A year ago today, violent clashes in the center of Odessa culminated in the deaths of some 48 people, most of them killed in a fire in the Regional House of Trade Unions. Who organized the violence remains unclear, but evidence emerged subsequent to the event indicating advance planning. The Ukrainian security services and police have arrested citizens of the Russian Federation in connection with the incident – some with close family connections to Russian security ministries. An anti-terrorist operation in Odessa region is ongoing.
Odessa is a vital port and one of the most strategically important cities in Ukraine. Capture of the district by pro-Russian separatists would practically deny Ukraine access to the Black Sea, since Russia’s annexation of Crimea has closed access from the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Straits. Further, the local political situation is uncertain. While governors in Ukraine are appointed by the president under Ukraine’s constitution, mayors and heads of sub-regional municipalities are elected by popular vote.
The current governor of Odessa region, Ihor Palytsia, appointed by the interim Ukrainian leadership in May 2014, is seen as loyal to the central government. The mayor, Gennadiy Trukhanov, is a former member of the Party of Regions and was elected on 25 May 2014, defeating the candidate of President Petro Poroshenko’s party. As the municipal authorities were already under suspicion for complicity in the violence of May 2nd, the stability of Odessa remained in question following the election, perhaps more so given Trukhanov having defeated the pro-presidential candidate without resort to massive fraud.
The issue of ‘fifth columns’ in Ukraine – particularly in cities and regions falling within Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s neo-imperial ‘Novorossiya’ project – continues to be of concern to the Ukrainian government, and security in Odessa continues to be a top priority. The following article from hromadske.tv offers video and photographic images of new security units deployed in Odessa to keep the peace over the May Day weekend.
1 May 2015 ~ hromadske.tv
At Kulykovo Field in Odessa, instruction of all police units involved in the protection of public order during the May holidays in Odessa has taken place.
Recall that, by decision of the local police, from 1-9 May the wearing of balaklavas and St. George ribbons was banned in Odessa.
After this, Odessans staged an impromptu photo session with the security forces and military equipment.