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Graham Phillips' Personal Account of the Grim Day Odessans Burned

A freelancer recalls the horrible day when pro-Kiev fanatics set upon and mercilessly killed peaceful anti-Maidan demonstrators


I can’t pretend that my reaction towards the Odessa massacre didn’t come from the heart. I’d lived there for almost a year before the massacre of May 2nd 2014, in which pro-Ukraine activists burned alive a number of pro-Russia activists eye witnesses report as over a hundred. Written numerous articles in raptures about the wonders of the southern coastal city. Taken any number of photos showing my love for the place I’d chosen to come to, call home.

I remember things really starting in Odessa, March 2014. Peaceful demonstrations, here thousands marching for referendum –

That hope that proceedings could be resolved peacefully increasingly in March giving way to fears that would be far from the case, as each passing week in Odessa escalated –

I was away for May 2nd, already reporting in Slavyansk, however given my attendance at actions in Odessa, knew many who were killed in that inferno. A very interesting documentary on the tragic events of May 2nd here –

Before getting the call to come east, in early April 2014, you could have found me wandering around Odessa. I worked as a full-time journalist in my time in Kiev, on staff at a magazine along with a good career in freelancing. I knew that moving to Odessa would mean less journalism work, in the short term, but felt that long term, something would come of the inspiration of Odessa, which had inspired writers from Isaac Babel to Ilf and Petrov. I worked mostly as an English teacher, started a blog, used to just go out with my video camera and have fun. You could find me filming concerts –

That hope that proceedings could be resolved peacefully increasingly in March giving way to fears that would be far from the case, as each passing week in Odessa escalated –

Cycling about –

Just walking the streets, of the city founded by order of Catherine the Great

But after March 3rd, and an action at an administrative building in the city, it was clear 

something had stirred in the city which had, until that point, mostly sat out Euromaidan. I was along from that day, photographing and filming events, on both the pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine sides. On the ‘pro-Russia’ side, I knew these people. Odessites, extremely unhappy with the current situation in Ukraine – an unelected Kiev government passing legislation many saw a direct attack on their culture, way of life. They were, as you can see here, normal, Odessa citizens – from my experience of them, on a personal level, good people. Natives of Odessa, proud of their city, a ‘hero city’, their culture, a great one, and rich history.

Of course, as the situation escalated, there were more militant members of the Odessa, pro-Russia side, as there were on the pro-Ukraine side. Yet it must be said that at the demos in Odessa I attended, it was the pro-Ukrainians who came bearing weapons –

Yet, what happened on the evening of May 2nd, with reports of 42 to even over 100 of the ‘pro-Russia’ side burned alive by pro-Ukrainians, in the Trade Union building on Odessa’s Central ‘Kulikovo Pole’ marked a seismic shift in the situation. One from which there was no return, nor could be. It was a day which changed the mood, the stakes, the whole landscape of a situation which quickly spilled into all-out civil war. Just a week later, another large city by the sea, Mariupol, witnessed its own tragedy, when Ukrainian forces entered the city, opening fire on civilians.

In Odessa on May 2nd, true, some peaceful pro-Ukrainians tried to assist their countrymen as they perished in a building which had been their base, their gathering
place, for months. But more looked on, chanting pro-Ukrainian songs, posing for photos even. Some of those, formerly peaceful pro-Ukrainian activists, even made, threw Molotov cocktails, with then several who managed to escape incineration by leaping from windows reported as beaten to death on the ground below. Others, shot from the ground, at least escaped the agony of death by incineration.

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It’s unforgivable. On a human level, never mind as a journalist, it’s a pain which pierces my soul to think of those people, those I’d seen at demonstrations, including young girls, young men, middle-aged and older men, and women, perishing in such a barbaric way. Yet perhaps just as shocking, the true callousness of the Ukrainian government and media – 

On May 2nd 2014, the Ukrainian side lost some of the key things you need to be a country. Something you need to be a person. Compassion. Humanity. Heart. The year since have seen Ukrainian powers do everything to prevent a proper investigation, and then blame it on ‘strong wind‘, an egregious mockery to those slain. Due to my being deported and banned from the country, the ongoing reign of terror against ‘opposition’ figures, I’ve not yet been able to return to Odessa to pay my tribute.

I’ll be back one day, for sure, to pay my tribute to those who stood against the fascism of this new, post-Euromaidan Ukraine are as one with the city of Odessa, the city they came from, the city they died in – proud, defiant, glorious.


Adapted, updated from my original article of last May 6th, here.



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