Earlier this month, the Solidarity with the Antifascist Resistance in Ukraine (SARU) campaign was launched. This Sunday (22nd June), Jorge Martin from the SARU campaign will be speaking about the struggle against fascism in the Ukraine, as part of the International Marxist School 2014. We publish here a brief overview of the past few months' events in Ukraine by Tomasz Pierscionek.
In February, relatively peaceful protests that had been taking place in the capital of Ukraine against President Victor Yanukovich turned violent. These protests, for the most part led by the pro-Western middle class, were initially instigated in response to the President’s refusal to accept an offer that would forge closer ties with the European Union, but that would also open up Ukraine’s resources for plunder by the free market. The protests were naturally heavily encouraged by Germany and the US, hungry for access to cheap resources.
Yanukovich, an oligarch himself, attempted to play the EU against Russia and vice versa with the aim of getting a more favourable deal for the collapsing Ukrainian economy, in order to salvage the interests of oligarchs more closely linked to his camp.
After weeks of open air demonstrations, during which time senior US politicians were filmed visiting the main protest camp and exhorting demonstrators to continue pressuring their government to accept the deal on the table, the President of Ukraine agreed to meet with opposition leaders to try to reach an agreement to end the impasse.
When the possibility of a resolution, and the wane of the protests calling for Yanukovich’s resignation, emerged, paramilitary forces who had hitherto been on the fringes of the protest movement mobilised with surprisingly rapid speed and led the clashes with riot police. These paramilitary forces were comprised of militias which claim to follow on the tradition of those who collaborated with and fought alongside the Nazis in WWII.
Scores of civilians and police were killed by snipers, and within days the President Yanokovich had fled. A temporary government, comprising some of the nation’s richest men, took control with the support of the paramilitary forces, who marched through the streets intimidating and attacking anyone in opposition and issuing threats to ethnic and religious minorities.
Following the putsch, workers and youth in the provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk in the east of the country, where many ethnic minority Russians are concentrated and where a large proportion of the country’s heavy industry and natural resources are located, refused to accept the rule of the temporary government, whom they deemed a direct threat to their safety. The government had moved to withdraw official status from Russian language and appointed oligarchs as governors of those regions.
After seeing that their protests and demonstrations were not being listened to by the acting government in Kiev, protesters in the East copied the methods of the Maidan protests and started to occupy official buildings. In some instances they were armed and in many towns and cities the local police and security forces joined them.
In response, the army was sent in to pacify the eastern regions. However, they did not anticipate mass discontent within the armed forces. Many soldiers and officers refused to follow commands issued by an unelected leadership, especially one that ordered them to fire at their own countrymen and women. Some soldiers even surrendered their weapons to the local populace or decided to throw in their lot with newly formed self defence units. Faced with unprecedented mass insubordination, the unelected kleptocrats sent the above mentioned paramilitary forces to wreck havoc in the east of the country. Additionally, the National Guard was re established from amongst these fascists, criminals, mercenaries and others loyal to the new regime.
On May 2nd, clashes in Odesa between pro-Kiev far right thugs and anti-Kiev demonstrators led to opposition protesters seeking refuge in a local trade union building which was then set alight by fascist thugs. They even shot at those who tried to escape.
Although dozens were killed, in reference to the massacre, an MP from one of the far right political parties supporting the violence wrote “Let the demons burn in hell” on her Facebook page.
Kiev's "anti terrorist operation" has used these paramilitaries as well as aircraft and artillery. Fighter jets and rocket launcher systems have been used, destroying public buildings and killing civilians (over 200 according to official government figures). A hospital was shelled and water pumps were damaged in Slovyansk, increasing the risk of outbreaks of water borne viruses. Vehicles evacuating wounded resistance fighters in Donetsk were also reportedly attacked by the regime’s superior forces.
The veneer of legitimacy
To give the putsch a veneer of legitimacy, presidential elections were held on the 25th May. Widespread intimidation and violence against voters and election candidates was reported. Members of the opposition Communist Party were attacked and buildings belonging to the Communist Party were torched by far right gangs. There were reports of a variety of opposition candidates withdrawing from the election in protest.
The victor of these elections was one of Ukraine’s richest men, Petro Poroshenko. He immediately promised to intensify attacks on the “bandits” in the east of Ukraine. President Poroshenko attended his inauguration on the 7th June surrounded by sycophants, domestic and international, who had come to pay homage to his ‘victory’ whilst military aircraft and rocket launcher systems pummelled both civilian and resistance forces in the Donetsk and Lugansk, and a politician from the separatist Donetsk regional government was assassinated in a drive by shooting.
Poroshenko has at separate times been both an ally of both former President Victor Yushenko (of the Orange coup fame in 2004) and as well as ousted President Victor Yanokovich. He served as a minister in both the Yushenko and Yanukovich administrations and is clearly seasoned at switching sides when it suits him. Poroshenko’s estimated $1 billion fortune was accumulated in the period after the USSR collapsed. He would buy up state enterprises at a knockdown price before cutting the workforce and slashing pay and conditions. Many modern day oligarchs, in both Ukraine and Russia, made their fortunes in years after 1991 as wealth trickled up from the state and citizens into their pockets.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has shackled Greece into being a debtocracy, now has its eyes on Ukraine and has promised a $17 billion bailout in exchange for implementing harsh economic policies. Poroshenko will likely implement the anti-social measures advocated by the IMF, further impoverishing Ukraine and adding to the already existing social ills as he leads the country towards economic disaster.
Role of the far-right and the fascists
Due to the refusal of the Ukrainian army to take orders from the Kiev cabal, and facing stiff resistance from self defence forces in Dontesk and Lugansk, Poroshenko and his allies are increasingly forced to rely on gangs of paramilitary forces which include unashamed neo-Nazi elements to implement their own Shock Doctrine. Svoboda, the Right Sector, the National Guard and the newly formed Azov battalion (a special group of 70 volunteers known as the “Men in Black” and one of a number of paramilitary units recently created by the forces in Kiev) comprise individuals who are the ideological heirs of Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera.
The Svoboda movement (until 2004 called the Socialist-Nationalist Party of Ukraine) is descended from Stepan Bandera’s Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists, which fought alongside Hitler’s forces after the invasion of the USSR in 1941 and was responsible for mass exterminations of civilians. At that time, Bandera issued a manifesto which stated “Moskali [Ukrainian slang for Russians], Poles, and Jews are hostile to us and must be exterminated in this struggle.” Many of Svoboda’s current members had fathers and grandfathers who fought in Bandera’s organisation.
In the wake of the February coup, these paramilitaries started to issue threats towards Jewish and Russian minorities residing in Ukraine. Now they are actively playing the role of death squads in the east of the country.
Support the anti-fascist resistance
Anti-fascists, socialists and progressives worldwide have the duty to oppose the "anti terrorist operation" which is just a cover for the Kiev government waging war on its own people. This does not mean that give uconditional political support for the leadership of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics, which is composed of all sorts of elements, including reactionary Russian nationalists and others.
On several occasions, these rebel forces have checked the advance of forces loyal to Kiev. Recent blows include shooting down a helicopter at the end of May that killed an army general loyal to the Kiev and 11 of his soldiers. More recently, on Saturday 14th June, a military plane was shot down over the separatist regions resulting in 49 casualties. Clearly, the Poroshenko regime’s eastward incursion is no walk in the park
Civilians caught in the clashes are suffering greatly. On the 8th/9th June, the Ukrainian airforce was reported to be bombing Slavyansk, and a few days earlier an airstrike on a government building in Lugansk killed eight. There are also reports that civilians are fleeing to seek shelter across the border in Russia.
A significant portion of the Western media describe the resistance forces in Donetsk and Lugansk as ‘pro-Russian forces’. This is a misnomer that propagates the myth of Russian involvement in the conflict. Despite the secessionist forces in Donetsk and Lugansk hoping for Russian support, such support has not been forthcoming. Putin, a shrewd political player and a capitalist, recognises the enormous cost (political and economic) of allowing the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk to join the Russian Federation.
It is quite plausible that Russian agents are on the ground in eastern Ukraine provinces, but they are likely dwarfed by the number of FBI and CIA advisors assisting the regime in Kiev. Recently the United States, fully involved in funding and supporting the February coup, promised to give Ukraine $1 billion dollars in aid.
Much of what is it taking place in Ukraine will not be covered by the mainstream media. This includes a growing movement of soldiers' relatives demanding that the conscript and reserve soldiers be brought back from the front.
The ‘Solidarity with the Antifascist Resistance in Ukraine’ campaign was launched earlier this month at a meeting hosted by the Marxist Student Federation in SOAS. This campaign has been formed in the UK to build links with the labour movement in Ukraine and support the anti-fascist resistance in Ukraine.
Those in Ukraine who are fighting against a fascist repression deserve and need support of the international labour movement. Only ordinary workers and youth can determine their destiny, for neither Washington, Berlin, Kiev, nor Moscow have the interests of the masses at heart.