For weeks, the US-backed regime in Kiev has been committing atrocities against its own citizens in southeastern Ukraine, a region heavily populated by Russian-speaking Ukrainians and ethnic Russians. While victimizing a growing number of innocent people, including children, and degrading America’s reputation, these military assaults against cities, captured on video, are generating intense pressure in Russia on President Vladimir Putin to “save our compatriots.” Both the atrocities and the pressure on Putin have increased since July 1, when Kiev, after a brief cease-fire, intensified its artillery and air attacks on eastern cities defenseless against such weapons.
The reaction of the Obama administration, as well as the new Cold War hawks in Congress and the establishment media, has been twofold: silence, interrupted only by occasional statements excusing and thus encouraging more atrocities by Kiev. Very few Americans have protested this shameful complicity. We may honorably disagree about the causes and resolution of the Ukrainian crisis, the worst US-Russian confrontation in decades, but not about deeds that are rising to the level of war crimes, if they have not done so already.
In mid-April, the new Kiev government, predominantly western Ukrainian in composition and outlook, declared an “anti-terrorist operation” against a growing political rebellion in the southeast. At that time, the rebels were mostly mimicking the initial 2013 protests in Kiev—demonstrating, issuing defiant proclamations, occupying public buildings and erecting defensive barricades—before Maidan turned ragingly violent and, in February, overthrew Ukraine’s corrupt but legitimately elected president, Viktor Yanukovych. Indeed, the precedent for seizing official buildings and demanding the allegiance of local authorities, even declaring “independence,” had been set earlier, in January, in central and western Ukraine—by pro-Maidan, anti-Yanukovych protesters. Reports suggest that some cities in these regions, almost ignored by the international media, are still controlled by extreme nationalists, not Kiev.
Considering those preceding events—but above all the country’s profound historical divisions, particularly between its western and eastern regions—the rebellion in the southeast was not surprising. Nor were its protests against the unconstitutional way (in effect, a coup) that the new government had come to power; the southeast’s sudden loss of effective political representation in the capital; and the real prospect of official discrimination. But by declaring an “anti-terrorist operation” against the new protesters, Kiev signaled its intention to “destroy” them, not negotiate.
On May 2, in this incendiary atmosphere, a horrific event occurred in the southern city of Odessa, awakening memories of Nazi German extermination squads in Ukraine and other Soviet republics during World War II. An organized pro-Kiev mob chased protesters into a building, set it on fire and tried to block the exits. Some forty people, perhaps many more, perished in the flames or were murdered as they fled the inferno.
Members of the infamous Right Sector, a far-right paramilitary organization ideologically aligned with the ultranationalist Svoboda party—itself a constituent part of Kiev’s coalition government—led the mob. Both are frequently characterized by knowledgeable observers as “neofascist” movements. Kiev alleged that the victims had themselves accidentally started the fire, but eyewitnesses, television footage and social-media videos told the true story, as they have about subsequent atrocities.