May 2nd Tragedy in Odessa. Reconstruction. Part 3: Kulikovo Field

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The previous parts can be read here:

How did the events on Kulikovo field develop? Who called the people into the House of Trade Unions? How did the building catch fire, and why?

Did everyone forget about the plan to go on Kulikovo field?

Not absolutely so. A number of signs specify that certain participants of events nevertheless planned to follow the initial plan and to sweep away the camp of “Kulikovo members” after the events on Grecheskaya passed into a phase of positional fights.

Thus, at around 16:15, the subordinated to Nemirovsky and head of department of the Regional State Administration concerning interaction with law enforcement bodies Igor Bolyansky calls the head of “Self-defense” Gumenyuk and several times either proposes, or demands from him to send “Self-defense members” to Kulikovo field.

[Video title: “Igor Bolyansky calls Dmitry Gumenyuk and gives him the order to ‘cleanse’ Kulikovo field”

Text in the video: “Igor Bolyansky (the closest helped of the governor of the Odessa region Vladimir Nemirovsky personally ordered ‘Euromaidan’ protestors to disperse those who gathered on Kulikovo field. Igor Bolyansky several times calls Dmitry Gumenyuk – who led the actions of ‘Euromaidan’ protestors on Grecheskaya Square – and demands him to u-turn towards Kulikovo field.”]

Soon after that call (at around 16:20) “Self-defense” leaves Grecheskaya and heads down Bunina Street — allegedly, towards Kulikovo field. However, at around 16:30 they stop and turn back: most likely, at this particular time information about Biryukov’s death and the hospitalization of the heavily-wounded Ivanov arrives. The activists, in this situation, think that it isn’t possible to leave the battlefield. The operation to disperse Kulikovo field is postponed until the end of fights on Grecheskaya.

And even then this operation happens not at all according to the plan: instead of a small well-organized group of activists, the camp is smashed by the huge and badly controlled crowd, moreover those obsessed with a thirst for avenging the dead and wounded comrades. In addition “Kulikovo members”, including those who come back from Grecheskaya Square, show a hardened resistance — in particular, they throw stones and bottles with incendiary mixture from the Trade Unions Building, and some of them even open fire from firearms.

And it is precisely for this reason that the final part of events also takes place not at all according to the plan: instead of “exemplary-demonstrative” bloodless sweeping away of the tent town, events take place that lead to the deaths of 42 people.

Who decided that “Kulikovo members” should occupy the Trade Unions Building?

This question is quite often inflated by “Euromaidan” supporters in a quite certain spirit: it assumes the presence of certain “puppeteers” who maliciously herded people from Kulikovo field to the Trade Unions Building for certain death. However, this interpretation of events in principle doesn’t maintain any criticism simply for the reason that the entrance of people in itself to the Trade Unions Building at this time still didn’t create any threat to their lives. Moreover, it is inherent for a human to consider buildings as shelters in the event of danger.

And in general, to try to analyze the situation on Kulikovo field from the point of view of a certain unified and thought-over plan is not quite correct: events there also developed rather chaotically, and decisions were made very spontaneously.

Thus, during the day from Kulikovo field some groups of reinforcements go to the center of Odessa where, at this time, there are intense fights. A part of these groups, having collided with units of “Maidan protesters” who blocked their arrival to Grecheskaya, and who were considerably greater in their number, retreat. Others eventually managed to breakthrough to Grecheskaya and to take part in collisions. It is noteworthy that the leader of “People’s druzhina” Artyom Davidchenko in every possible way dissuades his comrades from a march in the city center (it is recorded on video). According to one of the version of events, Artyom Davidchenko is aware of the “Nikolaev scenario” and even colludes with its organizers. His task allegedly is to maximally clear Kulikovo field of activists at the moment when “euromaidan protesters” will arrive there to avoid victims. It is precisely this conclusion that members of “Group of May 2nd”, in particular, came to.

Artyom Davidchenko himself, by the way, categorically denies the existence of such a conspiracy. However, it would be rather strange if he admitted something similar.

Closer to 18:00, groups of activists who took part in fights on Grecheskaya, but managed to escape encirclement, start arriving on Kulikovo field. Many of them are wounded and are strongly affected by events.

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Members of “Orthodox druzhina” (under the leadership of Yury Trofimov — the colleague of Valery Kaurov, who is in Moscow) suggest to use the Trade Unions Building to hide there the icons and other cult objects that are at the camp. Their offer is supported, at the same time a decision is made to also hide in the building the most valuable property from the tent town.

At first the decision to defend the camp was completely made. Activists try to partition off Kulikovo field via a barricade from the make-shifts that are available in the camp. Almost immediately it becomes clear that nothing will come of this idea: obviously there won’t be enough materials for the creation of such a massive barricade. So then an alternative decision is made: to build a barricade on the porch of the Trade Unions Building, having left the main camp to the mercy of fate.

The same Artyom Davidchenko, and also some other leaders of Kulikovo field, including Rostislav Barda and Aleksey Albu, try to dissuade their colleagues from the plans to use the building for defense, and suggest to simply leave Kulikovo field. However they aren’t heard: women and the elderly people are taking shelter in the building, the barricade at the entrance of the building is reinforced by the barricade in the central lobby.

Inside the building packages with stones are passed on inside the building, which are supposed to be thrown at the “euromaidan protesters” during the storming of the building.

The prominent role in the leadership of these actions is played by the aforementioned Yury Trofimov and his colleagues in “Orthodox druzhina”. In fact, if we try to name the person who “brought people into the building”, it will be precisely Trofimov. However, as we already said above, the presentation of the question in such a way is a big exaggeration.

What were “euromaidan protesters” doing on Kulikovo field?

At around 18:30 the police that were on duty in the neighbourhood near Kulikovo field receive the order to leave the place of events and to move forward towards Grecheskaya Square. It should be noted that there is no sense in this order: the main events there already ended, the presence of additional forces of the police there is useless.

This order is one of the strangest events in the story of May 2nd. It should be noted that even the “Nikolaev scenario” provided the presence at the place of events of law enforcement officers for the prevention of excesses. But they are called back. This is one more piece of proof that if law enforcement officers indeed also participated in a certain scenario, this scenario wasn’t in favor of Nemirovsky.

At around 19:30, the advanced units of “euromaidan protesters” and football fanatics appear on Kulikovo field. Activists of Kulikovo field occupy the place of defense at the entrance of the Trade Unions Building.

[Video title: “The killers rush forward towards Kulikovo field – 18:23:25”]

While one part of the “euromaidan protesters” smash the camp on Kulikovo field, another part immediately starts to try to get into the building. According to a number of participants of events, they wanted to reach the “separatists” entrenched in the building, who they blame for the deaths of their companions on Grecheskaya. Today these “euromaidan protesters” claim that they planned to only neutralize “separatists” and to hand them over to the police. It is quite possible that at that time [2014 – ed] they argued a little differently.

The first line of defense — a barricade on the porch of the Trade Unions Building — manages to last only a few minutes: under a dense hail of stones, “Kulikovo members” retreat inside the building. Here they found themselves immune to direct attacks, “euromaidan protesters” can’t quickly break through their defense, and move away to search for other entrances. Thus, one group gets into the building courtyard, but the door that leads to the inside of the building is closed and blocked. The second group breaches a door of a lateral entrance from Seminarskaya Street. Having broken into the Trade Unions Building, they begin to break open the doors of the closed offices, hoping to find in there locked-inside “separatists”.

[Video title: “The beginning of the storming of the House of Trade Unions in Odessa”]

However, in this part of the building there are practically no “Kulikovo members”. The small group of activists that went to the left wing of the building, after a small skirmish, retreats to its central part.

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At this time the activists who are near the central entrance decide to try to set fire to the barricade protecting the entrance of the building. And they succeed.

I.e. the building was set on fire purposefully?

There can be no doubts about the fact that the fire in the Trade Unions Building was the result of purposeful actions: in the video it is seen how activists throw bottles with incendiary mixture, and a burning tire.

In their actions it is seen what the law enforcement bodies would call premeditated arson. While nobody tries to prevent the actions of the instigators.

The question only lies in – did the activists understood the entire gravity of the consequences of their actions? I.e. did they comprehend that they kindled a fire in which dozens of people will die? To answer this question unambiguously is difficult: today the participants of these events categorically reject such accusations, but what else can they say? On the other hand, there is a well-known video in which one of the thugs states that they “will be obliged to burn the building together with the people”.

Most likely, as it is always, when it is a question of a big and diverse group of people, the motives of the participants of events differ. If one wasn’t at all involved in the arson of the building, having limited themselves to destroying the tent town, others wanted to reach “separatists” and planned for this purpose either to burn to the ground the barricade at the entrance, or to try to “smoke out” its defenders. At the same time (and the aforementioned video testifies to this) among those attacking there were also those who not only assumed, but also seriously considered the possibility of physical destruction by fire of the people who took cover in the building — at least, at that moment.

How did the Trade Unions Building burn?

Contrary to popular misconceptions, only a small part of the Trade Unions Building was really seized via fire — in reality the real fire raged only in the building’s lobby where the well-known barricade resided.

A detailed survey of the building, which the author of these lines also participated in, didn’t reveal other obvious centers of ignition. In particular, the official version of events of the law enforcement agencies, according to which fire arose in one of the offices in the right part of the Trade Unions Building, doesn’t correspond to the truth. In addition, together with members of “Group of May 2nd”, I also examined the office in the central part of the building, which became known thanks to the fact that in one of the videos the flash of a flame, it seems, from inside the office is recorded.

The results of the survey are unambiguous: nothing burned inside the office, and the flash, probably, is the reflection of the tongues of flames from the tents that were burning down outside (this explanation has its shortcomings, but it is the best of all the ones available).

Signs of existence of the insignificant centers of ignition are noticed on the central stairway of the building, however these centers, most likely, had a secondary character — i.e. the fire here arose not by itself, but in the development of the “main” fire in the lobby.

It is necessary to emphasize: the fire that arose, which had high level of localization, could be extinguished easily, especially during its initial stage. If the employees of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine quickly reacted to continuous messages about the fire that arrived from Kulikovo field, the heavy consequences could be easily avoided. However the firefighters for a long time didn’t arrive.

[Video title: “Odessa Tragedy on 2nd May. The audio recording of the calls to the 101 dispatcher”.

Please note that the calls that arrived generally received the same answer as the example below (0:00-0:30 in the video):

Caller: “Come quickly please because there is a fire in the building!”
Dispatcher: “What building? The tents are burning in the open area. And where are you located?”
Caller: “I am on Kulikovo field.”
Dispatcher: “Are you standing in the open area?”
Caller: “Please, come quickly!”
Dispatcher: “I ask you again, are you in the open area?”
Caller: “Yes, I am in the open area.”
Dispatcher: “So you see very well that it is burning also in the open area. And that it doesn’t threaten you.” *dispatcher hangs up*]

According to the available information, the head of Regional State Emergency Service of Ukraine Vladimir Bodelan gave to subordinates the instruction not to send equipment to Kulikovo field without his personal order. Why did he give such an order? Bodelan himself assured: I was afraid for the lives of the subordinates. However, is it only this that held him back? And is it possible to exclude that Bodelan, as well as other high-ranking officials, knew about the scenario bring prepared and received the order not to interfere with events, because nobody thought that not only tents will be burnt, but also the Trade Unions Building?

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Moreover, at the initial stage the fire would have been put out by “Kulikovo members” themselves who were defending the building — and they tried to do it, using fire extinguishers. If the staff system of fire extinguishing, including fire hydrants etc., worked, they would be able to do it. However, the water in the hydrants was empty. The water in the usual supply system was also empty. Who disconnected it still isn’t known: all possible culprits deny their guilt. But what else can you expect them to say?

However, why did a local fire lead to so many deaths? The answer — the “two-stage” nature of the development of the fire.

The central lobby of the Trade Unions Building looked like a furnace in which fire burns, and the central stairway of the building played the role of a chimney up which the stream of hot air and by-products of burning is carried away outside. But the sense here is in the fact that it was not like that from the very beginning: during the first minutes of the development of the fire the stairway didn’t play the chimney role, the smoke almost evenly filled the building and freely left through the available openings in windows, etc.

Such a situation is faced by many of those who don’t have the best built furnace. There are often air pockets — the mass of cold air (relatively) prevents the establishment of a draft. In order to eliminate the air pockets, the air in the chimney should be warmed up.

And so, at the initial stage of the fire cold air on the stairway played the role of this air pocket. This was augmented also by the wind blowing in the back of the building and blowing the by-products of burning inside. For this reason the first 10-15 minutes of the fire near the windows on the stairwell formed a kind of “comfort zone”: air here was more fresh than in the whole building, which is almost evenly filled with smoke. It is precisely for this reason that many of those who were inside the building crowded here and, in particular, defended the central entrance prior to the beginning of the fire.

However, the fire burning in the lobby gradually warms up the air on the stairway, and at around 19:55 the air pocket was pierced. A draft was established: the by-products of burning intensively rise along the stairway, along the elevator shaft and other channels, going outside through the broken windows in the back part of the stairway. In parallel with this, in the ignition center through the central entrance of the building, which played the role of an updraft, fresh air intensively arrives. The fire becomes more intensive, the release of heat and by-products of burning sharply and significantly increases.

The “comfort zone” in the area of the stairway for only a few seconds turns into a “death zone”: the air temperature increases to 200, 300, and even 600 degrees Celsius (in the region of a convection cell, like a mine shaft etc.). It is possible to judge it also by its character of damaging the building — the wooden handrail of the stairway, window sills, etc. Besides this, this heated air is over-saturated by smoke, carbon monoxide, and poisonous by-products of burning, which now don’t disperse in the building freely, but in a concentrated way rush up precisely along this “chimney”.

As a result, the people escaping from the smoke via the stairway almost instantly found themselves in conditions that are practically impossible to survive in over a long period of time. Many instantly died, having received massive burns to the body and airways. Others preferred to jump out of the windows of the burning building — for many of them this jump was also deadly. Some, being on the border of the “death zone”, succeeded to leave it half-conscious: subsequently they arrived in hospitals with burns and poisoning by carbon monoxide and by-products of burning.

May 2nd Tragedy in Odessa. Reconstruction. Part 4: Denouement

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