Odessa: Ukraine's secret weapon?

Full video transcript

Odessa: Ukraine’s secret weapon?

This is Odessa in Southern Ukraine.

Its streets are lined with cafés.

It has a relatively young population,

a beautiful Black sea coastline

and a major international port.

But more importantly,

Ukrainians see it

as one of their most laid-back cities

with residents who are famous

for their sense of humour.

Odessa had an image

of a very peaceful and tolerant city

in the old, former Soviet-Union.

A city of international communication,

where some kind of fighting

between people on national base

is absolutely impossible.

But behind this relaxed facade

lies a city that has been under attack.

And its response may have been

one of the most important reactions

in Ukraine’s recent troubled history.

Because of the last developments

in the east and in Crimea,

Odessa became the Ukrainian city,

by its consciousness,

by its identification.

In Ukraine, Odessa is about as far

away as you can get from Russia.

But Russia has come to Odessa.

The Russian hybrid campaign

in Ukraine has targeted Odessa,

perhaps because the region

is Russian-speaking.

But if the attackers thought that this

would help them, they miscalculated.

In Odessa, most people

are speaking Russian language,

but it doesn’t mean that it is

a kind of Russian city, which is...

It is like Montreal is not in France and

Sydney is not in England of course.

The Russian language plays

a key role in Odessa’s battle.

All my colleagues

at the university for example

speak Russian with each other.

This is my native language.

But this is also a key moment

when many Ukrainians are saying

that speaking Russian

doesn’t mean support for Russia.

Many, many people, many patriots,

who fight now in the east of Ukraine,

they do speak Russian language.

We don’t feel like Russian Federation

and Putin has the right

to privatise the Russian language

because this is the common heritage.

Because most of Odessa’s people

are Russian-speaking

they receive their news

from Russian channels

and that news has often

included disinformation.

It’s quite unique

that you have millions of people,

year after year, on a daily basis,

tuning in information,

TV coverage, news coverage

provided by the neighbouring state.

Odessa finally reacted and has now

cut off the offending channels

and it’s having an effect already.

I think it wasn’t a good decision

to cut those channels off

from our airspace basically,

the TV coverage space.

But it was needed because we are

already seeing some first results.

Some people who were brainwashed,

can no longer watch those.

And now deliberately

or reluctantly they are switching

to local channels

or the Ukrainian TV channels

and some of those people’s attitudes

are changing and shifting a little bit.

When support for Russia,

its aims and its activists,

did not materialize

as expected in Odessa,

different, more aggressive methods

tried to destabilize the city.

One was a series of bomb explosions

designed to sow fear

in the local population.

Although it has received

very little international attention,

Odessa has been hit

by literally dozens of small bombs

and this place was

a victim earlier on in 2015.

It’s a coordination centre

for volunteers fighting in the east.

As is the usual strategy

the bomb went off late at night.

There were no casualties,

but the authorities

fixed the damage

as quickly as possible

to eliminate the signs of instability

that the bombs were to create.

The city experienced over twenty

bomb attacks, always at night,

in the first six months of 2015,

but they did little to break

the resolve of the population.

The terroristic acts,

they were not successful.

They had a very short-term result.

So maybe one, two days

you felt that there is

some stress in the society,

but then people were forgetting them.

People on the streets confirm

that the bombs hadn’t affected

the Odessa way of life.

According to the news they are

bombing only some specific targets.

They are doing it during the night.

So for the tourists probably

there is nothing to worry about,

but it is definitely the case to look at.

How do you think this has affected

the atmosphere within the city?

Has it changed people’s

attitudes and actions?

I don’t think so. I don’t know

why they are doing it because...

It is pointless. Everyone is smiling,

lots of people, everything is the same.

I try not to worry at all

because all the worries

make our life much worse.

So I don’t worry about this. I think

our city is very nice, very touristic.

It’s not so nice weather, but anyway

we have plenty people outdoors.

So... Politic is politic, but life if life.

So, let's stay out of politic.

The hybrid attacks

weren’t finished though.

The disinformation and unattributed

rumours started to spread.

Again the idea was to generate panic.

When the mobilisation

campaign was announced,

in some of the villages,

Bulgarian, Moldavian, Gagauzian,

these special people started

to develop panic among the people...

For example, in one of the villages,

one person came and said

that tomorrow all men

will be called for mobilisation.

So the next day none of the men were

there because they ran to Moldova.

Soon the disinformation focused on

the danger of the pro-Russian enclave

in neighbouring Moldova

of Transnistria.

From time to time

appearing information

about the possible attack,

rather from the sea.

So, I mean some Crimean forces

coming by the sea,

or from Transnistria.

And usually people are not analysing

how realistic this threat is or not,

but for them that is enough.

With Russian troops

conducting exercises in Transnistria,

this was a rumour

that brought real fear.

Behind me is the land

that time forgot.

This is Transnistria, part of Moldova,

that fought a bloody war

to break away from that country.

This ended in the 90’s

and after that time

Transnistria declared itself

an independent state.

But it is not recognized

by most of the world

and it has an unsustainable economy.

First of all largely helped

by illegal smuggling across this patch

and many other in the border areas.

Secondly it depends

on handouts from Russia.

We are in between Crimea

and Transnistria.

That’s a vulnerable region.

A region open for destabilisation

and it seems to be

that Russia is using all kinds of tools

to destabilise Ukraine,

to have this kind of protracted,

slow-moving,

low-scale destabilisation.

It seems to me that one of the goals

they’re having, is exactly that.

Russia is one of the few countries

that recognises Transnistria.

As Russia’s aggression

in the east continues

and its attacks continue

in other parts of the Ukraine,

it’s here on Ukraine’s

western border that some feel

the next attacks could come from.

None of these destabilising efforts

worked, but then came a moment

which threatened to divide

the city like never before.

May the 2nd 2014.

On May the 2nd 2014, the building

behind me entered Ukrainian history.

There had been clashes

between pro-Ukrainian groups

and pro-Russian rebel groups

here outside.

But as the day ended many people

took refuge in that building

and a fire broke out.

Over forty people died.

So to give an indication

of what happened on May the 2nd.

The building had been taken over

some hours before

by the pro-Russian rebel groups.

They barricaded themselves in.

The fire broke out somewhere

around the right-hand side

and affected the stairs

quite intensively.

The security services,

the police and the fire brigade,

were slow to respond.

There were attempts

by the pro-Ukrainian groups outside

to help those

who were clearly in some distress

as the fire raged through the building,

but after several hours

it became clear

that at least forty people

had become trapped inside

and died of smoke inhalation.

This time was different.

There had been deaths and

not only at the trade union building,

but in the streets of the city.

Those clashes that perhaps

were planned, like street clashes,

turned into a four-hour battle

where AKM submachine guns

were used and molotov cocktails

as a result of which

six people were killed.

Six people died downtown

and the first victim

is commemorated behind me there.

He was a 27-year old

who was killed by a snipers bullet.

May the 2nd left both sides

blaming each other.

People in the city

also had little confidence

that the courts

would bring rapid justice.

So a group of journalists

headed by Sergiy Dibrov

decided to investigate for themselves

what happened on that day.

Finding a single point of view

is very difficult for many reasons.

Firstly, nobody expects to hear

the truth from the investigators,

the police, the courts, they don’t

have the confidence of society.

That’s why

a journalist group was set up

with diametrically

opposing points of view.

We have been working for more

than a year to investigate the events.

The reaction

to the deadly events of May the 2nd

is possibly the best example

of how Odessa fought back

against division and intimidation.

As regards to the key elements and

documents, we signed all of them,

all thirteen of the journalists

with different views.

We came to a single conclusion

that can be seen on paper.

Despite differing opinions,

the journalists have made much

more progress than the courts.

And we’ve just had

a court case adjourned again.

This is one of several

that has been adjourned so far.

And this is why the cases

against those charged

with causing the deaths on May

the 2nd 2014, is taking so long.

It has to work its way through

a very laborious court system.

Analysts reckon it could be years

before anyone is brought to justice.

Odessa knows it needs to ensure

that it is never this vulnerable again.

And that means tackling corruption

and much needed reforms.

That is where the region’s

new governor comes in.

Former Georgian president Mikheil

Saakashvili, a reform specialist,

is Odessa’s new governor,

but he can only do so much.

A governor does not have

a lot of opportunity

because it is not even

like a governor of state in the US,

or even not a governor

like in the Russian Federation,

because most economical tools

are in hands of Kiev government

or a mayor or a city council.

But what a governor can do

is fighting

the corruption on regional level.

Making Odessa more resilient

through economic reforms is the goal,

but they need to tackle first

an old system that is full of obstacles.

We don’t care to work

within a system that doesn’t work.

What people want to hear is that

just like Slovakia jammed 17% up

when they ran the reforms.

That’s what we want to do.

That’s what our ambition should be.

Odessa still needs reform,

including better infrastructure,

improved agriculture, better social

protection and less bureaucracy.

But what is clear

is that Odessa has managed

to avoid the same fate as Crimea.

Crimea was open to anyone.

It was possible for any person

in the world to come to Crimea,

Ukrainian Crimea,

and to have a good time there.

What we see today?

We see that Crimea is almost blocked,

it is isolated

and no one can actually go there.

Ukraine's future is being built

in places like Odessa,

but it’s also true

that change needs to be real

because the people

know the difference

between empty words

and real action.

If we feel that there is

at least less corruption in this area,

everyone would know that.

But if it will be only words,

only some declarations,

it would be very easy to know.

People are getting impatient,

but not...

In my mind not to the extent

for the new Maidan to be forging.

After all, a lot of people understand

we cannot rule through Maidans.

The country cannot be

a stable country and having a future

living from Maidan to another Maidan.

People are just not patient.

You know, people are expecting

this change to be faster and I tend to,

you know, to succumb

to this impatience myself as well.

But if the people

can bring some of the changes

the country so dearly needs,

Odessa could be the birthplace

of a newer, freer

and stronger Ukraine.

And it is something

that the people want soon.

Odessa: Ukraine’s secret weapon?

This is Odessa in Southern Ukraine.

Its streets are lined with cafés.

It has a relatively young population,

a beautiful Black sea coastline

and a major international port.

But more importantly,

Ukrainians see it

as one of their most laid-back cities

with residents who are famous

for their sense of humour.

Odessa had an image

of a very peaceful and tolerant city

in the old, former Soviet-Union.

A city of international communication,

where some kind of fighting

between people on national base

is absolutely impossible.

But behind this relaxed facade

lies a city that has been under attack.

And its response may have been

one of the most important reactions

in Ukraine’s recent troubled history.

Because of the last developments

in the east and in Crimea,

Odessa became the Ukrainian city,

by its consciousness,

by its identification.

In Ukraine, Odessa is about as far

away as you can get from Russia.

But Russia has come to Odessa.

The Russian hybrid campaign

in Ukraine has targeted Odessa,

perhaps because the region

is Russian-speaking.

But if the attackers thought that this

would help them, they miscalculated.

In Odessa, most people

are speaking Russian language,

but it doesn’t mean that it is

a kind of Russian city, which is...

It is like Montreal is not in France and

Sydney is not in England of course.

The Russian language plays

a key role in Odessa’s battle.

All my colleagues

at the university for example

speak Russian with each other.

This is my native language.

But this is also a key moment

when many Ukrainians are saying

that speaking Russian

doesn’t mean support for Russia.

Many, many people, many patriots,

who fight now in the east of Ukraine,

they do speak Russian language.

We don’t feel like Russian Federation

and Putin has the right

to privatise the Russian language

because this is the common heritage.

Because most of Odessa’s people

are Russian-speaking

they receive their news

from Russian channels

and that news has often

included disinformation.

It’s quite unique

that you have millions of people,

year after year, on a daily basis,

tuning in information,

TV coverage, news coverage

provided by the neighbouring state.

Odessa finally reacted and has now

cut off the offending channels

and it’s having an effect already.

I think it wasn’t a good decision

to cut those channels off

from our airspace basically,

the TV coverage space.

But it was needed because we are

already seeing some first results.

Some people who were brainwashed,

can no longer watch those.

And now deliberately

or reluctantly they are switching

to local channels

or the Ukrainian TV channels

and some of those people’s attitudes

are changing and shifting a little bit.

When support for Russia,

its aims and its activists,

did not materialize

as expected in Odessa,

different, more aggressive methods

tried to destabilize the city.

One was a series of bomb explosions

designed to sow fear

in the local population.

Although it has received

very little international attention,

Odessa has been hit

by literally dozens of small bombs

and this place was

a victim earlier on in 2015.

It’s a coordination centre

for volunteers fighting in the east.

As is the usual strategy

the bomb went off late at night.

There were no casualties,

but the authorities

fixed the damage

as quickly as possible

to eliminate the signs of instability

that the bombs were to create.

The city experienced over twenty

bomb attacks, always at night,

in the first six months of 2015,

but they did little to break

the resolve of the population.

The terroristic acts,

they were not successful.

They had a very short-term result.

So maybe one, two days

you felt that there is

some stress in the society,

but then people were forgetting them.

People on the streets confirm

that the bombs hadn’t affected

the Odessa way of life.

According to the news they are

bombing only some specific targets.

They are doing it during the night.

So for the tourists probably

there is nothing to worry about,

but it is definitely the case to look at.

How do you think this has affected

the atmosphere within the city?

Has it changed people’s

attitudes and actions?

I don’t think so. I don’t know

why they are doing it because...

It is pointless. Everyone is smiling,

lots of people, everything is the same.

I try not to worry at all

because all the worries

make our life much worse.

So I don’t worry about this. I think

our city is very nice, very touristic.

It’s not so nice weather, but anyway

we have plenty people outdoors.

So... Politic is politic, but life if life.

So, let's stay out of politic.

The hybrid attacks

weren’t finished though.

The disinformation and unattributed

rumours started to spread.

Again the idea was to generate panic.

When the mobilisation

campaign was announced,

in some of the villages,

Bulgarian, Moldavian, Gagauzian,

these special people started

to develop panic among the people...

For example, in one of the villages,

one person came and said

that tomorrow all men

will be called for mobilisation.

So the next day none of the men were

there because they ran to Moldova.

Soon the disinformation focused on

the danger of the pro-Russian enclave

in neighbouring Moldova

of Transnistria.

From time to time

appearing information

about the possible attack,

rather from the sea.

So, I mean some Crimean forces

coming by the sea,

or from Transnistria.

And usually people are not analysing

how realistic this threat is or not,

but for them that is enough.

With Russian troops

conducting exercises in Transnistria,

this was a rumour

that brought real fear.

Behind me is the land

that time forgot.

This is Transnistria, part of Moldova,

that fought a bloody war

to break away from that country.

This ended in the 90’s

and after that time

Transnistria declared itself

an independent state.

But it is not recognized

by most of the world

and it has an unsustainable economy.

First of all largely helped

by illegal smuggling across this patch

and many other in the border areas.

Secondly it depends

on handouts from Russia.

We are in between Crimea

and Transnistria.

That’s a vulnerable region.

A region open for destabilisation

and it seems to be

that Russia is using all kinds of tools

to destabilise Ukraine,

to have this kind of protracted,

slow-moving,

low-scale destabilisation.

It seems to me that one of the goals

they’re having, is exactly that.

Russia is one of the few countries

that recognises Transnistria.

As Russia’s aggression

in the east continues

and its attacks continue

in other parts of the Ukraine,

it’s here on Ukraine’s

western border that some feel

the next attacks could come from.

None of these destabilising efforts

worked, but then came a moment

which threatened to divide

the city like never before.

May the 2nd 2014.

On May the 2nd 2014, the building

behind me entered Ukrainian history.

There had been clashes

between pro-Ukrainian groups

and pro-Russian rebel groups

here outside.

But as the day ended many people

took refuge in that building

and a fire broke out.

Over forty people died.

So to give an indication

of what happened on May the 2nd.

The building had been taken over

some hours before

by the pro-Russian rebel groups.

They barricaded themselves in.

The fire broke out somewhere

around the right-hand side

and affected the stairs

quite intensively.

The security services,

the police and the fire brigade,

were slow to respond.

There were attempts

by the pro-Ukrainian groups outside

to help those

who were clearly in some distress

as the fire raged through the building,

but after several hours

it became clear

that at least forty people

had become trapped inside

and died of smoke inhalation.

This time was different.

There had been deaths and

not only at the trade union building,

but in the streets of the city.

Those clashes that perhaps

were planned, like street clashes,

turned into a four-hour battle

where AKM submachine guns

were used and molotov cocktails

as a result of which

six people were killed.

Six people died downtown

and the first victim

is commemorated behind me there.

He was a 27-year old

who was killed by a snipers bullet.

May the 2nd left both sides

blaming each other.

People in the city

also had little confidence

that the courts

would bring rapid justice.

So a group of journalists

headed by Sergiy Dibrov

decided to investigate for themselves

what happened on that day.

Finding a single point of view

is very difficult for many reasons.

Firstly, nobody expects to hear

the truth from the investigators,

the police, the courts, they don’t

have the confidence of society.

That’s why

a journalist group was set up

with diametrically

opposing points of view.

We have been working for more

than a year to investigate the events.

The reaction

to the deadly events of May the 2nd

is possibly the best example

of how Odessa fought back

against division and intimidation.

As regards to the key elements and

documents, we signed all of them,

all thirteen of the journalists

with different views.

We came to a single conclusion

that can be seen on paper.

Despite differing opinions,

the journalists have made much

more progress than the courts.

And we’ve just had

a court case adjourned again.

This is one of several

that has been adjourned so far.

And this is why the cases

against those charged

with causing the deaths on May

the 2nd 2014, is taking so long.

It has to work its way through

a very laborious court system.

Analysts reckon it could be years

before anyone is brought to justice.

Odessa knows it needs to ensure

that it is never this vulnerable again.

And that means tackling corruption

and much needed reforms.

That is where the region’s

new governor comes in.

Former Georgian president Mikheil

Saakashvili, a reform specialist,

is Odessa’s new governor,

but he can only do so much.

A governor does not have

a lot of opportunity

because it is not even

like a governor of state in the US,

or even not a governor

like in the Russian Federation,

because most economical tools

are in hands of Kiev government

or a mayor or a city council.

But what a governor can do

is fighting

the corruption on regional level.

Making Odessa more resilient

through economic reforms is the goal,

but they need to tackle first

an old system that is full of obstacles.

We don’t care to work

within a system that doesn’t work.

What people want to hear is that

just like Slovakia jammed 17% up

when they ran the reforms.

That’s what we want to do.

That’s what our ambition should be.

Odessa still needs reform,

including better infrastructure,

improved agriculture, better social

protection and less bureaucracy.

But what is clear

is that Odessa has managed

to avoid the same fate as Crimea.

Crimea was open to anyone.

It was possible for any person

in the world to come to Crimea,

Ukrainian Crimea,

and to have a good time there.

What we see today?

We see that Crimea is almost blocked,

it is isolated

and no one can actually go there.

Ukraine's future is being built

in places like Odessa,

but it’s also true

that change needs to be real

because the people

know the difference

between empty words

and real action.

If we feel that there is

at least less corruption in this area,

everyone would know that.

But if it will be only words,

only some declarations,

it would be very easy to know.

People are getting impatient,

but not...

In my mind not to the extent

for the new Maidan to be forging.

After all, a lot of people understand

we cannot rule through Maidans.

The country cannot be

a stable country and having a future

living from Maidan to another Maidan.

People are just not patient.

You know, people are expecting

this change to be faster and I tend to,

you know, to succumb

to this impatience myself as well.

But if the people

can bring some of the changes

the country so dearly needs,

Odessa could be the birthplace

of a newer, freer

and stronger Ukraine.

And it is something

that the people want soon.

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