Ukraine’s coup regime ups threats as protests expand

Mass protest in Kharkov demands release of imprisoned anti-fascists, April 13.Photo: Borotba

Mass protest in Kharkov demands release of imprisoned anti-fascists, April 13.
Photo: Borotba

April 14 — Desperate to stamp out a popular uprising in southeastern Ukraine, the junta in Kiev — which came to power through a violent coup using fascist groupings against elected President Viktor Yanukovych — is attempting to crush the newly declared People’s Republic of Donetsk and rebellions in other cities.

But instead of intimidating the anti-fascist resistance, this attack has spread the fightback.

In cities throughout the Donbas mining region of eastern Ukraine — including Slavyansk, Gorlovk and Mariopul — anti-junta protesters have seized government buildings and begun setting up popular councils and militias loyal to the independent People’s Republic of Donetsk that was called for on April 7 in the regional capital.

In the capitals of neighboring Kharkov and Lugansk provinces, foes of the coup have also fought running battles for control of government buildings. In all three regions, anti-fascists have called for a May 11 referendum on autonomy or independence from the U.S.-backed regime in Kiev.

Even in the western city of Lviv, near the Polish border, activists briefly seized the local prosecutor’s office.

Every day, the coup government, whose police and military forces are directed by leaders of neo-Nazi and far-right political parties like Svoboda and Fatherland, issues new ultimatums and ups the threats against the southeastern resistance. And every day, it demonstrates just how much it is in disarray.

Disarray, threats in Kiev

Arsen Avakov, the junta’s interior minister, arrived in the southeast on April 9 and delivered a 48-hour deadline to protesters in Donetsk to surrender or face military attack.

Avakov was tasked with bringing the various neo-Nazi groups under the regime’s discipline. To this end, he created a “National Guard” composed of members of the Right Sector, the Maidan Self Defense Forces and other racist gangs based in western Ukraine.

Intelligence gathered by the anti-fascists in Donetsk indicated that Avakov assembled three roughly equal heavily armed groups to attack them: special police and military forces, fascists from the National Guard and foreign mercenaries supplied by the U.S.-based company Greystone Ltd. (Interview with local militia leader by RIA Novosti, April 10)

The people of Donetsk mobilized in preparation for the expected attack. Workers, youths and retirees built barricades around the People’s Council building, trained in self-defense, gathered food and medical supplies, and kept sharp watch on the movements of military forces around the city.

But the deadline passed. No attack came. Why?

The Ukrainian police and military forces, fearful of the consequences and faced with resistance within their own ranks, refused to attack.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. The junta in Kiev had spent a week replacing local police and military commanders with loyalists from western Ukraine. Avakov had sent squads of neo-Nazis to infiltrate the southeastern cities and mount all kinds of provocations.

The military debacle in Donetsk threw the regime further into disarray — and exposed its nationalist rhetoric as a farce. The government headed by interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and acting President Aleksandr Turchinov could not rely on the military and police, the usual props of the capitalist state.

It could only rely on the fascist gangs and imperialism.

As if to confirm this, Turchinov fired Vitaly Tsygankov on April 14, just a week after he was appointed to head the “Anti-Terrorism Center.”

Meanwhile, Avakov called for recruiting 12,000 fighters to a newly created “Special Operations Corps” to suppress the southeastern rebellion.

Yatsenyuk and Turchinov have given lip service to the idea of a referendum in the southeast — but only if the anti-fascists surrender — and in conjunction with bogus presidential elections called for May 25.

Resistance organizations like the leftist Union Borotba (Struggle) counter that there can be no legitimate elections without a referendum on autonomy first.

Shootings, war danger

While Donetsk has received a brief breathing spell, the danger from the fascist junta and its Western backers hasn’t lessened.

State security and military forces that remain loyal to Kiev have received authorization to kill anti-fascists — labelled “separatists, terrorists and Russian agents” — anywhere and anytime.

First blood from that order was spilled April 13 in Slavyansk, when at least two people were killed and two injured by gunfire after the “Anti-Terrorist Unit” opened fire on protesters.

The U.S. and its allies in Europe, meanwhile, continue to escalate their hawkish rhetoric aimed at Russia, threatening new sanctions and denouncing the protests in southeastern Ukraine as a Russian plot — ironic since Washington played a key role in bringing the Kiev junta to power.

The U.S. Navy destroyer U.S.S. Donald Cook arrived near Russian waters in the Black Sea on April 10. It will join other U.S., Bulgarian and Romanian warships in provocative war games.

U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of NATO forces in Europe, told the Associated Press on April 10 that U.S. troops could soon be deployed in the region. NATO has scheduled an emergency meeting on Ukraine for mid-April.

All of these forces are now deployed against the popular resistance in the largely Russian-speaking southeast, where the anti-fascist and working-class traditions of Soviet times still run deep among workers of all national backgrounds.

In Kharkov, where the resistance is led by Borotba and the Popular Unity coalition, some 70 activists were arrested and jailed after seizing the Regional State Administration building and declaring a People’s Republic on April 7.

The activists were each sentenced to two months imprisonment or fines of 180,000 hryvnia — about $14,000. Simultaneously, a ban on mass protests was announced.

But hundreds continue to protest daily in Kharkov, demanding freedom for the political prisoners. On April 12, in defiance of the junta, more than 1,000 rallied at the Lenin statue in Freedom Square, and afterwards marchers took over the city council building.

“Despite the repression the resistance does not subside,” declared Borotba coordinator Sergei Kirichuk. “The people are going to continue to fight.”