A motley crew of angry citizens try to storm Odessa’s city hall
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After a four-month break, Odessa’s city council got back down to business on Friday. While it may not have been the end of the world that day – as the Mayans had predicted – it certainly must have seemed like all hell had broken loose after dozens of angry citizens, with a wide variety of grievances, tried to barge into Odessa’s city hall to disrupt the councillors’ meeting.
After a four-month break, Odessa’s city council got back down to business on Friday. While it may not have been the end of the world that day – as the Mayans had predicted – it certainly must have seemed like all hell had broken loose when dozens of angry citizens, with a wide variety of grievances, tried to barge into Odessa’s city hall to disrupt the councillors’ meeting.
The protesters, as seen in several videos (see below), clashed with security guards; both sides sprayed each other with tear gas. The protesters were also sprayed with a water cannon. According to local reports, police were present but did nothing, perhaps because the regional police chief was mistakenly sprayed with cold water by the security guards. Other sources claim they refrained from helping in revenge for the mayor’s recent decision to contract with private security firms.
Protesters trying to barge into Odessa's city hall on Friday.
The protesters were quite the motley crew. The two largest groups were comprised of nationalists and merchants. The nationalists from the Svoboda party, who led the charge, were angered by the council's decision to change the name of a street, currently named after a Ukrainian independence fighter, to that of a 19th century Odessan businessman. Despite the protest, the council went ahead and confirmed this decision. The merchants, meanwhile, were distraught over the recent privatization of the city’s two major markets, the Privoz and Sedmoy Kilometr markets.
Other protesters present that day were students from Odessa’s sailing school (which was also recently privatized), supporters of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and other opposition supporters.
Security blasting the protesters with a water cannon.
Ukraine is currently undergoing a vast privatisation drive, with plans to sell hundreds of state-own companies to private firms. Opposition parties have voiced worries that these sales will not be done in a transparent manner.
Security trying to keep protesters from getting through the doors of city hall.
“Merchants are just making ends meet – they're worried the privatisation of Odessa's markets will sink them"
Alexey Gerasimenko, 40, is a naval engineer in Odessa. He used to work in Privoz market; his mother currently works there.
The market is and always was a nightmare. Even when it was public property, it was rented out dirt cheap to some businessmen, who sublet trade spaces at high prices to smaller merchants. The merchants were afraid to say a word, because they could be sent packing at any moment. However, everybody hoped that with a new city administration, this would get sorted out. [Mayor Olesiy Kostusev took office in November 2010]. However, the city recently decided to sell the market to the same businessmen they were already renting it to, making this sorry state of affairs official. The example of other privatized markets in Ukraine demonstrates that rents will rise and be aggravated by all kind of hidden fees. Merchants are just making ends meet as it is.
“Many people here who are usually suspicious of nationalists regretted that they didn’t kick the mayor down the Potemkin stairs”
Odessa residents were surprised by the clashes at town hall, especially the fact that nationalists were involved, seizing on public discontent to promote their own agenda. Odessa is far from a bastion of nationalism, but it’s true that, these days you can see more and more graffiti saying things like “Proud to be Ukrainian” and “Ukrainian or death”. Many people around me who are usually suspicious of nationalists actually regretted that they didn’t get inside the city hall and kick the mayor down the Potemkin stairs.