Third segment from social ecologist Davide Grasso’s conversations with Ukrainian grassroots collectives. Grasso is currently travelling throughout Ukraine to meet political activists from anarchist, feminist, and socialist movements.
I meet Sergey from Solidarity Collectives at the headquarters of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Kiev. I am here with friends from the Social Municipalities of Bologna, who are visiting war-torn Ukraine for the third time. A portrait of a Polish revolutionary stands at the back of the entrance. Sergey is an anarchist, but maintains good relations with all people who question Ukraine’s current social organisation and its slide towards extreme nationalism. Since the beginning of the invasion, he has been doing everything he can to support the military resistance and give Ukrainians and left-wing internationalists a chance to fight. The Solidarity Collectives were originally called Operation Solidarity after the invasion. This organization helped the first libertarian fighters who wanted to join the resistance to form a Territorial Defense Unit.
It was not difficult, Sergey recalls, for chaos reigned in those early days of the war, and Zelesnky had said that anyone who wanted to resist would get a weapon from the state to do so. Endless lines had formed all over the country, he recounts, of civilians willing to wait hours in the cold to get the Kalashnikov that could take them to even the most extreme fate. It was in those days that Ukraine’s history changed, which is why Ukraine today is not the same as it was in 1991, but neither is it the same as it was in 2014. Societies are not founded on blood or language, but on a sense of cohesion for an independence based on struggle. Ukraine was definitely birthed in those ranks of people willing to fight in 2022. The previous century was but a gestation.
Also in those ranks were thousands of people who would have liked more dialogue with the self-declared Donesk and Luhansk People’s Republics after 2014. There were also many who had not participated in the Maidan protests or had opposed them. Many of those people spoke Russian, including inside their families, and some even had some nostalgia for the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Russian invasion compacted not only, as some think in Italy, the Ukrainian right, but the entire Ukrainian population, of whatever political persuasion (exceptions are the Ukrainian supporters of the otherwise hated Russian president, who seem to have some presenve only in Donetsk). Even the apolitical, qualunquists and progressives stopped believing in Putin’s reliability on the night of the invasion. Not even if Putin’s attempt to occupy Kiev had been successful could Ukraine ever have been governed by policies decided in Moscow. If Ukraine, as Putin says, had never existed, he would have, in 2022, created it.
In this process, there was from the beginning the risk that the left would disappear under the weight of the historical link between Russia and the communist past, the undue but widespread association between Russia and the USSR, and the credit and military centrality gained by the banderists since 2013. The choice seemed at first to be between the ordinary apolitical units of the Army and Territorial Defense and the Azov Battalion, formed and led by Pravyi Sektor fascists. Sergey and others came together and determined (1) that the Ukrainian resistance could not be left to the right; (2) that only those who were part of the resistance would have a role and voice in post-invasion Ukraine.
Their anger and emotions were going, like those of all, toward the defense of their towns and places where they had grown up, but their political rationality was also going in that direction. Through contacts with a progressive army officer they established the International Libertarian Brigade, which took up a position in southern Kiev Oblast. This location, however, made the project short-lived. The unit was unable to fight in the defense of the capital, garrisoning its southern limits as the enemy tried to penetrate from the north. After the Kiev victory and the Bucha massacres, the Russian army’s retreat to the east made the theater of operations even more distant.
It is impossible to determine at the moment whether the unit’s forced stay in Kiev was due to standard procedures or a political calculation by the army. The unit meanwhile grew, exceeding 50 personnel, despite commanders rejecting dozens of accessions from abroad and Ukraine to preserve the group’s political and military compactness. There were men and women in the unit, although the latter were in a clear minority. There were many internationalists, especially Russians and Belarusians. However, the inability to participate in the fighting led the unit to disband and its members to enlist in various battalions of the regular army. Finally, within two months of the start of the invasion, Operation Solidarity was replaced by the Solidarity Collectives, a structure that could enable internationalists and progressives to contribute three hundred and sixty degrees to the resistance, first and foremost on a humanitarian level. Leftist internationalist fighters have since been united in the Internationalist Committee.
In addition to the distribution of logistical and humanitarian aid to civilians in war zones, Solidarity Collectives offer logistical, informational and psychological support to Internationalist Committee fighters, who now enlist in the regular units of the Ukrainian army. This means that there are no revolutionary units, only revolutionary militants distributed in the regular army units. It also means that internationalists who wish to contribute to the resistance today must enlist in the International Legion, which itself is divided into national formations whose political character is varied and often hegemonized by far-right militaries. While the Belarusian section of the resistance, for example, does not particularly present this problem, we are told, the Russian section is headed by neo-Nazis.
That is why in the winter of 2023 three internationalists-Finbar Cafferkey from Ireland, Dmitry Petrov from Russia and Cooper “Harris” Andrew from the United States-decided to promote the establishment of a left-wing internationalist unit at the front. They faced training with individuals of a completely different political orientation, but were killed in the first mission they faced. Sergey, who knew them well and worked with Finbar for a long time, believes that the mission in which they fell was preparatory to the army’s authorization to set up an autonomous unit.
Finbar, Dmitry and Cooper were unsuccessful, falling on the front lines as can always happen in a war. The stubbornness with which they tried to make room for bright and egalitarian ideas in a resistance where neo-fascism is well present (first and foremost in the ranks of the invaders) stands out in contrast to the attitude of inaction and mere complaint of much of the contemporary left.
In Odessa, some young men who support the leftist military in units engaged on the Transnistrian border and in Kherson tell us that attempting to compact the progressive fighters into one unit would be risky. If such a unit fell under the mortar rain that stopped Finbar, Dmitry and Cooper, the entire leftist resistance could be liquidated. They believe it is currently best for many regular units to have fighters within them who can promote an alternative vision of Ukraine’s future.
They drew a large mural with the faces of the three internationalists who fell on April 19 and, above their heads, the words, “Fighters.” They tell how Dmitry was a scholar and translator who traveled between Russia and Ukraine to attend every street protest, including Maidan. Their memory of him is touching. It is an honor for them, they say, that Kurdish-Syrian YPG internationalists like Dmitry and Finbar also contributed to their country’s resistance. There are many international fighters with a “Rojava background,” they say.
It is to be believed that the progressive Ukrainian youth of today and tomorrow will not easily forget the pioneers of the political alternative in their country who were committed to protecting the decency and honor of the left-in a country long oppressed and now abandoned by the left-at the cost of their own lives.