Monday, May 5, 2014
Ukraine Stories of Mayhem and Martyrdom -- and the Predominance of Propaganda
The stories coming out of Odessa yesterday, about what had happened the day before, when mayhem ruled the streets, and dozens and dozens were killed in street fighting and burned alive at the Trade Union building were almost beyond comprehension. Not much of it is in English, and much of what is in English follows one or another party line, none of which are necessarily truthful but are meant to inflame passions even further, and sell a particular belief about it all.
I watched a good deal of the coverage on Vremya Odessa, via UStream, during the uproar and its aftermath. While the station appears to be "pro-Kiev", at least its reporters were on the ground, covering events extensively and live, as well as posting compilation videos of the mayhem in the streets and at the Trade Union building. As far as I can tell, though "pro-Kiev," most of Vremya Odessa's reporting is in Russian rather than Ukrainian, and something I read along the way suggested that Russian was the most common language spoken in Odessa. (Note: when I interviewed Ukrainian survivors of the Great Patriotic War in California some years ago, their language of choice was Russian, and the translator translated from Russian to English and vice versa, though the translator and the interviewee would occasionally converse with one another in Ukrainian.) I've described my familiarity with Russian as "spotty" at best. I can pick out words spoken or written but I can't follow a conversation or read complete sentences in Russian, and Ukrainian is practically an unknown territory for me.
I also followed the eyewitness reports in English from Howard Amos on Twitter and his summaries at the Guardian. For news on what's been happening in the Eastern Sector where Ukrainian military operations are apparently under way -- or not -- I've largely looked to Graham Phillips' eyewitness accounts on his Twitter and his video reports on YouTube and for RT.
These are all eyewitness reports, mostly without analysis, and if they are in the Russian or Ukrainian language, I can only barely follow bits of dialogue. Initially, I thought the language barrier would be too difficult to overcome, but I'm finding it to be something of a benefit because I can concentrate more easily on what the visuals show rather than focus on what people are saying they show. I'm aware that the videos -- whether live or recorded -- only show a slice of the whole. I found out how the slice-nature of video can sometimes be a distortion during Occupy when I was often juggling several livestreams simultaneously. The camera can only show bits and pieces of the whole at any given time, and the bits it does show can be both illuminating and distorting. It's best to see and utilize a number of points of view -- which may mean that a full picture of events has to wait for several days or months as the compilations are available and assembled.
I scan other reports, but generally I don't rely on the veracity on much of anything that isn't based directly on eyewitness reporting.
I've gone into this rather lengthy description of how I've been gathering information about what's going on in Ukraine in part because so much of the "news" about it in the West is false and almost entirely propaganda on behalf of the coup-regime in Kiev and its sponsors in Brussels, Berlin, London, and Washington, DC. The propagandists have no interest whatever in the people being squeezed by the great powers in their efforts to control Ukraine. They have no interest in the truth, either. Their sole interest is in marketing a version of their political and economic demands and desires that will convince a significant portion of the public to buy it.
Counter-propaganda is coming out of Russia and the Eastern Sectors of Ukraine, much of it just as false and based in marketing beliefs as the propaganda of the West.
The only reliable news I've found is the on-the-ground eyewitness stuff that is available -- preferably raw, live, and unedited -- but which still must be seen and evaluated skeptically. There are so many lies, so very little truth.
The video at the head of this post is an edited compilation of scenes on May 2, taken from above and in front of the Trade Union building in Odessa just prior to and during the attack on it by anti-Russian hooligans, an attack in which the encampment in front of the building was burned, and the building itself was firebombed by Molotov cocktails. Dozens were killed. I had seen some live video of the scene during and after the assault from the Vremya Odessa livestream, but of course that video was taken on the ground and later inside the building after the fires were put out, so an overall picture was hard to gain.
Western media for the most part has not been able or willing to report honestly or accurately on what happened there, in part because all reports from Ukraine must be fit into a pre-digested narrative that matches the propaganda of the various Western and Ukrainian capitals involved in the matter. That means that what happened must be made to fit a narrative of "pro-Russian" vs "pro-Ukrainian" actions. Whatever doesn't fit the narrative is eliminated. The "pro-Russian" actions must be characterized as The Bad, whereas the "pro-Ukrainian" actions must be reported as "sadly necessary responses" to The Bad.
The more I learn about what happened in Odessa -- and the reaction of Odessans to what happened -- the less it fits the current Western propaganda narratives, and it doesn't really fit the Russian propaganda narrative, either.
It was something out of nowhere that shocked and appalled Odessans, really seemed to shake them to their core. Nothing like this fit Odessans' social and cultural ideas about themselves.
How the fires in the building started is still a "controversial matter" according to the Western propaganda, that is when the fires aren't being blamed directly on "pro-Russian" protesters. From the video above, and from some of the video I saw on Vremya Odessa (their later compilations, not live) it was obvious that the building was being firebombed from outside by Molotov cocktails. This should not be a matter of controversy or dispute. It's obvious.
Not only were firebombs being lobbed at and into the building, people who were trying to escape the fires were also being firebombed by members of the mob outside.
What a horrible nightmare.
In the video above, a relatively small group of people is seen at the front entrance to the building, behind some makeshift barricades assembled on the front steps. They had apparently already abandoned their encampment in the square outside. A much larger group is seen running toward the building and the encampment. They are seen destroying and burning the encampment while those at the front entrance watch. Some time later, the people in the mob outside the building run away from the burning encampment, as if, perhaps, responding to gunfire. There were repeated reports of guns fired from the building at the mob outside resulting in several deaths and injuries. Since I saw apparently dead bodies lying in the street outside the building in the Vremya Odessa livestream, I thought the reports of gunfire from the building were reasonably creditable.
Not long after the mob runs away, though, they return. The "pro-Russian" protesters who had been on the front steps have apparently retreated inside, and only members of the mob are seen in front of the building and on the steps.
A fire is already burning inside the building on the third floor, and Molotov cocktails are being tossed by the mob at the front entrance to the building. One Molotov cocktail seems to be tossed from inside the building, and it appears to fall ineffectively on the front steps. This may actually have been one that was tossed at the building from the mob outside, but there's no way to tell from the video itself.
Shortly, the front entrance is aflame, and there is heavy flame coming from windows to the right. More Molotov cocktails are tossed at the building, and members of the mob are seen approaching the front of the building and motioning to their comrades to come along. Some people dressed in black, some of them armed with clubs or bats, are seen on the roof. Who these people on the roof actually are has been subject to some dispute, as access to the roof was said not to be available to those inside, which was said to be one reason why so many died.
More Molotov cocktails are seen being tossed at and into the building from the crowd outside, and the building is enveloped in smoke. Some time later, a column of police with shields is seen marching toward the buildings through the crowd in front. Prior to this point, there had been no sign of police at all, nor had fire brigades arrived.
But a firetruck eventually does arrive and begins to spray water on the front entrance while the crowd outside mills about. Eventually, the fires at the front entrance are put out, though flames can still be seen inside the building. A couple of people dressed in black can be seen on the roof.
That video ends without showing any attempts at escape from the burning building or any attempts at rescuing those inside.
Some of those who managed to escape were savagely beaten -- this was shown live on Vremya Odessa (which apparently does not archive its livestreams) -- others were attacked with more Molotov cocktails, and essentially everyone who got out alive was jailed.
Initial reports were that most of those who died inside died from smoke inhalation. That may be, but many of the videos and images of the dead inside show horribly burned corpses, sometimes in areas where there appeared to have been no fire. Vremya Odessa sent a reporter and cameraman inside after the fires were extinguished, and they showed and described much destruction, but there was only one dead body on a stair landing in their live video. It was apparently not burned. Where the many burned bodies were in relation to the video shot by Vremya Odessa is unknown, though some, apparently, were very close to the front entrance.
I'm unaware of any Western media or government that has condemned the actions of the mob at the Trade Union building in Odessa, though, of course they have issued their routine announcements "deploring" and expressing "sadness" that "anyone" died.
I've seen occasional efforts to blame the victims for their own fate, simply because they were where they were, and unfortunately "shit happens." They should have been somewhere else. There have been attempts to justify the mob's behavior by pointing out that they were being shot at by people inside or on top of the building. Yet who was shooting is not entirely clear. Howard Amos said he definitely heard gunshots fired from the building, and he saw dead bodies (I believe he said seven) in the street, but who was shooting is still unknown. There is video of a man in the crowd firing his gun at the building.
Molotov cocktails were being thrown at the building before the crowd runs away in the video above, and the encampment was being destroyed at the same time.
There were religious services and memorials for the dead throughout the day yesterday, and there really seemed to be a level of shock and horror among the people at what had happened, far more than there was anger, although there was plenty of anger. The police formed a cordon around the entrance of the building, but many people left floral tributes to the dead. I read that eventually the police dispersed and the people were allowed in the building, but I didn't see it.
Later yesterday evening, a mob of several thousand mostly young men formed in the center of town. They listened to speeches and were demagogued by Right Sektor toughs who tried to incite them to more violence. Many were armed with clubs, bats and chains. They marched through the city, singing and chanting, first to the police headquarters where they listened to speeches and confronted the newly appointed police chief, then to the Trade Union building where they were again harangued and incited to violence by Right Sektor thugs.
But surprisingly -- or perhaps not -- a delegation of young men from the mob linked arms and formed a cordon around the floral tributes to the dead, protecting them from the mob, and those who were trying to incite the mob to more violence were ultimately not successful.
Vremya Odessa stopped covering the action at about the time the mob was ready to disperse, so I didn't see what happened subsequently. Today, they're showing mostly movies and documentaries. I haven't seen any live coverage.
But I have looked at some of the videos that have been posted of the events of May 2 in Odessa, and I have read some of the recently posted descriptions of what people witnessed.
No matter one's point of view or political perspective, what happened in Odessa was horrible. Whether it was instigated from outside or was spontaneous hardly matters at this point. There have been persistent reports that Right Sektor thugs were bused in from Kiev to essentially raise havoc. While that may be true -- or it may not be -- the mob and its behavior were the product of local animus, fired up, no doubt, by the propaganda out of Kiev, and perhaps instigated by Right Sektor demagoguery, but by no means was it entirely a matter of outside influence.
Mindless mobs can be terrible things, and once incited, they cannot be easily controlled. It was clear enough from the live video I saw were truly shocked and horrified at what they were witnessing and what they were a part of. Many of those in the mob outside the Trade Union building took it upon themselves to improvise means of getting people out of the building, and others attempted to rescue the injured who fell from the windows. At the same time, members of the mob continued throwing Molotov cocktails at the building and some of them beat the injured on the ground. There are reports that people who had barely escaped the burning building with their lives were subsequently beaten or stabbed to death by members of the mob; and it appears that everyone who escaped the building and the mob alive was subsequently jailed.
But yesterday a crowd assembled at the jail and demanded the release of those who were jailed after escaping the Trade Union building alive. This action -- unlike the action at the Trade Union the day and night before -- was almost universally characterized by Western media as a "mob" action. Those who demanded freedom for their comrades who had escaped the inferno have been labeled a "mob" while those who firebombed the Trade Union building were gently described as "pro-Ukraine" demonstrators.
This level of propaganda is almost unprecedented in the West. Even during the World Wars and the Cold War, such manipulation of language and facts and reality by Western governments and media acting in concert with one another was not this duplicitous and overtly false. The recent example that comes closest to the current level of Western propaganda being spewed by governments and media alike was that surrounding the invasion of Iraq.
And like that situation, the propaganda from the other side -- in this case Russia -- is almost truthful by contrast to the tissue of lies coming out of Western governments and media. The Iraqis found out, of course, that their truth could not save them. The question now is whether the Russians and their allies in Ukraine will find out the same.
What I've noticed about so many of the so-called "pro-Russian" factions in Ukraine -- and it was certainly true of those who sought shelter at the Odessa Trade Union building as well -- is that they tend to be older, whereas the "pro-Maidan" activists, especially the armed marchers who take over the streets at night, sometimes in torchlight parades, tend to be younger, often much younger.
This indicates to me that there is a significant -- and deliberately engineered -- generational divide at work in Ukraine, one that was cynically developed through the efforts of those hundreds of NGOs, most funded by the US and EU, who have been tirelessly working to "educate" the young people of Ukraine to "love Europe" and loathe Russia.
It's paying off.
Ukrainians will not soon forget the searing scenes of mayhem and martyrdom in Odessa. The question is how they will be remembered.
The Euromaidan television operation (funded by NGOs, funded by US and EU interests) consciously tried to emulate revolutionary visuals from the Soviet past. They produced some stunning images during the revolt in Kiev. Those images will stay with the participants, witnesses and viewers for a long time to come. Nothing like that took place in Odessa during the recent unpleasantness, and all of the imagery I've seen so far is ugly, disturbing, and alienating. I don't see Russia or the "pro-Russia" factions in Ukraine producing any kind of martyrdom-slash-revolutionary visuals from these recent events, not yet anyway.
Part of that, I think, is because the Russians aren't the Revolutionaries here; they represent the status quo, the status quo ante, of course, but still, not a forward impulse. Under the circumstances, and given the extraordinary level of unity on the side of Revolt and Revolution, and given the surprising level of flexibility being shown by the rebels, I'm not at all sure that the status quo can be restored or maintained.
My sense of these events is that Ukraine will never be allowed to be the same again.
UPDATE: A couple of videos have come my way which expand on the one posted above. The first is a 24 minute video of action around the Trade Union building from a time shortly after the encampment was set ablaze until shortly after a number of badly injured and/or burned men are pulled away from the back of the building after a huge and intense fire burns above the back entrance. How that fire started isn't shown in the video, and its intensity is quite different than that of most of the other fires that burned in the building that day. Only the fires at the front entrance seemed to match the intensity of fire that is seen in this video. Also seen is a man with an automatic pistol firing into the building from the mob. There are many other surprising or disgusting elements in this video, including some mention of "Pravyi Sektor" and, if you know what to look for, some fleeting glimpses of men in camo get ups who quite likely are the Pravyi Sektor members to which the videographer refers. The video is titled (in Russian) "These are my people?" and subtitled, "They are happy when burned people jump out of windows." Be warned, this is not a steadi-cam video, and the videographer tends to point the camera at the ground or wave it somewhat randomly. As difficult as some of the visuals are to watch, the camera work is sometimes even more difficult.
The following video -- which I'll link to but not embed -- was taken inside the building after the fires were put out. There are many burned bodies -- and if you would rather not see such graphic video of burned bodies, please don't watch. One of the links in the earlier text shows some stills from this video. As far as I can tell, the majority of the bodies are found on stair landings where the most intense fires were burning at the back of the building, and from where the injured in the previous video appear to have jumped. As I say, I don't know what caused this fire or how it started, but as I pointed out to a correspondent, many years ago I was engulfed in a gasoline fire, much like one that would be caused by a Molotov cocktail, and I survived pretty badly singed but otherwise unscathed. The fire burned itself out fairly quickly, and despite a great deal of smoke and flame, never got all that hot.
Whatever caused the fire which burned these people, I doubt it was a Molotov cocktail.