What happened in Odessa on Friday, 2nd May, should be regarded an important event in the current conflict between Ukraine and Russia. The incident demonstrates the confrontation between pro-Russian and anti-Russian groups within Ukrainian territory, it shows that these groups do not hesitate to use violence in order to make their voices heard and it shows how easily biased the rest of world becomes when faced with the vast amount of media coverage on the topic.

Whose side are we on? And who tells us the truth about what really happened? What we know for sure is that many people got killed after clashes between street fights escalated in the Ukrainian city of Odessa. The city is in the south-east of the country and home to many Russian speaking inhabitants. Like in several other towns of Ukraine the adversaries consisted of the so-called separatist militants and supporters of the Ukrainian government. The Odessa massacre should not, however, be solely understood as a violent confrontation between pro-Russian separatist street fighters and government forces that took orders from Kiev. It was right wing Ukrainian patriots who did much of the work and who are blamed by online sources to have started the fire.

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The clashes had only started on Friday when pro-Kiev activists set anti-government tents in front of the Trade Union House ablaze. Anti-government demonstrators are said to have sought shelter on the ground floor of the Trade Union House. They soon got trapped in it after the right wing protesters threw Molotov Cocktails across the building which soon caught fire.

Yes, pro-Russian groups have been taking over control of many Ukrainian towns during the last few weeks and yes, the separatist movement is to blame for many clashes that have occurred. Thousands of Russian troops on the Ukrainian east border and the recent annexation of Crimea serve as a reminder for many Ukrainians that self-determination of their country as a whole seems to be under threat. Russia is adamant in stating that it will protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine. Can this, however, be equated with 19th century imperialism? Or does pro-Russian action attempt to promote Russian minority rights within Ukraine? Neither accusation is solving the problems on the ground at the moment. What matters in regards to Odessa right now are not primarily the official statements of Putin and Turchynov as to what their intentions are towards the human suffering that is being caused. It is rather the intentions of these humans themselves who inflict arbitrary violence upon each other.

This arbitrariness seems to have resulted in human rights abuses on the victims before they were killed. According to several photos that were taken that day and have been made public online it is questionable whether most of the victims had been initially killed by the flames. It rather appears that several had been shot before they got burned which is indicated by blood stains next to the charred bodies. Barricades on the top levels of the five story building suggest that people were meant to be trapped inside on purpose. Some of the corpses appear only partly burned and one dead woman was depicted naked from the waist down which suggests that she had been raped before her death. One of the most disturbing images that appeared was that of a dead pregnant woman who was possibly strangled by an electric wire. She is said to have been an employee of the Trade Union House.

The images that were published by bloggers after the fire occurred indicate that the massacre did not result from street fights between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian groups but from a strategically planned operation on the hands of right wing Ukrainian protesters. Further, pro-Russian demonstrators were not equipped with Molotov Cocktails in advance in order to start a counterattack on Ukrainian fighters. With pictures of Ukrainian protesters on top of the roof top before the fire it should also be asked how they got access to the Trade Union House since it is an administrative building with national importance. Should one go so far as to assume that the government in Kiev was informed about the atrocities in advance?

These kinds of speculations will leave us in the dark. A humanitarian escalation such as this will always be accompanied by plenty of rumours. What is important is to see the Odessa massacre in the context of an ethnic conflict that is being eagerly promoted by both Kiev and Moscow. Depending on whether one reads his newspaper in the European Union, the US, Ukraine or in Russia one is likely to be inclined to favour a certain camp. Yet, in order to avoid future killings of protesters as well as innocent people what is needed is a dialogue that promotes compromise and the equal status of both the Ukrainian and the Russian population who have lived side by side for many years.

BY: Sarah Schaefer