From the September-October 2022 issue of News & Letters
On Aug. 28, Ukraine started an offensive in Kherson, a critical port city Russia occupied early in the war. Ukraine is afraid of losing the solid support of European supporters after having fought off a Russian invasion for six months in the largest war in Europe since World War II. With the help of partisans behind the lines and longer-range missiles, Ukraine has managed spectacular strikes blowing up many ammunition depots and planes deep in Russian-held territory. In Crimea, seized in 2014, a huge depot explosion sent Russians on a beach holiday scurrying home. The Ukrainian offensive has impeded the scale of Russia’s genocidal tactic: lobbing massive artillery at population centers.
RUSSIAN ROULETTE IN ZAPORIZHZHIA
The Russian army stores massive ammunition and military gear at the occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, using it as a shield for its artillery to conduct relentless shelling of civilians in cities like Nikopol, a Russian-speaking steel town. In July alone, 850 Nikopol buildings were damaged and half the population of 100,000 fled. Russians were stonewalling demands by other powers in the UN Security Council calling for demilitarization of the plant.
Sitting in the middle of a war zone, safety at Europe’s largest nuclear energy complex is compromised. Technicians, working under an occupation, are stressed to their limits. Thousands of Ukrainian technicians are watched over by 500 Russian soldiers, who physically and verbally abuse them. Three have been killed since March.
On Aug. 25 the plant narrowly avoided a major “radiation disaster” when Russian shelling of a nearby coal power station broke the plant’s connection to the power grid. Russians are playing nuclear roulette to redirect power exclusively to Russian-held areas of Ukraine. They blame shelling on the Ukrainians, a population with a deep angst about compromising nuclear power safety ever since the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident left them with deadly and long-lasting consequences.
On Aug. 19, Russian ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, who incredibly sits on the board of IAEA, tweeted, “No mercy to the Ukrainian population!” That genocidal vow has been standard practice now for six months since Russian president Vladimir Putin initiated his unprovoked war against Ukraine.
The UN has verified that 5,587 civilians were killed and 7,890 wounded, but expect real numbers to be in the tens of thousands. Ukrainian officials estimate from witness accounts and mass graves that in the demolished city of Mariupol alone at least 22,000 people were killed.
After the siege of Bucha outside Kyiv, at least 400 of the surviving civilians, including children, were executed with their hands tied behind their backs. Russia routinely kidnaps large numbers of Ukrainians from captured cities, taking them to concentration camps inside Russia.
BANKRUPTCY OF ‘BOTH-SIDES-ISM’
Amnesty International (A.I.) has condemned Russia’s human rights violations and war crimes in areas like Kharkiv, but in August issued a shocking report declaring that “Ukrainian forces have put civilians in harm’s way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas.”
How can A.I. apply its principle of not putting weapons among civilians to a situation where civilians are out to defend themselves from being exterminated? Russia’s whole mode of conquest is the systematic destruction of population centers—hospitals, schools, shops, infrastructure, housing. Some 6.6 million Ukrainians know this well, taking refuge elsewhere in Europe. Seven million have been displaced internally. How is the remaining population to defend itself?
This bankrupt “both-sides-ism” was also spouted by former British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Mirroring much of the Left, he argued that the west should stop arming Ukraine for the sake of peace and “safety and security of the world.” This leaves Ukrainians, over 90% of whom oppose any peace with Putin, with no agency.
However, it was only after the world witnessed the astonishing Ukrainian resistance, which basically extinguished Putin’s 40-mile convoy of tanks and supplies meant for a prolonged siege of Kyiv, that arms began pouring in to aid Ukrainian self-defense.
NEARLY ALL UKRAINIANS IN WAR EFFORT
Ukrainian agency, national self-determination, is not only an inviolable principle but has embedded within it a persistent, resilient, multi-ethnic social solidarity and self-organization of the whole population that is much more participatory than bourgeois democracy. Further, Ukraine’s independent workers’ movement has deep, enduring proletarian roots in its struggle for democracy. Donbas miners were especially crucial to the democratic revolution that freed Ukraine from the Soviet empire.
Contra Corbyn, UK unions like the National Union of Mineworkers have maintained links with Ukrainian miners and responded to the appeal for aid from Independent Trade Union of Ukrainian Miners and the Trade Union of Coal Industry Workers of Ukraine. Ukrainians keep hope alive that humanity can fight global capitalism’s drift into totalitarian fascism and barbarism, as they confront a most visible, brutal form today in Putin’s Russia.
Since crushing the myriad spontaneous anti-war demonstrations at the outset of the invasion, Putin’s Russia has devolved into a fascist abyss that crushes any voice that speaks the truth, even the bare facts of the Russian soldiers’ death count, estimated to be as high as 80,000. Infantry, used to routinely probe pulverized territory, end up on the slaughter bench. Deaths are hidden by burning their bodies instead of returning them in body bags. They are then just missing in action and soldiers’ families don’t get any compensation.
There are massive defections as soldiers complain of not getting promised pay, some escaping Russia and posting the truth about what a bunch of lies they were sold about the war. Putin is desperate for new recruits, now accepting men up to the age of 65, offering bonuses and prison release to those who will be sent to the front immediately with little training.
Ukraine has suffered over 9,000 combat deaths, which now occur in the new artillery trench warfare line. The divide cuts off 20% of Ukraine that Putin controls and wants to steal.
Putin is hoping he can break the Western powers’ unity as many—especially those who admire his fascism, like right-wing parties likely to come to power in Italy or Viktor Orban, who rules Hungary—will grow weary of the inconveniences from rising energy prices, and decide to impose a settlement on Ukraine.
No! to imposed rotten compromises at the expense of Ukrainians. Yes! to Ukrainian self-determination and freedom from Russian imperialism.