A pro-Russian activist tent camp burns in front of the trade union building in Odessa May 2, 2014. At least 38 people were killed in a fire on Friday in the trade union building in the centre of Ukraine's southern port city of Odessa, regional police said. REUTERS/Yevgeny Volokin (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

Two years after the Odesa tragedy: only objective investigation of the tragedy can put a stop to social tension in the city


Kyiv, April 29, 2016. The situation in the city is quite tense on the eve of the 2nd anniversary of the tragic events in Odesa. “The conflict is still there, it just lays hidden,” stated Tetiana Herasymova, journalist, member of the “May 2 Group”. One of the reasons for this is active propaganda in pro-Russian mass media which emphasize on the fire in the House of Trade Unions, representing it as an “offering made by Ukrainian Nazis”. At the same time, propaganda conceals the events in the city centre, when several pro-Ukrainian activists died of bullets as a result of provocations instigated by so-called “Odesa militia”. There are even conferences being held in Europe and films and books circulated.

The second reason is absence of the progress of the official investigation for over 18 months. Expert conclusions drawn by official authorities would become the best counter argument to the propaganda. “Information war must be fought only by the weapons of facts. It is the only thing we can put against the flood of lies and disinformation […] The adequate objective investigation and trial alone could help to settle the conflict and build up a dialogue,” said Herasymova at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.

The case on the events of May 2 has recently been transferred to Odesa, and “in three months Odesa investigators managed to achieve more than the Central investigation department team on 18 months,” claim the activists. According to them, the Prosecutor General’s office and the Central investigation department actually messed up the investigation. Owing to this irresponsibility, case materials in 20 volumes were given to the court, and neither of them contains competent charge sheet with proper evidence against the 20 accused persons.

Violation of data acquisition technology

The state investigation was negligent from the first day following the tragedy. Acquisition procedure for the initial information necessary for further investigation was violated. No traces of gunpowder gases from clothes and hands were taken when people were detained, which would have helped to prove or defeat their involvement in use of weapons. Witnesses from the “Odesa Automaidan” movements said that police officers asked them to leave all the weapons in police cars. “For this reason, it is impossible to find who was shooting and using thunder flashes,” explained Vladyslav Balynskyi, expert-chemist, member of the “May 2 Group”.

A number of evidences were lost in the streets where hostilities took place. Public services workers painstakingly cleaned the streets before investigators could collect the evidence – shells and cartridges that could remain after the clashes. The House of Trade Unions, where people burned, was open for visitors on the third day after the fire, which resulted in destruction of the major part of evidence. Another part of evidence was not recorded by the investigation. Activists succeeded in having investigators record evidence two weeks after, proving that there were firing posts set in the House of Trade Unions, said Yuriy Mukan, expert on arms and ammunition, member of the “May 2 Group”.

Activists in fact were doing investigators’ work

Activists have recently presented the public in Odesa with their report on the event of May 2. The report contains detailed information on the fire in the House of Trade Unions and use of firing arms. The investigation even shows who was the first one to use weapons. He was detained by passersby, but the investigation did not find he was from one or the other camp. The activists suspect he could be a provocateur. It was found that thunder flashes, short arms, traumatic weapon and hunting weapons as well as weapons on the basis of Kalashnikov assault rifle – AKS74-U or its modification – were used during clashes. It was the same weapon used to kill a pro-Ukrainian activist Ihor Ivanov.

The shooter was identified as Vitaliy Budko. According to activists’ count, he shot up to 11 times. Pro-Russian activists’ evidence differed. In one case they said Budko was shooting blank, in another – that he held a dummy rifle with sealed tube in his hands. Experts defeated both versions with the help of a video proving that Budko was using live ammunition. Shells and bullets with traces of grooves were found on site of the shooting proving that assault rifles had been used. The activists believe that a Ukrainian activist Ihor Ivanov died of Budko’s bullet. There were no other weapons of the same caliber as Budko’s on the video. Both Budko and Ivanov were in the same sector. Moreover, the activists have the evidence that pro-Russian activists were shooting from the House of Trade Unions.

Fire in the House of Trade Unions.

Experts of the “May 2 Group” clearly identified the time of the fire break-out, sources of fire and fire spreading dynamics. Dynamic model of the fire was also compared to the map of location of bodies of the casualties, evidence of eyewitnesses and forensic medical reports. This dynamic model of the fire has been recognized by the International Advisory Panel for the Council of Europe and the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine.

“Fire outbreak was caused by hit of a petrol bomb, but we don’t know whether it was a bomb from the square or a bottle thrown awry from the very foyer of the House of Trade Unions,” said Balynskyi. As of that moment, fore brigades had already received the first information about the fire. A huge barricade built by anti-Maidan activists in the foyer of the building was the first one to catch fire, and then the flames moved towards the stares and caught the walls.  Flights of steps and a landing between the ground and the first floors got enveloped in flames in a matter of seconds. “Most people were there. This blaze was quite unexpected, so they were made to jump out of the windows. Some of them didn’t have time to do it and died,” explained Balynskyi. 42 people died inside the House of Trade Unions, and 48 people died in total. “If firefighters came at least in 20 minutes after the emergency call, most of the casualties would have been prevented. They could come from the opposite end of the city in 20 minutes, and the distance to the nearest fire station is 500 meters,” emphasized the expert.

Negligence of firefighters and law enforcement agencies

A criminal case regarding firefighters’ crime of omission was opened at the end of 2014. Volodymyr Bodelan, formed chief of the Ministry of Emergency Situations in Odesa region, was put in the wanted list. Chief Department of Special Investigations of the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine is dealing with the case. The activists were pursuing opening a case against the former head of the Head Administration of the Ministry of Emergency Situations in Odesa region, Petro Lutsiuk, who did not bring in a ‘Wave’ operations plan and did not localize the disorders, which could have prevented bloodshed.  Lutsiuk was interrogated several times and is to appear in court soon,

The activists also intend to demand opening criminal cases on negligent investigation and destruction of evidence in the streets and in the House of Trade Unions.