Simferopol, Crimea — Odessa Regional Council Deputy Alexei Albu, a member of the Union Borotba (Struggle) of Ukraine, was a leader of the city’s AntiMaidan movement against the U.S.-backed coup. Albu survived the May 2 massacre, when at least 48 people were killed by neo-Nazi gangs at the House of Trade Unions. Albu and his family were forced to flee to Crimea, where he continues his work as a co-founder of the Committee for the Liberation of Odessa and the investigative website 2May.org. Workers World spoke with Albu about his experiences.
Workers World: How did you become active in the anti-fascist movement?
Alexei Albu: I first joined Komsomol, the youth organization of the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU). Later, I became a member of the KPU and organized its youth wing. I also took part in several local elections in Odessa. So I was always involved in political life as a communist.
The leaders of the KPU were afraid of openly demonstrating anti-fascist views. They didn’t want to take responsibility for an open confrontation with the neo-Nazis or the actions of young people who were strongly against fascism. They took an opportunistic position.
In 2011, I accompanied friends who were members of Borotba to a couple of anti-fascist rallies. When the KPU leaders learned of my attendance at these protests, they planned to expel me.
I left the KPU and became a member of Borotba. I didn’t plan to take people with me. Nevertheless, several comrades left the KPU and joined Borotba. One of them was Vlad Wojciechowski, who is now a political prisoner. Another was Andrew Brazhevsky, who was killed by the Nazis on May 2.
WW: What kind of work did Borotba carry out in Odessa?
AA: I was an elected deputy of the regional council, so I had the opportunity to speak for Borotba in the local government. We also had the opportunity to create an organizational headquarters in Odessa. Many people came to our organization. Odessa residents got to know us and our symbols, and a lot of journalists covered our activities.
We organized solidarity actions with Ukrainian sailors in England and supported the struggle of dockworkers in the Odessa region. We organized anti-fascist meetings and demonstrations. We held a lot of protest rallies against the local government. We also helped organize immigration and education centers.
All of our protests were directed against the government of President Victor Yanukovych. But when the Maidan movement started, we understood that the people who wanted to use it to get power were even worse. Bourgeois democratic law was preferable to direct rule of Nazis and oligarchs. We were against them from the very beginning.
[Maidan is the pro-imperialist movement which took its name from the central square of Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, where it held protests in late 2013 and early 2014. The backbone of this movement, which received extensive funding and political support from the U.S. government, were neo-Nazi gangs and political parties. Maidan culminated in the overthrow of President Victor Yanukovych in February. — WW]
When Maidan activists tried to occupy the Odessa Regional State Administration, our comrades protected the building. During the defense of the RSA, I became good friends with Regional Council Deputy Vyacheslav Markin, who was later killed at the House of Trade Unions.
Markin and I were the only deputies who openly said we were against the Nazis, the Maidan, the junta and all the crimes this movement brought to Ukraine.
WW: How did the AntiMaidan movement and the protest encampment develop?
AA: After Yanukovych was overthrown in February, the AntiMaidan movement grew and became quite broad. It was based among common people who were not connected with any party. It was organized from below, from the people. The coordinators of this movement included members of many organizations, including Borotba. Borotba was not the most powerful organization; it was just one of those that influenced the Odessa AntiMaidan.
The biggest parties of Ukraine, the Communist Party and the Party of Regions, didn’t participate in AntiMaidan, although many of their members did.
The tent camp at Kulikovo Field [similar to the 2012 Occupy Wall Street encampments in the U.S.] was the creation of all the groups that took part in the AntiMaidan movement. For example, one group set up the area where people held speakouts. Others brought tents and supplies.
WW: How did you use your position as a regional deputy to help the movement?
AA: There was a lot of publicity when I introduced a draft law in the RSA, with help from Deputy Markin, calling for autonomy for the Odessa Region within Ukraine. This made Borotba very popular in Odessa. But unfortunately, most of the delegates didn’t vote for the law.
By ignoring this draft law, the regional deputies forced people to protest. On March 3, they came to the RSA building and started clashing with police. I tried to bring the people into the building to give them the opportunity to speak with the deputies. I was injured trying to get people inside.
Afterward, I had problems with the Security Service of Ukraine [political police whose role is similar to the FBI in the U.S.]. They searched my apartment and tried to interrogate me. The growing repression had a great impact in Odessa society. By the end of April, the AntiMaidan protests had become smaller. Fewer people came to Kulikovo.
People were also disappointed because they came to the Kulikovo every day, or every weekend, and saw that the leaders of the organizations couldn’t agree with each other. Instead, one by one, these groups started to make deals with the government.
The local government wanted to remove the camp, using the annual May 9 Victory Day parade as an excuse. Some organizations agreed to remove their tents, but others decided to stay.
WW: Why do you think the Kiev junta and the fascists targeted Odessa on May 2?
AA: First of all, I should explain that the Odessa region is very important for the Ukrainian economy. [The administrative subdivision of] Odessa has seven seaports and 70 percent of the country’s imports come through there.
Supporters of the junta in the local government wanted to stop the AntiMaidan movement. They brought in neo-Nazis from Kiev in the middle of the night. They organized checkpoints inside the city, with 10 or 15 people at each checkpoint. They operated in around-the-clock shifts. They were fed by the government, and they earned money.
On April 29-30, Andriy Parubiy, head of the Defense and National Security Council, even presented the people at the checkpoints with bulletproof vests.
On one hand, they wanted the people from Kiev to radicalize the local Maidan movement, to ensure that they would enforce the new government’s orders. On the other hand, they wanted to remove the activists from Kulikovo Field, to make sure there would be no organized opposition.
I don’t think the government necessarily planned to kill people and cause so many casualties. But they organized everything and set the events in motion.
WW: Before the massacre on May 2, you planned to run for mayor of Odessa.
AA: What happened was that we held a strong anti-fascist demonstration on May Day, which worried the local government. That day, a lot of people from the Odessa AntiMaidan movement agreed to back my campaign for mayor as the candidate of Kulikovo Field.
The following day, May 2, the tragedy began.
Deputy Markin was my campaign manager. He was killed by the Nazis. Afterward, anyone who tried to agitate for the candidate of Kulikovo Field was attacked by the fascists. So I decided to stop the campaign. I couldn’t take part in such elections.
Anyway, I was soon forced to leave Odessa. The local government spread lies, saying that I was responsible for the deaths at the House of Trade Unions. They claimed I took people into the building and subsequently the building burned, so I was guilty. They planned to arrest me.
Actually, I was one of the last people to enter the building. Never mind the fascists who threw Molotov cocktails, shot people and beat to death those who leapt from the burning building!
WW: Along with other Odessa political exiles, you have been conducting an independent investigation of the May 2 tragedy. Can you describe your work?
AA: The main problem for us is that a lot of information was lost the day after the tragedy. Many people went there. The House of Trade Unions was cleaned out before facts and evidence could be gathered.
Also, all the material recorded by the police and Security Service of Ukraine was never published and is classified top secret. So we have to look for information from open sources or solicit people who witnessed the massacre to share information. And of course many have been coerced by the new regime to remain silent or change their stories.
Our committee is sure that there were more than 48 victims on May 2. For one thing, the mother of an activist told us that when she went to the morgue to identify her child, the police showed her more than 60 bodies.
Officials of the government, the Security Service and the police do not provide any information, not even to the official investigation committee set up by the Ukrainian parliament. The leaders of the ultranationalist Ukrainian militia do not comment or make any statements. They are trying to avoid all questions about this tragedy.
But under the law they have to answer all the questions and turn over all the evidence and facts they have to the investigation committee.
WW: Do you have any parting message for workers and youth in the U.S.?
AA: The government in Kiev is doing everything in order to hide the real causes of this terrible tragedy and the real culprits of the massacre. We declare that we will pursue the investigation anyhow, and everyone guilty will answer for it and will be punished.
We are grateful to all the comrades who support the struggle of the Ukrainian people against the oligarchy and the Nazis. We are grateful to everyone who is helping us, and we call for solidarity because only together, by joint efforts, can we defeat the world capitalist system.
Special thanks to Svetlana Licht and Marina Nova for translation.