By JOHN LESLIE
Beginning on Sept. 3, the Ukraine Solidarity Network-US (USN) sponsored a national tour of Ukrainian and Russian antiwar activists opposed to Russia’s war on Ukraine. The tour, titled “Resisting Russian Imperialism: Ukraine’s Struggle for Self-Determination,“ featured talks in Chicago, New York, and the San Francisco Bay Area and offered an opportunity to hear Ukrainians and Russians in solidarity with Ukraine’s struggle for self-determination.
The tour included four activists who shared their first-hand experiences of Russia’s genocidal war and the brutal repression of the antiwar opposition in Russia: Hanna Perekhoda, a Ukrainian historian; Ilya Budraitskis, a Russian author and co-founder of Posle (“After”); Ilya Matveev, a researcher on Russian and comparative political economy; and Denys Bondar, a Ukrainian writer and Assistant Professor of Physics at Tulane University.
The speaking tour kicked off with a panel featuring Perekhoda, Budraitskis, and Bondar at the Socialism 2023 Conference in Chicago that was attended by about 70 people. The presentations were followed by a lively discussion. A meeting of the USN to discuss possible next steps followed the panel discussion. On Sept. 5, an event with the same speakers at Loyola University attracted 100 people, including members of the local Ukrainian and Russian communities. In New York, speakers Hanna Perekhoda and Ilya Budraitskis were guests on Democracy Now where they talked about the authoritarian nature of the Putin regime and the nature of the war.
On “Democracy Now,” Perekhoda said, “… most of the Ukrainians living in any part of the country are facing a threat of Russian missiles targeting their residential areas, because Russia has engaged itself in a strategy of terror against civilians. And this continues, as we can witness it with this horrible attack on a city in the Donetsk region. And yeah, in fact, I am from this region, and it’s very painful for me to see all the streets and cities that I spent my childhood in to be completely destroyed by the ongoing war.”
She continued by saying that Putin has strived to gain “the full control of Ukraine in order to prevent it to become a prosperous and democratic country, because it may awaken some dangerous ideas among Russians themselves, who are also tired of the autocratic regime and of the extreme inequality in Russia.” Budraitskis echoed Perekhoda saying, “This criminal war is not just a war against Ukraine. It’s a war of the Russian regime against its own society.”
“Ukrainian workers need your support”
On Saturday, Sept. 9, Perekhoda, Budraitskis, and Bondar spoke at an event at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan, attended by more than 60 people, which was also live streamed. During her presentation, Perekhoda spoke about the notion that the “war started because NATO encroached on Russia’s zone of influence.” Saying that this assertion is “deeply misleading,” she pointed to the fact that Finland, a country with a more than 1300 km border with Russia, joined NATO this year and Russia moved no troops to that border. She asked, “If NATO was an objective threat to Russia, why are there no troops on that border and even no propaganda presenting Finland as a military threat?”
Perekhoda continued, “what this ‘Russia was provoked’ argument openly tells us is that if your country is not a great power, like Russia, China, or the U.S., you are forever condemned to be someone’s zone of influence, or to put it simply, a colony.”
Perekhoda closed her talk by discussing the struggles Ukrainian people face as they fight the Russian imperialist invasion. They are also confronted by austerity, corruption, and attacks on labor rights at home. “Ukrainian authorities are trying to put the burden of this war on the poorest. They launched a liberalization campaign. They have undertaken anti-social reforms. They try to dismantle labor legislation under the conditions of war. … In both of these battles for freedom and for dignity, Ukrainian workers need your support.”
Budraitskis expressed agreement with Perekhoda’s stated reasons for the war. “I think it’s very important to stress that one of the main reasons for this war was the need of Putin and for his clique to preserve his regime, to expand their control over its own society … after the start of the invasion, you can see the transformation of the Russian regime into a type of open semi-fascist dictatorship.”
He continued, “Also, it’s important to remember that this war is not only about domestic politics, it’s not only about keeping power in the country. For Putin, for the Russian elite, it’s also extremely important to expand their imperial domination over those countries, those parts of the world they consider to be the Russian historical lands which they believe are a kind of natural sphere of their influence.”
In his talk, he put the reactionary character of the Russian regime in the context of the growth of the far right internationally and pointed to the extreme repression inside Russia that accompanied the beginning of the war. “It’s very important in terms of solidarity to understand (that) progressive left-wing socialist forces in the U.S. and the Russian antiwar activists, the Ukrainian resistance, are in fact part of the same movement. The movement which is fighting against imperialism, which is fighting against various racist, reactionary ideas … it’s also very important to listen to the voices of those who oppose imperialism aggression.”
Denys Bondar opened his talk by discussing the extent of support for the war effort inside Ukraine, based on polls noting that a high percentage of Ukrainians would continue to fight even if aid from the west were cut off and even in the event of a Russian nuclear strike on a Ukrainian city. Bondar continued by talking about the denuclearization and demilitarization of Ukraine after the collapse of the USSR. Following the fall of the USSR, Ukraine had the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world. He pointed out that many of the weapons turned over to Russia as part of international agreements, which were signed by Ukraine in exchange for respect for territorial integrity and security assurances, are now being used against Ukraine.
Bondar closed his remarks with the call: “Victory to Ukraine! Democracy for Russia and Belorussia equals peace in Europe!”
The third and final leg of the tour was at UC Berkeley in the San Francisco Bay Area. This time the featured speakers were Ilya Matveev and Hanna Perekhoda. More than 70 people were in the audience, mostly from the community. Ilya and Hanna were well received.
Building solidarity and upcoming campaigns
Workers’ Voice unconditionally supports Ukraine’s rights to self-determination and self-defense. This means that we support their right to ask for and obtain arms for that defense from any source that they can find, and here in the U.S. it means to actively organize for workers’ aid to Ukrainian workers who are active in the struggle for self-determination against the invasion.
We also understand that imperialist arms come with a thousand strings attached. It was in this sense that Trotskyists in the era of World War II supported China’s right to use imperialist-supplied arms to fight against Japanese imperialism and of the Ethiopians to arm themselves against Italian fascism, while explaining the real limits and aims of “friendly imperialism” and why an independent working-class movement of solidarity was needed to win the struggle.
This is also why supporting the Workers Aid to Ukraine Campaign is a priority for our organization. Building worker-to-worker union solidarity through Workers Aid Convoys, which have already brought aid into eastern Ukraine three times, helps strengthen Ukrainian unions in their fightback against Ukrainian bosses and the neoliberal Zelensky regime. Building direct ties to the Ukrainian left and independent unions is essential. Workers’ Voice comrades have already raised thousands of dollars on campus and in our workplaces to aid Ukrainian workers. We support the recent appeal by the Kryvyi Rih section of the Independent Trade Union of Ukrainian Miners for aid to build drinking water infrastructure in the wake of the destruction of Kakhovka dam by Russian forces.
We also understand that arms alone are not enough to ensure a truly independent Ukraine, given the agreements that the Zelensky government has made with the IMF and other financial institutions. We support the cancellation of Ukraine’s debt while understanding that the defeat of the Russian imperialist invasion is the first priority. As Blanca Missé wrote in Truthout: “The struggle to ensure the liberation of Ukraine does not end with the necessary defeat and total withdrawal of the Russian troops. The political economy of self-determination entails not only the entire reappropriation by the Ukrainian people of the land and assets expropriated and plundered by the Russian state and its oligarchs, but also the formulation of a workers’ reconstruction that refuses the neoliberal concessions imposed by the IMF and the EU” (Real Peace in Ukraine Means Ending Russian Invasion and US-EU Neocolonial Debt).
Drawing a positive balance sheet on this tour, the USN plans to follow up with a grassroots campaign to cancel Ukraine’s foreign debt. Western imperialist interests want to burden Ukraine with debt in exchange for reconstruction aid. Part of this is an imperialist program of privatization, economic reforms that attack labor rights, and the control of Ukraine’s land by Western corporations. Canceling Ukraine’s debt is the key to true self-determination. It is the responsibility of the U.S. working class to ensure that all material support sent to Ukraine has no strings attached; that is to say that money must be sent in the form of grants and not in exchange for predatory loans, privatizations, or future appropriations of Ukrainian assets.
The Ukrainian working class is caught between a rock and a hard place—repealing the murderous invasion by Russian imperialism and fighting capitalist austerity, debt, and neoliberalism from Zelensky and the West. Building support for the Ukrainians’ right to self-determination and their right to self-defense against invasion is an urgent task. Solidarity with the Ukrainian working class is essential for socialist and progressive-minded people. We urge you to get active. Join the USN and help to form local campaign committees; support the Workers’ Aid initiatives to oppose Ukraine’s debt and neoliberalism. We believe that a free and independent Ukraine is possible—a Ukraine that is not under the thumb of either Western or Russian imperialism.
Photo: Hanna Perekhoda