The Tragedy of Odessa

Following the tragic events of 2nd May, we must stand with the people of Ukraine against their own government and oligarchs, against the machinations of the West, against the growing threat of fascism, and against the rising tide of Russian imperialism.

Photo: REUTERS/Yevgeny Volokin
Photo: REUTERS/Yevgeny Volokin

More than 40 people were killed in the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa on 2ndMay, following fierce fighting and a deadly fire at the city’s Trade Unions House. Other cities, such as Slavyansk, have also seen lethal clashes. News sources differ on the sequence of events leading to the fire, but footage and photographs of the scene show that the victims died horrific deaths. There were undoubtedly fascists involved in the worst of the attacks, and the police clearly played a role, whether through inaction or by design.

There are many reports scrutinising the exact details of what happened on that day, but it is important to understand who benefits from this violence. The Russian government can use it as an excuse to escalate their military operations, as can the Ukrainian government and their supporters in the EU and the USA. Ukraine’s interior minister is claiming that pro-Russian “rebels”, who were the victims in Odessa, started the fire accidentally.

Neither side requires their version of events to be true, they simply need to entrench division and turn popular opinion against the other. In the meantime, the fascists are able to gain support and grow in numbers.

These consequences only deepen the tragedy of the Odessa killings. “Nationalism, both Ukrainian and Russian, is now celebrating over the bones of the young people killed in Odessa,” in the words of Andrei Ishchenko, a member of the Left Opposition in Odessa. Meanwhile, Russian socialist Ivan Ovsyannikov emphasises that”we cannot allow the death of these people to be used as a justification for military intervention or further killings”.

The ultimate provocateurs of violence and division across Ukraine, from Sevastopol to Kharkiv, from Donetsk to Odessa, are competing blocs of imperialists and oligarchs.

The USA and EU seek to consolidate the position of the interim government in Kiev, which intends to impose severe austerity measures on the population and suppress any further dissent of the kind that overthrew Yanukovych and provided them with a chance to take power in the first place.

Russia is expanding into eastern Ukraine, having already seized Crimea. This is of particular concern to Crimean Tatars, some of whom have left the peninsula, and Jews in eastern Ukraine, who are emigrating to Israel in large numbers. Both groups are threatened by pro-Russian forces, who are supposedly “antifascist”. It should go without saying that the spread of the Svoboda and Right Sector threatens them also.

Socialists do not need to choose between imperialists or make apologies for their actions. Opposition to Russian imperialism does not mean support for Western neoliberalism, and is not a surrender to fascism. It is a grave mistake to pretend that Russian intervention allows meaningful self-determination for Crimea or eastern Ukraine, or that the actions of the Russian state are in any way antifascist. A successful Russian takeover of the east will strengthen Putin’s hand in the oppression of other victims of Russian imperialism, such as in the North Caucasus, as well as against ordinary Russians who will find that dissent is even more fiercely suppressed.

It should be absolutely clear that we stand with the people of Ukraine against their own government and oligarchs, against the machinations of the West, against the growing threat of fascism, and against the rising tide of Russian imperialism. There can be no compromise on any of these matters.


  1. It does not clarify the situation to characterise the protest movements in Eastern Ukraine as simply an extension of Russian imperialism. These anti-government protestors drawn from the sizeable Russian-speaking minority are understandably alarmed by the overthrow of the previous government (whose base of support was in the east). The complexion of the new government is not really such that they can believe in it, and the military attacks on the protestors are a sign that the Kiev government does not have the support of the people in the East. To dismiss their actions as Moscow inspired is a way of de-legitimating their real concerns.
    Since it was the “pro-Russians” who were the victim of this bloody massacre, you might show more interest in their demands.

  2. James, Suhail’s article doesn’t characterise the protest movements in Eastern Ukraine as simply an extension of Russian imperialism. We have already argued on this website that it is wrong to dismiss either the ‘Maidan’ or the ‘Anti-Maidan’ movements as proxies for competing imperialisms, ( The argument here is that the horror of the events of 2nd May is compounded by the fact that the far-right elements within both, the rival oligarchic blocs and the competing imperial powers are now trying to exploit the divisions.

  3. You are right James, because for revolutionaries in the west their is an obligation to fight the main enemy which is the west. While Britain is bombarded with state department line from the likes of the BBC and the Guardian, to sit on your hands is rather pathetic. While the SWP/IS tendency has always had a readiness to spot and denounce Nazis (which I know others thought ewe were too ready to do) I now see most of my former comrades coming over all coy about Nazis in the Ukraine government. My guess James is you’d probably say the ones in government are not Nazis, but for our tradition (SWP/IS) they fit the bill exactly. But to all the SWP remnants they are just radical nationalists, well that OK then. And yes there are some neo-Nazis among the eastern Ukrainian autonomists, but they are fewer in number and influence.
    Still as I understand it in Greece our comrades have a far better line, whether they adhere to the SWP (B) or the IS0). Why its so difficult to confront western imperialism from the common rooms and campuses of Britain and the US I have no idea.
    Though everyone was booing Russia at the Eurovision last night so maybe the masses prove me wrong.
    Instead we have the rather ridiculous hunting of the Snark (or perhaps more accurately the Bandersnatch), the hysteric treatment of Farange as if he is the new . Now I guess this sort of thing may help secure more UAF funding from the trade union leaders but honestly why would anyone else want to try and rescue the vote for the Con/Lib/Lab coalition?
    Anyway my last post on this subject at RS21 lasted all of a couple of hours before being deleted, so I may have wasted my time posting this.

  4. […] this month, before the eastern vote, Suhail Ilyas wrote a commentary for the Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century website that looked at the dynamics after one of the deadliest eruptions of violence–in the southern […]


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