Odessa’s new tragedy

Odessa has been stricken with a new tragedy. On December 4th a fire started in an old historic building at the junction of Pushkin and Troitskaya streets. It has been a building of residence, later – of offices. Currently a college of economics, law and hotel business, the archeology institute at the Ukrainian Academy of Science as well as a number of firms were located in the complex.

28 people, including 7 firefighters, were hospitalized with serious injuries. 14 people, both teenagers and adults, were reported as missing. As of December 7th, five persons remain undiscovered on the site.

The fire spread so fast that many people could not find a way to rescue. Furthermore, people were cut off by heavy smoke. Many students had to jump out of windows, and a 16-year-old girl died.

The mayor of Odessa, Gennady Trukhanov, suggested that the fire may have been caused by an electric heater as there was no heating in the building despite the cold weather. Residents of Odessa who are members of social networks write that many other institutions were not heated in Odessa before this tragedy. Thus, Irina Z. writes in the FB group ”The institute of city development”, “My daughter studies at Dankevich music college. The classrooms were so cold that steam was coming out of people’s mouths, legs were numb and lessons were cancelled – – . The heat was turned on the 5th.” In another FB group, “My Odessa”, there are reports of a poor level of maintenance and fire security as well as a lack of heating in other education institutions of Odessa.

Many inhabitants of Odessa support victims and their families, who are not leaving the site of the tragedy, as well as the firefighters and emergency ministry teams with clothes, heavy boots and hot drinks. Two small entrepreneurs have been providing hot drinks to all who have been involved into rescue operation and families of the missing people who refuse to leave the site.

The college teacher of mathematics Anna Bortyuk saved dozens of students whom she helped to leave the building. She didn’t find the way out after having returned to the building to take more students out.

On December 7th, Odessa-based portal dumskaya.net reported on the growing tension between the authorities of Odessa and its residents because the firefighters didn’t even have gloves when they started to search for the missing people in the debris on the site. They also lacked thick-sole boots, which residents of Odessa bought for them to help the rescue operation. The authorities of Odessa are denouncing all these accusations.

The Dumskaya.net online platform reports that the police do not exclude arson as a reason for the fire. On December 7th police of Odessa announced that there are two suspects in the criminal case into the fire; these people are being charged with negligence.

This was not the first tragedy in Odessa where people died in fire in recent last years. No verdict has been delivered in the case of the Trade Union House fire of May 2, 2014, when nearly 50 people died. Several cases were opened in that tragedy, including a separate case into the alleged role of the former Odessa police head, who faces charges of negligence and abuse of power. However, this investigation has been also stalled, according to Komsomolskaya Pravda, Ukraine.

On September 16, 2017 a fire started at the Viktoria summer camp killing three girls of the 42 children who were at the camp. Media reported that the victims’ parents blame the administration of the city for corruption as a major factor which permitted negligence.

On June 10, 2019 a psychiatric hospital was on fire. Six patients and a heroic medical nurse who was trying to save helpless people died in the fire. At the time of the tragedy the Finnish Peace Committee was in contact with the family of the nurse, Yulia Nikita. There was information about her children’s problems in getting compensation for her death. Arson was mentioned as the cause of the fire because the building was located in the central part of Odessa, but the investigation of this fire has been stalled.

On August 17, 2019 a fire in the Tokyo City Hotel killed nine people and injured ten. Ukrainian media also reported arson as one of the reasons for the fire, negligence due to corruption being the other factor.