Back Ukraine independence! Moscow out of Ukraine now!

By Roy Landersen
May 22, 2023

Hit with a new wave of cruise missile strikes on Kyiv and aerial attacks on other cities, working people in Ukraine deepened their determination to resist Moscow’s assaults on their independence. At home, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime is tightening restrictions on free speech, but more Russians are finding ways to speak out against his war.

Moscow is far from subjugating the areas of eastern Ukraine it has seized. Putin visited occupied Mariupol for a propaganda stunt March 19. Some residents in a new apartment building were filmed for Russian TV effusively thanking him for invading. But as he was leaving, a barely audible voice in the distance cries out in Russian, “It’s all lies!”

To counter mounting Russian losses, students are now a target for Putin’s goal to conscript 147,000 people for compulsory service. They were previously exempted from the draft. At some colleges students have been snatched from their dorms and dragged to enlistment offices.

Elsewhere in Moscow, prominent Russian theater director Evgeniya Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriichuk were arrested May 5 and accused of “justifying terrorism” for putting on an award-winning play about Russian women who married Islamic State fighters. The production was first staged several years ago. The arrests are the first high-profile criminal case over the content of a work of fiction since the collapse of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union.

Marina Davydova, editor-in-chief of Teatr, said the persecution of individuals over the content of a well-known play was intended to send “a clear signal: No one is safe.” Petriichuk’s husband was jailed for 15 days after joining anti-war protests last spring.

Alongside Putin’s crackdown on political protest, several actors and artists have lost their jobs for speaking out against the war. Despite this, opponents of the war keep finding creative ways to defy the regime.

A judge in Tyumen, Siberia, cleared Alisa Klimentieva of charges of “discriminating against the Russian army.” She was detained by cops after writing “Nyet v—e!” (“No to w–!”) and a peace sign in chalk on a public pavement last September. In court, she told the judge she was referring not to “voine,” which means war, but “voble,” a type of fish.

“I hate carp. Can’t stand the smell of it,” she said.

When the judge dropped the charges the story of her victory spread like wildfire. Images of fish crossed out in red began to appear everywhere.

As the Ukrainian government readies forces for a counteroffensive, its Azov brigade is rebuilding with thousands of fresh recruits after heavy combat losses. They are attracted by its proud history of combat.

“It is a name that, thanks to the defense of Mariupol, became known to the world,” one of its sergeants told the Washington Post. Last year the unit led the defense of the besieged city, as Moscow’s bombardment largely destroyed it. The unit’s action bought Ukrainian forces invaluable time to regroup to defend Kyiv.

One Azov recruit told the Post he came from Ternopil in western Ukraine after waiting months to join the brigade. He said the controversy over the unit’s right-wing nationalist origins was an “overblown story.” Its founders quit after less than a year, setting up a political party that has virtually no support. The brigade has been integrated into the Ukrainian armed forces and is open to all.

Putin spoke at the commemoration of the victory of the Soviet Union in World War II May 9, repeating slanders he used to justify eradicating Ukraine. He claimed “Western globalist elites” were “preparing a new march on Russia” and had “brought together neo-Nazi scum from around the world for this.”

Moscow often points to the Azov brigade as evidence of the so-called fascists it alleges threaten the Russian people. The brigade did come out of a rightist-led nationalist militia that fought against Putin’s push to take over eastern Ukraine in 2014. That came after the overthrow of the pro-Moscow regime of President Viktor Yanukovych by the popular Maidan uprising.

The Ukrainian armed forces have been strengthened by volunteers committed to defend their homeland. They’re buttressed by volunteer auxiliary forces.

And many Ukrainians are determined to find ways to continue their lives, despite Moscow’s bombardment and drone attacks aimed at inflicting maximum casualties in urban areas. Several new bookstores have opened in Kyiv, reflecting national pride, optimism and increasing access to culture.

“The winter of blackouts was very good for reading,” author Oksana Zabuzhko told the Guardian. Reading a physical book by candlelight was possible when scrolling through a phone was not.