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Anger But Not Separatism in Odessa

  • Al Pessin

Emotions continue to run high in the Ukrainian port city of Odessa, two weeks after dozens of pro-Russian activists were killed in a fire that their supporters blame on competing protesters from the pro-Europe movement.

On the plaza that was the scene of pitched battles on May second, a priest led a small service Sunday. Worshippers were few, but the service had particular meaning. This place has become a shrine for Odessans sympathetic to the pro-Russian activists.

As they prayed, a crowd gathered, paying their respects at memorial displays and preparing for a protest.

It all played out in front of the trade unions building, scarred from the inferno that engulfed it.

Extensive destruction over several floors gives a hint of the horrors that unfolded. Pro-Russian demonstrators were inside and a hostile pro-European crowd outside. Exactly what happened is in dispute, but a fire broke out and spread quickly.

Many people died on the spot, and others jumped for their lives. Pro-Russian activists claim some of them were beaten to death, but the pro-European camp denies it.

A few of the people who came out on Sunday were willing to talk to foreign reporters, their moods ranging between anger and sadness. Among them was activist Vladimir, who only gave his first name.

"If we had a chance for reconciliation, it was before May 2nd. After that, the chances decreased significantly because talking to executioners makes no sense. We want peace but we also want changes in our country. We are for Ukraine, but not the Ukraine imposed on us by Kyiv," said Vladimir.

Lila, a saleswoman, who also only gave her first name, said that she’ll take her anger with her into her grave.

"No, no. I will never forgive this thing. Ukrainians tortured Ukrainians just because of different opinions, just because they wanted to stand up for their beliefs. I will die with this. I will never forgive. Sorry, I just cannot," said Lila.

Odessans are Russian-speakers, and many have family ties on the other side of the border. But this is southern Ukraine, not the east where separatist sentiment runs high. People who would speak, even in this crowd heavy on ethnic-Russian pride, said they want Odessa to remain part of Ukraine, as long as local concerns are addressed.
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