When I learned that Donbass militia leader Alexei Mozgovoi had been assassinated, I immediately thought of Joe Hill’s famous last words: “Don’t mourn, organize.”
I had been talking with Mozgovoi and his press secretary, Anna Aseeva-Samelyuk, to arrange an interview that would allow him to speak directly to U.S. workers about the life-and-death struggle against NATO imperialism and 21st century fascism in Ukraine and the Donbass People’s Republics.
The last message I received from Anna was sent just hours before she and Commander Mozgovoi were killed.
Like Joe Hill, Mozgovoi was a singer, a poet and a warrior. And like that famous Wobblie musician murdered by U.S. mining bosses, he offered an example of strength, determination and modesty in life and in the face of death. He will continue to inspire working people around the world long into the future.
Alexei Borisovich Mozgovoi, commander of the Novorossiyan Ghost Brigade, died on the afternoon of May 23 when his car was attacked with mines and machine guns on the highway between Alchevsk and Lugansk in the Lugansk People’s Republic. He was 40 years old.
Four Ghost Brigade members accompanying him were also killed: press secretary Aseeva-Samelyuk, an activist, journalist and mother of three, said to be a key political leader of the Ghost Brigade; bodyguards Alexei Kalascin and Andrej Rjajskih; and driver Alexander Yuriev.
Two civilians driving along the same road, a pregnant woman and her spouse, were also killed.
A Ukrainian fascist group called “The Shadows” claimed responsibility, but this has not been confirmed. An investigation by the Lugansk authorities, with cooperation from Ghost, is ongoing.
Origins of the Ghost Brigade
During his all-too-brief leadership of the Ghost Brigade, Mozgovoi displayed many of the qualities of revolutionaries like Che Guevara and Thomas Sankara, with a seemingly inexhaustible integrity, uncompromising principles and ability to inspire and rally people to his cause.
Born and raised in Lugansk, and trained as a singer and a soldier, Mozgovoi emerged as a leader of the anti-fascist militia movement shortly after the junta in Kiev launched its bloody war on Donbass in 2014.
He enjoyed recounting how the Ghost Brigade earned its name. After repeated claims by the Ukrainian military that they had wiped out the armed resistance in Lugansk, his fighters always re-emerged to strike back like phantoms.
Mozgovoi did not call himself a communist or Marxist, yet he displayed a deep class consciousness and openness to learn and grow politically. He welcomed the Volunteer Communist Detachment into the Ghost Brigade and worked closely with its commanders, Pyotr Biryukov and Alexey Markov, who also became deputy leaders of the Brigade.
Mozgovoi put Biryukov in charge of military operations during the successful campaign to liberate Debaltsevo, Donetsk, from Ukrainian occupation forces this February.
After militant Donetsk militia leader Igor Strelkov was forced out by conservative forces in Donbass and the Russian Federation, Mozgovoi upheld the anti-fascist banner. He attracted many of the fighters most dedicated to serving the people and seeing the struggle through, from the liberation of historic Novorossiya all the way to Kiev, including international volunteers.
During an interview with a correspondent of Russian Planet, Mozgovoi joked that after the liberation of Kiev it might be necessary for Ghost to continue marching west to liberate Warsaw and “little hamlets” like Berlin, Paris and London.
Mozgovoi was outspoken in his opposition to the oligarchy and fascist reaction in Ukraine. He was unafraid to criticize the Minsk ceasefire agreements, which he saw as an unnecessary and damaging concession to the Kiev junta and U.S. imperialism. He denounced what he saw as the encroachment of oligarchic forces that simply want to remake Donbass in the image of corrupt, capitalist Ukraine, as it existed before the U.S.-backed coup, not as truly liberated people’s republics.
Class conscious and internationalist
In videos, teleconferences and interviews, Mozgovoi reached out to the workers and soldiers of Ukraine on a class basis, stating that there could be no winners in a bloody civil war and the common people should unite to fight the oligarchy and neo-Nazis.
From Ghost’s base in Alchevsk, Lugansk, he led the Brigade in supporting the local population. They established social canteens where militia and civilians eat side by side, preventing starvation and malnutrition due to the war and blockade. His team pioneered the efficient procurement and distribution of international humanitarian aid to hospitals, schools and pensioners.
In the last video Mozgovoi made before his death, he talked about Ghost’s efforts to help revive the local economy and develop self-sufficiency in food production by reopening a large poultry farm.
As a person of revolutionary integrity and popularity, faced with such challenging wartime conditions, Mozgovoi had a target on his back and enemies on all sides. He survived several earlier assassination attempts, most recently in March, near the spot where he was killed.
In his last days, he welcomed the Second Antifascist Caravan to Donbass and hosted the May 8 International Solidarity Forum on “Antifascism, Internationalism, Solidarity,” with delegates from more than a dozen countries — after anti-communist forces in Lugansk tried to shut it down.
In defiance of his political opponents, Mozgovoi held a spirited, internationalist parade in Alchevsk on May 9, the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of German fascism.
In a video statement after Mozgovoi’s death, communist co-commander Alexey Markov said: “A person can be murdered, but not his ideas — the ideas Alexei Mozgovoi had been carrying on since last year, the ones which brought thousands of people to join us.
“With the death of one person, the ideas will not die. We are going to carry them through the war, through the misery, through the death. With these ideas, we will live, and build a better life.”
Co-commander Pyotr Biryukov noted: “The Ghost Brigade, and communist unit as part of it, will not disappear as a force against fascism. Our volunteers are the proof of this fact, and the people who help us, who trust us and rely on us to defend them.
“One of the combatants of the brigade has been killed; the commander. But his work lives with us. We will carry it on.”
“Our flag resists,” added Markov. “The Ghost Brigade’s flag will be seen in Lysichansk, Kharkov and Kiev very soon, and will be the best memorial for our commander.”
Thousands honored him and his fallen comrades at a public memorial in Alchevsk on May 24 as true inheritors of the best qualities of the Soviet Union and the Great Patriotic War against fascism.
Mozgovoi’s spirit of defiance and internationalism will also fuel an international day of solidarity with Donbass called to coincide with the commander’s funeral on May 27. And, no doubt, many battles still to come.
For more information, videos and translations about Alexei Mozgovoi and Ghost Brigade can be found at redstaroverdonbass.blogspot.com.