Voices from the Front Lines: Stories of Resistance

On February 24th, it will have been one year since the Russian army’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which has resulted in ongoing bloodshed that continues to shock us all. In light of this anniversary, it is critical to provide a platform for those who have been at the forefront of the conflict since its early days to speak directly to the public and share their experiences. This will help break the cycle of misinformation and fake news that has been allowed to proliferate.

That’s why four different online projects – Αυτολεξεί, OmniaTv, Elaliberta, and Περιοδικό 4 – have united to host this event and provide a direct platform for the following speakers to share their experiences.

I participated in this event and listened to the presentations. Contrary to perception, the discussion was not about the causes of the war or its class and political analysis. Rather, the speakers aimed to share their observations and experiences of everyday life in war conditions.

The event featured two guest speakers: Artyom, a refugee from Russia and co-founder of the Black Cooperative, a self-managed coffee house in Moscow that empowers workers; and Yulia, a psychotherapist and refugee from Ukraine who works with both Ukrainians (NGOs, soldiers) and Russians who resist their country’s authoritarian regime.

Artyom has been an activist in Russia since 2011, working with marginalized social groups such as drug-addicted teenagers and the homeless, as well as advocating for civil rights. Yulia provides psychotherapy to those affected by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and supports those who oppose their government’s actions in the conflict.

The Russian State’s Crackdown on Dissent

Artyom’s presentation focused on the events of the past year in Russia, with a particular emphasis on differentiating the actions of the state from those of the people. He drew attention to the high levels of repression in the country, which has led to a perception abroad that the Russian people support the ongoing war. He presented the number of arrests that have taken place in recent years, showing a sharp increase in the first weeks of 2022 following the start of the war and general conscription.

The number of arrests reached 19,535, with 33 laws of a repressive nature being introduced during this time. The most popular laws have involved spreading fake news related to the Russian military and defaming the Russian armed forces. The second case includes even people who drew the peace sign on the walls of Russian cities or held posters with peace doves in contrast to a warplane. To date, the total number of administrative prosecutions based on the recent Defamation of the Russian Military Law stands at 5,601, with 127 individuals currently in prison.

Artyom then went on to present two specific cases of individuals currently imprisoned. The first case was that of an activist in Moscow who opposed a local children’s festival and publicly stated that the Russian leadership should be asked to stop killing children in Ukraine. For this statement, he was sentenced to 7 years in prison. The second case involved a Russian artist who replaced the prices of products in a supermarket with the number of people killed during the Russian intervention in Ukraine, as the Russian government had not provided any information on the matter. Despite her arrest in April, her trial has just begun, and she faces up to ten years in prison.

Artyom also highlighted the significant pressure that the Russian government has exerted on non-systemic pages, blogs, and mass media. Approximately 10,000 of these pages were unable to transfer their operations to other countries due to new operating frameworks, and were thus closed. He cited the case of journalist Maria Ponomarenko, who was sentenced to 6 years in prison for posting news about the theater bombing in Mariupol, where 1,200 people had taken refuge, on the MKD. Similar examples include large and important civil society organizations and LGBTI+ organizations.

As of last December, any discussion of LGBTI issues is considered propaganda under the law, leading to self-censorship among those who have chosen to stay in Russia. Immigrants living in Russia have been promised a Russian passport if they enlist in the Russian army and survive, while prisoners have been offered amnesty under the same terms.

Artyom also discussed the world’s reactions to the events in Russia, starting with the initial mobilization on February 24th, 2022. As mass protests have been suppressed, there is somewhat more space for individual protests and actions involving street art, mainly organized by feminist and artistic groups. Over a million people have expressed a desire to emigrate from Russia, underlining the importance of supporting the conscientious objector movement, mainly by women, by providing money, legal support, or ways to escape from Russia.

There has also been a rise in anti-colonial movements, which have opened up historical debates about the creation of the Russian state, which is based on approximately 180 ethnic groups today, and demanded autonomy rights. In addition to all of this, approximately 80 guerrilla groups are operating throughout the territory, staffed not only by youth but also by teachers, elderly people, and others.

A Therapist’s View of War in Ukraine

Kyiv-born psychotherapist, Yulia, delivered a powerful speech at the event, where she shared her personal experiences and thoughts on the Ukrainian resistance against the 9-year long war, which marks its increased invasion anniversary on February 24. While acknowledging her Ukranian roots and marriage to a Russian citizen, Yulia believes that her profession and contacts with people during the war qualify her to speak on the subject matter.

Yulia discussed the multifaceted nature of the Ukrainian resistance, highlighting military and civil society resistance efforts against both the Russian invasion and oppressive structures of the West. She commended the diverse and inclusive military resistance, where people from all Ukrainian social strata are working together to fight against the military invasions of Russia.

The organized civil society has also created a strong front, setting up networks of new jobs, providing essential services such as food, water, and medical aid, caring for the elderly and animals, and even organizing rave parties to rebuild the damaged buildings. Yulia observed that some of these organizations have taken an apolitical approach, despite the highly political nature of the conflict.

Yulia also discussed her experience working with the feminist anti-war movement in Russia, where she encountered activists with war schizophrenia and terrorism who were resisting the war. She highlighted the lack of psychological support for those experiencing the conflict, leading to the search for empowerment through nationalism and violence.

Yulia emphasized the importance of understanding the common psychological background of Ukrainians and Russians who fight or resist: that of fear and anxiety within the context of war. She believes that the lack of tools for reconciliation and the absence of psychological support only serve to heighten anger, rage, and violence.

Overall, Yulia painted a vivid picture of the daily resistance of the Ukrainian people, the perspective of people from Russia who belong to the feminist and anti-war movement, and the psychological effects of the conflict. Her speech offers a unique perspective on the complexities of the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Building Solidarity Beyond Borders

Yulia at the end of her presentation also mentioned the struggle of Iranian and people in Kurdistan. She talks about the importance of solidarity and said many Ukrainian don’t know about the differences between the Iranian flag that its belong to Royal or not, but they feel to support and have solidarity with them.

The events of the Ukrainian war and the Iranian revolution are complex and multifaceted, and we cannot hope to fully understand them without delving into the social demands that have driven these conflicts. While foreign governments have undoubtedly played a significant role in both cases, we must avoid simplistic binary positions and instead confront the root causes of these conflicts and the responsible parties who perpetuate them.

War, is not an inevitable or natural part of human society. Instead, it is a destructive force perpetuated by those in power for their own benefit. It is a means to justify the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few, at the expense of the many. To build a more just and equitable society, we must reject the myth of the necessity of war and work towards dismantling the social, economic, and political structures that perpetuate inequality and exploitation. The cost of war is not limited to the financial and material resources expended, but also includes the loss of human life and the long-term damage to communities and the environment.

As socialists, it is crucial that we embrace an anti-war stance, but this requires more than just opposing violence and conflict. It demands that we take a critical and nuanced approach that is attuned to the complexities of each situation, and that we remain vigilant against any attempts to manipulate these conflicts for the benefit of those in power.

The question of why Ukraine, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and despite color uprising like the Orange and Blue Revolutions, has not been able to undergo the democratization process and instead has descended into internal conflict, requires further research and analysis. It seems that the country has always been caught between two opposing poles, one leaning towards Russia and the other towards the West. This is evident today in the differing positions of Europe and Russia in the Ukrainian conflict. Europe, (influenced by the US), has instrumentalized the war in Ukraine to confront Russia, while Russia, through its adoption of a war policy, has severed its longstanding ties with Ukraine and Europe. Both have had a detrimental impact on Ukraine’s internal politics, weakening independent institutions and leaving the fate of the Ukrainian people in the hands of government negotiations and power struggles.

Unfortunately, censorship against critics and opponents on both sides has become increasingly severe, creating a significant obstacle to the process of change and social justice. This is particularly true in the case of Ukraine, where the left-wing has failed to address internal events and has often aligned itself with propaganda from the reactionary right.

But there is hope. We can combat extremism and oppression by promoting education, tolerance, and understanding, and by supporting initiatives and policies that champion human rights, equality, and justice. It is only through these efforts that we can hope to build a society that is truly inclusive and respectful of diversity.

In conclusion, we must remain critical and vigilant of both right-wing and left-wing positions, and continue to oppose the destructive and oppressive actions of reactionary-colonial-imperial governments in Ukraine and Iran. Only then can we hope to build a more just and equitable world for all.