable hatred and absolute willingness to kill every man, woman and child in that region of Ukraine closest to the Russian border known as the Donbass.
Odessa does not stand alone as a testament to the potential within human beings to act out a nationalistic barbarism that must surely be removed from, or at least contained within Ukraine, as for now, its power over the political sphere there is all but total. As in Germany in the mid-Thirties the Nazi Party was small and represented a tint proportion of the German population as a whole. It was even mocked at the time, treated with derision and it was thought they would NEVER gain power. Yet we all know what happened. Through the use of violent intimidation and ruthless determination without conscience they did indeed come to power and wreak havoc upon the world.
Those of a similar mentality in Ukraine and who avow their belief that the Nazis were a force for good need not take power in Ukraine as Hitler did in Germany. They have power enough through their ability to intimidate with the fear of swift retribution if, as in Zelensky’s case initially, anyone seeks reconciliation and peaceful cooperation and the re-establishment of good relations with those of the Donbass in eastern Ukraine that the ultra-nationalists wish to see exterminated.