More troubling news from Sloviansk, and now from Odessa too . . .
Pro-Russian rebels shot down two Ukrainian helicopters trying to retake separatist-held Slaviansk on Friday in what Moscow called a “criminal” assault on the eastern town. Separatists said Ukrainian forces killed three of their fighters and two civilians when they moved in on Slaviansk in the early hours. Kiev said two helicopter crew had died and seven servicemen had been wounded in the operation. On the other side of Ukraine, police said three people were shot dead and in 15 others were wounded in clashes between people backing Kiev and pro-Russian activists in largely Russian-speaking Odessa….
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said Ukrainian forces had fired on civilians from the air in Slaviansk in a “punitive operation” that destroyed an international peace plan. Moscow has tens of thousands of troops massed on the border and claims the right to invade if needed to protect Russian speakers.
The Western-backed government in Kiev said the use of missiles that brought down its helicopters was evidence Russian forces were in the town. Moscow denies its troops are on the ground. Ukraine’s acting president also said Russian “armed saboteurs” had tried to enter the country overnight, but were pushed back by Ukrainian border troops. He gave no further details. Russia’s Security Service said the report was untrue….
While defining the conflict within Ukraine as one between ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians is a crude oversimplification (even if we ignore that whole Kremlin meddling thing), it’s probably worth noting that these days ethnic Ukrainians make up more than sixty percent of the population of Odessa. That said, many of those are primarily Russian-speaking. Odessa is a city with a rich and complicated history, and an important place in Russia’s sense of its own past (it was a part of Novorossiya — New Russia — “acquired” by Catherine the Great) and culture.
According to Reuters three people have been killed in Odessa so far today and another 15 wounded.
From Moscow, Natalia Antonova (former editor of Moscow News) tweets:
And now at least one death in Odessa?… It’s a reaping. Evil rippling out. I’m tired and sad and have nothing clever to say.— Natalia Antonova (@NataliaAntonova) May 2, 2014
I asked one of the armed “men in green” where he came from.
“Ukraine,” he replied curtly. Then he smiled: “Actually, there’s no such nationality as Ukrainian. That’s an Austria-Hungarian deception. We’re Russian. We’re all Russian. And this land isn’t Ukraine: it’s Novorossiya – and we will defend it.”