Free Press: How did Antimaidan begin in Odessa?
Vladislav Wojciechowski: For us, Antimaidan began in late 2013. The leader of the Odessa chapter of Borotba, Alexey Albu, was then a regional council deputy. The head of the Party of Regions faction asked his assistance in protecting the regional council -- they really expected an assault then. Of course, we were no friends of the Regionals, but everyone understood that it was better for them to remain in power than the alternative …
And were there supporters of the Maidan in Odessa?
Of course, we had Maidan from the beginning. A small number of people, several hundred on average, hanging around the monument to the Duke of Richelieu, but nobody took them seriously: there were fools, what could they take over? Nobody even tried to disperse them. And Odessites plainly did not support them.
How did the local authorities treat them?
The local authorities panicked a little. During the defense of the regional council, after we had already spent three nights there, the TV reported that Yanukovych had proposed Yatsenyuk to become head of government. This was a serious wake-up call, as it showed that he had no other way to cope with them. Yatsenyuk ultimately refused, that is, he was aware that the power had already shifted 100 percent. Therefore, the local authorities were in a panic, not knowing what to do.
How did the Kulikovo Field movement develop?
It turned out that the defense of the regional council had rallied many people from various organizations, including some we sometimes protested, like “Slavic Unity." A collective decision was reached to create a unified council to build a real people's resistance to Maidan. All the Antimaidan forces rallied. That’s how the Kulikovo Field movement was born -- because the first rally was held on the Kulikovo Field. Once there was a statue of Lenin there, before it was brought down and moved. It’s just a very large area in the center of the city. When the first rally was held there, we were about 10,000 people. It was just a rally, not yet a march. Prior to this, the largest rally that I had ever seen in Odessa was held by the Communist Party on January 24, 2009, against the Rada’s infringement of workers’ rights. About 900 people had come to that.
And here there were about 10,000, and from the podium it was announced that we're not going anywhere and we will create a tent city. At the same time a people’s defense team was set up -- young guys with bats who were supposed to protect Kulikovo Field. And on March 16 the first march was held – it brought out 20,000 to 25,000 people. Everyone thought here there would be no change of power.
There was euphoria of victory?
Of course. Twenty-five thousand people. Odessa had never seen anything like it. I stood at the beginning of the march at a crossroads, where it turned in the direction of the regional council, filming it on video. I was shooting continuously for 40 minutes. And the march had still not ended, the tail was not visible. Moreover, 90 percent of the participants were not in any organizations. People spontaneously took to the streets to prevent what was happening in Kiev. Then it seemed, what Maidan in Odessa? There’s nothing here for them.
Mass march in Odessa on April 10, 2014. In front with megaphone is Borotba leader and Regional Council Deputy Alexey Albu; directly behind him, right, are Andrei Brazhevsky (holding banner) and Vlad Wojciechowski (in grey sweater).
What happened on May 2?
The day before, on the first of May, we had a small May Day action -- we held a march, which was about 4,000 people. By that time people had become tired of marches as they began to realize that they accomplished nothing. Every weekend we held marches, the first was 25,000, then 20,000, then 15,000. Everyone complained that there was nothing but talk and walking around the city. Four thousand people on the first of May -- and that’s respectable. Then everyone crashed and went to rest.
On May 2, not suspecting anything, at about 2 o’clock I went with my sister to the Tavria supermarket on Deribasovskaya Street. We went (everything started then, but I still did not see anything), we bought something, and the guard started runningaround, yelling that everyone must leave, they are closed ...
Did you know that football fans gathered there?
I knew, because just the week before when Chernomorets [Odessa soccer team] played, there were rumors that Kulikovo Field would be razed, so an urgent mobilization was called to defend the encampment. Naturally, we all ran there, but no one came. Everyone got fed up and no one took it seriously afterward. So, the guard kicked us out of the supermarket, and we saw shooting, flying stones, firecrackers ... I took my sister home, went on the Internet, watched an online broadcast and was stunned, because there were never so many of these morons in the city.
You mean, it was all people from out of town?
That's right. Because the Chernomorets fans who participated in the march "For a United Ukraine,” for the most part, when they saw how it was flying off the handle, said, "We don’t want to be part of this!" and went on to the football match. I'm not talking about the ultra-rightists, but about those who just came to the march.
I called my friend Andrei Brazhevsky. I was sure that he went there because he was always near the action. I asked him: "Andrei, what's happening?" He said, "We got squeezed, but we’re still holding on, we have no forces here.” I said, "Come on, we will try to get to you!" We must help our comrades – you can’t throw them to the wolves. We decided to go to the Kulikovo Field, to see what was happening there. People were preparing for an attack on Kulikovo ...
We arrived to a depressing spectacle. At that time there were only about 150 people. Moreover, the composition was depressing. About 40 young guys, 50 women aged 30 to 60, and 50 men aged 50-60-70 years. A sad spectacle, but, nevertheless, we took sticks in hand, made barricades -- in general, prepared to defend ourselves. Of course, we all understood coming here that we will get it in the neck, but we had no moral right to leave the people. We decided to stay with them, arm them with sticks, collect stones.
We gathered up 250-300 people. There was a rumor that those who were defending themselves on Greek Street, a few hundred people, were coming back to us, and with their help we would repulse the crowd. Eventually, exactly 15 people returned from the Greek. These were the only ones who managed to get out of there without being stopped by police. They escaped the crowd, ran to Kulikovo, we met them ...
So. We get a call from the city center, saying the fascists have already passed the Little Book, the book market halfway between Kulikovo and Greek. A march of a thousand. Several hundred from the Maidan, fully equipped with firearms. And half with bats and chains. We are told that they were 10 minutes away, get ready! Well, we looked at the perimeter. It turned out that we had one person for every meter of barricade, well, it's just gibberish, so we narrowed the barricades to the porch of the building.
You controlled the building then?
No one had control. It was empty. No, there were some workers from the House of Trade Unions. But on May 2, along with security, the usual guards, there were the boys from the Odessa squads. We decided to stay at the building. Naturally, we tried to send the women away. Many accuse the leaders of the Antimaidan of bringing people into the building, but that’s a lie. There are videos taken by us when Deputy Vyacheslav Markin, who died there, went to the podium with a microphone and starts yelling, uncharacteristicly for him, demanding all women leave the Kulikov Field. And there were grandmothers walking around with shields and helmets. He says, "Go away! Why do you need it?! Go away! Do not bother us! We will not run to save you."
But some refused to retreat from the fight. In the confusion that followed, people ran into the building, because they could already see the march coming. We were part of the group left on the porch ...
And were there attempts to strengthen the defenses, in terms of military science? Were there experts among you, who knew how to hold the defenses?
From the point of view of military science, it was all for nothing. There was no defense as such. Well, there were pieces of asphalt that we broke up for half an hour before their arrival, broken pallets -- all spontaneous.
We had one person with military experience, a friend. When we saw him, he came up and said: "Guys, you know that it’s all over if we stay here?! You must understand this! What are you doing?” We said," Come on, suggest something else." And what is there to offer? There is nothing to offer. As a result, this highly intelligent military guy fled, and said to hell with it.
Some people who had shields remained on the porch and began throwing stones. A wooden shield is, of course, a good thing when you’re deflecting stones, but then they started to shoot at us ...
What kind of firearms were used?
A 5.45 mm barrel was definitely used. This is either a Saiga semi-automatic hunting rifle, or a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Most likely they were hunting rifles, the only difference being that such weapons cannot fire bursts.
When our people with shields began to fall, riddled with bullets, we all went into the building, because there was no other choice. We were in the building, and they were over forty meters away. We threw stones, they stood and shot. They did not even have to come close.
When we entered the building, there was a fuss. I saw a man of about 60 standing at the window, watching. Then he just crumpled -- shot in the head, I saw it, it’s clear that it was not a thrown stone, but a shot in the head that killed him. There were a lot of pictures. Don’t look through a window or at once a couple of bullets will fly, or a Molotov cocktail.
We continued to throw stones until we ran out. There were few stones – we had to shove everything in our pockets! Then he started throwing pieces of glass at them -- well, at least it was something. It was a little confusing. You throw a piece of glass about twenty meters, and someone forty meters away shoots at you.
Then we ran into a wing of the building, with one exit on the side stairs. Apparently they had already infiltrated it and sprayed a lot of pepper spray. Normal police "pepper" -- it was impossible to breathe, just tears. We ran from that wing. By this time, the bottom had flared up ...
And you had some personal weapons, gas cylinders, blunt weapons?
I didn’t see any, though I ran through all our “defenses.” We really had nothing to fight back with. If we had had two Kalashnikovs and a hundred rounds of ammunition each, we could have at least put up some resistance -- they would have just run away.
At what point did you understand that it was necessary to leave the building?
There was already heavy smoke. I started running around, looking for Alexey Albu and Andrei Brazhevsky, and there’s turmoil, a lot of people running around. At one point, Deputy Markin caught me by the arm and said, "Vlad, don’t be nervous, everything will be fine!" I said, "Ok, I'm not nervous!" And I ran on. I saw Andrei Brazhevsky. But Andrei had a problem – he couldn’t see well. Although he was an athlete, his vision was very poor, he just couldn’t recognize you past three to five meters. I yelled, "Andrei!" He heard me, but couldn’t see. Looking-looking, bang, and he ran off somewhere. Then I met Alexey Albu. He said, if there is a fire, it makes no sense to run upstairs, because you can’t jump and will either burn or suffocate, so let's stick to the first floor.
Following this logic, we gathered who we could, and hand in hand, went through one of the wings of the building, down the stairs to a second floor window, and now two to three meters below us is a playground! A lot of people still stood under that window. We simply knocked out all the glass and breathed the air. And those below were saying, “Okay, let's go!”
Well, we thought we’d preserve the defenses, hold the line on that floor. It was a narrow space, and in a narrow space, as is well known, the number of defenders is not so significant. And so there we were, until after a while one of the ultras with a Ukrainian ribbon crashes in and says, “Oops, this is the end of you!” And beside me was an old grandfather. Maybe a former military man -- he was wearing camouflage. Well, I respected this grandfather -- he kept his head and immediately threw a punch at this fool. He hit him in the stomach so hard that he got up and ran away. And I was holding a large fire extinguisher. I took it in case we had to hold back the flames, it had very strong pressure. I sprayed him with the fire extinguisher, he scrambled up and fled, dramatically threw a bottle at us, but missed.
Then they decided to talk with us. They said: "Bring out the women, and then let’s deal!" We said, "Well, just let them withdraw peacefully, without problems." They still said: "Bring out the women, we will not touch them, we are local." We said: "Local, what area are you from?" They: "We'll kill you all!" Just local right-wingers, right, we know them all. We had five years of conflicts, we fought constantly with them. In general, there are only 50 people in Odessa, morons. It was clear that they were not local.
Eventually, we brought the women through the second floor window. Firefighters helped by putting up a ladder. We evacuated eight women, and we had seven people left. Four were young men up to 35, the rest 45-50 years. We realized that they are ready to shower us with Molotov cocktails, yet we need to somehow get out. We already realized that this was the end – all will have to pass through their hands, there were no other options -- the smoke was already very heavy, there was nothing left to breathe.
We came out and immediately it began. First the firefighter went down, he said, "Come on, guys, I'll try to bring you!" It was clear that he did not have a chance to bring us, because up comes a bald goon with a revolver in his hand who said to him: "Freedom! Go home.” The firefighter left. Us: "Hands up!" But he was not alone, there were a bunch of morons standing around.
We reached the ground, and then another fascist runs up with a bat in one hand, and a chain in the other, swinging for me (and I was in a bright light green jacket): "This is the reptile who threw glass at us! " I was surprised the glass hit someone in their march ...
And that’s all of us, 15 people in the corridor that the police made …
The police were present?
Yes, but there were only about 30 of them, okay, so where to intervene? War has come ... In fact, we were grateful because they brought a lot of people out and saved them. Simply, if they had fled, the crowd would have snuffed us all. In general, they made a corridor for us to withdraw -- there were fifteen policemen on one side, fifteen on the other, and among them about a hundred of these goats with bats and chains. We had just started to come out haphazardly, I did not even have time to do anything. Just trying to cover my head, when a chain hit me. Now I have a scar from the chain [shows wound]. Hit, I fell down in a heap. Then some idiot brings the Ukrainian flag and tells me, “Kiss the flag!” There I sat with a busted head. I pretended to be stunned, to not understand anything. Then he was dragged off by his own people, so as not to shame them.
Then time seemed to run a little differently, it’s hard to remember now, as I lay there in a pool of blood. In the end, it was dark, and we tried to reach the police. There is a video showing a handful of us, the gangsters walking around us, someone laughs, someone spits. An old grandfather tries to take me by the hand, hit me with a shovel. Then the police drove their van closer to us, saying, “Get up quickly, crawl, get in!” This was another test, because there I was, my head was busted, but at least I could move. But there were a few people with us who were lying unconscious, beaten to a pulp – we dragged them. Those who could went toward the police van, and got beaten on the head with sticks. We rolled away in this van, and they started to run, hitting it with sticks.
Once we got away, the police brought us to the station on Malinowski. One of the commanders of the district department came out, and said: "Guys, hold on! We are morally with you, but you see, there’s nothing we can do to help you, we have orders to arrest all of you. But I'm leaving these orders in the dark! I called an ambulance and you are leaving!"
Yes, the police were behind us. But what chance did their hundred people have to disperse 3,000 hoodlums?! The thirty or forty people that were at the House of Trade Unions, they almost didn’t intervene, they couldn’t do much. But if they hadn’t, we would not have gotten out. We would have just been beaten to death. A blow on the head with a stick by itself isn’t fatal, but 20 times in the same place, this is serious. So we went to the hospital, my head was bandaged. I was supposed to have an x-ray, but we didn’t wait, we wanted to hide at home to recover, find out what’s going on ...
In your opinion, what was the cause of death of the majority of those killed in the House of Trade Unions? There’s been much speculation that the burned bodies were already dead ...
I can’t answer unequivocally. Yes, there were several bodies that were burned, but there were so many armed gangsters with Wolfsangels [neo-Nazi symbol], and even members of the Azov Battalion. Sasha Gerasimov, a member of the Komsomol who spent 11 years in prison, was there. He began to choke from carbon monoxide, lost consciousness and fell. Men in black helmets with Wolfsangels pulled him up. They dragged him to the window and said, "Jump! Better jump, or we will beat you to death!” On the fifth floor! Naturally, he did not jump, he tried to resist, they began to beat him. There is even a piece of video where he crawls out as they beat and beat on him. He stayed in the hospital for three months, one leg severely burned, the other knee crushed -- he is disabled now, and still walks with a cane.
But I think if not half, then at least one-third died from firearms. I’m a hundred percent sure. They could be seen, that’s the way it was ...
But did any experts see the bullets ...
The experts saw, but they had to blame us. They wrote on Andrei Brazhevsky’s death certificate that he died from the crash after falling from a window. But the video shows that when he fell, he just broke his leg. He was still alive and tried to get away. No, he was finished off. Some worthless fascist bashed his skull. Well, was it the crash? In the video everything is clearly visible, including those who pursued him prior to his death.
Then you had to flee from Odessa?
Yes. We left urgently on the night of May 8-9, that is, a week later. There was danger of arrest. A good friend warned comrade Alexey Albu by phone that they were preparing to arrest all the Borotba members on May 9, and that it was better for us to disappear. We left all together, the whole organization, in two cars, by taxi, then hired a minibus to Kherson, then to Crimea. I returned to Odessa on August 12 ...
For what purpose?
I just wanted to, and came back. No, I knew it was dangerous. But I had nothing to hide. The SBU and police came to my home several times – they wanted to call me in for questioning as a witness to May 2. I wasn’t afraid, let them call me. I’ll come if I have to. I witnessed what happened, I didn’t kill anyone. But they did not call me for any interrogations. A month later I was arrested, exactly one month after I returned.
Of course, they knew that I was back. The phone was tapped, and naturally I did not change any of the numbers since I was not hiding from anyone. Nothing frightened me, and my mother and sister had long been accustomed to having the phone tapped. No one was hiding, I lived in a rented apartment, worked ...
When I came back, I started to communicate with people from the Antimaidan -- these were people who did not accept what had happened and wanted to do something. We went out at night, painted graffiti like "Junta out!" We pasted leaflets – something, anything to contribute to the struggle. Propaganda for Novorossiya, of course. Novorossiya is the only living example of confrontation with the Kiev authorities, this was not happening anywhere else. That’s where the banner was raised. And the people there took up arms and risked their lives to prevent this plague from descending upon them.
Friday, September 12, was a lovely autumn evening, the “velvet season” in Odessa, when the sea is still warm and the air is a little cool. An ordinary evening, a small group had gathered, all seemed normal. Our door was always open – we were not afraid. This was a typical Odessa courtyard, any neighbor can stop by without asking. And some people flew in. At first it was not clear who they were. Half of them were "citizens" and those who were in uniform were unmarked. No Ukrainian flags or insignia. The first thing I saw was some reptile with a brand new Kalashnikov. A good Kevlar helmet with a skull and crossbones. He ran in, shouting "All hands up!", handcuffed us, start kicking people out. That left me, Popov and the third bad man, Palycha Shishman, who, it turned out, had cooperated with them. Comrade Popov was with us on the second of May. He is now in the Lugansk people's militia, in the fourth brigade.
At night we were brought into the SBU, and various officers began questioning us. They already had a finished "pidozra" -- in Russian, literally "suspicion.” Something like an indictment. First, they document a "suspicion,” then try to prove it in a pretrial investigation, and then refer the case to the court. Personally, I was charged with "suspicion" under Article 28-3, "Organization of a Terrorist Group." By organization, they meant financing. That is, if you bought a drink for someone and talked to them about Novorossiya, it was already terrorism. A bottle of cognac – this is funding. The investigator said: From eight to 15 years in prison. But, he says, you have a problem there. I said, what? He said: You’re the organizer. I say, so what? He: Well, okay, not 15, but you’ll get 14 years for sure.
We spent a few days waiting for lawyers. We talked to them about the tactics of our defense, hoping for some relief in the court. But at the first trial, extended preventive measures were applied, and we realized that it’s useless. The lawyer says, the best thing to do is try to have you transferred to house arrest. The judge read it all, laughing: Article 28-3? She looks at the investigator: Are you serious? But what have they done? The investigator says: They did it! Well, the judge says she understands that we should be under house arrest. But there are no options, and ... 60 days in jail! The judge said bluntly: "I have no options. If I release you, tomorrow there'll come for you ... "
So for four months, I ended up in jail. There, in Odessa. Once a week, I was pulled in for questioning by the SBU – not very pleasant conversations with not very nice people ...
How did you come to be exchanged?
This was due to hard underground work, because it was difficult to get ahold of our lists, we had no connection to normal due process. On December 26, at eight in the evening, during the evening roll call, a senior officer came with a sheet of paper, called four names, and said: “You have fifteen minutes to get ready, a car is waiting for you, you are free, goodbye!”
We were in shock, they were going to let us go. The door opened, there were some fools in uniforms wearing masks, and one lead us somewhere. Well, we thought then it was the exchange, we had heard about it before. We were issued a ruling from the Prosecutor’s Office that the case was closed for lack of evidence. A note that says you are officially free. So I thought with this certificate I could leave prison quietly and go home to sleep. But I was taken out in handcuffs. “Alpha” soldiers put us in the trunk of a Volkswagen minivan. The Alphas took the seats, and the four of us were in the trunk. They handcuffed us together, took off and announced we were being taken to Kharkov. We already knew that. In Kharkov, they gathered 200-something men from all over Ukraine – this is kind of a transit hub. And then through Izium to Donetsk.
Prisoner exchange on Dec. 26, 2014.
What happened after the exchange? How did you get into the Ghost Brigade?
In Donetsk, military intelligence took over. Everyone had to go through questioning, to find out who was really a rebel and who was just mishandled. The next day my comrades from the LC arrived and brought me to Lugansk. For the first month I lived with a man from the Hooligan Battalion, just thinking that this is freedom, cool! Then I met with Evgeni Wallenberg, who I knew from Borotba. Evgeni took me to Alchevsk and said: “Don’t you want to help me in the political department? I need people who are intelligent, ideologically savvy!” I said that I’d think about it. I thought, and now I'm here.
Why do you think the resistance in Odessa lost? Why did it succeed in the Donbass region, and not yours
Frankly, I’m ashamed to answer, because I am ashamed of Odessa. Seventy percent of the people there still support us. Yes, they are all intimidated. But here, too, they tried to intimidate and arrest everyone. Here they began to bomb people ...
In Odessa, the leaders of Antimaidan, rather than unite, were each pulling the blanket. Some used volunteers to collect money in the name of Antimaidan, and spent it on themselves. There was no cohesion. There were a thousand people, and 1,500 organizations. Fifteen hundred organizations per thousand people! And May 2 happened. If we knew what would happen, we could have gathered 20,000 people and chased all that crap out of town. But it turned out that in general no one gathered. There was an opportunity, but it was not taken advantage of.
Maybe people were not completely aware of the seriousness. This may have played a role. The mentality of Odessites is different from Donbass. Odessans are more opportunists by nature. On May 2 our enemies managed to intimidate most of the city's population. On the one hand, shame and disgrace – fear is stupid! But on the other hand, you can understand them -- stones against guns are not good odds ...
How do you see the resolution of the whole situation? Do you see Odessa liberated?
I see it. I even see the liberation of Kiev ...
Should Novorossiya be established within the borders of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions? Or within the boundaries of the eight regions [of southeastern Ukraine]? Or should all of Ukraine be liberated from the junta, and the country rebuilt?
As I said, in Odessa 70 percent support us. They now live under occupation. I understand that you cannot leave them that way. How could you say that in 1941-1945 ...
It’s necessary, as you say, to "rebuild" on a new basis. Novorossiya is a new banner, which has risen for many people, they want to separate and build their own state. But a neighboring country, Ukraine, is suffering, and we are duty-bound to help get rid of the junta. And give people the freedom to choose the country in which they live, to choose their government. To release them from the occupation is just the beginning. Our enemy is not the soldier of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (APU), who stands in the trenches at the front, but the Kiev junta, the power of the oligarchs.