The versions of what happened in Odessa seem to break down to three perspectives:
1. The pro-Russian separatists and their “Colorado Beetle” friends bused in from other cities, with Moscow’s backing, barricaded and locked themselves into the Trade Unions Building, shot at people as they’d been doing all day, killed five people right at the scene in front of the building, then lit fires inside the building, and then mainly escaped (about 250), although some of their own were not so lucky (38). Conclusion: the armed professionals knew how to set fires and escape from buildings, but they didn’t bother to collect their amateur followers to get them to safety, the cynicism for which these forces are notorious.
2. The pro-Kiev Maidan activists who had suffered several deaths and beatings of their own at the hands of the pro-Russians, were enraged and sought revenge and took a long 30-minute walk or 10-minute drive to the Trade Unions Building to “clean out” the separatists’ tent camp in nearby Kolekovo Field Square. They torched the tents, then hounded the pro-Russian separatists into the building, throwing in Molotov cocktails through the door to set fire, then stood back and chanted nationalist slogans and sang the national anthem while the Russians asphyxiated to death inside. To be sure, a few people tried to save them, but mainly the nationalists beat the survivors as they emerged. Conclusion: Ukrainian nationalists staged a successful pogrom, something that they are all too good at historically and this was to be expected.
3. Some cross between the two, where both sides are to blame in differing measure. The Russians shot at people in the crowd below and injured and killed some; Russians on the roof threw Molotov cocktails and other debris; the Ukrainians hounded separatists whom they outnumbered into the building, and threw Molotov cocktails from below and some got in the windows The tent fire and Molotov fires spread to the first few floors of the building. Because the Russians had built a barricade out of furniture right in front of the door, they blocked their own exit. Some Ukrainians took delight in their enemies’ misfortune, but others helped rescue the very people who had been shooting at them and throwing dishes at them moments before. Stories of the beatings of survivors are exaggerated.
The fire department did not get there for 20 minutes according to some accounts, or more than 60 minutes according to others, although civilians did set up make-shift ladders and a hose brigade and rescued at least some people (10? 20?). Others blocked ambulances, we are told, slowing rescue of another 120 and leaving the 38 to perish.
It’s clear what Moscow thinks of the Trade Unions fire — it is an outrageous crime. It’s clear what Surkov or his facsimile thinks — it is the sort of crime for which war should be started and equal treatment dished out.
It’s clear what the Ukrainian Interior Ministry is doing — trying to explain away things about this tragedy or at least deny its premeditated features, and pin it on the disobedient or inactive police — or darker oligarchic mafia forces that “really control” things.
So before falling alongside either of these versions — or even accepting that Moscow is right about the pogrom part — I want to do due diligence about the incidents leading up to the numerous deaths.