Welcome back, everyone, to the Ex-Worker. As we go to press, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been going on for just over a week; the fighting is fierce, and over a million people have fled the country. In our last episode, we shared a range of accounts that offered historical context and background on the war and anarchist perspectives from the region. In this episode, we’ll pick up the story from the start of the invasion, and amplify the voices of anarchists from Ukraine and Russia about the situation on the ground.
We’ve got statements from a variety of Russian anarchist groups, including Food Not Bombs Moscow, Anarchist Fighter, and St. Petersburg’s Anarchist Black Cross, plus an analysis from the Russian Autonomous Action website. From Ukraine, we’ll share two partial interviews from participants in the newly formed Committee of Resistance in Kyiv, along with a live interview with an anarchist who is trying to get out of the country. While all of these accounts are different, there are a number of common themes. First, everyone is clear that the invasion is a serious threat to freedom across the region, and must be actively resisted by any means necessary. Second, on both sides of the border, anarchists are making clear that their opposition to Putin and the Russian army does not translate into support for the Ukrainian state. Third, despite how horrifying the circumstances are, there are nonetheless very real possibilities for social change and liberation that are emerging, ranging from unexpectedly fierce resistance both on the battlefield and the Russian homefront that shows Putin’s vulnerability, to the remarkable social mobilization and mutual aid happening across the war zones in Ukraine. There are some stories that are heartbreaking and terrifying, and some that are inspiring. And there are calls to action and appeals for solidarity, which we hope you’ll take note of and act on to the best of your ability.
We’ve been doing our best to keep in touch with our comrades in the region, who are operating in increasingly dire circumstances, menaced by bombs and tanks, arrests and curfews, disinformation and censorship, disruptions to infrastructure, and a constantly changing situation of extreme stress. We’d hoped to secure more live interviews, but as you can imagine, it’s pretty challenging out there; more than once we’d scheduled a conversation only to find that it was impossible to access the technology needed, or that people had to wait in line for scarce supplies or flee to less dangerous locations. We want to thank all of the folks out there who’ve been sharing their experience and analysis with us in the best ways they can; we’re committed to continuing to amplify their voices in the best ways we know how. In the days and weeks to come, we’ll continue our coverage. Feel free to get in touch via email or social media to share your perspectives or ask questions. You can find all of our info, plus a full transcript and notes about this show, on our website, crimethinc.com/podcasts.
Now, let’s hear what anarchists in Russia and Ukraine have to say about the invasion, and how they’re fighting to resist it.
RUSSIA AND UKRAINE: GRASSROOTS RESISTANCE TO PUTIN’S INVASION
In this update published on February 24th, we review some of today’s efforts to resist the Russian invasion of Ukraine—from both Russians within the repressive conditions of Russian society and Ukrainians experiencing the full force of military attacks.
MOSCOW FOOD NOT BOMBS STATEMENT
This statement appeared on the Telegram channel of Food Not Bombs Moscow shortly after the invasion began.
We will never take the side of this or that state, our flag is black, we are against borders and freeloader presidents. We are against wars and killings of civilians.
Palaces, yachts, and prison sentences and torture for dissenting Russians are not enough for Putin’s imperial gang, they should be given war and the seizure of new territories. And so, “defenders of the fatherland” invade Ukraine, bombing residential areas. Huge sums are being invested in murder weapons while the people are impoverished more and more.
There are those who have nothing to eat and nowhere to live, not because there are not enough resources for everyone, but because they are distributed unfairly: someone has a lot of palaces, while others did not even get a hut.
In order to keep and increase the benefits in their hands, the government declares wars. Who will collect their intestines with their hands, who will have their arms and legs torn off by explosions, whose families will bury their children? Of course, all this does not apply to the ruling minority. We must resist the militaristic regime and the war it is waging with all our might. Spread information among your comrades, fight as best you can. No war but the class war. Solidarity instead of bombs.
INTERVIEW: THE COMMITTEE OF RESISTANCE, KYIV
We conducted an audio interview with a spokesperson from “The Committee of Resistance,” the newly formed anarchist coordinating group in Ukraine. They will be fielding public inquiries about what anarchists are doing and experiencing in Ukraine here. We transcribed the interview as we talked.
“The Committee of Resistance” is a coordination center connecting anarchists who are participating in resisting the invasion in a variety of ways. Some are currently on the front; some are engaged in media work about the conditions arising during this resistance, in hopes of clarifying the situation in Ukraine to those who have never been there and explaining to anarchists elsewhere why they believe that resisting Putin is connected with liberation. The project will also be engaging in some support projects in whatever remains of Ukrainian civil society as the invasion proceeds—for example, in Mariupol’, some participants brought material support to the center hosting children orphaned by the war—and will assist some comrades in escaping from the conflict zone, though “dozens and dozens” of anarchists and anti-fascists are participating in the resistance.
As of now, the participants are watching to see what mutual aid projects will emerge in Kyiv out of efforts on the part of the population as a whole, and which ones they can participate in most effectively as anarchists.
The person we spoke with is currently located in Kyiv; others have already departed to participate in territorial defense in the regions surrounding Kyiv. In Kyiv, many people are leaving the city, but there has not been aerial bombing since the morning, when the Russian air force attacked military targets around the city and also hit some civilian housing areas in outlying towns, including Brovary, killing dozens of people.
In Kyiv, the atmosphere is tense, but there is no fighting in the city yet, only the aircraft attacks of the morning. Thus far, anarchists have experienced no known casualties, but they are facing serious dangers. It is a hard situation, but so far, the participants’ spirits are high.
The majority of the participants in this project were expecting the invasion to begin soon, generally speaking, but they were not expecting it today, and were not entirely mentally prepared for it. In fact, they planned and prepared for months, but now they are discovering everything that remained unfinished in their preparations. Still, in the course of hasty meetings, they have pulled together this coordination project.
The spokesperson described their immediate goal: it is not to protect the Ukrainian state, but to protect Ukrainian people and the form of Ukrainian society, which is still pluralistic, even though the Ukrainian state itself is neoliberal and a nation-state with nationalism and all the other terrible things that come with that. “Our idea is that we have to defend the spirit of this society against being smashed by Putin’s regime, which threatens the entire existence of the society.”
Panning back from that immediate goal, the spokesperson said that they hope to confront Russian military aggression while promoting anarchist perspectives both within Ukrainian society and throughout the world—to show that anarchists are involved in this struggle, that they have taken sides in it—not with the state, but with the people who are impacted by the invasion, with the society of the people who live in Ukraine.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that the whole population is confronting the invasion. Of course, some people are fleeing, but any force that has any investment in the political development of this place in the future has to be on the side of the people here right now. We want to make some inroads towards being connected with people here on a larger scale, towards getting organized with them. Our long-term task, our dream, is to become a visible political force within this society in order to secure a real opportunity to promote a message of social liberation for people.”
In response to the statement that the “whole population is confronting the invasion,” we inquired as to whether that included the people in the “republics,” the Luhansk People’s Republic [LPR] and Donetsk People’s Republic [DPR]—the regions in eastern Ukraine that have been occupied by Russian-armed and funded separatist forces since 2014, which Putin just recognized as “independent.”
“Honestly,” the spokesperson answered, “I have little perspective about the people in the so-called republics; I have only lived here for several years”—having grown up in a neighboring country—”and have never been to the southeast. It’s true that there have been some conflicts about language, and local far-right people have exacerbated these conflicts needlessly and severely. For this reason, in the ‘republics,’ we saw some people waving Russian state flags to welcome the troops, even though this ‘independence’ will mean the opposite, it will mean being totally subservient to Putin. At the same time, nearby across the trenches, on the other side of the battle lines, we saw thousands of people waving Ukraine’s national flags. We don’t like this, either, as anarchists, but it does mean that people are ready to fight—that they are ready to defend their independence not only as a state but as a society.”
ADDITIONAL STATEMENT FROM THE COMMITTEE OF RESISTANCE
A few days after we published this statement, as the invasion intensified, we contacted comrades with the Committee from Resistance in Kyiv for an update. Unfortunately, the situation was too chaotic to complete an audio interview. But we were able to get some answers to a couple of questions we posed; for others, the situation has changed too rapidly for them to remain relevant. But this brief report from anarchists under fire addresses a couple of critical issues that we want to make sure our listeners hear, including debunking the Putinist and authoritarian leftist narratives about the invasion, describing the impact of anti-war action within Russia, and suggestions for how to show solidarity.
Unfortunately, Russian disinformation has been successful in some parts of the authoritarian left, here in the US and elsewhere. The story continues to circulate that Ukraine is a fascist country since the 2014 Maidan, and that Putin’s invasion is somehow an anti-fascist or anti-Nazi action. What would you say to the people who are circulating this story?
Well, actually if you ask what I would say to the people who are now spreading this stupid narrative of Ukraine being some ‘Nazi force’ or something like this, I would answer that this is just bullshit because Ukrainian society is much more pluralist and less controlled by the state (I would say even more conscious) than the ones in Russia and Belarus, for example. We know pretty well that the Ukrainian state is very neoliberal and not nice. And it’s true there are some problems with linguistic discrimination; but at the same time, Russian is spoken freely in private sphere of life and in many others as well. So every person who speculates on Ukraine being a ‘Nazi state’ or something like this is just lying, and all the people who help to circulate this narrative are collaborating with Putin’s forces who have really been seeding death and destruction around here for several years, and most intensively over these last few days. So I would ask those people who consider themselves revolutionaries not to participate in bloody crimes of Putin’s authoritarian regime.
Also it’s important to add that comparing these two state systems, it’s much more likely that the Russian state would be seen as a fascist one, since it’s defined by the nearly unlimited power of one person and his clique of repressive (former) secret services. So if you are looking for the more fascist side of this conflict, this is definitely the side of the Russian state.
We believe that participation in this resistance against Putin’s invasion to Ukraine is part of our social revolutionary path because it’s urgently important to confront Putinism in the whole region of Eastern Europe to preserve space for prospective social development in Ukraine, and also as much we will be able to damage this Putinist system, to break its teeth the more we will develop opportunities for Russia and Belarus also to become free one day
We have heard of demonstrations beginning to happen against the war all over Russia, and in many other countries at Russian embassies and elsewhere. Have these stories reached people in Kyiv? What would you like to see from people who want to protest against the war?
Yes, we saw the news, the stories and the pictures about the protest actions in Russia. I believe that they are very, very important. On first day of active hostilities, almost 2000 people were captured by the police which means that the actual number of participants was much higher. Me individually, and I believe my comrades too, greet the people of Russia who want to protest and to resist this imperialist invasion. We believe that this is a very urgent moment to undertake the multitude of tactics. Now, today, it’s crucially important to do everything you can, starting with—I don’t know, from graffiti all the way to ending with sabotage and direct action, and of course any public demonstration against Putin’s invasion. These are all extremely appreciated—especially in Russia now. Any word, any public activity against the war in Russia is ten times more important now than in normal situation. We know that these people are really courageous because in Russia they face the threat of being imprisoned, even tortured, and facing every kind of trouble. So when the people protest in Russia now that’s really worthy.
What can comrades outside of Ukraine do to support you there?
People outside of Ukraine all around the world can help us with following activities:
Informational solidarity. We need all progressive people to confront the ridiculous narrative of the so-called ‘liberation’ from Putin’s side to uncover the true face of this aggression and invasion. Also to present the revolutionary, socially-progressive approach to it. This is not just defense of the nation state, because we’re not defenders of the nation state; we’re defenders of the society and of its chance to hold and to develop its grassroots perspectives and projects of cooperation and self-government. Because Putinist totalitarianism is just pure hell that brings death and the end to any social perspectives in any regions where it takes positions, as we’ve clearly seen in Russia itself, in Belarus and quite recently in Kazakhstan. And now they want to export this—I’d say to project it further. So this needs to be confronted heavily and desperately. It’s very important to spread this information around the world.
Fundraising projects to support comrades here and people here who are now desperately resisting one of the fiercest armies in the world and still standing successfully with this resistance. So financial and material support with different needs is also extremely needed now.
Now that we actually have at least two organized and interconnected anarchist structures here around Kyiv, we’re thinking if our comrades will have enthusiasm to participate and support us here, we probably will find jobs and tasks. We’re open to discuss options to receive foreign volunteers to support us here.
Also now several people need to retreat from the country and will need the help from the other side. Nobody should be left alone.
We want to thank our comrades there for doing their best to stay connected with us in the midst of truly impossible and horrifying circumstances. We wish them safety and strength to get through the difficult days ahead. To all of you listeners, we’re committed to keeping all of you informed as best as we can; stay tuned to crimethinc.com or @crimethinc on Twitter for the latest updates we have.
RUSSIAN ANARCHISTS ON THE INVASION OF UKRAINE: UPDATES AND ANALYSIS
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine proceeds, anarchists throughout Russia continue to mobilize in protest, joining thousands of other Russians. In this update published on February 26th, we share two statements from longtime Russian anarchist projects that offer some analysis of the situation in Russia and how the invasion of Ukraine might shift it.
Russia itself has become an information battlefield in the course of the invasion. The Russian government has attempted to block access to Twitter so that Russians will not see what is happening in Ukraine or, for that matter, elsewhere in Russia. On the other side of the barricades, the Kremlin website was hacked. Whether the Russian people decide to support this invasion at great cost to themselves—or to oppose Putin’s agenda at great risk to themselves—may well determine what happens in Ukraine in the long run.
ANARCHIST FIGHTER’S POSITION ON RUSSIA’S ATTACK ON UKRAINE
The following statement appeared yesterday on the Telegram channel of a collective in Russia whose name can be translated as “Anarchist Fighter” or “Anarchist Militant.”
Our position on the events taking place in Ukraine is clearly evident in our previous posts. However, we felt it necessary to express it explicitly, so that something would not be left unsaid.
We, the collective of Anarchist Fighter, are by no means fans of the Ukrainian state. We have repeatedly criticized it and supported opposition to it in the past, and we have also been the cause of large-scale repression against the VirtualSim operator, done by the Ukrainian security services in an attempt to fight us.
And we will definitely return to this policy in the future, when the threat of Russian conquest has receded. All states are concentration camps.
But what is happening now in Ukraine goes beyond this simple formula, and the principle that every anarchist should fight for the defeat of their country in war.
Because this is not simply a war between two roughly equal powers over the redistribution of capital’s spheres of influence, in which one could apply Eskobar’s axiom.
[editor’s note: Eskobar was the vocalist of a Ukrainian rock band called Bredor. Long ago, in an interview, he said a famous phrase, which became a meme: “Шо то хуйня, шо это хуйня”—a succinct way to articulate something to the effect of, “When you are forced to choose between two options while lacking any alternative whatsoever, .” ]
What is happening in Ukraine now is an act of imperialist aggression: an aggression that, if successful, will lead to a decline in freedom everywhere—in Ukraine, in Russia, and possibly in other countries as well. And it will also increase the likelihood that the war will continue and escalate into a global war. Why this is the case in Ukraine is obvious, as far as we are concerned. But in Russia, a small victorious war (as well as external sanctions) will give the regime what it currently lacks. It will give them carte blanche for any action, due to the patriotic upsurge that will take place among part of the population. And they will be able to blame any economic problems on sanctions and war.
The defeat of Russia, in the current situation, will increase the likelihood of people waking up, the same way that occurred in 1905 [when Russia’s military defeat by Japan led to an uprising in Russia], or in 1917 [when Russia’s problems in the First World War led to the Russian Revolution]—opening their eyes to what is happening in the country.
As for Ukraine, its victory will also pave the way for the strengthening of grassroots democracy—after all, if it is achieved, it will be only through popular self-organization, mutual assistance, and collective resistance. These should be the answer to the challenges that war throws at society.
Furthermore, the structures created for this grassroots self-organization will not go anywhere once the war is over.
Of course, victory will not solve the problems of Ukrainian society—they will have to be solved by taking advantage of the opportunities that will open for the consolidation of society in the instability of the regime that comes after such upheavals. However, defeat will not only fail to solve them—it will exacerbate them many times over.
Though all these are all important reasons for our decision to support Ukraine in this conflict—let’s call them geopolitical reasons. But they are not even the primary reasons. The most important reasons are internal moral ones: because the simple truth is that Russia is the aggressor, that it pursues an openly fascist policy. It calls war peace. Russia lies and kills.
Because of its aggressive actions, people are dying and suffering on both sides of the conflict. Yes, even those soldiers who are now being driven into the meat grinder of war (not counting those bastards for whom “war is mother nature,” who, in our opinion, are hardly people at all). And this will continue until it is stopped.
Therefore, we urge everyone who reads this, who is not unfeeling—to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people (not the state!!!) and support their struggle for freedom against Putin’s tyranny. It falls to us to live in historic times. Let’s make this page of history not a shameful one, but one we can be proud of.
Freedom to the peoples of the world! Peace to the people of Ukraine! No to Putin’s aggression! No to war!
THE DUSK BEFORE DAWN
The following text appeared today as a podcast in Russian on the Autonomous Action website.
On Thursday morning, Putin launched the biggest war in Europe since World War II. He hides behind the alleged interests of the separatist part of Donbas. Although the DPR and LPR were absolutely satisfied with the recognition of their statehood, the official entry of the Russian army and the promised one and a half trillion rubles. Recall that for many months, the cost of rent and food prices in Russia itself have been growing day by day.
The Kremlin has made absurd demands of the Kiev authorities—let’s start with “denazification.” It is true that, thanks to their active participation in the Maidan protests of 2014, the Ukrainian ultra-right has secured an outsize position in politics and law enforcement agencies. But in all the elections in Ukraine since 2014, they have won no more than a few percent points of the vote. The President of Ukraine is Jewish. The problem of the Ukrainian ultra-right must be solved, but it cannot be solved with Russian tanks. The Kremlin’s other charges against Ukraine—about corruption, election manipulation, and dishonest courts—would be far more appropriate for the Kremlin to press against itself. Now, Russian troops are, in the full sense of the word, occupiers in a foreign land—no matter how this contradicts the expectations of everyone who grew up on stories about the Great Patriotic War.
Russia has found itself in international isolation. [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan, [General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party] Xi Jinping, and even the Taliban are asking Putin to stop hostilities. Europe and the United States impose new sanctions against Russia every day.
As we prepare this text, the third day of the war is coming. The Russian army has a clear superiority over the Ukrainian one, but the war does not seem to be going exactly according to Putin’s plan. Apparently, he counted on victory in one or two days with little or no resistance, but there has been serious fighting throughout the territory of Ukraine.
Russians and the whole world are now watching videos showing shells hitting residential buildings, an armored car running over a senior citizen, corpses and shooting.
Roskomnadzor [the Russian government’s Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology, and Mass Media] is still trying to threaten the entire Internet, demanding “Don’t call this a war, but a special operation.” But few people take them seriously anymore. As long as the Internet in Russia is not turned off completely, there will be enough sources of information. Just in case, once again, we recommend setting up Tor with bridges, VPN, and Psiphon in advance.
The effects of the sanctions and the war are just beginning to be felt by Russians: Most of Moscow’s ATMs were out of paper money on Friday. Why? Because the day before, people took 111 billion rubles from banks: in fact, all their savings. The real estate market collapsed, and the construction of residential buildings is the most important branch of the Russian economy. The foreign automotive industry is gradually ceasing to ship cars to Russia. The exchange rates of the dollar and the euro are artificially constrained by the Central Bank. Shares of all Russian companies fell severely. Everyone understands that it will only get worse.
Only Putin Needs This
The Russian reaction to the war in Ukraine is completely different from what happened here in 2014 [when Russia seized Crimea after the Ukrainian revolution]. Many people, including celebrities who worked for the government, are demanding an immediate end to the war. The removal of Ivan Urgant, the leading Russian TV star, from the air is noteworthy.
The vast majority of those who still support Putin are also against the war. The average Putin supporter just now thinks that everything has been calculated, the war will not drag on for long, the Russian economy will survive. Because yes, it’s not easy to live with the understanding that your country is ruled by a deranged person—by Don Quixote with a million-strong army, one of the strongest in the world, Don Quixote with a nuclear weapon capable of destroying all of humanity. It is difficult to realize that, having read second-rate political scientists and philosophers, one can bomb a neighboring fraternal country and destroy one’s own economy.
Reveling in unlimited power, Putin has gradually moved away from reality: there are the stories about two-week quarantines for ordinary mortals who need to meet with the Russian president for some reason, and tables of gigantic length at which Putin receives both his ministers and heads of other states.
Putin has always been a politician who balances the interests of security forces and oligarchs. Now the president has stepped out of this role, having gone on an independent voyage through the boundless sea of senility. We are ready to bet a bottle of the best whiskey that in the near future, Mr. President might experience a coup from his own inner circle.
Russia may meet the year 2023 with some other system of power and a different character in the Kremlin. What it will be is unknown. But for now, it is the dusk before dawn.
In the meantime, protests against the war are taking place in Russia. Anarchists participate in them in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Perm, Irkutsk, Yekaterinburg and other cities. In Russia, it is extremely difficult to organize street protests; this is fraught with administrative and criminal terms, not to mention good old-fashioned police violence. But people are coming out all the same. Thousands have already been detained, but the protests continue. Russia is against this war and against Putin! Come out—when and where you see fit. Team up with friends and like-minded people. Social networks are suggesting Sunday at 4 p.m. as the time for a general protest action. This day and hour is no worse than any other. Download anti-war leaflets for distribution and posting from our website and social networks!
Meanwhile, Ukrainian anarchists are joining in the territorial defense of their cities. It is now harder for them than for people in Russia, but this is one and the same defense. This is the defense of freedom against dictatorship, of will against bondage, of normal people against deranged presidents.
To Your Sheep
If Putin suddenly comes to his senses by some miracle, and the war ends one of these days, are we ready to “return to our sheep,” as the French say? It is likely that we will be kicked out of the Council of Europe. Thus, Russians will lose the opportunity to apply to the European Court of Human Rights, and soon the Kremlin will restore the death penalty.
For now, we will return to the news in the spirit of all recent years: right now, the State Duma [a legislative body in the ruling assembly of Russia] is adopting a law according to which a military conscript must himself come to the military enlistment office rather than waiting for a summons. Putin also recently raised the salaries of the police. And the prosecutor’s office, in an appeal, demands to increase the term of an anarchist from Kansk, Nikita Uvarov, convicted in the famous “Minecraft terrorism case,” from five to nine years.
You yourself know what to do with all this.
Freedom for the peoples! Death to empires!
THE ANARCHIST BLACK CROSS OF ST. PETERSBURG STATEMENT AGAINST THE WAR
We, the anarchists of St. Petersburg, strongly oppose the imperialist war of conquest unleashed by the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine. There is no sitting on the sidelines in this conflict and there cannot be.
We believe that a military operation against Ukraine only serves to preserve the current political regime in Russia—to ensure that Putin, who has been in power for more than 20 years, who has unleashed several bloody military attacks, who has repressed dozens of journalists and anti-fascists and opposition activists, who has destroyed freedom of speech and human rights in Russia, who has plunged the vast majority of the population into poverty, can remain the president of the Russian Federation indefinitely.
Those who are culpable for the war crimes that are being committed right now before our eyes—rocket attacks on cities and villages, the killing of civilians, the use of prohibited ammunition—are not only those who give orders and participate in hostilities, but also those who support or excuse these actions directly or indirectly.
We urge everyone by any possible means to demand an end to the war and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine!
-Anarchist Black Cross, St. Petersburg
INTERVIEW WITH ANARCHIST REFUGEE IN UKRAINE
Finally, we want to share an audio interview we conducted with an anarchist who is currently fleeing from the chaos through Ukraine, who paused to share some valuable perspectives with us. The conversation touches on daily life in the midst of war, martial law, the political composition of the armed forces, the grassroots mobilization of society for defense and mutual aid, the situation at the border, and ways to show support.
Alanis: Thanks for speaking with us! Can you introduce yourself?
D: Yes, my name is D. I’m a 30 year old English teaher from Lugansk, a freelancer, currently in Khmelnytskyi.
Alanis: Can you tell us a bit about the situation where you are right now?
D: For the last five years, I’ve been living in Kyiv, and about five days ago, I and a few other people and couple of animals have decided to evacuate Kyiv. So we got into a car of our friends who traveled with us and made it to Khmelnytskyi. Right now we are stuck here due to the fact due to the fact that our vehicle wouldn’t start. So we are in the middle of trying to fix it.
Khmelnytskyi in general is very calm, relative to places like Kyiv or Kharkiv. But it’s only calm in terms of warfare, so to speak—in terms of Russian tanks and shelling and all that stuff. It’s super chill in that regard. But it’s far from chill in terms of how people feel here and the general mood of the local population. There’s a lot of suspicion and tension and nervousness. Every day local folks predict to be the last day before all hell breaks loose here as well. In this kind of situation, it’s really hard to enjoy even the actual relative peace that I observe here, in comparison to the place we left. So that’s the current situation.
Alanis: We know martial law has been declared across the country. What does that look like in terms of daily life?
D: Like with any martial law there’s a lot of commonalities. One of those is there are curfews that have been instated all over the country. You’re not supposed to go out after a certain hour. There is also mobilization, which prevents all males from age 18 to 60 from leaving the country, and I think today the Parliament has approved President Zelensky’s plans to mobilize everyone. So it seems as if within the next day or so we will find out how it will develop. Also, there are a lot of militias—we call them Territorial Defense—made up of all the volunteers who decided to take up arms or assist in other ways. There are patrolling the streets now. Whoever looks unfamiliar or sketchy gets questioned, and they try to identify everyone and figure out whether they are a threat to Ukraine, so to speak.
During all the wars I’ve seen so far, there are way fewer human rights that you can count on. But I guess it does make sense to most people in Ukraine, all these “drastic times, drastic measures” stuff. What I am somewhat worried about personally, since I’m someone who has experienced this before (having my hometown Lugansk invaded in 2014) I know that unfortunately very often these drastic times pass, but they leave the drastic measures in place for years to come. For example, this curfew that was announced in Lugansk in 2014 was never lifted; it’s been eight years of basically not going out at night, eight years of the military patrolling the streets, eight years of all these austerity measures that were put in place. I’m somewhat worried that Ukraine may lose a lot over the course of this, and I’m even more worried that these things will remain lost once we’re done with this war.
Alanis: I didn’t actually realize you were also there during the 2014 war in the east. Is there anything you’d like to share about that experience, or how it shaped what you’re experiencing now?
D: Sure. Well, I have to admit that I didn’t actually see the warfare back in 2014. I left in April of that year without really believing that the war would ever start. I decided to do a bicycle trip to Georgia, so I cycled through southern Russia and ended up in Tbilisi, and by the time I arrived there it was already May 2014, and that was when the war started. so I actually planned to travel for a few weeks, and I ended up traveling for three years instead, because I had no where to come back to. So I missed the warring part of the whole thing; I saw as it was all building up and I saw the events leading up to it, but I have not been shelled before - this is my first time, actually.. So I cannot claim to have seen war twice, I have only experienced it in a certain way, in a certain dimension, twice; but I haven’t seen active battlefields more than I have over the course of this year.
Alanis: Have you had interactions with the Ukrainian military forces? What do you know about the composition of the armed forces at this point or the political dynamics of people who are fighting?
D: Well, I personally know people who have volunteered for this Territorial Defense from all sorts of backgrounds. There are people who identify as Antifascists and anti-authoritarians who are doing this, and naturally there are tons of patriots and nationalists who do this as well – there are just common folks who don’t care about politics whatsoever, who just under this pressure and desire to do something to speed up the end of the war, tend to volunteer as well. But since in general the demographics of Ukraine, it’s political diversity, it’s very homogeneous to begin with, so naturally there would be far more right wing folks in their ranks than otherwise. But it only represents in my opinion the actual composition of Ukrainian society on the wider scale, not that this particular occupation is somehow more attractive to the right wing that to anti-authoritarians. But this is just my impression; I don’t have the numbers, really.
Alanis: Looking back over the discussions anarchists were having in the weeks before the invasion, what do you think you understood or predicted accurately? What has surprised you?
D: I wasn’t really prepared for the invasion, despite the fact that it has been looming over us for at least a year, I think, so far. There’s been a rise in attention to this whole thing for about 3-4 months before it has begun all over the Western media. I think till the very last moment most of the civilians did hope that it wouldn’t take place, because it’s just very hard to spend a full year in constant terror and preparing for your last days. So I think people here developed a habit of simply reacting to events as they unfold and cross all the bridges when they come to them, as opposed to doing any actual doomsday preparations in advance. So in that regard, it feels like I’ve barely done enough, just like most people I m acquainted with.
The way the war has unfolded is also somewhat surprising. I did hope that Russia’s plans would be somewhat less massive in terms of scale, let’s say more humble – I thought it would be something like we had back in 2014 in my hometown, where all the advances were what I would describe as it as two steps forward, one steps back: we would take something back, bit not everything that we lost, and everyone can feel somewhat victorious; and then it stops, at least the crazy part, for years. But unfortunately, it seems like my naive hopes are proving to be wrong at this point. It’s not entirely clear what the goal of the attacking side is, what their endgame is and what it is that they’re trying to achieve. Because the scale of the invasion is massive, and the devastation is pretty incomparable to what we’ve seen so far anywhere here in Ukraine this century.
Alanis: How is the experience of war shaping how you think about anarchism and social change, an what we should be doing?
D: I think I’m pleasantly surprised by the reaction of many anarchists. They very quickly and effectively found their places in this war; they’re doing stuff, cooperating and organizing, and resisting the imperial invasion. There were no where near that many people from the left wing fighting the wars that started in 2014. It seemed as if many felt this sacrifice we need to make (I’m referring here to the territories we lost) for peace: it’s not worth shedding anyone’s blood for those. There was this wide scale acceptance (unsatisfied of course) of these kind of losses. But with this development of the war that is eight days old right now, many people realized it was naive to think that you can satiate this dragon. It’s always going to get hungry again so long as it’s alive, so it’s about time to show some resistance.
My thoughts on anarchism, I think the way Ukrainian government has acted during this, it called pretty much everyone to arms. I’ve never seen in my entire life such massive levels of grassroots organizing and people doing stuff for each other, cooperating in numerous ways for free. It’s pretty impressive, and it actually shows that anarchism indeed has a huge potential, because we’ve seen how it works without anarchism and without people’s commitment to the cause and people’s interest in doing everything they can to win a war back in 2014. The Crimea was lost without a single round shot, then my hometown was lost also without that massive and committed of a struggle. I don’t want to downplay what the military did there, of course, but naturally it’s nothing like the fight we are putting up now, I think. So it does tell me that even in a country where such ideas as anarchy, anti-authoritarianism, and left-wing stuff in general were so beaten down and marginalized and almost erased—even here, there is still so much potential and so much of popular action to fight off one of the strongest armies in the world, allegedly. So it actually does give me a lot of hope in general about the ideas I used to hold and still continue to hold.
Alanis: Can you tell us a little more about some of these ways that society is mobilizing from the grassroots?
D: Well, it’s all over the internet right now. We see how people are volunteering for all sorts of stuff; some people are diving each other, helping with recreations, feeding each other, caring for abandoned pets, helping with medical supplies, there are businesses—I don’t want to praise businesses too much, but even the businesses are stepping up, helping people with logistics, food, all the essentials that people require, especially in time like this when the normal society breaks down and reorganizes and you can’t really count upon anything; you don’t know whether the service that you usually count upon will work or be there for you. Here and there, people are stepping up all across the country. The internet plays a huge role in it, and also the sheer desperation and horror of the war in general. When you’re trapped somewhere and it really sucks, you will definitely want to o anything and everything you can, with whomever you can, to ease the suffering of yourself and those around you, and to help this catastrophe to end as soon as possible;.
So I do see a lot of examples, with regards to food, health care, and giving people places to crash, - I for one am crashing at a stranger’s place in a town I’ve never been to before, already fir several days, provided with a lot of things I would have done without. It’s all really inspiring. So yeah, I think people are stepping up on all sorts of fronts, with all sorts of requests and struggles that others are experiencing. It’s inspiring.
Alanis: We’ve heard at this point that over a million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion began. Can you tell us about the situation on the border? What are you expecting when you get there?
D: I’m still not sure whether I will be allowed to leave. Despite the fact that I’m diabetic, my military papers say I’m still eligible to serve during times of war, and that’s exactly what we have right now. So I think I may have to stay, unless I would be interested in breaking the law. But regardless of whether I can leave, the situation at the borders is definitely challenging for everyone who arrives there. I’m aware of 30-mile lines at the border of people trying to get through; some people spend days trying to get in to Poland and things like that.
Something that’s worth mentioning is that people of color, all the Latinos, Africans, pretty much anyone else, are having a much harder time getting through into Europe than other white Ukrainians. There are also things that have been reported that there are a lot of folks attempting to capitalize on human trafficking; people were told to be very suspicious of guys trying to “help” to get further in line to any attractive young females and such, because according to what I’ve heard, that could be a trap as well. There’s a lot of sketchy stuff. Also some people are trying to collect bribes for thousands of dollars to bypass the line, and stuff like this. But on the other hand, there are people I know who are doing all sorts of things: hosting up to ten people in their houses near the border, feeding them constantly, volunteering to do whatever help they can provide there for everyone trying to flee. So there are atrocious sides to it, of course, like in any other crisis, and some sides that inspire some hope. But the border with Europe is definitely not a “chill” place at the moment, I can tell you this much.
Anyway, that’s where we seem to be headed at the moment, as soon as we get our car fixed. In any case, regardless of what else is happening, it still seems to be a zone which won’t be shelled any time soon. The closer to Europe, the safer it will be. So that’s the main reason for me to go further and further west, as long as we can.
Alanis: What do the people you’re seeing there want to see in terms of international support or solidarity? What do you think would make a difference or be effective?
D: Well, it really depends. I can’t be certain exactly where the money goes when you send it to all sorts of NGOs. But I do think this is probably the best thing to do. Most folks need money right now, pretty much anyone who’s trapped in Ukraine and can’t leave. The Red Cross, or whatever other groups that you’re certain will never hurt anyone and are only there to ease and decrease suffering, would not be a waste. At the same time, the main thing that anyone who is in a war need is to end the war; the second best thing is opportunities to escape it. Given the fact that right now we are shutting down our borders for men who don’t want to fight, any ways to surpass this–say, doctors who will fake someone’s papers and say they are very sick and need an appointment in Berlin or Barcelona, or whatever else - it’s still too early to say what things will be helpful in this regard. Those things can be very precious to many as well.
And, personal support. I don’t think there’s many people who will decline any help in Ukraine right now. If you know someone who’s in Ukraine and you have an extra buck—go for it, send it to them. I think they will find it very hard to resist that.
On the scale of politics, I’m beyond that at this point. Clearly whatever the US did as an overseas empire hasn’t led to much good, in any case. When it did not involve enough back in 2014, we just watched in silence how our territories ere annexed without much resistance. And when they started scaring everyone and warning everyone and getting more involved, we just had an even bigger and bloodier war. So I don’t think anything the US is capable of doing as a country would be very beneficial to us. I can only imagine what would happen if the US got involved on the ground, so to speak, because we’ve seen how it ends up with many other countries sch as Afghanistan, Kurdistan, and such.
So I think the help should be grassroots and from the people and to the people, or organizations who have the interests of the people in mind, not corporations, governments, and such. This would be the effective use of resources that someone can spare, I think.
Alanis: Is there anything else you’d like our listeners to know about what’s going on in Ukraine right now?
D: I don’t know. I think there are plenty of voices coming out from Ukraine right now, unlike Russia and my hometown, so that people can get some kind of average, some sort of picture of what the needs are here, what the fears and hopes are here. So listening to those voices and showing your solidarity is the best we could hope for. Because I know that as these wars go on, people do tend to lose their interest in them. For as long as there is this interest, we should do our best to spread the word about what’s happening here, and those who are willing to help should not wait to help, because sooner or later you won’t remember what Ukraine is. This is how it goes with all these wars around the world. Two weeks is usually when the attention span ends, or peaks just before it becomes another one of those wars that nobody cares about.
Alanis: Thank you for speaking with us!
D: Of course. Thank you for talking, I’m happy to share if anyone cares to listen to it.
And that’s gonna do it for this episode of the Ex-Worker. We want to offer huge thanks to all of the courageous anarchists in Ukraine, Russia, and beyond who’ve continued to resist and have taken the time to share their thoughts with us. And thanks to all of you for listening! You can find ongoing coverage of the crisis in Ukraine plus a lot more at crimethinc.com; the notes for this show and links to all of our back episodes and audiobooks are at crimethinc.com/podcasts. Till next time, take care and stay strong.