Interview by Alison Bodine &
Introduction, and transcribed by Alison Bodine
In February of 2014 a bloody coup was carried out against the elected president of Ukraine. This coup had the financial and political backing of the U.S. government, which was funding far-right wing and neo-Nazi organizations involved in the coup. In the time since then, the U.S. and its allies have continued manipulating a devastating civil war in Ukraine at an immense cost to human life and infrastructure, especially in Eastern Ukraine. At the same time the U.S. and NATO have been building up their military presence in Eastern Europe. Canada will also be joining the western de-stabilization effort, pledging to send 200 so-called noncombat troops to Ukraine to train the Ukrainian soldiers and military police.
On May 2nd, 2015, Fire This Time attended an action commemorating a year since the massacre of 48 unarmed anti-fascist protesters in Odessa by supporters of the U.S. and E.U. backed coup government in Ukraine. Following this event FTT sat down with three of the organizers, Vlad, Simon and Maria, to discuss the Odessa massacre and the current situation in Ukraine.
Fire This Time: Thank you all for sitting down with us here today after this very successful action in Stanley Park commemorating the massacre of people in Odessa one-year ago today. Can you tell us about what you are here commemorating today?
Vlad: One year ago there was a group of anti-fascists who were peacefully demonstrating against the policy of the government that came to power by storming in, ousting the legitimate President [of Ukraine]. They gathered there every day, in that square near the Union building, as you know. But, that day there was a football game between a local team and the Kharkiv team. There were lots of hooligans coming, football hooligans, I could not call them any other name, because, you know, their behaviour is just crazy. So they came to Odessa and basically started clashes with anti-Maidan movement, anti-government movement and there were some clashes, there were some casualties in the centre of the city. Some people escaped, but there were a few who decided to go to the building where they were trapped and so the football hooligans, or whatever, the right sector movement, it’s hard to differentiate between them, started to throw Molotov cocktails at the building.
The police little forces that were dispatched to that event did nothing, as usual. Police is useless, and it has always been useless in Ukraine, just corrupt, the method of taking money from you, that’s it, they don’t do anything.
They burned people alive, some suffocated, and some people ... it’s very hard for me even to recall what was happening. Officially, 48 people died, 42 identified, as far as I know, 6 are not known. The unofficial number could be close to 200. That’s basically what happened.
FTT: Would either of you like to add or say anything else?
Maria: So on the question of why we are here today ... it is because today is exactly one year since that massacre happened. You cannot just be silent. Because if you are silent you are silent forever because what happens is people are trying to scare you off, to shut you up, so you don’t speak up because of the coming consequences. But, we should not be afraid, because bigger consequences are coming if we are silent today, on such a day. That’s what my perspective is.
Simon: Now in our digital age, we all become witnesses to those crimes. It was 30 to 40 hours of actual recording what was happening there that day. So, watching that and seeing the desperation of people, seeing how people were brutally killed, in front of police that were just standing there, just in front, like 3, 4 metres from them, and they did nothing. They were just standing and watching when civilians, not armed people, were beaten to death.
We were there, it was all recorded. You can see it on Youtube, you can see it on other recordings. That was all organized and the fact that the police were just standing there and watching them, doing nothing, the fact that fire trucks came only 45 minutes, one hour after there already was fire in the whole building and that it was only one truck, and it is a huge, huge building. That tells me that it was organized and that the city of the municipality of Odessa was involved.
FTT: Can you also give us your opinion on why the U.S. and the E.U. are intervening and meddling in Ukraine?
Vlad: It is a simple reason, because they want to distract Russia. Basically Ukraine is a buffer-zone now. Russia got a very aggressive neighbour, a new neighbour, a re-formatted neighbour. By propaganda, by everything they [people in Ukraine] know exactly that the Russians are their enemy. I have relatives in Ukraine who hate me, they don’t want to talk to me and they are of Russian-origin. They despise their ancestors who fought in the war against Nazism. They support Nazism. Some type of a new propaganda is brain-washing them. So, we have got a new state of aggression against Russia. So it is basically a global war against Russia and Canada is getting involved by sending its troops. It’s terrible.
Simon: There are different reasons why NATO and the U.S. are there, it’s their interest in the broad world. But, specifically to tell what it is, there are a few different reasons. One is that NATO wants to have their bases closer to Russia. Why they want to have it closer to Russia? I don’t want to guess, because it is more like the Third World War. But, we can see in the last few years, more and more NATO bases are surrounding Russia.
So there are quite a few political, geo-political, corporate interests in Ukraine. That brings the whole country to a collapse because the media are controlled by a few oligarchs who right now are trying to sell out Ukraine. Those people, most of them right now in government in Ukraine, have dual citizenship. So, all they are trying to do is to get as much money right now, and the next day they can be in their second-citizenship countries and just enjoy their life. So, they don’t care what is going to happen with Ukraine, with Ukrainian people, after a year or two. And this is catastrophic because all the channels there are controlled by this oligarchy.
FTT: Why do you think that the Ukrainian government does not attempt to solve the crisis in Eastern Ukraine peacefully?
Simon: Because, we all know, historically, big money makes money on wars. Like the Second World War, Americans were making money on that and life was really good for corporations. So, the same is happening in Ukraine. We have an example right now, when the oligarchs are actually selling gas for war, for tanks and everything, for equipment, at a higher price than on the market, double, triple the price and catching this money. Because, when there is a war it is hard to investigate. If you are asking questions about where the money went, or where they are, right away you can be called separatists and you can be thrown in jail and that’s it. Right now there is a huge destruction to the country of Ukraine by oligarchs who are just stealing money from Ukrainians. They have to realize that.
Maria: And at the same time they are being told that it is Russia that wants your land and its people, because Russia is this aggressive, fascist state. For people who are not so much into politics, for people who are, you know, just want to finish graduate schools and things like that, they need to give them some sort of something to bite on, so they are giving them Russia as an aggressor, or “Russia is fighting against us ... we need to stand up, you need to do this ... because if you don’t they are going to come to your house, they are going to take over your house like they did in Crimea,” and they go and on and on. And for people who are not really involved in the actual situation, that is what they think - that it’s Russia, that they are fighting against Russia.
FTT: What is your message to the progressive and activist community? Or, what is the best support that we can give?
Maria: To watch alternative news and just be open-minded. The internet is a great resource, so if you google you can come across a different perspective, something that you wouldn’t come across in the western media. Actually, western media doesn’t show it, even a tenth of what is happening there. Something like RT.com, is a really good source, they are actually alternative media.
Vlad: These days you don’t even have to be really smart to figure a few things out, right? With the help of the internet, just type a few words and compare a few things and you know, you don’t have to go to University to understand what’s really going on. You just have to compare a few things and you see that the lie is really primitive. All these primitive things they say like “there was a house fire in Odessa, 40 people died.” Not a big deal right? Such a primitive lie.
Simon: I would also like to add that for Canadians to more easily understand the situation in Ukraine they have to see a similar situation in Canada. Let’s say Francophone people have been here from the very beginning, they built cities, Quebec cities, they keep their culture, they keep their language. Let’s say an Anglophone goes to a Francophone and say “you don’t have history, if you don’t like it, just go back to France. You will have to study English, you cannot speak French, you will have to study our history, and you are actually second-class citizens, if you don’t do that.” Right away, Quebec would rise and would go to war, and that is what happened in Ukrainian territories. Because, half of Ukraine cities were built by the Russian empire, by Catherine II and by other Czars and so the Russians were there, living there for 300 years so the people who were there, they have Russian traditions, Russian language, and they want to keep it, it is very simple. So, one of the ways that Ukraine can still exist as a country is through federalization, so that you have the right of people living, who consider themselves Russian, speak Russian and study Russian history and be proud to be part of Ukraine.
Vlad: The West is, Canada is, approaching this problem with double standards. Simon talked about Quebec, the same situation exists in Ukraine. Why don’t they let them have their autonomy? Why? What’s the problem with people who speak their own language? There is no problem with Quebec, we don’t have any problems. Everyone is happy. And they are an excellent resource for Canadians, an excellent resource.
FTT: Thank you very much for this interview, we hope that our readers will be able to learn more about the situation in Ukraine from you.