Jan. 6 — Four Ukrainian anti-fascist activists detained in the Donetsk People’s Republic for two weeks were freed Jan. 3 and have now safely returned to Crimea in the Russian Federation.
Meanwhile, an Odessa activist tortured and held for almost four months by the U.S.-backed Ukrainian regime was freed Dec. 26 in a prisoner exchange between Ukraine and people’s militias in the Lugansk People’s Republics.
All five are members of the revolutionary Marxist organization Union Borotba (Struggle).
Victor Shapinov, Maria Muratova and Maxim Firsov had been held by the Special Division of the Vostok Battalion of the people’s militia since Dec. 21. They were arrested by soldiers while on a solidarity visit to Donetsk to meet with activists and officials. Alexei Albu was detained Dec. 26 while trying to win their release. The activists have been living in exile in Simferopol, Crimea under threat of arrest for their anti-fascist activities in Ukraine.
Initial reports of the arrests stoked fears that they might be handed over to the Ukrainian regime as part of a prisoner swap, endangering their lives.
Their detention and subsequent expulsion from Donetsk highlights the sharpening class struggle and political contradictions in the People’s Republics of the Donbass mining region, also known as Novorossiya, which declared independence from Ukraine following a far-right coup in Kiev last year.
Odessa massacre survivor freed
Vlad Wojciechowski survived the May 2 massacre of anti-fascist activists at the Odessa House of Trade Unions, where he suffered serious head trauma at the hands of a neo-Nazi mob. In September, he was arrested by the SBU, the Ukrainian equivalent of the FBI, on trumped up charges of “forming a terrorist organization.” He was subsequently imprisoned and tortured.
Wojciechowski was finally liberated just before the New Year in an exchange of prisoners of war between Ukraine and the Donbass republics.
In a statement published at Borotba.su, Wojciechowski said, “I am very angry with the fascist government of Ukraine, which proved once again with its barbaric acts that it is willing to wade through corpses to defend its interests and those of the West.
“They failed to break me. And my will has become tempered steel. Now I’m even more convinced that it is impossible to save Ukraine without defeating fascism on its territory.”
Ukraine’s government in Kiev, backed by U.S. and European Union imperialism and NATO, has carried out a bloody war against Donetsk and Lugansk, targeting homes, schools, hospitals, the civilian infrastructure and killing thousands.
In December the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama reaffirmed their support for Ukraine’s aggression with the so-called “Ukrainian Freedom Act.” Among its provisions are millions of dollars in additional aid to the far-right junta of oligarchs, neoliberal politicians and neo-Nazis in Kiev, along with the direct supply of weapons and war materiel.
International solidarity to free antifascists
Despite the distraction of year-end holidays, the four Borotba activists detained in Donetsk drew wide international support demanding their release.
Groups in solidarity with the Donbass republics and Ukraine anti-fascists issued an international appeal to Donetsk officials. It read in part:
“The four activists and their organization have been steadfast leaders of the anti-fascist movement since the first days of the U.S.-NATO-backed coup in Ukraine. … These comrades have been essential to building international solidarity with Donetsk and Lugansk, as well as the anti-fascist movement inside Ukraine. They are valuable allies of your struggle against the Kiev junta and NATO expansion.
“Mistakes happen in war time. It is not always easy to tell friend from foe. There is no shame in this. But there is still time to correct the mistake before it becomes a tragedy.”
The appeal, initiated by the U.S.-based International Action Center, was co-signed by Colombia’s March Patriótica movement, Britain’s militant RMT Paddington No. 1 Branch of the transit workers’ union, former U.S. Congressperson Cynthia McKinney, Joe Lombardo of the United National Antiwar Coalition, and solidarity groups from Britain, France, Greece and the U.S. (The full appeal can be read at No2Nato.org.)
Borotba members in Donetsk, in Simferopol and others exiled in Europe worked around-the-clock to free their comrades. Together with international solidarity activists, they appealed to influential individuals to speak out, and many responded, including Donetsk-based journalist Graham Phillips, military analyst Boris Rozhin (Colonel Cassad), Italian punk band Banda Bassotti, Russian champion athlete and communist youth Maryana Naumova, and leader of the Russian Communist Workers Party Victor Tyulkin.
In a statement issued following their release, Shapinov, Muratova, Firsov and Albu noted that direct appeals for their release from high government officials, including vice chair of the Donetsk People’s Soviet Denis Pushilin and parliamentary leader Boris Litvinov, went unheeded by the Vostok Battalion leaders.
“After two weeks of detention in the Special Division,” the activists report, “members of the Ministry of State Security of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) came.They told us that we would be immediately taken to the Russian border and deported from the DNR. They also reported that we are forbidden to enter the territory of the DNR and the Lugansk People’s Republic.
“In response to a question about the motives of deportation, Ministry officers said, ‘Now you are with us for one thing, and then we do not know what you want to do.’ Apparently, there is a view that as representatives of the communist movement, we could start an opposition to the activities of the current DNR leadership.
“At the moment we do not have enough information to make an unambiguous conclusion about what is behind our arrest and expulsion from the Donetsk People’s Republic — banal excessive vigilance of intelligence agencies, political denunciation or some kind of political order. In any case, such actions with respect to sincere friends of the Donbass rebellion only harm the reputation of the People’s Republics.
“Despite this unfortunate incident in which we were unwitting participants, we have not changed our attitude to the People’s Republics and the anti-fascist uprising in the Donbass. We remain bitter enemies of the Kiev regime of oligarchs and Nazis, and friends of all who oppose fascism.
“However,” they continue, “some recent developments, including our arrest and deportation, give rise to legitimate concerns — whether the original spirit of the anti-fascist and anti-oligarchic revolt will continue, or will it be buried in favor of commercial and political interests of various groups operating in the republics?” (The full statement in English can be accessed at Borotba.su/newsen.html.)