‘We are for May 9, they are against it’: Anti-fascists in Donetsk challenge Ukrainian nationalists

By Igor Gashkov

May 9: In the Donbass, May 9 remains one of the main holidays. In Kiev, they want to make people work on this day. On the front line, right-wing radicals from the Azov and Aidar battalions hang fascist symbols so that the fighters of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) can see them through binoculars. As local residents told RIA Novosti, the military situation is often aggravated on Victory Day. 

Photos: RIA Novosti
Swastika in the steppes of Ukraine

The May holidays are not the most peaceful time on the line of separation between the unrecognized republics and Ukraine. “In past years, on separate sectors of the front during the holidays, clashes intensified,” Donetsk resident Evgeny Golyshkin tells RIA Novosti. In the DPR nobody is surprised that right-wing radicals use May 9 for shootings and periodically flout Nazi symbols.

“The Ukrainian side has no prohibition on them, the one law that was officially introduced isn’t enforced. I don’t know of a single case of criminal prosecution. And here is the result: fascist symbols can be seen not only from right-wing nationalists of volunteer battalions, but from employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs,” says Golyshkin. 

Evgeny Golyshkin
On the collusion in this respect, RIA Novosti spoke with former deputy of the Odessa Regional Council Alexey Albu. According to him, from the DPR he more than once has watched through binoculars as the extremist volunteers who arrived on the front lowered the Ukrainian flag, raising red-black banners instead.

“I saw fascist symbols on the other side of the front line myself — two runes on the chevron of the Azov fighters,” the anti-fascist soldier Ayo Beness, who came from Latvia, told RIA Novosti. “The SS emblem used by the Nazis.” In the DPR they know how Ukrainian nationalists behave on the territories controlled by Kiev. “At mass events, concerts, clubs, right-wing radicals come with swastikas on their sleeves, demonstrate carrying fascist flags, offend Russian and Russian-speaking people if political disputes are involved,” says Benes.

Cult of nationalism, repression and censorship

The DPR and Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) arose in the wake of protests by local residents against the coup d’etat committed by Maidan activists. Anti-fascism in the republics is an important common denominator. This means unwillingness to tolerate the new Ukrainian order: ethnocracy, neoliberal reforms and the severance of economic ties with Russia. The narrowing of political freedom also plays a role. Left-communist forces were banned, their supporters condemned by Kiev to internal emigration.

“The current political system in Ukraine in many respects resembles fascism by the following criteria: absolute militarization of society, the implantation of a monoethnic policy with the cult of “right heroes,” complete suppression of political dissent, open political repression and censorship,” explains Golyshkin.

Albu, who began his career as a regional deputy in Odessa, told RIA Novosti the same. On May 2, 2014, he was in the House of Trade Unions and witnessed the mass murder of pro-Russian activists by Ukrainian nationalists. During the fire, he was not injured, but upon exiting the building he was beaten by supporters of Euromaidan.

“Today in Ukraine, all roads are closed to a person who adheres to communist or social democratic views. One ideology, Ukrainian nationalism, dominates, and it’s almost impossible to touch this subject, even tangentially. In Odessa, not so long ago, there were rallies for non-political reasons — protests against power outages. The nationalist militants attacked the demonstrators, immobilized people, and brought them to the police,” says Albu. In his opinion, many are simply afraid to oppose the right-wing radicals in Ukraine. 

Afro-Latvian anti-fascist Ayo Beness (2nd from right).
Can their views change?

In the DPR and LPR, it is widely believed that the wave of Ukrainian nationalism would decline if the authorities in Kiev desired it. Extremist violence was not among the main problems of the country until 2014. Its explosive growth is attributed to the post-Maidan restructuring of the information field. The abolition of censorship and the return of conciliatory commentators to the television networks could cool off Ukrainian society.

“As a matter of fact, Ukraine has been force-feeding people the ‘right’ TV, they have imposed a restriction on information — and suddenly radical nationalists have become attractive, a kind of bias in the eyes of a frightened voter,” said Golyshkin. “All this was imposed by the desire to hide the problems that emerged in society. However, even in such conditions, the nationalists were able to convince not more than a third of society of their ideas.” A change in mass sentiments is possible, and in a short time, he believes.

Fighters of the DPR and LPR are convinced by communication with captured Ukrainian radicals that right-wing populism can quickly come to naught. “They said that they went to fight against the ‘separatists,’ which Russia is allegedly behind. We tried to persuade them, explained that it was not Russia – that the people of Donbass wanted to secede from Ukraine – and that they were sent to kill by corrupt politicians and oligarchs. One 38-year-old prisoner answered: ‘Everyone has his own truth.’

“Another young man admitted that he was unemployed (he is a physicist by training). He was forcibly dragged to the military commissariat, and from there he literally went straight to the front. He does not want to fight, but he does not understand politics at all. He asked to be sent back to Ukraine, to go home. He said that he would not fight any more and all he is fed up with all of this,” Ayo Beness concluded.


Translated by Greg Butterfield

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