This article sees the 161 Crew talking to one of the founders of the Ukrainian anarchist initiative about their project, the global solidarity response from libertarians and operating in a complex warzone.
First of all thank you for finding time to answer some questions. Can you tell us bit more about what Operation Solidarity is?
OpSol is a volunteer initiative, and now organisation, set up by libertarian socialists and anarchists in Ukraine, right before the new escalation and full-scale Russo-Ukrainian war. We are focused on four general areas:
1. Supporting comrades (anti-authoritarian activists, leftists, anti-fascists) in armed struggle against the occupation;
2. Helping to relocate comrades and their relatives;
3. Saving the community of activists we had been forming since 2014;
4. Helping others in ways they need and which we can provide. We are a network of different people who united through shared dangers, our views, intentions and perspectives.
There seems to be quite a good response from anarchist and anti-fascist movements across the world to the needs of comrades in Ukraine and refugees running away from war. Would you agree or would you say that the support is not sufficient?
We agree and we didn’t expect that your support would be so huge. It’s an amazing and inspiring thing for us! But OpSol has an aim to become known not only between political movements and comrades, but to the wider masses also. We need their support to reach our general aims more efficiently and to build good political perspectives in the near future. The war will end and we will need to build up the movement.
In those first weeks of war, what did Operation Solidarity achieve already?
We organised two storage spaces in Kyiv and Western Ukraine, alongside logistics chains and routes with zero initial experience in doing so. We’ve got about 30 people in Ukraine alone who are volunteering and building communication networks and supply chains. We’ve been involved in more than five caravans moving equipment and humanitarian help. Our social media has reached more than 50,000 people and added 5,000-plus followers on different social media in around a week. It’s not much but we’ve never had such results before and also have the means to grow, obviously.
And yeah Facebook/Meta sucks. It’s the number one nightmare social network ever.
Can you tell us bit more about anarchists and anti-fascists involved in armed struggle against Putin’s invasion? We know there is a Resistance Committee (RC), can you tell us a bit more about it? Are there comrades fighting in places other than Kyiv?
You can read about the basics of RC and its context right before the escalation from this article (highly recommend to everyone)!
There were people who decided to take up arms to protect themselves, their friends and families, our collective accomplishments and our way of life. Some foreign comrades were surprised and even got angry with the fact that in Ukraine we have built resistance, taken up arms and fought back. We are not charmed by the Ukrainian State (it’s neo-liberal rather than nazi or strongly authoritarian) — it has a lot of troubles like an oligarchic system, corruption, destruction of social safety nets, cop and nazi violence etc. At the same time Ukraine is a space of relatively low State control that is growing, from one side, but from other it’s also a space of uprising progressive social powers.
So we resist because it’s a question of our future (physical and political). If Russia wins, all progressive things that we got through social struggle will be raped, trampled and annihilated. Just watch what Putin does to his people and our comrades also, such as in the Network Case. We see pretty interesting and sad similarities with the Civil War that happened a little over a century ago in Ukraine. With our memory of Nestor Makhno and his fight, with its strong political and ethical core — comrades chose to stand and fight against occupation, so they called themselves the RC. There are a lot of people from Belarus and Russia as well, who crave the overthrow of their own dictators, to make their social system, and lives, better. And yeah, there are comrades who are fighting in different cities of Ukraine — they are part of RC too.
What would you say to those, especially on the Western Left, who criticise you for taking up arms against Putin’s invasion, calling you anarcho-Nato etc?
Visit us! Come to Kharkiv, Mariupol. Even Kyiv. See it with your own eyes and take in a clear view of the situation. You can’t sit at home and wait until the enemy occupies your city to say: “Ok, now it’s time to resist.” You can’t stay at home and do nothing when bombs are falling down on your streets and heads – because you will die and lose everything. You can’t sit and text on Twitter now if you have any political plans and perspectives, because it’s a popular war and while you are sitting, others, just normal people like your neighbours, are on the streets.
They are building barricades, taking up arms, studying and resisting. You can’t sit and do your everyday things because you will lose all your experiences, your family, friends, comrades, all these wonderful and horrible moments that ever happened to you. You will lose your life in the end. We don’t want to die, we don’t want to flee, we don’t want to obey, we don’t have such a privilege. We are fucking angry and we want our freedom!
And I want to say that if we will lose – European countries will be next. Be aware of pro-Russian politics and activists in your countries (especially “reds”).
Kremlin propaganda is talking a lot about Azov, how all of Ukraine is Nazi etc. At the same time you are the people that have been involved in fighting directly against the far-right in Ukraine. What is the actual size and influence of far right and neo-nazi groups over there?
I can only properly talk about the context just before Putin’s escalation – this new reality needs a much deeper analysis to say something objective. Their influence on Ukrainian youth was at its height in 2014-2016, but from about 2017 their movement was co-opted by the Ukraine Security Service maybe and the cops. The most rebellious (radical, anti-government) groups were destroyed. Their leaders and members were forced to co-operate, pushed out to other countries or civilian life, were set to prison or even killed (sometimes by their own comrades).
By 2022 they didn’t have mass support, the majority of people couldn’t understand them and was angry because of their rhetoric and actions (like attacks on sub-cultural youth). Older people were disappointed by them because in 2015-2016 the neo-nazis had the chance to make a “national revolution” and change everything the way the wanted. But they appeared to be political impotents. To sum up, yes here we had a lot of nazis and problem was big. But after 2017 they started to decay. Just before the war started they still had many youth in their structures, but those people were new and politically weak, their beliefs were vague and shaky, and their personalities absolutely ridiculous.
For now, what I can see, it’s absolutely different from 2014. It’s a domination of popular and patriotic narrative, rather than their sort of nationalism. But every new day of war can grow their popularity.
Seems like, at least watching from the sidelines, the Ukrainian anti-authoritarian movement is much better prepared to deal with the emerging situation that it was in 2014 during Maidan and immediately afterwards. Could you comment on that?
It’s true and an absolute merit of organised anarchists and libertarian socialists. Self-organisation, self-discipline, deep theoretical inclusion and interest, reflection and analysis, goal-setting and planning, responsibility, a sober life, co-operation and the will to reach Utopia made it all real. We are still far away from what we want to see, but even this result makes us sure and opens the truth: our dreams are possible! And personally, I can see it everyday from what OpSol is doing.
Do you think this war will strengthen the far right in your country? It seems like Putin’s invasion is a perfect gift for them, allowing them to score points as “defenders of fatherland”, gain experience and equipment?
Yes, absolutely! We saw it in 2014, when it became extremely dangerous and practically difficult to call yourself anti-fascist in Ukraine. That’s all because of a mixing of the narratives. Putin calls his actions “denazification” and “anti-fascism” – that’s absolute bullshit. Anti-fascists don’t bomb children and old people, they don’t throw thermobaric bombs at civilians or use phosphorus, they don’t leave or burn the bodies of soldiers on purpose so as not to have to pay their families any money, they don’t use own people as cannon fodder. We don’t destroy cities and leave scorched ground. No. That’s what fascists do.
What is the situation in Kyiv at the moment? Are you expecting Russian assault on the city soon? What is the mood amongst the population?
A week ago it was a post-apocalyptic movie scene. We were waiting for surrounding, siege and usage of chemical weapon. But now life is returning, even cafes and restaurants are opening (lol). Ukrainian army successfully counter-attacked and throw back Putin’s invaders 30-70km away from Kyiv. But situation is still highly strained.
We got shelled every night, people die, buildings fall. Just yesterday occupants destroyed the huge building of the mall and killed at least eight people. We felt it at our place through the noise and shockwave. There are also unexpected curfews because of saboteurs, who make our work harder and steal valuable time. I’m writing my answers and I’m gonna stay at the headquarters for the whole day till next morning.
No matter what, everyone is sure that we will stand and win.
How can people abroad support you in your struggle?
Overthrow your unfit and bad governments to create a society without wars, misery, violence and lie?)
Ok, to be serious we need finances. You can help by yourself with buying us IIIA NIJ helmets, IIIA NIJ/4 class plates and bulletproof vests, Individual First Aid Kits (IFAK), sending us vehicles. For our comrades and people we need shelters and jobs to work, earn money and support people in resistance. It would be nice if some comrades organised co-operatives, so they could do good things for us and practice self-governance at the same time. Revolutionary Bingo!
For our comrades we need halls and places for gatherings, support of their actions. Some friends can’t cross the border legally, but it’s better for them to stay outside. So it’s another direction. And maybe that’s all what I can say right now.
Many thanks for the interview. Any final words?
Keep the flame inside, organise, stick together, stand for each other, take responsibility for your life, co-operate, offer solidarity, don’t be scared of anyone and anything. Organise and resist to build a better world!
We give you all warm hugs, we are thankful for everything you did and do for us. With your solidarity we will win!
~ Translation by Batko Machno
Pic: Operation Solidarity