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Proletarian issue 60 (June 2014)
Ukraine referenda: the people speak
Soviet legacy inspires the working class in the struggle against fascism.
The results of the referenda on the future of two regions of the eastern Ukraine, Donetsk and Lugansk, have demonstrated that an overwhelming majority of the population there are in favour of independence from Kiev.

Resistance leader Denis Pushilin spelt out the immediate consequence of this clear democratic mandate in the following terms: “All military troops on our territory after the official announcement of referendum results will be considered illegal and declared occupiers. It is necessary to form state bodies and military authorities as soon as possible.”

No effort has been spared by the junta in Kiev or its friends in the West to prevent the inhabitants of Donetsk and Lugansk regions from taking this bold step. On the one hand, terrorist attacks and outright military aggression sought to prevent the referenda happening at all. On the other, ridicule was heaped on the ordinary men and women who have stubbornly pushed through this exercise in mass democracy, often at great personal risk.

Kiev sent the ‘National Guard’ (overwhelmingly made up of the hastily rebranded Right Sector fascist militia) into Krasnoarmeysk (Donetsk region) to occupy several polling stations and try to prevent the vote from happening. When voters gathered outside one station, the fascists opened fire, killing two civilians and wounding a number of others.

Similar attempts to reduce the ballot to bloody chaos were repeated elsewhere. Forty-five armoured personnel carriers and two helicopters were seen advancing from the Kharkov region towards Lugansk, and the election commission in Novoaydar had to be evacuated after it had been attacked by the junta’s stormtroopers.

Needless to say, these violent attempts to suppress the democratic voice of the masses in the industrialised east were seized upon by the imperialist media to suggest that the level of chaos invalidated the poll – ignoring the fact that what chaos there was had been entirely the work of the very forces promoted by the West.

Yet even in the western press some grudging admiration was expressed for the way the popular will made itself heard despite all the obstacles. Reuters rubbed its eyes at the fact that, even with “the Ukrainian army at its gates and nearly every road in the centre blocked by makeshift barricades”,people in Lugansk still managed to thread their way “past the roadblocks made from rusty machinery and tree trunks to cast their vote at one of the town’s 56 polling stations, complete with curtained voting booths and regulation ballot boxes.

Disenfranchisedby the illegal overthrow of the elected government, the citizens of Donetsk and Lugansk have risked life and limb to assert their democratic will. Before the referenda, Russian president Valdimir Putin had advised the resistance movement in the east to postpone the exercise until diplomacy had run its course. But, given the escalating violence unleashed by Kiev and the overwhelming ballot response, Putin praised the outcome as expressing the true voice of the people and expressed the hope that the people’s wishes should now be implemented in a civilised way, through dialogue.

Fascist violence

Whether such a diplomatic solution can now prosper depends on how far the imperialist camp is prepared to go in backing its fascist protégés in their reign of terror.

Violent repression of the democratic will in the east has two faces. With one face, the usurping authority has brazenly laid claim to all national institutions, including the army and police. With the other, it shields and promotes the overt fascist thugs of the Right Sector and Svoboda, deploying them to do the dirtiest work. The neo-Nazis who have now been assimilated into the National Guard, for example, formerly spearheaded the armed attacks that preceded the Kiev coup.

However, neither of these approaches has enabled the junta to make its writ run in the east. Reports are increasingly surfacing of regular troops refusing to shoot at civilians and fraternising. The ethnic composition of the army reflects that within Ukraine itself, and it is far from clear that any more than a minority are sufficiently bitten by the ultra-nationalist bug to happily turn their guns upon civilians.

Odessa atrocity

Some of the worst horrors have been the result of collaboration between regular forces and fascist death squads. In the single most sickening atrocity to date, the burning down of the trade-union building in Odessa, clear video evidence shows how this grisly division of labour operates.

Fascist provocateurs, identifiable on the video by their distinctive red armbands, stirred up trouble by masquerading as anti-Maidan activists, embedding themselves amongst genuine protesters in order to lob bricks at their own side. Once they had managed by this stunt to get a ruck going, they slipped unobstructed through police lines, behind which they then sheltered whilst the protesters proceeded to take a hammering. Police then stood by whilst fascists set fire to the anti-Maidan camp, in turn prompting the mass retreat of protesters into the trade-union headquarters.

The building itself was then torched as fascists hurled Molotov cocktails through lower windows, screaming “Burn, Colorado, burn”, likening their unarmed victims to beetles. With the exits barricaded, the inhabitants had to choose between being burnt alive or leaping to their deaths in the street below.

Those few that made it out of the building were then shot or beaten. Again, the video record shows another man (again red-armbanded) firing a handgun into the burning building. As the conflagration took its toll, jeering fascists plumbed the depths of depravity, shouting out “shashlik” (comparing the smell of burning human flesh to a kebab).

Like all the preceding cowardly attacks, this nazi atrocity served only further to alienate the mass of the population from the Kiev junta, and, if anything, gave a spur to the freedom struggle.

The attack on Mariupol police station

A similar pattern was evident in the attack upon the police station at Mariupol on 9 May. Significantly, the station had been occupied, not only by anti-fascist protesters, but also by police officers who baulked at serving a new Kiev-appointed chief. The ‘National Guard’ again held the ring with heavy weaponry and tanks whilst fascists set fire to the building and opened fire on civilians, killing somewhere between seven and twenty people.

Such horrors as these are a hideous reminder of the atrocities that the Nazis and their collaborators visited upon the Soviet Union in WWII before being comprehensively routed by the Red Army – a colossal achievement which all of progressive humanity celebrated on 9 May, just two days before the referenda. Not for nothing are anti-fascist activists now sporting the St George Ribbon in memory of the Soviet victory.

A more dubious ‘achievement’ was recently celebrated in Lvov, demonstrating that there remains in the Ukraine a minority who dream of the nazi collaborator Stefan Bandera rising from his grave to undo the Red Army’s good work. Such were those few hundred who marched in Lvov to celebrate the anniversary of the formation of the Ukrainian SS Galician division. Waving SS flags, these throwbacks trudged their way to the cemetery, where a shameful memorial to the Galician division still stands.

Demoralisation of Kiev forces

These sick dreams of a nazi revival will prove even more short-lived than those of the earlier ‘thousand-year reich’, which was so comprehensively crushed at Stalingrad and Kursk after just a few years.

The regular army and police in eastern Ukraine are growing increasingly demoralised at the prospect of being corralled into a civil war not of their choosing, expected to stand shoulder to shoulder with freelance fascist thugs whose only ‘battle’ experience is shooting unarmed civilians and setting fire to buildings.

One report tells how a wounded pilot, whose helicopter had been brought down by the resistance, had been abandoned by his brothers in arms. Ukrainian soldiers just relieved him of his gun and left him to his fate. Worse, when the defence militia came to his rescue, they found themselves under sniper fire as they carried him away. So much for the morale of Kiev’s official armed forces.

Meanwhile, the self-defence militia organised by the workers of the industrialised east are giving a good account of themselves, bringing down helicopters and capturing armoured personnel carriers. Their strength lies in their close ties to the communities they are defending – unlike the Right Sector fascists and foreign contractors deployed by Kiev.

In the course of defending Slavyansk, all the residents came out on the streets, bringing window frames and doors with them to help build barricades, and cutting down trees to block off roads, hindering the passage of the enemy.

Class struggle

It has been noticeable since the fascist coup in Kiev that the resistance forces, in addition to waving Russian Federation flags, are also frequently seen holding aloft flags bearing the hammer and sickle along with other Soviet symbols. Some of the earliest demonstrations organised by anti-Maidan protesters took as a focal point the defence of the many statues of Lenin surviving in the heartlands of the industrial proletariat.

This class essence of the struggle was further underlined by the actions of the two thousand plus miners in the Lugansk region who decided to take on one of the richest men in Ukraine, Rinat Akhmetov, owner of the mining and metals conglomerate Metinvest. This monopoly capitalist owns five coal mines in the city of Krasnodon, all of which were brought to a halt when 80 percent of the miners downed tools.

Their strike was in part about the appalling wages and conditions that mineworkers have had to suffer, but also about the outrageous imposition of a 10 percent tax on earnings levied by the Kiev junta to pay for the restoration of Maidan Square, which was trashed by pro-EU demonstrators in the run-up to the coup.

As one of the strikers told a Russian journalist: “I don’t understand why are we involved! It was not us who dismantled the stones and burned the houses down.” Another added: “We are also against Kiev’s junta. We do not recognise their authority. It is not legitimate. We stand for the memory of our ancestors fighting alongside Russians. We’re all Slavs. We are one nation. We do not have heroes such as Bandera and Shukhevych. We are against these people because they are destroying our history.” (‘Ukraine coal miners on strike, refuse to pay Kiev coup damages bill’, RT, 24 April 2014)

Given that half a million people are employed in the region’s mines, that the mining industry supplies about 15 percent of Ukraine’s GDP, and that one of its best customers is the Russian defence industry, these remarks should give Akhmetov and his cronies something to chew on.

Hunter Biden, US vice president Joe Biden’s son, might also be wondering if this was quite the best time to have joined the board at Burisma Holdings (Ukraine’s biggest private gas producer), now that a giant question mark hangs over the company’s glittering prospects in the east.

Russia defends the right to self-determination

Whilst the coup-makers in Kiev ritually denounce the referendum decisions and focus obsessively on new presidential elections planned for 25 May, Russia has made it clear that such elections could only help resolve the crisis if they take place within the context of a national dialogue that does not exclude the regions or the various communities, and which respects the democratic verdict delivered by the people of Donetsk and Lugansk.

In contrast to the blatant meddling in Ukraine’s affairs of which both the US and the EU have been culpable from the outset, Russia has been circumspect throughout, raising its voice only in defence of international law and of the safety and dignity of the ethnic-Russian population of Ukraine. If the country does indeed divide along regional lines, clear responsibility will lie at the door of Nato and the EU, which would sooner see Ukraine disintegrate than see a united country get out from under the imperialist heel.

We send a red salute to the workers of Donetsk and Lugansk regions for having asserted their right to self-determination under such difficult and dangerous circumstances, in the teeth of a fascist junta acting as a fifth column for imperialism.
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