Ukraine: Voices of Resistance and Solidarity is a book edited by Fred Leplat and Chris Ford, published by Resistance Books and Ukraine Solidarity campaign. It contains essays by Mick Antoniw, Welsh Labour MP; John-Paul Himka, history professor; Taras Bilous, activist for Sotsialnyi Rukh / Social Movement; Yuliya Yurchenko activist for Ukraine Solidarity Campaign and Sotsialnyi Rukh / Social Movement; Oksana Dutchak, co-editor of Spilne/ Commons; Viktoriia Pihul, Ukrainian feminist; Nataliya Levytska, Deputy Chair of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine; Vitalii Dudin president of Sotsialnyi Rukh / Social Movement; Bogdan Ferens, founder of the Social Democratic Platform; Eric Toussaint, spokesperson of the CADTM International; Ilya Budraitskis, activist in the Russian Socialist Movement; Niko Vorobyov, Russian-British freelance journalist; Gilbert Achcar, Lebanese socialist; Simon Pirani professor of modern languages and cultures; Stephen R. Shalom, editor of New Politics; and Dan La Botz, editor of New Politics.
Ukraine: Voices of Resistance and Solidarity is an important publication that achieves two fundamental tasks: it amplifies the voices of Ukrainian socialists, feminists and trade unionists; and it refutes the arguments that many on the left internationally deploy to excuse their failure to support the Ukrainian resistance.
On 26 February 2023, Ukraine: Voices of Resistance and Solidarity had its Irish book launch, hosted by Irish Left With Ukraine. The two speakers were Conor Kostick, a founding member of ILWU and Halyna Herasym, a Ukrainian sociologist currently based at UCD.
A full recording of the two speeches and the introduction by chair Noirin Greene, former SIPTU national equality officer can be watched below:
Transcript of the booklaunch Ukraine: Voices of Resistance and Solidarity
Noirín Greene, former SIPTU national equality officer:
So the first person I want to introduce is Conor Kostick, who a lot of you already know. Conor is an Irish historian and writer living in Dublin. He the author of many lauded works of history and fiction and has received special recognition for his significant contribution to writing for children in Ireland. And I think that’s very admirable thing to do, Conor.
Conor was editor of the Socialist Worker in Ireland, twice chairperson of the Irish Writers Union and is a board member of the National Library of Ireland. As a historian, Conor’s awards include a gold medal from Trinity College, Dublin and fellowships from the Irish Research Council and the University of Nottingham. There’s also a great deal more, I’m seeing, Conor, but as I say, I’m only five minutes so I cut it all short. So thank you and I’ll ask Conor to give his address. Thank you.
Conor Kostick, novelist and historian:
I’m very glad to be asked to launch this book. I think it’s a really important book and it achieved two fundamentally important goals. One is it amplifies the voices coming from Ukraine, and two, it deals with the arguments that we’ve been facing since this war began. And just to go over those two points, it’s hard to underestimate the importance of hearing voices from Ukraine. The great failing of the left internationally, and we see it here in Ireland, is that it doesn’t start with the experience of people in Ukraine. Instead, they start from various different positions. They look at their political interests, their networks, and they come up with formulations about the situation in Ukraine that are back to front. And they end up, as we’ve seen recently, making all sorts of calls that have no bearing on what has actually happened in this last year.
They don’t think about, they don’t empathize with the experience of the people who are just living just like we were with the same nuances of politics, people struggling for a better world in against neoliberal agendas and so on. And suddenly bang! This massive, massive transformation of their lives, this deterioration of their lives, this horrific war. So I think to start with the experience of people in Ukraine means you don’t go as far wrong. And what this book does is it gives us the voice of the left in Ukraine. This is really important, because just like in Ireland, just like in any country, there’s a rich left tradition in Ukraine, there’s trade unionists, feminists, LGBTQ+ activists, socialists, anarchists, of course, every variation of political party that exists on the left elsewhere, exists in Ukraine. So why don’t we talk to them? Why don’t we start by saying, “What’s your experience? What do you want us to do? How can we show our solidarity with you?”
And when you start like that, you can very quickly arrive at the importance of arguing for Ukraine’s rights, self-determination, because nobody on the left Ukraine has the positions that we hear being articulated by the Irish Left. Here groups like People Before Profit, The Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers Network, let alone the more sort of communist parties, they don’t make it clear that people of Ukraine have the right to resist. No, they say that, “yes, Ukraine has the right to self-determination, and they are against Putin (I will get to Putin), but they don’t have the right to take arms from the West. That’s a big mistake. They can’t have mines cleared by Irish trained people, because that’s a threat to Irish neutrality.” So they come up with these positions that are, I’ve described as a evasionist, because it’s fine to say, “We’re in favor of peace.” Everybody wants peace, but they won’t say that the peace now is going to involve occupation of Ukrainian territory.
It’s going to mean the crushing of the left. I mean, there’s no question that whenever Russia occupies territory, it smashes the left. There’s no trade union activity in Russian occupied area. The trade unions are banned. The activists like Taras says in his essay here, Taras Bilous of Social Movement, he had to make a decision about whether to stay in Kiev at the start. And people were saying to him, “If you stay, you’ll get killed,” because it looked like the Russians were going to take Kyiv. And they are killing the civilians, yes. But they’re also targeting activists. Russia has a very conservative agenda so much that really, I’ll just come into this in a minute, the real far right position on this war is to support Russia. And that’s happening internationally, because as Putin sees it, by having gay rights and so on, the West is needs putting in its place and he’s trying to stop this.
The stakes of this war are very high, because there’s a world historic momentum that we’ve also had in Ireland towards same-sex marriage and abortion and so on. And the far right internationally, the conservatives internationally, hate this. Victory for Putin is all about this kind of taking away of democracy, taking away civil rights. So what’s happening in Ukraine is absolutely vital. And Taras made the decision to stay. A lot of the socialists in Ukraine are right now in the front lines. An anarchist group I know are raising money to get night vision goggles. So they are physically putting themselves in the frontline. And as they say in the book, they’re very clear, they’re not doing this for NATO and they’re not doing this even for Zelensky, although they support the Zelensky government under these circumstances, they’re doing it because if Russia wins, all the space for left organizing is eradicated.
At least if Ukraine wins, they can then have a discussion about what post-war Ukraine looks like, how trade unionists can fight for their rights. But that fight won’t happen if they lose. When I’ve tried to raise this with the Irish Left, what I find is they cannot bring themselves to listen to the voices of the Ukrainian left. It’s like trying to bring two magnets of the same polarity together. They just slide away rather than connect. They never ever platform and address the positions of the Ukrainian left. And I’m not saying they have to agree with them. What’s really shocking about this current moment in history in Ireland is that the left here are silencing the left in Ukraine, I think deliberately so, because people like Irish Left in the Ukraine have made it clear that we’re in contact with the Ukrainian left, we would give them speakers. They don’t want to know, because as soon as they admit that there is a Ukrainian left that you should talk to and listen to, even if you disagree with them, then their arguments collapse.
I managed to get one of them online to start a bit of a discussion which he quickly ran away from. But he said, “The people you’re amplifying with this book, (and also who we’ve been in touch with since start of the war), are a terribly small minority.” It’s what he said. Now first of all, that’s simply not true. Social Movement is a modest enough organization. But here in this book we hear from trade unions representing millions of Ukrainian workers, really big representative movements, feminists representing thousands of activists. So it’s simply not true. But even if it were true, I asked him, “How many people in Ukraine support your position that Ukraine is right to have independence, Putin is wrong, but that they’re not allowed to have Western weapons?” Not one person supports that, because it’s idiotic. If Ukraine has the right to self-discrimination, then it has the right to arm, people have the right to get arms from wherever they can.
And there’s a long history of this, of independence movements gaining arms from wherever they can. Which brings me to another point. Let me just give you a quick example of what you can read about from this book. The kind of voice that deserves to be amplified, that deserves to be heard here and is being, I think, deliberately silenced by the Irish Left. This is from a feminist organization, an interview with Viktoriia Pihul. At the moment there are people going around and saying we want peace, which is fine, but the implicit message is that we’re willing to accept that Russia occupies the positions it’s got at the moment and the equivalent ‘peace now’ argument has happened with regards to feminism.
So we have a western feminist manifesto that calls for an end to war, but doesn’t say anything about whether Ukrainian women should fight for independence. This is Vuktoriia’s response, “We’ve seen many pacifist statements by western feminists, including their manifesto. In the face of war and daily deaths of our women and children we are critical of this position.” That’s a massive understatement. She must be seething at that position, but anyway. “In this context, I am part of a working group of Ukrainian feminists who have written the Ukrainian Feminist Manifesto. We call for support for Ukrainian women including our rights for armed resistance. What I mean here is succumbing to geopolitical reasoning and geopolitical thinking and withdrawing from the conflict by condemning all sides is not a workable position. We must clearly distinguish the rapist from the victim and help the victim to assert her right to exist and be a subject.” Terrific; short; powerful in just those few lines. That really makes the point more clearly than what I’ve been saying. We have to distinguish the rapists and the victims, it’s as simple as that.
The Russians are the rapists. Ukrainians are the victims. Which side are you on? Of course, you should be on the side of the victims. It’s shocking that there are so many people who cannot see it that simply and clearly and cannot recognize the experience of Ukrainians. And this has practical consequences of course, not only in that trade unions here and elsewhere have given practical solidarity to our fellow trade unionists and activists and feminists in Ukraine. But also even just for marches like the other day. The Irish Left With Ukraine, we can go to these marches, we have comradeship with the people on the marches. We can have a conversation with anybody on the marches. The rest of the Irish left, they don’t go to them, because their positions would just be treated with scorn at the best. So they’re cutting themselves off.
The Irish left, which should be so vibrantly engaged with Ukrainian left – and we’ve met people from Ukraine through these activities who are revolutionaries and Marxists and feminists of course – should all be comrades together and that’s not happening except thanks to Irish Left With Ukraine and through Irish trade unions. Many trade unions here have much better position than the local left parties. So that’s the side of the book that amplifies the voices from Ukraine. So you cannot underestimate how valuable that is. And then the other thing that the book does is go through many of the arguments we’ve been facing and deals with them at a sort of theoretical level, but also drawing on their experience. And I won’t go through all the arguments, but I just take on the one argument that the book helps us answer, which is the question of whether the conflict in Ukraine in an inter-imperialist war, a proxy war?
Because if it is, then we don’t want to get involved. We don’t want take sides. And that’s the position of People Before Profit, the Socialist Party and the others: “all countries have got the right to self-determination. But supporting Ukraine to defeat Russia would mean supporting America’s goals and therefore we’re not going actually give any practical support to the Ukrainian resistance.” So that’s the key argument and the book gives us really good answers. People have really looked at this. There’s a very good essay that points out really since 1900 there has not been a war anywhere in the world that has not had inter imperialist dynamics to it. Of course, if a small nation is rising up against American domination, Russia is interested in that. It weakens America, great. If a small nation is rising up against Russian domination, America’s interested in that. That’s happened throughout the whole of the twentieth century.
And in fact they don’t have this in the book, but we know from Ireland, we know from our history how it happened. In 1916 Germany shipped 20,000 rifles, a million rounds of ammunition on the Aud to help the rebels here. Roger Casement came in a U-boat. He was given a submarine from Germany. Should he not have had that submarine? Should we have not had those guns? Of course, Germany had an interest to weaken Britain. James Connolly knew that as soon as we take German weapons, there’s going to be the equivalent to People Before Profit saying, “It’s an imperialist war. You’re supporting Germany.” So he had a big banner made: we serve neither King nor Kaiser, but Ireland. Yeah, we’ll take the guns, but we’re not serving the Kaiser. There’s no quid pro quo. And that’s the position of the left in Ukraine.
“Yeah, we’ll have your Apache helicopters and we’ll have your HIMARS, we’ll have all that. We need that. We absolutely need that. Otherwise, we could lose.” And, by the way, unfortunately it’s a very difficult military situation right now. They absolutely need this kind of equipment. It doesn’t mean we’re necessarily for NATO. And even if it did, the slogan, the right to self-determination of Ukraine, means nothing if they cannot choose to join NATO. I don’t want them join NATO. Taras Bilous doesn’t want to join NATO, the trade unionists, the feminists in here don’t want to join NATO. But if they choose to join NATO, that’s their choice.
If they don’t have a choice about joining NATO, they don’t have self-determination. So you cannot make your support conditional, you can’t say, “well I’m hesitant, because they might join NATO.” Tough luck. If you believe a country has a right to self-determination, then it has the right to make choices you don’t agree with. In Ireland we’ve had loads of referendum we’ve lost, the left has lost, but at least we’re making our own decisions about whether to be in Europe or not.
The left, if it loses the argument about NATO in Ukraine, it will nevertheless carry on arguing into the future. But it cannot make those arguments unless it’s free of Russian troops. So that’s the crucial point about these proxy wars. And we’ve seen from Vietnam where Russia and China armed the Vietnamese, but the left had no problem recognizing that the Vietnamese had the right to throw out the American supported government. And on the other side of the equation, some of you remember Solidarnosc, the independent trade union that flourished in Poland in 1980. Well the CIA got straight behind that, because they wanted to weaken Russia. Thatcher and Reagan feted the Solidarnosc leaders. It didn’t stop it being a genuine mass movement that socialists would support. So just because the inter imperialist powers are jockeying for position around a movement, that can’t let you determine what your position is. Your position has to start from the core principle. There is a rapist, there is a victim. Where am I standing? You start there and you can’t go wrong.
And yes of course, you’re going to see the other side jockeying for position, but the revolutionary victory, the resistance, the people’s struggle does more for making the world a better place than to let Russia win on the grounds that otherwise the US stands to gain.
And just finally just say something on the far right: the argument has been coming from Russia that Ukraine is fascist. And as this book makes absolutely clear, fascism is a problem in Ukraine, but it’s a diminishing one from its height in 2014. They got less than two and a half percent in the election in 2019. They got no parliamentary representatives elected and the left in Ukraine don’t swallow that excuse about the far right. They need independence and they will deal with the far right. That’s their problem to deal with.
And of course, the other side is easily more identifiable with its links to the far right. I mean, there are Russian activists who describe Putin as fascist and they might not be wrong as sort of neo-fascist. When you look at the big rallies the uncanny language that so echoes Hitler. But while there are nuances about what is a fascist movement and what is just a brutal dictatorship with state forces, the excuse about fascism should be laid to rest. There’s no justification for the evasion of Ukraine on those grounds.
So those are my takeaways from the book, really powerful important book. And the more it can get read, the better.
Well done, Conor, for giving us an overview, your insight of what’s in this magnificent book. And I hope because of your address, it doesn’t put people off buying it. Don’t think you’ve read it all, because you are certainly haven’t. It’s a fabulous, fabulous inspirational book. I know my only job was to introduce the speakers, but digressing slightly, I loved your reference to the banner which was shown over Liberty Hall. We serve neither King nor Kaiser, and that wonderful photograph of the mobilization of the citizens army. We took their weapons, who took any support from wherever they can get it. Just before I go, I know Danigan will be summing up I think at the end. If I could just ask you, giving you notice, maybe you could say a little bit about the Irish Left with Ukraine and how people can join up and what you can do next.
I do want to say that I think the time, and I think Conor mentioned that all the references that are in this wonderful book, the time for the what aboutery. I’m allowed to say pissed off, aren’t I? [inaudible 00:20:07]. Really pissed off when you’re trying to have this discussion with people on, they call it the broad left about what is happening in Ukraine and how we should support the people there in Ukraine. And this is what aboutery goes on and on and the but word. And to be quite honest with you, I think a year later it’s over. I think people need to join up, sign up and do the right thing. I know most of the people and all of you, we are on the right side and that’s all that needs to be known. So anyways, that’s my little digression.
I’m not sure I’m supposed to do that. It gives me great pleasure to afford a very warm welcome to Halyna Herasym. I hope I pronounced all of that right and just a little tiny little bit of background on, because I am limited in time. Halyna move to Ireland in 2020 from her home, and I hope I’m right on this, in the western part of Ukraine to study for her PhD in UCD School of Sociology. And little did she know that when she left her family and friends behind to complete her studies in Ireland, that her beloved Ukraine would be ravished by the terror of the Russian invasion.
Halyna will tell us about her experiences as a Ukrainian living in Ireland. And I think Conor’s stressed that earlier, that’s the people that we really need to be listening to and her reaction to the news of the invasion by Russia, by living in Ireland and her shock and concerns for her family and friends left behind in Ukraine. Also, some of the harrowing stories, because I did listen to your interview with the Irish Times and I would recommend that you certainly try and do that. I think it’s on YouTube and she’s heard of just some of the atrocities that are unfolding every day. Wasn’t just at the start, it wasn’t just in the middle, it’s still going on that have been committed by Russian forces in the occupied territories in this illegal war. And I’m sure that you will have a lot more to tell us. So very hearty welcome to her. Thank you.
Halyna Herasym, Ukrainian socialist:
Thank you, Conor. I have some large shoes to fill now after your wonderful presentation. So I want to start with a little story of one of the authors of this book, Taras Bilous was mentioned by Conor. So he’s about my age. He is a Ukrainian left activist who was fighting for workers right, for the rights of women, for the rights of LGBTQ community for quite some time now. He’s an editor of Commons Journal, the left-wing Ukrainian Journal, and he has a very peculiar biography that I think highlights the struggle of Ukrainians very well. So Taras was born in [inaudible 00:23:10] region, which is the far, far eastern part of Ukraine. And once we were together at an event where we had to speak Russian. I myself was born in western part of Ukraine as Maria already told us and my Russian is not very good. For me it’s absolutely second, third language. I knew Polish at the time better than I knew Russian.
And I was like, “Whoops, I’m in trouble.” So I had to make my presentation in Russian. I was like, “Jesus, I probably have done not very good.” And then it was Taras’ turn and I never spoke to Taras in Russian obviously. We always communicated in Ukrainian and then it was his turn and I realized that my Russian is not the worst in that room. Taras’ accent was bad and it showed that he wasn’t very fluent in Russian. I think his biography and the way he stands for his conviction highlights that many divisions within Ukrainian society are not as they see it from the outside. Taras is a very sweet, very peaceful person, very patient for… I couldn’t be that patient to save my life, to be honest. He’s always very willing to go out of his way to have a genuine discussion, even with the people he knows that they would disagree with him and sometimes even with danger to himself.
So of all the people who would be patiently trying to persuade some activists on the right side, for instance, Taras would be the one who would be patient with talking to them. And he would be the last person that you would imagine taking up arms and going to fight in the battle. But when the Russian invasion began last year, Taras decided to stay and fight. So yeah, I think his biography and his character depicts very well the experiences of so many Ukrainian people. It depicts that the story of Ukrainian society is way more complicated than simplistic divisions like West and East Russian speakers, Ukrainian speakers and so on and so on and so on. When I read this book, I could really feel the frustration of another author Oksana [inaudible 00:25:46], also sociologist from Ukraine whose husband currently is fighting in war. They have two children and she had to flee, because they lived in Kiev.
Her husband is, he’s also from the western part of Ukraine and he is a wonderful, absolutely wonderful writer. I encourage you to look him up. I think some of his writing pieces were featured in New Yorker. His name’s [inaudible 00:26:13]. He’s an absolutely wonderful writer who spent quite some time sometime traveling, trying to learn about his home country, about Ukraine and writing reports about what he had seen. His book, [inaudible 00:26:29] Ukraine, is really inspiring and it tells those stories like the one of Taras about just some people living, going about their lives, being open and having discussions with him on his way, absolutely wonderfully. He also did participate, had been participating in left-wing politics for a long time, I think more than 10 years now in Ukraine and publishing his books. And Oksana in this book had written this article on 10 terrible leftist arguments about Ukraine.
And you can sense her frustration, you can sense her anger. And she even mentioned that hearing some of these arguments, she feels emotions that she’s ashamed of because these arguments make her so angry. And I can honestly relate to that, because unfortunately with many left-wing activists, and not only in Ireland, all around the world, you can feel like you’re invisible. So you are talking and you’re not being heard as a Ukrainian, it’s like this invisible veil comes between you and the person you are trying to talk to. And this lack of acknowledgement of your agency is honestly very frustrating sometimes because again, it is a very diminishing experience to be honest, when the people do not act as if you are there equal. They are trying to persuade you that, oh, this is all like a NATO rules or whatever. You are just are just being brainwashed.
I’m sorry people. I have a very good education. I am smart, adult human being. I’m capable of coming to my own conclusions about the situation and I do know quite a bit about the situation on the ground. So I can hear, I can feel Oksana’s frustration and I’m really delighted that right now I have an opportunity to present these Ukrainian voices and Oksana’s voice in particular here. In my research, I have two streams of research, one of them is I’m researching funeral culture in Ireland here. So I learned quite a bit about the Irish society, but the other stream of my research is dedicated to social movements in Ukraine. And I’m focusing on what I’m calling social dreaming. So social dreaming is these desires and dreams and visions of Ukrainian society, which are lived, which Ukrainian society is trying to make true through social participation, through political participation, through their everyday experience.
This is something that we have seen during your Madam protest in 2013, ’14. This is something we are seeing now society, regardless of their political views, left and right and centrist people and people who are not that interested in politics, to be honest. They’re coming together in order to realize the dream of just society with a rule of law where they have the right to decide for themselves what they’re doing. And I’ve been interviewing a lot of Ukrainian activists in the course of my research and that’s something I been amazed again, being Ukrainian, being a part of this social movement. But I still, I am amazed time and again with this determination, with this desire to make the world of your dreams where you can realize the justice, when you can see how your rights are coming to reality. I’m amazed by that determination, that feeling less willingness to work towards that, time and again.
And here in Ireland, I feel like this research on social dreaming is becoming for me more important than ever, because in Ukraine right now, and even before, we had so many predecessors who wanted to see that [inaudible 00:31:15] world, that world they’re envisioning for themselves. As Conor wonderfully mentioned, we have seen the solidarity movement in Poland. We have seen so many anti-colonial moments all around the globe. So in the course of my life and the life of my generations, we had so many people to look up to. So many people who were fighting to build that [inaudible 00:31:41] and more righteous world if you will. I had this discussion today that people of Ireland a 100 years were also so wonderfully mentioned by Conor. They didn’t have somebody to look up to. They had to envision their own future. They had to envision that world where they would have that right for self-determination to decide their own fate for themselves.
I think that what this book can provide for the world and for the left all over the world is this social dream, this opportunity to think out of this world, I don’t know, Cold War mindset. This opportunity to get out of that pattern of thinking America is bad, America is a superpower. We should be standing against everybody and everything America stands for and major stands for and so on and so forth. I think that this book and the voices of Ukrainian people in general can provide this opportunity for all the left all around the globe to see something new, to step outside of the box and to build more robust solidarities, which are not limited by political naming, by things that are using clever rhetorical figures to present themselves as if they’re just, or if they are promoting somebody’s rights. I think this is a very powerful opportunity to have this kind of thinking to go into this stream of social dreaming and political imagination and build this [inaudible 00:33:40] and more robust world where solidarity grows together. Thank you.
Thank you, Halyna, that was very wonderful. Very colorful use of words in your vision as well. I particularly liked that we need to think outside the box, especially older people as well. And those that are in bureaucratic organizations or considered themselves the old left political people. I particularly liked where you said the social, socialist dream for not just the future of Ukraine, but for around the world. And I think of anybody is in any doubt as to how to get inspiration, again, I’m plugging it again, this book is just fabulous, because you have the feminist thinking in it. You have trade unionist thinking in it, and you have political with big peace and small peace and middle peace items and articles in this book. So I would again encourage you to do that.
Irish Left With Ukraine
This book launch was one of several events organised by Irish Left With Ukraine at the time of the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
If you would like to get in touch with Irish Left With Ukraine, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.