In acquitting the suspects, court cites flubbed investigation and questionable witness testimony
In May 2014, forty-eight people lost their lives and over two hundred were injured in violent streets fights and a subsequent fire that erupted in Odesa, Ukraine. The shocking event — the bloodiest civil conflict in nearly a century of the city’s history — would come to be known as the “Odesa massacre.”
Since then, no one has been brought to justice for their role in the deaths. That didn’t change today.
On September 18, an Odesa court found five suspects not guilty of murdering six people or of involvement in street fights on Odesa’s Hretska Square.
The court concluded that the criminal investigation was deeply flawed, identifying several key problems and gaps in the evidence. In particular, investigators questioned only one police officer who had been present at the scene of the crime.
The court also found the testimony of one witness, who claimed that the accused took part in the fighting, to be biased. Other witnesses failed to confirm the suspects’ involvement.
The “Odesa Massacre” occurred in the chaotic wake of Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution, as Russia-backed separatists seized territory in the country’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions and escalated an armed conflict with Ukrainian forces.
Those tensions erupted in Odesa on May 2, 2014. Clashes broke out between two marches through the city center — one in favor of Ukraine’s revolution and the other pro-Russian. During a pitched street fight on Gretska Square, six people were killed by gunfire.
The clashes eventually migrated to the city’s Kulykovo Field, where pro-Russian activists barricaded themselves inside the nearby House of Trade Unions. In the ensuing chaos, the building caught fire and forty-two people lost their lives — either from carbon monoxide poisoning or from jumping out the windows to escape the blaze.
Later, investigators established that clashes were intentionally organized and planned.
The “Odesa Massacre” would go on to become a favored subject of Russian television, which used the event to present the Ukrainian revolutionary government as a “fascist junta.”
In the tragedy’s wake, a group of journalists, rights activists, and eyewitnesses to the events that day founded the May 2 Group to gather evidence and established what really happened. Despite their efforts, the “Odesa Massacre” remains a polarizing subject.
Commemorations of the tragedy’s third anniversary this year were interrupted when police evacuated Kulykovo Field after receiving a bomb threat.
After the September 18 trial, two of the defendants were immediately detained by the police on suspicion of of another crime: separatism in the city of Mykolayiv in 2014.
/by Matthew Kupfer