Interviewed by Aleksey Sahnin
April 22, 2017: On April 20, Hitler’s birthday, the extreme right in Kiev once again attacked left activist Stanislav Sergienko, stabbing him while recording the assault on video. Shortly afterwards, neo-Nazis operating in the Ukrainian police published a blog about “new separatist safaris” on one of the sites controlled by the presidential administration, which also published information about other leftists. Aleksey Sahnin talked with Stas about rightist violence, the persecution of dissidents and the current position of the left in Ukraine. We urge our readers to support Stanislav Sergienko by contributing to the fund for his medical treatment.
Stas, how you now feel now?
More or less okay, though my legs hurt terribly. The attackers stabbed my legs with a knife. I can’t get out of bed, I can’t walk.
Did you see the attackers? What they looked like?
Yes, I saw them, but did not have time to distinguish details. They were waiting for me at home, sitting on a bench. I walked past them. They got up, walked behind me. One started kneeing me in the face, and the second struck several blows with a knife in the thigh.
They were not dressed in nationalist uniforms, but as ordinary people. But perhaps they had previously staked out where I lived. They were waiting for me there, where I rent an apartment, but where I’m not registered.
When they cut me, I fell down and saw that they were filming. Then they started to run away, and I began to call for help. A man ran over who called an ambulance and the police. They arrived fifteen minutes later. I was taken to the emergency room, where they cleaned and bandaged the wound to stop the bleeding. The police took my statement.
How did your parents react?
I told my mother — she freaked out, but I don’t know what she thinks. She doesn’t live in Kiev.
A year ago you were also attacked by nationalists. Do you think these were the same people?
Yes, they attacked me at a May Day demonstration last year. Most likely then and today it was the extreme right. I think so, because before that I was threatened. Especially after the loud protests against the cancellation of scholarships for many students.
But that was a purely social demand?
Yes. We were at a meeting of the students with the Deputy Minister of Education, who came to tell the students why the government canceled their scholarships. But among our slogans were anti-war ones. They latched on to the anti-war slogans and started spinning everywhere that we were separatists. And then a barrage of threats began. My picture was spread all around by the right-wing on social media.
And who made the threats?
Different people. But mainly from the far right. Type C14 and Misanthropic Division, etc.
Why did they attack you? What are you doing? Why do they think you are dangerous?
I don’t think that I’m dangerous. But the question isn’t about me, but them. They maintain their position at the expense of political terror against opponents. They don’t care who it was: me or you. Or any other leftist activist.
But still, you were attacked for a second time, there might be a third.
Yes. But, for example, on January 19, at the anti-fascist action in memory of Markelov and Baburova, there were attacks. It was publicized by the right, and there are many examples of attacks on others. For example, in the latest action against the Labor Code, there were very aggressive actions by the right wing against Zahar Popovich.
Is the left under threat in Ukraine? Is there harassment on a regular basis?
Lately, yes. For example, less than a month ago, in Lvov, there was a knife fight between anarchists and Nazis after an ultra-rightist attacked an anarchist.
Do you think that the nationalists carried out orders in these cases? Are they fighting on behalf of the regime?
It seems to me that this is not so in my case. I don’t see any interest by the authorities to organize street violence. Especially not directed against a large and organized movement, not as it did previously — for example, against the Communist Party, which I did not support. That was an example of the use of the far right by the authorities.
The nationalists have a feeling of impunity. Their friends and colleagues are connected with the authorities. Many members of the extreme right work in the Interior Ministry, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). It gives them a sense of impunity.
If we talk about the persecution of our action on scholarships — on the one hand, this was done by paid “trolls” of Poroshenko, and on the other hand, a grassroots initiative of far-right nationalists. In this case, their interests converged. But this is not always the case.
|Photo by Antonio Barhatkova|
Did you see how Ukrainian media described the attack on you? For example, the site “Censor” published a post of some nationalist, who writes that a “separatist safari” is just beginning, and so on. And there are pictures of you, Alena Lyashev, Vladimir Ishchenko and others.
I haven’t seen the news.
The “nationalist” left responded characteristically to this attack. None of them expressed sympathy and solidarity. On the contrary, they regret only that I or Sergei Kirichuk will now “sell your story in the West.” But they are also vulnerable, despite their strained jokes. Where is everybody?
I did not follow their reaction. It’s just sectarianism, not worth paying attention to. All these people – followers of [Dmitry] Mrachnik here or [Alexander] Volodarsky there — have absolutely no influence in Ukraine. These are very isolated, closed sects, and paying attention to their opinion would not really be worth it. Another thing is that they are engaged in direct squealing to the right wing. Especially Volodarsky. And it is a problem that poses a threat to many leftist activists in Ukraine.
Why this lack of solidarity?
There’s been a polarization that occurred during the Maidan. These people saw a kind of revolution. And they suffered. But once again: these are individual characters, very small groups that do not have any impact on the workplace or social movement in Ukraine. If there was a movement, then there would be solidarity. And when there is only a sect, what can you say.
What is your opinion on the strategy of the left in Ukraine? Which issues are the most important?
For me it is an open question. I have no panacea. The left is very much out of touch with its social class. It consists mainly of intellectuals. It’s time to more actively engage with the working class. The big problem is that the left is lagging behind events, rather than developing some kind of strategy, a plan to achieve its goals. These issues need to be discussed, but the absence of strategy remains a universal problem.
The struggle for peace must have an important place in the work of the left. In this respect, my position is clear: I do not support any of the parties. I stand for peace talks. The war which Ukraine is in today only benefited the ruling elites in Ukraine, the EU and Russia. While the working class of Ukraine and the Donbass gets nothing except increasing utility bills and thousands of deaths. After all, it is not the son of Poroshenko dying, but a mother of many children or a simple miner, a worker at a factory.
Can a serious left alternative emerge in today’s Ukraine? Can it withstand the ultra-right?
I don’t know; it requires in-depth scientific analysis. The main question is: what is the left? I have no answers, it all depends on many factors.
What are your plans now?
For now I need to recover, but we’ll see. I plan to continue my social activism. For example, to follow through on this matter of the attack. Because over the past three years, none of the neo-Nazis who attacked the left have been convicted or even prosecuted. So I want to bring more attention to this issue to achieve results.
After the Maidan, where the right-wing played a huge role, and with the outbreak of war, the liberals formed an alliance with the right, giving them enormous influence and impunity. It is this impunity I would like to destroy.
Translated by Greg Butterfield