International & Antiwar News

INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY WITH THE PEOPLE OF ODESSA

Originally published in the Summer 2019 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 59, printed August 23. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Summer 2019 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.

By Phil Wilayto

In a major breakthrough for the people of Odessa, Ukraine, a United Nations human rights monitoring mission has criticized the Ukrainian government for its failure to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the fascist-led massacre of scores of people on May 2, 2014, at the city’s House of Trade Unions. 

The U.N. “Briefing Note” was issued on the fifth anniversary of the massacre, when vigils were held in 10 countries across Europe and North America as part of an International Day of Solidarity with the People of Odessa. 

And in a major departure from the near-total media whiteout of the issue in the U.S. media, an Associated Press story on the U.N. report, which you can view here, was carried by media outlets across the United States and beyond, including The Washington Post, ABC News, Yahoo! News, (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune, Houston Chronicle, Seattle TImes and the (UK) Telegraph and Daily Mail. 

This doesn’t mean there will be an impartial investigation, but it does help to shine a light on the massacre and the government’s failure to act. 

Five years ago this past February, the U.S. government promoted a right-wing coup in Ukraine, ushering in a period in which openly fascist organizations are playing a real role in the country’s politics. 

A few months later, on May 2, 2014, in the Black Sea city of Odessa, a rabid mob led by neo-Nazis set fire to the House of Trade Unions building, murdering scores of progressive activists who were simply asking for the right of local people to elect their own governors instead of having them appointed by the now openly reactionary central government. 

Although there are many cellphone videos posted online clearly showing the perpetrators of this massacre, to date none have been brought to justice. 

Starting immediately after the massacre, relatives and supporters of the victims have regularly gathered at the site of the fire to honor the dead and wounded and demand an international investigation, something the Ukrainian government has consistently blocked. 

In 2016, at the request of Odessa’s Council of Mothers of May 2, the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality organized a three-person delegation to travel to Odessa and attend the second annual memorial in hopes that the presence of U.S. North Americans would influence the government not to allow the fascist organizations to carry out their threats to attack the memorial. 

The delegation members were antiwar activist Bruce Gagnon, independent documentary videomaker Regis Tremblay and Virginia Defender Editor Phil Wilayto. 

After returning home, the Defenders founded the Odessa Solidarity Campaign, originally as a project of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC). Now an independent effort, the OSC continues to support the anti-fascist struggle in Ukraine and to push for an international investigation into the massacre of May 2, 2014. 

May 2, 2019, saw the third International Day of Solidarity with the People of Odessa, promoted jointly by the OSC and the Swedenbased group Prague Spring II. Events supporting the call for an international investigation and an end to the ongoing repression of relatives of the May 2 victims and of journalists attempting to uncover the truth about the massacre took place in Berlin, Budapest, London, Moscow, New York City, Prague, Stockholm, Vancouver, Vienna and Wroclaw, among other cities. 

In Washington, D.C., a delegation from the Odessa Solidarity Campaign, along with members of Struggle/La Lucha, held a vigil outside the Ukrainian Embassy and then hand-delivered a letter to embassy staff addressed to Ukrainian thenPresident-Elect Volodymyr Zelensky. 

The letter urged the incoming president, who overwhelmingly defeated the ultra-nationalist incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, to break with the reactionary policies of his predecessor and agree to allow an international investigation into the massacre, as well as end the ongoing repression of relatives of those who died in the trade union building fire and journalists attempting to investigate the tragedy. 

Meanwhile, police in Odessa reported that 4,500 people came out for that city’s fifth annual memorial. Among those attending was Joe Lombardo, co-coordinator of the United National Antiwar Coalition and a member of the Advisory Board of the Odessa Solidarity Campaign. 

For ongoing news and analysis about developments in Ukraine, see the Odessa Solidarity Campaign webpage here and the Odessa Solidarity Campaign Facebook page here.

Aug. 27 UPDATE

Aug. 27 marked the 100th day of the administration of the new president of Ukraine, Volodomyr Zelensky. The Odessa Solidarity Campaign took the occasion to resend the president a copy of the Open Letter the OSC had delivered on May 2 to the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, D.C. The letter calls on Zelensky to allow an international investigation into the massacre at Odessa’s House of Trade Unions. 

An online petition supporting the Open Letter will be posted soon on the OSC website. Please look for it, sign it and share it with all your friends and contacts. The government of Ukraine must understand that the world is watching it and wants Justice for the victims of May 2, 2014. 

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