I bent down from a flash and stared at my hands for several seconds. The white wall before my eyes began transforming into a mute picture and a strange man grabbed my shoulders and pulled behind the barricades.
“Alive? You’ve recently been hit by a light and sound grenade. Here your burnt jeans! You’ll have a burn,” a stranger said.
“I’ll make it through,” I answered.
An hour ago I hadn’t known the rules of city fights, half an hour ago I had no clue how to mount barricades with furniture from payment cafes on Deribasivska Street. And a minute ago I hadn’t suspected that the light and sound grenade explosion wasn’t painful. But for blood which was too much everywhere.
However, everybody knew that on May 2 there would be a fight in Odesa. The winner was unknown.
On that day, I escaped from work in the afternoon, saying my chief that I had to go to the countryside on the May holidays. But I went to Soborna Square where people were already gathering. Several hundred Odesans, all were already familiar. Our meeting was announced as a pro-Ukrainian march with the fans of FC “Metalist” from the city centre to the stadium “Chornomorets”.
According to an old habit, I stood at the end of the procession. But only people set off – a stone hit my back.
In fifty metres, on Gretska Street, there were “kulykovtsi” – pro-Russian activists who set a tent camp near the station at Kulykovo Field. They came to fight.
And our side agreed. It’s hard to express the rage with which half a thousand Odesans turn back, grab stones, break frames of pictures, sold on Soborna Square, into sticks and go to beat the enemy.
Sloviansk and Mariupol.
Self-defence managed to push the provocateurs deep in the Gretska Street and around a hundred of Odesan, including me, ran to Vice-Admiral Zhukov Lane to block the provocateurs.
And it was then when a real fight began.
The members of “Odesa Squads” – a combat cell of local anti-maidan – had a firearm. And they used it.
“The investigators have a video how Botsman (a terrorist who is being wanted now) fired at people. And there are no other documentary proofs. Neither ballistic examination nor fingerprints. Nothing that would prove his guilt in the shooting. That is, now he can safely return to Ukraine, a court will be held and he will be acquitted. Same as other participants of riots during that day. Not because the judges are bad, but because the investigation simply wasn’t conducted,” a journalist and a member of the investigation team on May 2 Serhii Dibrov said.
A bloody body was carried past me. Ihor Ivanov was carried 100 metres to Preobrazhenska Street. There wasn’t an ambulance and the police didn’t allow an injured man into their car. We threw stones at the police car. The police ran away and didn’t appear.
Hope was pinned on two hundred people, 195 of whom hadn’t used the firearms before. We began to tear off metal sheets of the fence around the Russov House – architectural monument, which was then on the restoration.
We laid these sheets of the fence one over another and gradually carried them to the lane, where the provocateurs sat. Guns easily shot through the thin sheets, but at least militants didn’t see us.
We fixed them with furniture of the summer payment cafes on Deribasivska Street. The rest of the holidaymakers didn’t mind.
Without any weapon – only at the instant coordination and trust we managed to block the provocateurs along the perimeter. Indian students of the Odesa Medical University arranged a mobile hospital. The rescuers from the neighbouring part gave the fire truck to the activists to counteract the flammable mixture from bottles. It seemed that this fight would finish just on the spot.
“All detained on Gretska Square were acquitted. In Mykolaiv, they began to consider the appeal, but it has no perspective. This meaningless process will never end. Because half of them fled from Ukraine, some of them had died for five years. The SBU summoned us for interrogation and asked: do you know these people, did you see what they were doing? We know and did saw. But it was just a chat, our words were not fixed as witness evidence,” Tetyana Gerasimova, the member of the investigative group on May 2, said.
But then the second round of fight began. There were more inflammable mixtures, shots and light and sound grenades in our direction. One of them hit my leg and exploded. I lost my eyesight and hearing for a few minutes. A stranger pulled me behind the barricades.
When I gained my consciousness back my jacket was spilt with blood. But not mine. I just sat on the ground and watched the people hold the barricades with their bodies, the girls get the pavement and break it into stones. I was brought to reality by a phone call.
“Artem, go away from there. According to the news, the bloodshed is about to start.”
After three hours of fighting, I was exhausted emotionally and physically. And this call of the friend from the SBU frightened me so much. I left when the provocateurs went on to their camp, defeated. I wasn’t next to the Trade Union House. Only then I found out how pro-Russian activists barricaded themselves in the building, how it caught fire then, and how the firefighters didn’t go to the square. I will bear this load until the rest of my life.
“The trial on Trade Union House case will never begin. Because the investigation is not yet finished after 5 years. We call the documents “36 volumes of waste paper”. Because after 5 years the only defendants are the firefighters who hadn’t extinguished the fire. We offered an amnesty to all the participants in the riots who didn’t harm people, but the bill is still covered with dust in the Verkhovna Rada. And it looks as though there are no guilty and no casualties. And that’s why people still can’t reconcile with the loss,” Serhii Dibrov added.
In the past five years, I have never experienced a sense of “victory”. Many of the people who were brought into the Trade Union House were enemies of the country no more than pensioners who lay flowers at a burnt house on May 2 every year. These are people who were brainwashed by the Russian propaganda and who became its victims. But those who led them to slaughter are now in occupied Donetsk and Moscow. That’s why there is no joy of the victory. Only a hard feeling of accomplishment.
Text by Artem Metliov