The Congress of South African Trade Union condemns in the strongest terms the attack on the House of Trade Unions building in Odessa, Ukraine, which was set alight on Friday 2 May by members of the Ukrainian nationalist/fascist organisation ‘Right Sector’.
Up to 40 people choked to death on smoke or were killed when jumping out of windows after the building was set on fire.
The UK Guardian reports that “bodies lay in pools of blood outside the main entrance as explosions from improvised grenades and Molotov cocktails filled the air. Some people fell from the burning building as they hung on to windowsills in an attempt to avoid the fire that had taken hold inside.”
“Pro-Russia fighters inside the building retaliated by throwing masonry and petrol bombs and shooting from the roof on to the crowd below. At least five bodies with bullet wounds lay on the ground covered by Ukraine flags as fire engines and ambulances arrived at the scene.
The Guardian report is however misleading in an important respect. The so-called ‘pro-Russian’ protesters in the building were not primarily united along ethnic or linguistic lines, but represented a groundswell of working-class resistance to the extreme right regime that came to power in Ukraine in February 2014 and their fascist militias who carried out the attack on the House of Trade Unions.
According to the Borotba Union, a revolutionary Marxist–Leninist and anti-fascist organization based in Odessa, what happened was:
"On May 2, the paramilitary squads of Ukrainian nationalist were brought together to Odessa from all over the country. They had shields, helmets, bats, automatic and service weapons, mostly men about 30-40 years old who were evidently not football fans. In total there were more than a thousand nationalists that participated in the march and the slaughter that followed it.
“Neo-Nazis attacked the camp of anti-junta protesters on the square and set it ablaze. Activists from the protest camp were forced to retreat to the nearby building of the House of Trade Unions. When trying to kill Odessa residents, ultra-rights set ablaze the ground floor of the House of Trade Unions.
“And the fire spread rather quickly over the building. People began to jump out of the windows of the upper floors - trying to escape the fire. But on the ground, they were finished off by nationalist paramilitaries. Thus, our comrade - a member of Borotba union - Andrew Brazhevsky was killed.”
At first, according to the Guardian report, police largely stood aside and took no action as the two sides hurled Molotov cocktails, cobblestones and bricks at each other. Girls as young as fourteen were smashing cobblestones to break them up into missiles of a manageable size. Combatants on both sides were armed with body armour, helmets and shields and carried baseball bats, chains, metal bars and air pistols.
“For two and a half hours the police were absent”, said Olga Gold, a teacher watching the unrest. "The authorities have been absolutely indifferent".
“Bloody and dazed pro-Russia protesters were eventually escorted from the building. Many were handed over to police, and loaded on to police vans. Some were assaulted by the crowd”.
"The Kiev junta”, writes the Borotba Union “has openly set a course toward violence and carnage against their political opponents. And the tools of this brutal violence are neo-Nazi militants – those who act closely with the secret police, who are well-armed and being financed by the oligarchy. The massacre in Odessa reveals that the Kiev regime of nationalists and oligarchs is rapidly grows into the outright terrorist dictatorship of the fascist style."
Ironically, the massacre in Odessa happened on the very day (May 2) when Adolf Hitler`s storm troopers occupied all trade union headquarters across Germany in 1933, and union leaders were arrested and put in prison or concentration camps.
COSATU condemns the desecration of a trade union building by fascist vigilantes and the brutal murder of antifascist protesters, and declares its solidarity with the progressive democratic movement which has emerged in South-eastern Ukraine.