Interview with Sergei Kirichuk of Borotba Union, published on In Defense of Marxism, May 21, 2014. Translated for In Defence of Marxism by Timur Dautov, from the Russian publication Freedom Press, May 12, 2014.
Sergei Kirichuk is a leading member of the Ukrainian socialist movement “Borotba” (Struggle) For many years he fought against the oligarchic regime of Viktor Yanukovych. But today Kirichuk and his comrades are organizing resistance to the new authorities. In response to these they have been targeted by right-wing terror and police repression. Kiev propagandists have described Kirichuk as one of the leaders of the “separatists”, and extreme right wing Ukranian nationalists have included his name in the list of “enemies of the Ukrainian nation.”
“SP”: Sergei, last winter all the television channels of the world were broadcasting the thousands-strong protests in Kiev. It looked very impressive. Why did “Borotba” not join the protest movement then?
From the beginning we did not have any illusions about the political character of that movement. Despite the fact that many thousands of people took to the streets, “Borotba” had never forgotten that even mass action can take place under reactionary flags. Back then we explained to a lot of people, including European comrades, that the neo-Nazis are a very, very important part of that movement. Many people have been saying that this is not such a big problem since the Nazis are not that numerous and they only constitute a minority. But it was an active and organised minority. A minority which had been forcing its own agenda on the rest of the movement.
And those leftists who attempted to take part in that movement have started to suffer attacks on the Maidan, from day one. When people from the Trotskyist organisation “Left Opposition” came out with social (not socialist, but social) demands, they suffered an attack straight way. They were mixed with dirt [slandered] and told that they stand for Gulags, totalitarianism, etc.
The Maidan as a movement never put forward any social demands. It never set the task of redistribution of national wealth in favour of the middle class or the poorest layers.
However, some of our comrades tried to take part in the Maidan. For instance, the Levin brothers came out on Kreshchatik, a street neighbouring the Maidan, and gave out trade union leaflets, spoke out in favour of the development of the workers’ movement. No red flags, no socialist agitation. As a result, Anatoliy Levin had a rib broken, and Denis got sprayed with gas. So from the start it was clear to us what kind of movement this is.
“SP”: Tell us, what is your native language? Do you come from the west or the east of the country?
Many people know that I come from the Western part of the country, my parents are from Volhynia, and my native language is Ukrainian. And I can say with confidence that very many Ukrainians even in the country’s West are sympathetic with the struggle of the South-East. There are very many people discontented with the regime in the west too, but people are simply afraid to voice their opinion and stay silent because of the atmosphere of terror that reigns over there. At the same time, they look with hope at what is happening in the South-East, at that struggle. And in the South-East Ukrainian-speaking citizens too have taken part in the protest movement. To reduce it to ethnic, cultural or national factors is completely wrong.
“SP”: What is your opinion of the former president Yanukovich? Is he your ally?
Everyone knows (including our friends from Europe, who visited us and witnessed our struggle against Yanukovich) that we criticised Yanukovich very sharply and have always fought against his regime. But of course we did from positions that are completely different from those voiced by the Maidan. We stood for a socialist turn in Ukraine, against that monstrous oligarchic regime which Yanukovich had created.
It is also worth pointing out that Yanukovich was a very pro-Western politician. He was trying to please the West in everything that he did. His only mistake, from the point of view of the West, was that he requested a 6-month postponement of the signing of the agreement regarding the zone of free trade with the EU. It was after this that the protest movement known as the Maidan had sparked off.
“SP”: What is wrong with the current Kiev government? Why are you not trying to establish a dialogue with it?
The thing is that the self-proclaimed government is not at all ready to have any kind of dialogue. The only arguments that they use are force and arms. It so happened that the movement in the South-East has repeated the road of the Maidan from start to finish. It began with small demonstrations, and then they grew to be bigger and more massive. No dialogue with the government could have been had at the time, for it was completely deaf to the demands of the South-East. And these demands have been simple and understandable to any person – that is, wide autonomy for the region, recognition of its social, linguistic, cultural rights, removal of the oligarchy from power. But the Kiev regime provocatively appointed the richest people as governors of the South-Eastern regions. And then, just like at the Maidan, people began occupying administrative buildings to express their protest. But when the Special Forces were thrown against them, they started to go underground, thereby starting this partisan [guerrilla] war.
“SP”: What should be the reaction of democratic Europe, civil society, democratic parties to what is happening in Ukraine?
Two days ago I said at the Bundestag that they need to exert pressure on their governments in order to bring Kiev to reason. This bloody terror, this “counter-terrorist operation” needs to be stopped, for they are simply shooting unarmed people.
Our Western colleagues from left parties cannot put pressure on the media, but at least they are capable of informing the public of what is really going on in Ukraine, of giving an independent assessment of the events, demanding the respect of elementary human rights and liberties in Ukraine. It is a very simple programme.
“SP”: As a general rule, Western media characterises the protests in the South-East of Ukraine as a movement inspired and supported by Russia. How true is this?
This mad hysteria, of course, is not true. Here in the South-East, people are fighting for their socio-economic rights. There is a very strong anti-oligarchic, anti-capitalist component in these protests. Kiev’s media describe all activity of the opposition, all protests as the doing of Putin’s agents. And they consider everyone to be Putin’s agents. If you take part in mass demonstrations for socio-economic rights – you are an agent of Putin. If some politician in the European Parliament or in a national parliament of a European country allows himself to make some critical remarks about the Kiev regime, they are declared an agent of Putin straight away. Moreover, even if some neo-Nazis in Kiev commit an armed robbery or attack peaceful people, they too are declared Putin’s agents who are just creating a scene for Russian television. Thus, whatever unpleasant or uncomfortable happens to the Kiev government, “Putin’s agents” are invariably responsible. It is because, in their opinion, he controls just about everything – in Ukraine, in Europe, and everywhere else.
“SP”: Is there any financing from Moscow?
No. The movement in the South-East is incomparable to the Maidan in terms of its technical and financial endowment and support. Victoria Nuland said that the US spent $5bn on promotion of democracy in Ukraine. And in the East of Ukraine you can see that the protest movement lacks powerful financial backing. At any rate, in those cities where we were active – in Kharkov and Odessa, I did not see any financial backing from Russia or Putin’s administration. And on the political landscape there appears to be no one who would help and finance the movement.
“SP”: You are often labelled separatists or “pro-Russian activists”. What is your opinion of the idea of the South-Eastern regions of the country joining Russia?
The “Borotba” movement has always stood for territorial integrity of Ukraine, but only for such territorial integrity which would respect the rights of the people of the South-East. We are talking here about budget, social and cultural autonomy. But, unfortunately, the Kiev regime makes every effort to tear the country apart. All the time they make various scandalous decisions, declare anyone who is against them a separatist. In our opinion, the real separatists are the Kiev government. They have unfolded a struggle against the people.
Denying the idea of federalisation of the county, the oligarchs, for instance, are creating their own private armies. Thus, they are going down the feudal path, where every suzerain had their own detachments. They are creating these formations with non-transparent sources of financial backing, and without any kind of civic control over these armed formations whatsoever. That is, by going against federalisation, they are standing for feudalisation of the country.
If there was no oligarchic regime in Russia, if there were, if not socialist, then at least social reforms in Russia, which would correspond with the interests of wide layers of the toilers, then many people in Ukraine would be disposed towards a close union with a Russia like this.
Nevertheless, many Ukrainian citizens are looking at Russia with hope. But here we are talking not even of pro-Russian sentiments, but only about saving one’s own life, stability, peace on the territory of South-Eastern regions.
“SP”: What do you and your comrades think about the Russian president Vladimir Putin? Do you consider him your ally? What do you think about the Russian opposition?
We have always been Putin’s opponents. You are aware that we have close connections with the Russian organisation “Left Front”, which was strongly opposed to president Putin. And we always supported our comrades when they suffered from repression. We protested at the Russian embassy and carried out other solidarity events. We supported the prisoners of the Bolotniy trial [a prominent political trial against certain activists of the 2012 protest movement in Russia, left wing activists among them], helped Russian activists find refuge in Ukraine from political repression. No one can suspect us of being Putin’s allies.
“SP”: Tell us, how does the mass protest movement in the South-East look from the inside? What are its differences and similarities with the Maidan?
Mass events are in the past now, for the Kiev government created such an atmosphere of fear and terror that many people are simply afraid of taking to the streets. But when people had been coming out on the streets, you could see two major component parts. The first one was the citizens who wanted maximum co-operation and union with Russia. The second component part was anti-capitalist, anti-oligarchic; people who were outraged by the fact that the Kiev government is appointing billionaire oligarchs as governors of the South-Eastern regions and has no intentions whatsoever of carrying out any reforms in the interests of the people.
But even among the so-called pro-Russian component were some very different people. There were those who spoke of historical and cultural commonality with the people of Russia. But there were others, who maintained a very pragmatic vision. These are young workers, engineers, who want to work at technologically advanced enterprises which are currently orientated towards the Russian market. They do not want to turn into “zarobitchan’e” [Ukrainian migrant workers] who are forced to travel around the world looking for employment.
“SP”: There are many accounts claiming that Russian nationalists took part in the protests in the South-East. Is that true?
I can say that Russian nationalists did take part in these protests, but there were very few of them. And the difference between the participation of nationalists in the protests in the South-East and on the Maidan was in the fact that they were unable to force their own agenda neither in Kharkov, nor in Odessa, and not even in the Donbas. We have made sharp criticisms of Russian nationalists, and they criticised us in turn. But here was a situation where the Left was a stronger, more organised side.
“SP”: In the beginning of May the whole world was shaken by the Odessa tragedy…
I believe that the Odessa massacre is an issue which should be in the centre of European and world politics. The Odessa tragedy is quintessential to what is happening in Ukraine. Many European politicians limit themselves to saying that this, in their words, is a very difficult and complex question. But this is not an answer. It is equally insufficient to say that both sides are guilty, as some Ukrainian media tend to claim.
First of all, it is important to understand that this conflict is not exhausted by the clash of just two parties alone. You see, there were neo-Nazis and football fans, and people who protested the Kiev government. But there was also the police, which is controlled by the Kiev government. So in this conflict there were at least three sides.
Football fans and units of the Maidan self-defence started arriving in Odessa on the 2nd May. They wanted to hold a so-called march for the unity of Ukraine, which had ended in bloodbaths in other cities. This is a very serious question to put to the Kiev government – why did they not stop nationalist demonstrations in these conditions of civil war?
More than two thousand people were gathered to Odessa from different Ukrainian cities. Some of them were armed. And this is another question for the Kiev government – why did they permit such a high concentration of armed people in the city?
An attack on the activists of the march for the unity of Ukraine soon followed. The attackers were some unidentified people in masks and with ribbons made from red tape. They acted with tacit approval of Kiev-controlled police. And so, we should ask – who controls the police? Clearly, not the activists of the anti-government movement…
The opposition camp on the Kulikovo Field [a square in front of the Trade Union Building] consisted mainly of older people, women, peaceful protesters who did not possess any weapons. They found shelter in the Trade Union Building. Neo-Nazis set this building on fire, many were burnt alive, many died having jumped out of windows, and many were finished off once they were on the ground.
Our comrade Andrey Brazhevsky died in the Trade Union Building. He jumped from the third floor of the burning building and survived, but the fascists had beaten him to death with sticks. His mother was there at the time as well. She saw that one of the guys jumped out of a window, saw that the fascists were trying to finish him off. She threw herself on him, covered him with her body and saved him. She did not know that her own son at this exact moment was being beaten by the fascists and that he would die from these beatings.
It is insufficient to state that this was a tragedy. It was a planned, well co-ordinated and planned massacre in the centre of one of Ukraine’s largest cities.
“SP”: On 7th May in Moscow the President of Switzerland and Vladimir Putin announced another plan of de-escalating the situation in Ukraine. Does it have any future?
The Geneva Agreements had a similar content, but it is obvious that the Kiev regime did not have any intention of observing them, and even if it did, it has absolutely no means of doing that. When we talk about disarming all these neo-Nazi gangs, we need to understand that the Kiev government is not in control of most of them and has no loyal forces which would be capable of disarming them. The Kiev government is held hostage by these gangs and cannot do anything about them.
“SP”: What do you think about the upcoming presidential election on 25th May?
We do not recognise this election because it is being carried out by a self-declared government which constantly violates democratic rights and procedures. This government initiated and implemented changes in the law according to which the election will be considered valid even if it takes place at only one polling station. Can you really consider such an approach democratic?
Many times now we have called on candidates to resign from this election. Unfortunately, the CPU [Communist Party] thinks they ought to participate, their candidate is running [Editors note: The candidate of the Communist Party withdrew from the presidential race on 16 May]. But we do not want to take part in this farce.
“SP”: What do you think about the referendums in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions?
Initially we were quite sceptical about these referendums and thought that in order to hold them there needs to be some sort of a stabilisation of the situation. But today, in conditions of violence and terror, we take an understanding approach towards the people who held and took part in the referendums. The republics that have been proclaimed in the Donbas are not a result of some moves by Putin, but a direct result of the Kiev government’s actions, which surpasses the worst examples of fascist propaganda in its lies and cynicism.
“SP”: What mistakes have you made in your political struggle?
The “Borotba” movement, which always orientated towards mass mobilisation of the working class and the youth, had believed that we had several years of relative democracy ahead of us, that there will be such conditions in which, one way or another, the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of the press would be respected. Unfortunately, this calculation turned out to be mistaken. We turned out to be unprepared for direct terror. Perhaps it is our mistake that we found ourselves unarmed in these conditions. Our organisation is de facto currently being crushed throughout the country. Open repressions against the forces of the Left have begun in the past few days. Our office in Kharkov was attacked by unidentified people in black uniforms who have confiscated everything – red flags, loudspeakers and megaphones, a projector, all our agitation. Work of the organisation in the city is blocked. We have information in Odessa that arrest of the local leader of “Borotba” Alexei Albu is being prepared; he is mayoral candidate in the city and was forced to leave Odessa. In Kiev, the flat of Andriy Manchuk, who is the most well-known left journalist in Ukraine, was searched – some assault rifle-wielding people burst into his home. Overall, we are in a complete state of illegality. Some of our comrades temporarily left Ukraine. Those who remain live in illegality, and we have asked them to refrain from any public activity and concentrate on illegal work.
I am currently in Athens myself, where I took part in the conference “European Anti-Fascist Meeting”. I was not planning to leave Ukraine for long. On 9th May I went to Berlin to participate in a conference in Germany, but there I received information about the possibility of my arrest, and decided to stay here for some time.
The Nazis have compiled lists of “enemies of the Ukrainian nation” and are planning repressions aimed at people from those lists. Almost all “Borotba” activists are on those lists, as well as ordinary people, so hundreds and hundreds are in danger… Now the regime too is compiling its own lists of unreliables, so I think that in the coming months Ukraine will see an atmosphere of Right terror.
But we have to go down this road. We have no other choice.