By Roger Annis, July 2, 2014
Significant protests against the war being waged in eastern Ukraine by the governing regime in Kyiv are taking place by the conscript soldiers of the Ukraine army and their families, friends and supporters. The protests are entirely unreported in mainstream, western media. They take on a renewed urgency as a result of Kyiv’s July 1 announcement that it is ending a ten day ceasefire and resuming its military assaults against the towns and cities in the east.
The following article is a report on some of theses antiwar protests and on the harsh crackdown on democratic rights that accompanies the NATO-backed war that began in earnest in April:
A soldier speaks out
On June 10, a 22 year-old soldier spoke out at a rally in Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine. The text of his moving speech is below (here is the YouTube video link; apologies if the video link later changes and no longer works)
My first duty [as a soldier] is to save the Ukrainian people. First of all, I have to protect people, not territorial integrity.
[А man from the crowd: “Protect from fascists. It is right”. Applause.
I have been drafted into the army. They want me to go to war to kill guys from Donbass, who took the same oath as I did. What I want to say… is the army command urges me to protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Then they’ll give it away to the EU and USA.
[Voices from the crowd: “Yes! You are right!”]
Only a stupid man* would not understand this. [*the word is “sovok”, a disparaging term for older people who have lived most of their lives during the years of the Soviet Union and who will believe anything the mass media says.]
I want to say more… I served in tank force ‘Desna’. I took an oath under the red flag of the army [points to a red banner behind him]. It was the ‘Alexander Nevsky’ regiment. Think about it! In this regiment, now, are those who set fire to internal security troops at Maidan square, who shot my brothers in special units, who study how to fire anti-tank missiles.
They learn infantry weapons, like all ground forces. They are now preparing to kill guys
who don’t agree with them, who have different positions. They would kill police officers who refuse to obey their orders. It’s a fact. This is what I mean to say.
People, look at me. I am 22. I do not smoke or drink. I am of the gene pool of this country. It’s a fact. Because of them [rightists and neo-Nazis], the day after tomorrowyou will bury guys like me. Do you understand? This is a big responsibility for you.
I urge you all, however possible, not to shed blood. Show prudence, stick to your position—for peace. Of course, if war breaks out, I urge you to provide all possible support for protests against the junta [Kiev government]. Be good people! Down with the junta! The army and the people together!
[The crowd applauds at the end of the speech and chants, “”Down with the junta” and “The army and the people together!”]
Soldiers refuse to fight a war against their fellow citizens
There are many news reports as well as social media reports from Ukraine and Russia of Ukrainian soldiers refusing to go to war against their fellow citizens. This brief news report (in Russian) in Russia Today on June 24 reports that 400 soldiers from the 25th Dniepropetrovsk Airborne Division have resigned rather than serve in the war in the east.
In this video, Ukraine paratroopers who were taken prisoner near Donetsk and then released spoke of their captors. Their comments refute the propaganda of western governments and media saying the self-defense fighters in eastern Ukraine consist of ‘pro-Russia separatists’ or outright Russian or Chechnyan militias. At the 3′:16 mark in the video, a paratrooper is asked: “Have you seen there maybe Russians, Chechnyans?” He answers, “Not one. Maybe there are some there somewhere, but we haven’t seen them. I can state this quite firmly–90 per cent of them [Donetsk rebels] are ours. They are actually our former colleagues who served earlier in Ukrainian army, particularly former Ukrainian paratroopers.”
Women in the coal mining regions of the southeast oblast of Luhansk have formed self-defense battalions. This report on Al Jazeera dated June 3 tells that story.
“We didn’t want this war and we didn’t bring that government [in Kiev] to power. We have only decided to be independent,” said one women’s batallion member, Olesya Gerasimenko, “But no one is allowing us,” she said, referring to the newly elected government of Petro Poroshenko.
After taking yet another phone call from her worried, 62-year-old mother back in town, Yelena Dustova, another battalion member, told Al Jazeera, “I don’t see any leaders amongst our politicians, male or female. We just have oligarch after oligarch. We’re just regular miners that know the price of labour and know that we can’t live on the money we get paid. This is now a miner’s republic.”
Mothers, wives, families speak out
Mothers, wives and other relatives of conscript soldiers are taking to the streets and highways to protest war and demand that their loved ones be returned from fighting. Here is one video report, of people blocking a roadway at Mykolayiv:
And here is a video from June 24 of family and friends in Zhytomyr, northwest Ukraine, blocking traffic on a highway. They say their loved ones have been in the field for as long as 110 days without leave and without proper protection, food and sometimes even water. Their protest action reportedly jammed the highway with traffic for 20 miles.
On June 22 in Kiev, rightists and neo-Nazis attacked a rally opposing war (video here). The rally was called to commemorate the launching of Germany’s catastrophic war against the Soviet Union (including Ukraine) in 1941. One of the neo-Nazis tells the camera:
We demand cancelling any kind of commemoration of Soviet occupants [of Ukraine]. It doesn’t matter which the date they celebrate: November 7  when Soviets occupied Kiev (sic) or May 8  when Soviets forced [German General] Keitel to sign a capitulation…
We will win. We will force everyone to take us into account. And if the authorities will not listen to us, we will take more radical action. Glory to Ukraine! [Nazi salute], Death to enemies!
The rightists then went on to trash with impunity a branch of the Russian bank Sberbank in central Kyiv. This six-minute video shows that attack. (The Church shown at the beginning of the video is a Russian Orthodox Church where the rightists staged a threatening protest against a religious service commemorating June 22, 1941.)
Billionaire rightists and Fatherland Party leaders promote war
In this video, a Fatherland Party member of the Ukraine Parliament (Rada), Ivan Stoiko, speaks of the need for the US and EU to provide military aid to Ukraine because, “we are waging a war against the Mongoloid race in fascist Russia that are like locusts creeping towards Ukraine, seeking to destroy our nation”.
Fatherland is the party of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and former prime minister and defeated 2014 presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko. There are tensions within the party over the pursuit of the war in the east. The dominant factions want to press on forcefully, while others want to explore other options to defeat the autonomy movement.
One key leader of the war faction is the billionaire and appointed governor of Dnipropetrovsk region (oblast), Ihor Kolomoyskyi. Dnipropetrovsk is adjacent to Donetsk and Luhansk in the southeast where the heaviest fighting is taking place.
Kolomoyskyi refused to abide by the recent ceasefire declared by the regime in Kyiv. He is organizing and financing rightist militias and is suspected of a role in the May 2 massacre in the city of Odessa in which more than 40 anti-fascist protesters were killed.
He has recently demanded the right to annex to the region (oblast) he controls the lands of Donetsk region that have been “liberated” by the Ukrainian army.
A dominant figure in the military campaign against the autonomy movement in southeastern Ukraine is an individual with a long history as a fascist–Andriy Parubiy. He is secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine. While not a cabinet post, the Council is a crucial part of the military-police apparatus and very influential shaping military policy in the Southeast and applying it.
Parubiy was a commander of Maidan militias in 2013 and early 2014. He was a co-founder of the Social-National Party of Ukraine in 1991. The party’s name referred to Hitler’s National Socialist Party and it used white-supremacist rhetoric and Nazi-like symbols and paraphernalia.
In 2004, the Social-National Party merged with other rightists and changed its name to Svoboda (All-Ukrainian Union). While Svoboda now downplays its fascist associations, it remains a political reference-point for violent ultra-right racist currents. Parubiy is a member of the Ukrainian Parliament (Rada) for the Fatherland Party.
A different Rada deputy of the Fatherland Party is counseling caution in the east. Hennadiy Moskal said on June 18:
Every day we get operational reports from the Interior Ministry about events in Ukraine. .. There is no more ‘antiterrorist’ operation. It is a civil war. And it must be admitted… the anti-terrorist operation may be prolonged until winter.
What are we to do in such a case? The people have no shoes, no clothes, nothing to eat. Every day, economic indicators are falling catastrophically…
And what about the military situation? You know that in Western Ukraine, the mood will soon be like in Donetsk. Everyone who has attended a funeral will never be a friend of Kiev… We have become a funeral team; funerals are happening across the country. That does not instill confidence in the central government.
Attacks on democratic rights across the board
The war in the east is further prompting attacks on the right of expression and assembly right across Ukraine.
Among those coming under attack are trade unions. On June 26, a conference in Kyiv of the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine was attacked at the Hotel Tourist. The conference was electing its new leadership when it was interrupted by a violent attack by neo-Nazi thugs of the Right Sector and Social-National Assembly as well as other elements of the Maidan movement.
Police arrived after most of the damage and violence have been done to the hotel. The attackers burned flags, used pepper spray, broke glass doors and windows and set fire to one of the corridors in the building. They declared the leadership elections illegitimate and demanded that the Federation purge most of its former leaders, particularly those who were members of the Party of Regions of President Viktor Yanukovych who was overthrown in February 2014. A video of the attack on the FTUU conference is here:
Part of the motivation of attacks against the FTUU is the significant buildings and other assets which it owns, including buildings in most of Ukraine’s cities. The FTUU’s direct predecessor was the trade union body of the Soviet era.
Several small unions are supporting the war drive in the east, including the Independent Miners’ Trade Union and the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU). Their leaders also happen to be members of the Fatherland Party, including Mikhail Volynets of the KVPU.
The streets of Kyiv and other cities in western Ukraine are frequently given over to attacks by rightists and neo-Nazis. Many police fear to react to emergency calls and detectives are afraid to open criminal cases against neo-Nazis. Some say they are threatened with assignment to the war front in the east if they open criminal investigations. Most rightists charged earlier this year with murder and other serious crimes have simply had charges dropped and been released from jail.
Journalists are being targeted by Kyiv’s forces. Five have been killed since the Kyiv regime’s military offensive began in April. The latest was 68 year old, veteran cameraman Anatoly Klyan. He worked for Russia’s Channel One. He was riding in a bus of relatives of army conscripts who were traveling to a Ukraine military base near Donetsk to prevent their sons from being sent into conflict.
Journalists around the world spoke out in protest last month when three of their colleagues were sentenced to prison in Egypt for plying their craft. Will they now speak out for their Russian and Ukrainian colleagues?
An antiwar demonstration called by the Ukrainian Communist Party and other organizations took place in Kharkiv on June 22. See a video here. The main slogan of the demonstration was ‘Kharkiv rise up, expel the fascists’. Other slogans expressed opposition to the war and and solidarity with the people in the Donbas region (Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts).
The Euromaidan movement held an assembly in the city on the same day to demand the banning of the Communist Party and of “separatists gatherings in the centre of Kharkiv”. At the end of the assembly, hundreds of right wing thugs attempted to march to the place where the antiwar demonstration was taking place.
The Ukrainian Communist Party (despite its name, a rather conservative organization) has been branded “separatist” by politicians and rightists. Legal proceedings to ban it have been undertaken.
The left wing association Borotba has been forced to work in clandestine conditions. Its offices have been raided by paramilitary fascist gangs, including in Kharkiv, sometimes acting under the legal cover of the National Guard. Last month, several of its leading members were snatched by paramilitary fascists in broad daylight in the centre of Kharkiv. Passersby intervened to help prevent the kidnapping.
The government has started a clampdown on Facebook, with the state prosecutor instructed to start criminal charges against anyone making “public calls for the violent change or overthrow of the constitutional order” or even “the distribution of materials inciting to such acts”.
On June 29, a mass rally by fascists and other supporters of the Kyiv regime took place in the capital city demanding an end to the ceasefire that has prevailed for the past week in the east of the country and a resumption of assaults. They got their wish two days later.
Professor Stephen Cohen, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University and New York University, has penned a new article condemning the silence of the U.S. political establishment over the war in eastern Ukraine. He writes in a lengthy article in The Nation on June 29:
In a democratic political system, the establishment media are expected to pierce the official fog of war. In the Ukrainian crisis, however, mainstream American newspapers and television have been almost as slanted and elliptical as White House and State Department statements, obscuring the atrocities, if reporting them at all, and generally relying on information from Washington and Kiev. Most Americans are thereby unknowingly being shamed by the Obama administration’s role. Those who do know but remain silent—in government, think tanks, universities and media—share its complicity.
But despite the difficult political conditions, a popular will to resist will grow because the regime of billionaires in Kyiv and its allies in the NATO countries offer nothing but downward spiralling security, economic and social conditions. In the past six months, the Ukraine currency, the Hryvnia, has lost half its purchasing power against the Euro and the U.S. dollar. Here is a July 1 ‘pots and pans’ protest in Kharkiv against the rising costs of housing and food.
Ukrainians encouraged by antiwar protests in Japan
News from Japan is lifting spirits in Ukraine. Tens of thousands took to the streets of Tokyo on June 30 to oppose the Japan ruling party’s drive to ignore the constitutional ban (Article 9) against offensive military action by the country’s armed forces.
Japan will not attempt to revise its constitution outright – an option [Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe apparently abandoned after accepting he would not win the necessary majorities in parliament and in a nationwide referendum – but will reinterpret the “pacifist” article 9, which prohibits the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.
The change, which is expected to be approved by parliament – where Abe’s Liberal Democratic party and its junior coalition partner hold majorities – would allow Japan to exercise collective self-defence for the first time since the end of the second world war.