This interview was conducted by Oleg Vernik with comrade Sergei, an activist of the Ukrainian Socialist League who is currently fighting in the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the Donetsk region. Many socialist and trade union activists in Ukraine stood up for their country after the armed aggression of Russian imperialist capital against Ukraine and it is very important for us to know about their motivations, their sentiments and their socialist work amongst Ukrainian soldiers.
O.V.: Sergei, socialist greetings to you from all our comrades in the MSL and USL. Tell us, how did you end up at the front? Did you have any combat experience? What is your military speciality and how do you apply it at the front?
Sergei: Greetings to you, Oleg, and to all our comrades. I had no military or army experience until the start of Russia's imperialist aggression against Ukraine in 2014. I was deemed medically unfit for service back in 2006. I had never been interested in anything military and was a pacifist and anti-militarist in my left-wing beliefs. After the Maidan victory in 2014, when the Russian aggressors attacked my country, I had the opportunity to change my attitude towards "pacifism" somewhat, to make it more class-based, closer to the real situation of the Ukrainian people's struggle against the imperialist aggressor.
Maidan 2014 is for me a complex and complex phenomenon. It is unfortunate that its left flank was much weaker than its right flank. Nevertheless, its important achievement was a mass grassroots popular protest movement against Yanukovich's authoritarian regime and for the expansion of pan-democratic rights and freedoms. Russia took advantage of the difficult situation in Ukraine in the spring of 2014 to send its troops into Crimea and Donbass. It became clear that the obvious evil could not be defeated by the goodness of abstract pacifism and that to stand up to the aggressors we would have to go to war.
I joined the army as a volunteer. Clever people told me how to circumvent health restrictions. The medical commission declared me fit for service and sent me to a training camp. There I immediately declared that I wanted to become an artilleryman. Once I got acquainted with a fellow officer who told me that artillery is now the main striking force of all armies and the most effective means of warfare.
I was training to be a 120mm mortar commander. After graduating from the training programme, I immediately went to the front near Donetsk. There we were confronted by regular Russian troops, who had plenty of round-calibre artillery and unlimited ammunition. The only way to fight such an enemy was to outclass them in terms of accuracy.
Parity in the war with the huge Russian army was then provided by drones - unmanned aerial vehicles, and tablets with programs for artillery firing. We were much smaller and our weapons were much weaker, but we were very effective and motivated. And the reason is simple - the Russian invasion army was inherently extremely reactionary and counter-revolutionary. The Ukrainian army was, if I may say so, somewhat revolutionary, fighting for the independence of our country, Ukraine. And such forces are always stronger than any "contras" and pro-Russian "proxies".
In 2017, I was wounded and had to leave the army for treatment.
But with the start of the full-blown Russian invasion on 24 February 2022, I went back to volunteer at the front.
I am now at the front firing 60mm mortars and 73mm recoilless field guns. My battalion acts as lightly armed infantry. We move through the forest belts, surround enemy positions, force the Russians to surrender or retreat. Light field guns of small calibre are best suited for this kind of warfare. We are fighting in the Donetsk region. The natural zone here is steppes and fields. Small calibre guns allow us to operate stealthily and inconspicuously.
I trained all my battalion's artillery crews myself. I developed the training programme, the tactics. Generals prepare for past wars. I, on the other hand, devised ways of warfare for my unit that were relevant to current events.
According to Russian norms, the training of an artillery unit takes two months, and another three weeks are spent on combat readiness. I developed a training programme for an artillery unit in 10 days. And I teach my team the principle of interchangeability. When a gunner can become a squad leader at any time.
O.V.: In what region of Ukraine are you currently fighting? What is the fighting spirit of your comrades in the unit? Do you manage to have conversations with your fellow soldiers about socialist politics?
Sergei: I am fighting in eastern Ukraine, in the Donetsk region. These are both rural regions with peasant populations and industrial, proletarian cities.
Soldiers from all regions of Ukraine serve in my unit. The working languages at the front are Ukrainian and Russian. There are no conflicts between us on this ground.
It is interesting to note that Ukrainian soldiers are predominantly spontaneously leftist in their economic views. Socialist views are very common, although fighters themselves are often unable to articulate their ideology clearly. The Ukrainian soldier expects from the state a humane social policy, a fight against the oligarchs, and support for socially vulnerable groups. The trouble with the political situation in Ukraine is that the so-called "traditional left-wing parties" in the country have grown out of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Their activists and leadership turned out to be the "5th column of Russian imperialism", many of them in fact turned out to be recruited agents of Putin's secret services. Therefore, even at the beginning of the Russian aggression in 2014, they supported the imperialist war and Putin. This led to an exodus of ideological left-wing activists from their ranks and to the banning of many such parties as collaborators.
The social and electoral field for the real, anti-authoritarian proletarian left is now free. There is room for our agitators to work. Of course, I talk to my soldiers in the unit about politics and I have managed to create a small cell among like-minded artillerymen.
We need to understand that thanks to Putin's aggressive imperialist policies, the whole of Northern Eurasia is now experiencing a period of instability. In many parts of the Russian Federation an anti-colonial movement for the independence of oppressed peoples has begun. Literally now we are seeing anti-mobilisation protests in the North Caucasus republics. The people of Belarus and its working class after the failed protests of 2020 are preparing for the continuation of the political struggle against Lukashenko's authoritarian regime. A revolutionary situation is brewing in a vast territory and we, the left-wing activists, simply have to prevent the conservation of totalitarian, authoritarian, pro-fascist and anti-humanist regimes in this territory.
Authoritarian-bureaucratic regimes armed with nuclear bombs are a common humanitarian threat to the world. We have no illusions about the Western imperialists either. The Ukrainian Socialist League does not give them any support. But we must admit that modern weapons help us a lot on the frontline. Ukraine is still much smaller than Russia and it is very difficult for us to resist imperialist aggression ourselves.
I am not an economist, not a politician, not a sociologist. I am best at firing artillery guns and training soldiers.
A few years ago I read Mikhail Sholokhov's epic novel about the Russian revolution, The Quiet Don. There was a proletarian hero there, Ivan Bunchuk. He volunteered to the front of the imperialist war to learn the army trade. He became a professional machine-gunner and trained machine-gun teams. I see my mission as being to train artillerymen on the fronts of the future class war, for the anti-totalitarian and anti-fascist struggle, the struggle for socialism throughout the world.
O.V.: Sergei, our readers will be very interested to know - how did you come to the leftist ideas? How long ago? You have only recently joined the USL/MSL. What attracted you to our political program and current political stance?
Sergei: My left-wing non-partisan position was formed a long time ago. I grew up in a proletarian family, all my relatives worked at a chemical company. My mother was a schoolteacher. So from a young age I grew up with left-wing convictions, although I wasn't a member of any party.
In Ukraine, the majority of the population was well aware that the "traditional leftists" had sold out to comprador oligarchs and the Russian secret services.
The population did not trust the traditional left-wing politicians, who were identified in the mass consciousness with the Stalinists and the state bureaucracy. Traditional forms of proletariat struggle, such as the trade unions, were also strongly discredited by their conciliatory politics and collaboration with business owners.
The USL is a young organisation which is purging Marxism in Ukraine of Stalinism and great-power Russian chauvinism. I am very impressed by this in it. I expect help from the USL/MSL in organizing independent trade unions and forming a real left flank of Ukrainian politics. Ukraine needs qualitatively new left-wing socialist politicians and I really hope for their emergence from the independent trade union movement. In any case, I am very optimistic about the USL. Now we will fight together.
O.V.: Sergei, how do you see the prospects for the Ukrainian left and labour movement? What problems do we face now and what problems still lie ahead?
Sergei: The main problem of the leftist movement is overcoming prejudices among Ukrainians against the left and leftist politics. Many see the left as an agent of imperialist Russia. And, alas, the post-Stalinist so-called "traditional left" gave many fair grounds for this. On the other hand, the political bankruptcy of the traditional "communists" of the CPU and "socialists" of the SPU frees up a social and electoral field for us activists of the Ukrainian Socialist League.
The main political event in contemporary Ukraine is a defensive war against the aggression of imperialist Russia. How the left proletarian organisation behaves during this period will determine its political future. All of us have to work on this factor very seriously. But I am sure we will manage.
We also need to understand that the former Soviet Union is entering a period of turbulence. I assume in my analysis that in the near future, as a result of the adventurist policies of Putin and his clique, the Russian Federation will collapse and many new states will be created. Almost all Ukrainians are fluent in Russian and culturally close to Russians. Our activists could help organise a genuine socialist movement in some of the fragments of the authoritarian-bureaucratic Russian Federation. Therefore it is very important for us to look for contacts with genuine anti-imperialist left-wing activists in Russia.
O.V.: Sergei, what would you like to pass on from the Ukrainian comrades in the USL to all comrades in the MSL in different countries?
Sergei: Dear comrades. Firstly, I would like to thank you for the international solidarity with struggling Ukraine that you have shown in various countries where the ICF sections are present. As part of socialist solidarity, I ask you to press your governments to increase their aid to Ukraine, both humanitarian and military. I understand that the issue of military aid to Ukraine is very complex. But, believe me, it is very difficult for us right now. The Ukrainian people are bleeding to death in a war with a huge imperialist Russian predator. Big business in the leading capitalist states is corrupted by the Russian oil and gas lobby. Dirty Russian money that Russian pensioners, orphans and the handicapped lack is being used to buy foreign politicians.
There is now a unique moment when the authoritarian-political Russian state can be brought to an end. It must not be lost. Come out to rallies in your capitals and demand that your bourgeois governments step up their support for Ukraine. Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers are in great need of equipment and warm uniforms, as we have a very hard winter ahead. Winter uniforms, boots, backpacks, sleeping bags, thermal underwear. This is something the troops are sorely lacking at the moment.
International socialist solidarity with the struggling peoples is the guarantee of our common world victory over all imperialist predators throughout the world. Workers of all countries, unite!