By Ekaterina Sergatskova, UP–Zhizn (Life)
Translated by Voices of Ukraine
Edited by Alex Howard for VOU
All photos by the author
According to the founder of the self-defense group, this will not impact the defense of the city because “rapid response units” are already being formed.
A roadblock with the Ukrainian flag has been standing at the six kilometre point on one of the roads to Odesa for a month. Behind the sandbags are a couple of tents, a small kitchen and some old couches brought from home by Euromaidan activists. This was one of the first and most basic points of defence on the approaches to Odesa.
Valentina, a middle aged woman in a tracksuit with a white headscarf keeps watch at the checkpoint. When asked who is in charge she answers: “We are all in charge here. Let me see your documents, so we know who you are.” So dedicated is she, Valentina continues, “Please understand, we are not here for a laugh. It’s turned out this way. They suggested that I should go to a health resort after I was taken off a drip, but I refused. I can’t even remember what the date is today. The country has a lot of problems.” Valentina shows the spot where the grenade went off: a small crater in the asphalt. “That was when the Colorado beetles (pro-Russians) threw explosives here. I can show you the blood on the tent. What else? You can see, today they put flowers there.”
Another activist, Viktor Kiiko first worked in intelligence and then as a police officer. On May 2nd along with other pro-Ukrainian activists at the front of Grecheskaya Street, he got a concussion from a grenade explosion.
“They told me to rest, but there was no time. My boys were there, how could I abandon them? My place is here, at my post.
“My family is provided for.” Viktor explains. “I went to work as a police officer out of stupidity, even though everyone said I couldn’t make a difference. They paid 1,450 hyrvinas, everyone was surprised at how I lived on so little. I couldn’t put things in order, unfortunately, but I was constantly told I had to give people drugs. I understood what they wanted me to do so I resigned. And now my army experience is coming in useful.
Although in the army no one throws grenades at you, except police officers, and that as a joke. Now with what is happening, I have seen the kind of dogs we live with. On the May 1st, some Antimaidan activists ran up to us, asked us not quarrel with them and even joined us. But the next day they were the first to attack us.”
The Civil Security Council Group was organized as soon as separatist organizations started moving into eastern Ukraine. The leaders of public opinion and activists in Odesa united and set up a call centre, medical services, citizens’ patrol and about 15 roadblocks. Each day about thirty local residents go on duty.
“We have up to a thousand active people, a huge mobilized resource” Says former paratrooper and surveyor, the group coordinator, Yuri Kozariz. “These are successful engineers, lawyers, journalists: people who think that it is now important to protect Odesa.”
According to Kozariz, the self-defense unit is prepared at all times to repel aggression against Odesites, as the group is able to quickly mobilize.
“The events that occurred on the May 2nd demoralized that section of Odesans who went to the so-called federation side. They understood that it was serious, that people were ready to defend their rights. Separatism is a punishable offence. We basically did the secret service’s job. If they [the security services] had organized earlier, they would have got to the assault, there were armed people there, and we would have avoided such losses,” Yuri believes.
According to him, what happened on May 2nd was unprecedented for Odesa because “this is a business city, it’s impossible to rouse people up.”
“It had to be something out of the ordinary to make the people of Odesa react like that. These locator points of separatists were a malignant tumor for Odesa. But we were able to restore the status quo.”
“For days, Russian journalists were telling me: “You have soul. You will win if you stick it out to the end. They have no soul, they only have insolence and brazenness. So we say: Odesa is a Masterclass for Donetsk. I have the distinct feeling that people understand why they are defending themselves. They are decisive and are prepared to defend their rights. We will take on anyone who comes here.
Ukrainians are waking up now, their sense of active citizenship is waking up. I think it is very like the Cossacks. It is an ant colony which organizes itself, and the activities are not going through one leader who can be blocked or stolen.
Our activity cannot be stopped. Any aggression will be met with an active mobilization of citizens. So our couch squadron is turning into a combat squadron.”