Interview with an ukranian anarchist on war and propaganda

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In continuation of the interview that members from the polish 161 Crew did with Operation Solidarity, which we published in greek in our website, today members of Aftoleksi’s editorial team sat down with yet another anarchist, this time from the city of Kyiv, and we discuss further the situation. In this interview we aimed at shedding some light on some myths that are used by the pro-Kremlin forces to excuse the invasion:

Let’s introduce first: where do you live and what is your political activity/views?

Hi, you can call me Denis. I am an anarchist from Kyiv. I have been an anarchist activist since 2007 and have taken part in several anarchist initiatives and organizations since then such as Direct Action Student Union and Anarchist Black Cross Kyiv. Now I am helping with the media coverage of the current war so that the comrades around the world can know how the events here really look like.

What is the current state of the libertarian/autonomous movement in Ukraine and in the east regions?

Photo of anarchist Igor Volokhov, killed while defending the city of Kharkiv

Ukrainian libertarian movement was growing rapidly in 2008-2013, but during the Maidan revolution, it faced a lot of problems. Maidan had its upsides and downsides – on one hand, it was a protest against huge government corruption and against police brutality. On the other hand, it didn’t had any problems with capitalism, and the far-right groups used it to gain advantage and became more popular. So there was a lot of discussions about how to approach such a movement and how to be involved in it, if to be involved at all. After the war in Donbass started, this provoked even more discussions about war and imperialism in the anarchist movement, and it all resulted in almost every organization either to divide or to become less active.

In the last two years the anarchist movement started to show some recovery. However, the present war completely changed everything. Anarchists decided to support anti-imperialist struggle against Russian aggression, some of them took arms, and some volunteered to provide help in other ways – buying military gear for the comrades, helping refugees, distributing humanitarian aid, etc. One of our comrades, Igor Volokhov, who decided to protect his city Kharkiv with arms, has already fallen in battle. Kharkiv is an eastern Ukrainian city, with a majority of Russian-speakers, but not part of Donbass. The anarchists were very active there, although their numbers weren’t very high.

Tell us few words about the current government and the fascist movement in the country: what role it plays in the government and in the war?

The fascist movement gained some popularity before the Maidan revolution and even more after it. However, despite the influence they had, they never were in charge of the whole country. Their popularity declined as years passed.

On the latest elections, the far-right parties managed to get only one deputy in parliament, as well as a few mayors in some cities. Arsen Avakov, the minister of interior, who was in support of far-right groups gaining some political advantage, lost his job half a year ago due to corruption and violence scandals in the police. The street fascists were divided to a large number of different groups and organizations who often fought each other. The fascists still occasionally attacked various leftist/feminist/LGBTQ+ events, but their political support has definitely lowered since 2014.

We would like to expand a bit more on this by asking you to reflect upon the official incorporation of the Azov battalion into the Ukranian State Military.

Azov have their PR department which was quite successful in portraying them as patriots and defenders of Ukraine, as nationalists and never as nazis. All of accusations of their nazism were dismissed as Russian propaganda. Because of it, a lot of Ukrainians saw Azov not as nazis, and their disbandment probably was seen by the government as something that might cause problems with the public opinion. Besides that, Azov had lobbists in the government, but all of them lost their positions a few years ago. Also, all these 8 years the war in Donbass was in progress and it was hard to disband a combat-effective unit while the fighting was still going on. Azov was about 1.000 men strong, while the Ukrainian army is more than 300.000 now.

The symbol of the Russian neo-nazi battalion “Rusich”

Besides, Russia has its own Nazi fighting unit, the “Rusich” battalion… While they are not officially recognized by the Russian government, they are part of the Donetsk People’s Republic forces, they have the slavic swastika on their logo and were supplied by the Russian government with heavy military equipment.

There is currently a lot of Putinist propaganda claiming that one of the main reasons of the invasion is the “protection” of the Russian-speaking population: how much truth there is to this? Can we speak for the existence of such ethnical minority?

Not exactly. Most of people in Ukraine are bilingual – they can speak both Russian and Ukrainian. Russia always wanted Ukraine to make Russian second state language, but Ukraine always resisted this. Since 2014 Ukraine made some restrictions on Russian language: restricted the import of Russian books in Ukraine, made quotas on Ukrainian songs on the radio and made it mandatory for the government officials to speak only Ukrainian while they are on work, same thing applied for the shop employees. This policy was called ‘soft ukrainization’ by the government. While these norms were annoying to some people, this definitely wasn’t something to start war over. Now the Russian army bombs the most Russian-speaking cities. These are the cities that have suffered the most from the war. So, in his attempt to ‘save Russian-speakers’ Putin kills them faster, than he kills Ukrainian-speakers…

In general, most of the people who are ethnically Russian and live in Ukraine have Ukrainian passports. A lot of them speak fluent Ukrainian language, and they look the same as Ukrainians in their appearance. So it is almost impossible to tell who is Russian and who is Ukrainian without asking them directly. A lot of people have mixed origin, with one parent Russian and another Ukrainian. I have not witnessed any discrimination against them in Kyiv, except a few internet posts by some nationalists.

Russia has been claiming that there was “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” going on in the Donbass region, but how much truth there really is to that? It is one of the main arguments that we encounter from supporters of Putin’s invasion, so we would really appreciate a comment from people of the anarchist movement.

The war in Donbass was very artillery-heavy. Both sides used a lot of cannons to destroy the enemy positions. When the fighting took place in the cities, the artillery fire damaged houses and civilians were killed. However, there was no planned demolition of cities – such as what we can see now in Mariupol, where the Russian army had destroyed 80% of the city buildings. There even were no political repressions – most of the people who were involved in referendum of declaring the “Peoples Republics” of Donetsk and Luhanska independent and got caught by the Ukrainian police got probation instead of real prison terms, despite the law says that they can get from 3 to 15 years behind the bars for that.

A comrade of Denis intervenes: There are 3 counter-points to that claim: 1) Let’s look at the definitions of the words “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” and then ask what ethnic group suffered there, how many people and what way they were “cleansed”? Facts will speak for themselves. 2) Compare the statistics of deaths from 2014 till Feb 24 2022 (how many civilians died on the occupied territories, how many Ukrainian soldiers died nevertheless the “silent regiment”) and the statistics of how many people died this month. Again facts will speak for themselves. 3) It’s a question of choice whom to believe, grassroots activists and revolutionary elements of society or to Russian special forces (FSB I mean), bureaucrats and politicians.

What can you tell us about the separatist so called “Peoples Republics” in Donbass? How did they appear? Do they simply aim at becoming Russian territory? What political system do these “Peoples Republics” represent really? Does any Ukrainian libertarian movement support these republics at all? The authoritarian left around Europe, along with many far-right tendencies, is doing a lot of promotion of them; while we hear from people on the ground there that the things are much different.

Russian nationalist Igor Strelkov (on the right) with members of his militia “Russian Orthodox Army”

Donbass was a coal-mining region of Ukraine, consisting of two oblasti (provinces) – Donetsk and Luhansk. In 1991, when Ukraine conducted a referendum on whether it should gain independence from the Soviet Union, most of the people voted yes, including those who lived in Donbass and Crimea. However, the region faced economic stagnation as most of the coalmines depleted their resources, while it remained one of the most populated regions of Ukraine. The politicians used this to their advantage: to get the votes from this frustrated population they had promoted the narrative that the authorities in Kyiv are robbing them and that all the western Ukrainians are nationalists who hate them.

Such propaganda resulted in rising of the separatist tendencies after the Maidan revolution. The armed conflict was triggered by an ex-officer of the Russian security services (the FSB) and a Russian nationalist Igor Strelkov (Girkin) who organized a group of armed militia and seized control in the Donbass town of Sloviansk. Later on, other such groups emerged, consisting of both local separatists and Russian citizens. After Ukrainian army and volunteer battalions pushed back the separatist movement, Russia conducted an attack in September of 2014 with its regular army and pushed the Ukrainian forces back. Hostilities lowered only in 2016 with Minsk agreements, which have frozen the conflict for several years.

The territories of the “Peoples Republics” are not autonomous at all. Every separatist leader who had shown any sign of disobedience was murdered under strange circumstances, most probably by the FSB. The “republics” have repeatedly asked to join Russia, but their request were rejected until Putin recognized them as independent states two days prior to the invasion. It is clear now that he wanted to use the republics both as a mean to control Ukrainian policy-making (he demanded that the “republics” have the right to veto on a lot of decisions made by the Ukrainian government), a demand which Ukraine rejected repeatedly, and as a possible casus belli, which had happened.

No one from the libertarian movement support the republics. They are regions under direct Russian military control, with no freedom of expression and their ideology consists of Russian nationalism with some Soviet nostalgia in the mix. On the contrary, there were anarchists who had to flee from Luhansk and Donetsk to Ukraine to save their lives. Now the separatist governments are forcing all male population aged from 18 to 70 (!) of the areas controlled by them to join the army and, without providing any proper military training, force them to attack Ukrainian positions ahead of professional Russian troops. So, despite his claims that he wants to save Donbass, Putin is turning part of Donbass people into a cannon fodder of his army, while actively bombing Ukrainian-controlled parts of Donbass, causing thousands of civilian deaths.

The only difference in anarchist position regarding the “republics” in 2014-2021 was the dispute about should there be peace at all costs or should they be treated as a tool of Russian imperialist policies. After the war had started, it became clear that the second approach was the right one, and the freezing of the conflict was just a cause for a larger war.

What would you say about the latest ban of some parties in Ukraine?

The ‘decommunization’ laws introduced in 2015 put a ban on communist symbols used in USSR, such as the hammer and sickle. Because of it, the Communist Party of Ukraine changed its symbols and name, but still continued its political activity.

Since the full-scale war started, the Ukrainian government has temporarily suspended the activity of about 10 parties which were suspected of pro-Russian activity. Most of those parties were very small groups created with the purpose of influencing the local elections, and not as groups of real activists. Only one of those temporary suspended parties was a real party – the Socialist Party of Ukraine. They were quite influential in 1991-2004, but slowly lost their support and their seats in parliament. Unfortunately, the Socialist Party was hijacked by a political adventurer Ilya Kiva. In 2014-2015 Kiva joined the Right Sector, while in 2016-2017 he became a head of anti-drug police department where he advocated for harsh treatment for drug users. Since 2017 he suddenly declared himself a socialist and became a head of the Socialist Party while he had never been in this party before. Since then any independent politics of the Socialist Party of Ukraine came to a halt and they became just a tool for Kiva’s political adventures.

Thank you very much for your time and stay safe!

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