Remarks given by Melinda Butterfield, Struggle-La Lucha co-editor, at the “No to NATO, War and Racism” protest in the Bronx, New York, on Oct. 15.
I think it’s important to bring up the struggle of the people who are directly affected by the conflict in Ukraine – that is, the people of the Donbass region and Ukrainian anti-fascists who have been forced into exile for the last eight-and-a-half years.
This summer, the people in the city of Donetsk, who have lived under Ukrainian bombs for more than eight years, have faced their toughest stretch ever surviving. The attacks have been constant and getting worse because of the infusion of more advanced U.S. and NATO weapons.
This war didn’t start last February, when Russia intervened. It started with a coup against the elected Ukrainian government, sponsored by the United States, in 2014. We know how that works – we’ve seen it many times in Latin America and other places around the world.
The people in the eastern part of Ukraine said “No – we don’t want to live under a regime that’s filled with fascists. We don’t want to live under a regime that answers to Washington and NATO.” And they had a big struggle.
Unfortunately, it was crushed in many parts of the country. But in Donetsk and Lugansk, in the Donbass region bordering Russia, they were able to declare independence, form a people’s militia, and defend their independence for the last eight-and-a-half years.
When we talk about the struggle here, we use the slogan, “When people’s rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.” When trans rights, Black people’s rights, abortion rights, immigrant rights are under attack, we say: Stand up and fight back. In Donbass, they stood up and fought back! Just like they are doing now in Haiti. And in the same way, the people there have been demonized and discounted.
Unfortunately, here in the United States, even in the anti-war movement and the left, there’s very little consciousness about the Donbass people’s struggle. But they are the ones on the front lines. They are the ones who have been taking the brunt of the Ukrainian attacks for almost a decade. It is imperative that we extend our solidarity to them, build bridges of unity with them, with our struggles, our communities and other liberation struggles from Palestine to Haiti to Puerto Rico.
There’s another development that could confuse the movement here, and we’ve got to be alert to it. That is the referendum held at the end of September in Donetsk, Lugansk and the Zaparozhye and Kherson regions to join the Russian Federation.
The reason that happened is not because Russia was trying to make a land grab against Ukraine. It’s something Russia has resisted for the last eight years, even as a movement to join Russia was building in those areas. It was an emergency measure of last resort.
The people don’t want to live under Ukrainian bombs and fascists anymore. Now they have the constitutional protection of the Russian Federation, which gives Russia more power to protect them with their nuclear deterrent and other measures.
The way the referendum is being presented here is just the U.S. projecting its land-grabbing imperialist policies onto Russia. It discounts the context and the wishes of the people there. It’s against self-determination. So it’s important that we not get confused about this or let it turn into another thing to divide and shut down the anti-war movement, like what happened last February.
Solidarity with the people of Donbass! Let’s build a fighting anti-war movement. Let’s fight for what we need here at home, and take back that $70 billion the U.S. has committed so far this year for war in Ukraine.
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