Oleg Vernik interviewed Comrade Sergey, an activist of the Ukrainian Socialist League currently fighting in the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Donetsk region. Many Ukrainian socialist and trade union activists stood up for their country after the armed aggression of the Russian imperialist capital against Ukraine and it is very important for us to know their motivations, their feelings and their socialist work among the Ukrainian soldiers.
ОV: Sergey, socialist greetings to you from all our comrades of the ISL and LSU. Tell us how you ended up at the front – did you have combat experience? What is your military specialty and tell us how you apply it at the front?
Sergey: Greetings to you, Oleg, and to all our comrades. Until Russia’s imperialist aggression against Ukraine in 2014, I had had no military or army experience. I was deemed medically unfit for service in 2006. I had never been interested in anything military, I was a pacifist and anti-militarist in my leftist convictions. After the victory of the Maidan in 2014, when the Russian aggressors attacked my country, I changed my attitude towards “pacifism” a bit, I made it more classist, closer to the real situation of the struggle of the Ukrainian people against the imperialist aggressor.
Maidan 2014 is a complex phenomenon for me. It is a pity that its left flank was much weaker than the right. However, its important achievement was a mass popular protest movement against the authoritarian Yanukovych regime and for the expansion of democratic rights and freedoms. Russia took advantage of the difficult situation in Ukraine in the spring of 2014 to send its troops to Crimea and Donbass. It became clear that an evil force could not be defeated by the kindness of abstract pacifism and that in order to confront the aggressors we would have to go to war.
I joined the army as a volunteer. People told me how I could get around the health restriction. The medical commission declared me fit for service and sent me to boot camp. There I immediately declared that I wanted to be a gunner. I once had a conversation with an officer I knew who told me that artillery is now the main striking force of all armies and the most effective means of warfare.
I trained as a 120mm mortar commander. Upon completion of the training program, I went directly to the front near Donetsk. There we faced Russian regular troops, who had plenty of large-caliber artillery and unlimited ammunition. The only way to fight such an enemy was to outmatch him in terms of accuracy.
Parity in warfare with the huge Russian army was then provided by drones – unmanned aerial vehicles – and tablets with programs to fire artillery. We were outnumbered and our weapons were much weaker, but we were very effective and motivated. And the reason is simple: the Russian invasion army was inherently very reactionary and counterrevolutionary. The Ukrainian army was, if I may say so, somewhat revolutionary, fighting for the independence of our country, Ukraine. And those forces are always stronger than any pro-Russian “contras” or “proxies”.
In 2017, I was wounded and had to leave the army for treatment.
But with the start of the full-scale Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, I volunteered at the front again.
Now I am at the front firing 60 mm mortars and 73 mm recoilless field guns. My battalion acts as lightly armed infantry. We move through the woods, surround enemy positions, force the Russians to surrender or retreat. Light field guns of small caliber are best suited for this type of warfare. We are fighting in the Donetsk region. The natural area here is the steppe and fields. Small-caliber weapons allow us to operate stealthily and unobtrusively.
I myself trained all the artillery units of my battalion. I developed the training program, tactics. Generals prepare for past wars. I, on the other hand, devised forms of warfare for my unit that were relevant for today.
According to Russian standards, the training of an artillery unit lasts two months, and another three weeks are devoted to combat readiness.
I developed a training program for a 10-day artillery unit. And I teach my team the principle of interchangeability. When a gunner can become a unit leader at any time.
ОV: In which region of Ukraine are you currently fighting? What is the morale of your comrades in the unit? Do you manage to hold talks with your comrades about socialist politics?
Sergey: I am fighting in eastern Ukraine, in the Donetsk region. It is both rural regions with a peasant population and industrial and proletarian cities. Soldiers from all regions of Ukraine serve in my unit. The languages we speak at the front are Ukrainian and Russian. There are no conflicts between us for this reason.
It is interesting to note that Ukrainian soldiers are mainly leftists. Socialist views are very common, although the fighters themselves are often unable to clearly articulate their ideology. The Ukrainian soldier expects from the state humane social policy, a fight against oligarchs and support for socially vulnerable groups. The problem with the political situation in Ukraine is that the so-called “traditional left-wing parties” in the country have emerged from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Their assets and leadership proved to be a “fifth column of Russian imperialism” and many of them were in fact recruited as agents of Putin’s secret services. Therefore, even at the beginning of the Russian aggression in 2014, they supported the imperialist war and Putin. This led to an exodus of ideological leftist activists from their ranks and the banning of many of these parties as collaborators.
The social and electoral field for the real anti-authoritarian proletarian left is now free. There is room for our agitators to work. Of course, I talk politics with my soldiers in the unit and have managed to create a small cell among like-minded artillerymen.
We must understand that, thanks to Putin’s aggressive imperialist policy, the whole of northern Eurasia is now going through a period of instability. In many corners of the Russian Federation an anti-colonialist movement for the independence of oppressed peoples has begun. We are literally now seeing anti-mobilization protests in the North Caucasus republics. The people of Belarus and its working class, after the failed protests of 2020, are preparing to continue the political struggle against the authoritarian Lukashenko regime. A revolutionary situation is brewing in a vast territory, and we left-wing activists have a duty to prevent totalitarian, authoritarian, pro-fascist, anti-humanist regimes from perpetuating themselves in this territory.
Authoritarian-bureaucratic regimes armed with nuclear bombs are a humanitarian threat to the whole world. We have no illusions about Western imperialists either. The Ukrainian Socialist League gives them no support. But we must admit that modern weapons help us a lot on the front. Ukraine is much smaller than Russia and it is very difficult for us to resist imperialist aggression ourselves.
I am not an economist, not a politician, not a sociologist. I am good at firing artillery guns and training soldiers.
A few years ago I read Mikhail Sholokhov’s epic novel about the Russian revolution, “The Gentle Don”. In it there was a proletarian hero, Ivan Bunchuk. He volunteered to the imperialist war front to learn the military trade. He became a professional machine gunner and trained machine gun crews. I consider it my mission to train machine gunners on the fronts of the future class war, for the anti-totalitarian and anti-fascist struggle, the struggle for socialism all over the world.
ОV: Sergey, our readers will be very interested to know: how did you come to the ideas of the Left? How long ago? You have only recently joined the LSU/LIS. What attracted you to our political program and our current political position?
Sergey: My non-partisan left position was formed a long time ago. I grew up in a proletarian family, all my relatives worked in a chemical factory. My mother was a school teacher. So from a very young age I grew up with left-wing convictions, although I did not join any party.
In Ukraine the majority of the population is aware that the “traditional left” has sold out to the oligarchs and the Russian secret services. The population does not trust the traditional politicians of the left, identified in the consciousness of the masses with the Stalinists and the state bureaucracy. The traditional forms of struggle of the proletariat, such as the trade unions, were also greatly discredited by their conciliatory policy and their collaboration with the owners of the enterprises.
LSU is a young organization that is cleansing Marxism in Ukraine from Stalinism and Russian superpower chauvinism. I am very impressed by this. I look forward to LIS/LSU’s help in organizing independent trade unions and forming a real left flank of Ukrainian politics. Ukraine needs qualitatively new left-wing socialist politicians and I really hope that they will emerge from the independent trade union movement. In any case, I am very optimistic about the LSU. Now we will fight together.
ОV: Sergey, how do you see the prospects of the Ukrainian left and the labor movement? What problems do we face now and what challenges lie ahead?
Sergey: The main problem of the left movement is to overcome the prejudices of Ukrainians against the left and left politics. Many see the left as an agent of imperialist Russia. And, unfortunately, the so-called post-Stalinist “traditional left” gave many just reasons for this. On the other hand, the political bankruptcy of the traditional “communists” of the Communist Party of Ukraine and the “socialists” of the Socialist Party of Ukraine frees up a social and electoral field for us, the activists of the Ukrainian Socialist League.
The main political event in contemporary Ukraine is a defensive war against the aggression of imperialist Russia. The behavior of the left proletarian organization during this period will determine its political future. All of us have to take this factor into account very seriously. But I am sure we can do it.
It must also be understood that the former territories of the Soviet Union are entering a period of turbulence. In my analysis I assume that in the near future the Russian Federation, as a result of the adventurist policies of Putin and his clique, will collapse and many new states will be formed. Almost all Ukrainians are fluent in Russian and culturally close to Russians. Our activists could help to organize a genuine socialist movement in some of the fragments of the authoritarian and bureaucratic Russian Federation. Therefore, it is very important that we seek contacts with authentic anti-imperialist left activists in Russia.
ОV: Sergey, what would you like to convey from the Ukrainian comrades of the LSU to all comrades of the LIS in different countries?
Sergey: Dear comrades. First of all, I would like to thank you for the international solidarity with Ukraine in the struggle that you have shown in various countries where the sections of the LIS are present. As part of socialist solidarity, I ask you to put pressure on your governments to increase their aid to Ukraine, both humanitarian and military. I understand that the issue of military aid to Ukraine is very complex. But, believe me, we are having a very hard time at the moment. The Ukrainian people are bleeding to death in a war with a huge Russian imperialist predator. Big business in the major capitalist states is corrupted by the Russian oil and gas lobby. The dirty Russian money that Russian pensioners, orphans and disabled people lack is spent on buying foreign politicians.
There is now a unique moment when the Russian authoritarian-police state can be ended. It must not be missed. Turn out to rallies in your capitals and demand that your bourgeois governments increase their support for Ukraine. Ukrainian military and volunteers are in dire need of equipment and warm uniforms, as we are in for a very harsh winter. Winter uniforms, boots, backpacks, sleeping bags, thermal underwear. This is something the troops are lacking at the moment.
International socialist solidarity with the peoples in struggle is the guarantee of our common world victory over all the imperialist predators of the world. Proletarians of all countries, unite!