At the same time workers in Ukraine continue to join actions in defense of the country’s sovereignty and against bosses’ attacks on jobs, wages and working conditions — conditions that have been exacerbated in the east by the separatists’ disruption and sabotage.
Meanwhile, Washington and its imperialist allies in Europe announced a new round of sanctions against Moscow July 29, hitting banks, sections of the oil industry and individuals — measures designed to impose hardships on working people as part of bringing pressure to bear on the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As the separatists’ influence wanes and internal fissures widen, the paramilitaries’ ties to Moscow have become more transparent.
“I’m a mercenary from Russia. I don’t give a damn about any of this,” a separatist officer who called himself Denis told New York Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise when she was seized by his troops in Luhansk July 15. They have trouble holding recruits, he said. Some people signed up in a burst of emotion early on, but quit within weeks.
The shootdown has also accelerated opposition to the separatists in Russia, among working people as well as the capitalist rulers and their mouthpieces.
“‘Ukrainian Rebels’ Aren’t Ukrainian or Rebels,” read the headline of a July 28 Moscow Times article. “They are outsiders and usurpers, men with either mercenary or imperial motivations.”
The Moscow-based Novaya Gazeta printed a front-page apology July 25, headlined “Forgive Us, Netherlands,” written in Dutch, above a picture of a convoy of hearses carrying the first victims of the plane shootdown home for forensic investigation.
Reporting that separatist forces “saw some of their worst battlefield setbacks in weeks Monday,” the July 28 Wall Street Journal noted that Alexander Borodai, head of the separatists’ so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, had “left for Moscow for consultations.” His new chief aide, Vladimir Antyufeyev — who recently came in from Russia and has experience intervening in Transnistria and Georgia — said he didn’t know when Borodai would return.
“A total breakdown of law and order and a reign of fear and terror have been inflicted by armed groups on the population,” said a United Nations report on Ukraine released July 28. The report documents separatists’ “abductions, detentions, torture, murder, executions, extortion, and destruction of property.”
Thousands of workers are leaving Donetsk and other cities still under separatist control, going to other parts of Ukraine. “The separatists destroyed some of the tracks,” Sergey Shevchuk, who helps find housing and other assistance for refugees coming to Kiev, told the Militant July 29. “But they’ve been repaired and trainloads are coming again, along with cars, buses, whatever people can get their hands on.”
Donetsk, with a population close to 1 million, “has largely become a ghost town since rebels dug in,” Reuters reported July 28.
“There has been deliberate targeting by the armed groups of critical public utilities like water, electricity and sewage plants that have shut down essential supplies to the residents,” the U.N. reported. “Hospitals and clinics were forced to shut down and essential medicines and emergency medical services became scarce or totally unavailable.” Railways have been blown up and coal mines attacked, it said.
At the same time, Shevchuk said, “many who fled earlier are returning home” to areas where separatists have relinquished control to the Ukrainian government.
Shortly before the shootdown separatists had been pushed out of Metalist, Oleksandrivsk, Bile and Rozkishne. According to several news reports, towns they’ve been forced to abandon since include Avdiivka, Rozsypne, Debaltseve and Shakhtarsk, a city of 72,000.
Workers protest bosses’ attacksThe independent rail unions organized a protest July 15 at the Cabinet of Ministers in Kiev. Workers carried signs reading, “Down with the thieves of Ukrainian railroads,” “No reduction of the working class,” “Privatization: Enemy of the people,” and “Medical care for hazardous working conditions.”
“We oppose the railroad cutting our wages, while the price of everything keeps going up and up,” Sergey Lashka, president of the Free Trade Union of the Southern Railroad, told protesters, reported the July 21 Aspect, the newspaper of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine.
“Workers’ incomes are falling while prices for goods, services and public transit are skyrocketing,” Mikhailo Volynets, head of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions and of the independent miners’ union, said at the rally, Aspect reported. “But today you are taking an important step in fighting for your rights.”
Rail workers in Ukraine, like miners and other workers, have been part of resistance to attacks by bosses and their government in recent years and took part in the popular Maidan protests that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych in February. In September 2012, for example, rail workers marched in Kiev after the national rail company slashed trains, laid off workers and piled overtime on those who still had jobs, a profit-driven course that led to a 26 percent increase in injuries within a year.
“If the International Monetary Fund presses the government to force more of the cost of social services onto the backs of working people,” Volynets said. “We will organize more and more powerful protests.”
‘Workers should support people of Ukraine’
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