Bonus Episode: A Report from Ukrainian Anarchists
In this emergency Ukrainian war episode, I'm joined by Stan, the coeditor of Assembly, an anarchist website in Ukraine. Besides their journalism, Assembly's main role, as he explains in our talk, is organization and mutual aid in neighborhoods of Kharkov. In our conversation, Stan and I talk about the situation in Kharkov, the role of anarchism at this time of crisis, and what you can do to help. Below you can find a variety of links shared by Stan about the situation and how you can help. Below that is a transcript of my conversation with Stan.
More from Assembly, Stan's website:
Stan's comrades Black Flag (including donation information):
Story about Yulia Koval, who was killed while transporting Kharkov residents to safety: https://assembly.org.ua/molodaya-harkovskaya-volonterka-pogibla-pri-obstrele-saltovki-pytayas-spasti-lyudey/
To give to Solidarity Initiative, an effort helping refugees, deserters, and pacifists: https://nowar.solidarite.online/
Updates on radical resistance to the invasion in Russia:
To read about the 1920 founding of the Anarchist Black Cross (which originated in Kharkov)!: https://assembly.org.ua/dni-v-istorii-harkova-25-26-noyabrya-1920-g/
Here's the transcript of our talk, done by Stepan Malkov:
Hello to all, this is Stan Kebalnik, co-editor of the local online magazine assembly.org.ua. Maybe you have seen our English translation on libcom.org and we promote anarchist agenda in poor neighborhoods of Kharkov, the second largest Ukrainian city from the first day of Putler’s invasion surrounded by Russian troops from the north and east. Many thanks from our crew to Graham for an invitation to tell you about the actual situation here. Now, we continue our work, but I was a director involved in emergency response, both by helping with certain activities with other people and coordinate the horizontal solution of rising issues through neighborhood chats. I think this is the maximum what can now be useful to our community, so ready to answer.
Graham: What's it like where you are, and in Ukraine in general? We've all heard firsthand reports on the BBC or NPR, but I would love to just start by hearing about your experience.
Ok let’s start. In general, on all fronts this week has been established a certain balance, and only in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions Putler military and their local proxies are slowly continuing to advance, yes. In other directions, both armies are strengthening their positions, bringing up new forces, and preparing for new steps. Several towns are totally razed to the ground, like the Aleppo in Syria. The biggest of them is Mariupol, about 2200 civilians have been killed there in the two weeks of the siege. Today, figures from the city authorities. There is a similar town in our region, Izyum, about 100km south of here, between Kharkov and Donbas, but as for our city, the shelling has become several times weaker than the beginning of this week, but in the northern and eastern districts they continue to bomb residential areas, civil infrastructure, and everything they can reach. From time to time, of course, not permanently. In short, mostly positional warfare, and what then, we’ll see. Something like that.
Graham: It seems, especially from the reporting I've seen on Assembly, that mutual aid is breaking out all over the place. Can you tell us what the people of Ukraine, anarchist and non-anarchist alike, are doing to come together in cooperation and solidarity?
Unfortunately, not quite so. Yes, our reports are talking about a really large humanitarian organization in Kharkov which allows to more or less provide the population with necessary goods, but it mainly has a vertical nature. From the regional administration, city council, police, retail chains, other big companies, for example, food factories. Yes, grassroots efforts limited by transport sharing and providing food and medicine to those who cannot leave their homes. Perhaps with onset of silence we also begin organized mutual aid in the restoration of housing, and we will try to develop it of course, but it’s not yet possible to predict whether it will be massive. Unfortunately, the experience of responding to the hurricanes in the other states, for example, shows that so-called disaster communism usually ends with these disasters.
Graham: On the other side, it seems like there is lots of nationalism breaking out in Ukraine, and Crimethinc has published articles by Ukrainian anarchists with different perspectives on how to think about the conflict and international aid. Could you tell me your perspective on this question? How are anarchists dealing with the battle against Russian imperialism considering it could also be seen as a battle for Ukrainian nationalism and even a new form of Western imperialism?
Concerning nationalism, it’s a particularly interesting question. In my opinion, what is happening now is not the growing popularity of right parties and movements, but rather consolidation of all political sectors around the president and the government supported by him. Zelensky’s rating now exceeds 90%, by the way. Yes. Whether this will only lead to the strengthening of the bureaucratic hierarchy, or maybe the mass movement in public life and the increased interest in politics will eventually rise to an anarchist movement, like in the USA, after both World Wars, for example, this question is still open. At this moment, all anarchism and all anarchist groups in Ukraine admit the fact that such a struggle in the country resettled into the background due to the really ruthless extermination of civilian population by Russian bombs and rockets. With the territorial defense of Kyiv, takes part anarchist group resistance committee supported by supply and volunteer network Operation Solidarity, you probably have heard about them, they are the most famous abroad. But besides, you know, the state and capital, and the statement is totally replaced by condemnation of Russian imperialism. And they haven’t been seen in any social conflicts since the Maidan. So, as for me, they are in fact pro-western liberal progressives with anarchist symbols. Another group involved in the defense of Kyiv is our old friends from The Black Flag. They participate in the social struggle for more than 5 years until the last day of peace and think that the need for a truce of all forces in Ukraine is only temporary, only time to stop this genocide. But will it happen that they only help to Ukrainian state to strengthen self after the victory and become dictatorship like is now in Russia? We don’t know the answer, so we help them, but at the same time, don’t go to follow their example. We stay where we’re most needed and do what we can better. In addition, even if we were sure, was in city to fight in Ukrainian troops, we wouldn’t be able to do this here. In Kyiv, everyone can join the territorial defense, while in Kharkov, they require to have combat experience, or attitude to military service by profession. Our city is mostly defended by the regular army, and their forces seems to be enough for it.
Graham: Nestor Makhno is a major icon of anarchist resistance across the world. Is he an icon like that in Ukraine? Does the struggle today in any way resemble the struggle during the Russian civil war?
About Makhno, I cannot tell you about the whole Ukraine, but our winter anonymous poll in one of the big Kharkov telegram channels show that 17% of respondents would support libertarian forces in that time. But even if these people are ready to support anarchism in principle, they are afraid to even imagine making it a reality. During the civil war, the nationalist government of the Ukrainian popular republic was in the way of Kaledin’s white guards against the radical left spectrum. Today, social revolutionaries, both authoritarian and anti-authoritarian, are extremely few in number. So the situation is exactly the opposite of what it was then.
Graham: What can my listeners do to help? Is there any specific action we can take? Is there any specific message you would like spread to the international anarchist community and the English speaking world?
What can do to help? First of all, anarchists should tell more about their attempts to fight the capitalist slaughter from below and to spread such info in different languages. We need to support people in Russia persecuted for such acts. We need help to Ukrainian refugees and homeless people, buy all what we can. You’re also welcome to send us such reports and we’re happy to translate it into Russian and Ukrainian. Our media is going to work on the restoration of the city social fabric, once the end of this nightmare, and you could support us via our fundraising page. Payment details to donate to The Black Flag you also could find in the channel. For example, several hours ago we got an email from members of CNT-AIT France about the launching of an initiative for solidarity with pacifists, deserters, refugees from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. The name of the initiative is Olga Taratuta, who have created the anarchist Black Cross in Kharkov a century ago. On the Assembly, there is an article about it, and you can find it. So, let’s come together and put into practice no borders, no nations. Long live anarchy!