Thirty-eight people are reported dead in the Ukraine city of Odessa on Friday, spurring additional concern that the nation’s turmoil is making its way west as increasing number of cities experience open revolt and succumb to violence.
According to the early reports, the deaths in Odessa were caused by a fire in a trade union building that broke out during a clash between pro-Russia demonstrators and supporters of the central government in Kiev.
The Guardian’s Amos Howard was in Odessa, and sent this report from city:
Odessa’s large Soviet-era trade union building was set alight as pro-Ukrainian activists mounted an assault as dusk fell. Police said at least 38 people choked to death on smoke or were killed when jumping out of windows after the trade union building was set on fire.
Bodies lay in pools of blood outside the main entrance as explosions from improvised grenades and Molotov cocktails filled the air. Black smoke from the building and a burning pro-Russian protest camp wreathed the nearby square.
“Bodies lay in pools of blood outside the main entrance as explosions from improvised grenades and Molotov cocktails filled the air. Black smoke from the building and a burning pro-Russian protest camp wreathed the nearby square.”
Pro-Russian fighters mounted a last-ditch defence of the burning building, tossing masonry and Molotov cocktails from the roof on to the crowd below.
Medics at the scene said that the pro-Russian fighters were also shooting from the roof. At least five bodies with bullet wounds lay on the ground covered by Ukrainian flags as fire engines and ambulances arrived at the scene.
Some people fell from the burning building as they hung on to windowsills in an attempt to avoid the fire that had taken hold inside. Pro-Ukrainian protesters made desperate efforts to reach people with ropes and improvised scaffolding.
“At first we broke through the side, and then we came through the main entrance,” said one pro-Ukrainian fighter, 20, who said he was a member of the extreme nationalist group Right Sector.
“They had guns and they were shooting … Some people jumped from the roof, they died obviously,” he said.
Riot police arrived on the scene as hand-to-hand fighting was already underway inside, but did not enter the building and stood formed up in ranks outside.
If confirmed, the deathdoll would be far the highest number of casaulties experienced since the crisis in the east of Ukraine began.
The Associated Press reports:
Unlike eastern Ukraine, Odessa had remained largely untroubled since the February toppling of President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia. But a clash erupted late Friday between pro-Russians and government supporters in the key port on the Black Sea coast, located 550 kilometers (330 miles) from the turmoil in the east.
Police said the deadly fire broke out in a trade union building Friday, but did not give details on how it started. Earlier police said at least three people had died in a clash between the two sides.
This article was originally published on Common Dreams.