MOSCOW (AP) — Demonstrators laid flowers and lit candles Saturday in front of a building in the Ukrainian city of Odessa where more than 40 people died as it caught fire in a clash between supporters and opponents of Ukraine's government.
In all, 48 people died in Odessa in the May 2, 2014, violence. It began with fights between two factions marching in the city and reached a grisly culmination at the trade union building, where supporters of autonomy for Ukraine's heavily Russian east took shelter from government backers.
The government supporters threw firebombs at the building, which caught fire. However, official accounts say those who took shelter in the building could have set it on fire by throwing firebombs from the roof at their opponents. Forty-three people died in the building.
About 1,000 demonstrators gathered in Kiev, the capital, for another commemoration, some of them carrying signs saying "We won't forget, we won't forgive." Another memorial gathering with flowers and candles took place outside the Ukrainian embassy in Moscow.
Although Ukrainian authorities ascribe blame for the violence to the government opponents, Russia and the Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine point to the conflagration in Odessa in support of their claims that Ukraine came under the influence of nationalists after Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country last year in the wake of months of demonstrations.
Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the separatist rebels in Ukraine's Donetsk region, on Saturday decried the Odessa deaths as the work of "crowds of brutal Nazis."
"On that day, we and all the citizens of Odessa understood that there is no more country called Ukraine. it is dead for us, together with dozens of tortured Odessa residents," he said.
Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry's top human rights envoy, criticized Ukrainian authorities for conducting only "quasi-investigations" into the violence.