This video clip has been circulating in social media all today, but just now has been moved to “private” on YouTube and is no longer visible, although it is still shown on some news sites. It shows a woman who says she is from Odessa and has come to the Sevastopol State Region Administration to tell her story of alleged pressure on Russian-speakers in Odessa by the new Kiev government.
The video has been disseminated as “proof that Russians are attacked” in Ukraine, and we also spotted it linked on the Right Sector VKontakte page with the nasty comment, “Goebbels wail,” i.e. implying that it is concocted Kremlin propaganda, apparently because the women appear to have told their story in several settings. The woman only gave her name as “Mariya” and we don’t know whether her tears are real, but even if they are proven to be fake, there are others with real enough tears in the Russian population very afraid about what they see as new rulers in Kiev who will harm them.
But after carefully listening to the video in full, we have to note that this is not an eyewitness account of events in Odessa involving attacks on Russians — none are in fact described. Instead, it is an emotional description of rumors spread about alleged attackers believed to be coming from Kiev. We have seen this pattern again and again in the eastern and southeastern towns and villages of Ukraine — someone will appear with a rumor that “fascists” or “Right Sector” or “ex-Berkut” are coming to town on buses to cause mayhem and grab people’s property and stage a pogrom. In the reports we’ve had from people actually on the ground in these places, what happens is the opposite — the “fascists” never seem to arrive, but instead, Russian nationalists come in on buses with baseball bats and metal whips and and attack government buildings.
This woman in the video says she and a group of Russian Odessians “left their children with the Marine Cossacks of the Russian Orthodox Church” to make the journey to plea for help from regional officials. She says that “we took the batteries out of our cell phones and we traveled with St. Michael the Archangel’s icon” to bring petitions they had collected from fellow Odessians for a referendum on Ukraine — echoing similar calls from other pro-Russian demonstrators in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
While afraid, people nevertheless put their mobile telephone numbers on the petitions. The woman says that Anton Dovechenko, whom she describes as ” a person supposedly fighting for Russia but in reality paid by the new government” tried to take away the petition from her but she was able to get on the bus. Dovechenko was said to sign “a truce” with EuroMaidan in Odessa regarding joint patrol of the city, but this woman feels he rejected their involvement and doesn’t represent them.
“The governor of the region is not defending us in Odessa, although there are a fair number of people,” she added.She then showed the TV reporter a smudged, re-copied leaflet that said “such leaflets are being distributed from Right Sector in Odessa” which said the ultra-nationalist group “was issuing an order that everyone had to give up “50% of their property” to the new government. “So you have to give it up to this fascist government,” she added. No such order is known to have been given. After being unable to read the illegible name, she handed it to her friend who then said the leaflet was supposedly signed by Commandant Yevheniy Alexandrovich Muzichka.
“We will be shot, we will be killed, they will kidnap our kids if we bring this petition here,” she cried. She said the alleged order would involve the “fascists” taking over local apartments and other buildings to use for soldier deployment and medical care. She said that the ultra-nationalists were allegedly going around armed on the outskirts of Odessa, threatening pensioners to confiscate their homes. She began weeping and said the pensioners gathered a ruble or two per person to help them make the bus trip and “ask for help from Sevastopol and from Russia.”
When men in the crowd asked why the men there weren’t fighting back, the women replied that “because [the fascists] are going around with guns.] Tearfully, she described a meeting of the parent-teacher’s council where the teachers worried they would be jailed for teaching Russian and children feared they could not study in their native language. But while the new government in Kiev has not conceded that Russian should be a recognized state language in Ukraine, they have not made any moves to ban the Russian language or close schools or churches or cultural institutions.
The TV channel also interviews a young man on the scene who arrived from Odessa who says “The Berkut seems to be with us. When we left here the Cossacks’ remained and gave us their telephone numbers and said that if our families were threatened they would help protect them.” Finally a man who appears to be a local official tells the reporter, “Refugees from Odessa have come here, and we are now having our social affairs people help find them a place to stay.”
What’s most telling in the woman’s story is the foundation of most of her fears as she herself describes it: television, which is broadcast from Russia and contains reports that ethnic Russians are being attacked and everything is being destroyed — even though this hasn’t been verified. But she also describes local channels that she says have called people with concerns like hers “traitors” and she fears for her safety now that her face has been on television. Another woman says she has also seen news on TV that has called Russians “traitors against the Motherland.” As the writer Lawrence Weschler once said about the Balkans wars, “Television is the continuation of war by other means.”
Update: Various social media users are now coming up with pictures they say are the same women posing as different characters in different cities to whip up crowds. We can’t be sure they’re the same women, but it does seem possible.