Workers World interviewed Ekaterina Popova, a leader of the Communist Party, Lugansk Regional Committee in the Lugansk People’s Republic. Popova is a founding member of the Forum of Communist, Socialist, Workers’, Environmental and Anti-Fascist Forces. She helped to organize the Donbass International Forum titled “Anti-Fascism, Internationalism, Solidarity” held on May 8 in Alchevsk.
Workers World: Where did you grow up and attend school? What is your trade? How did you become involved in the communist movement?
Ekaterina Popova: I was born in a small town called Svetlodarsk, population 10,000, in the Donetsk region. It is a young city, founded in 1968 in connection with the construction of a thermal power plant.
When I went to university and moved to Lugansk, and people asked where I had come from, it usually took a long time to explain exactly where Svetlodarsk was — few people had heard of it or knew about it. Now I only have to say two words, known not only throughout Ukraine — “Debaltsevo cauldron” [where the Donbass people’s militias defeated the Ukrainian military offensive in February 2015].
In my town there were only two schools — the old and the new. I attended the old. After graduation, I worked as a political analyst. While still a student, I joined the Lenin Communist Youth Union of Ukraine, then the Communist Party of Ukraine.
WW: What was your experience as a young person at the time of the Soviet Union’s breakup?
EP: I was a child during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Vladimir Lenin’s portraits hung in my kindergarten and the children studied the cultures of the other Soviet republics. So the concept of “friendship of peoples” entered my life, along with thoughts of distant Kazakhstan — a doll with dark braids in a strange national costume and fanciful stories.
At the same time, I remember how as kids we were taught the verses:
“In rebuilding trust together, We will do whatever is necessary.” I remember how my family went to the solemn procession on the May 1 holiday. I liked walking around with balloons, my sister shouting “Hurrah!”
I had time to get an old Soviet school uniform and a badge with the image of a young Lenin. But in the year when I was supposed to become a Pioneer, the Pioneers stopped taking new members.
Of course, as a child, I did not realize the whole essence of what was happening around me. The textbooks began to [read] that communism is utopia and cruelty. The journalists, writers, politicians, human rights activists, diplomats and scientists agreed with the textbooks. And the kids believed it. And I believed, too.
But we have a saying: “It is impossible to connect the TV to the refrigerator.” This means that the words of corrupt politicians and media don’t conform with the reality of people’s lives. No matter how much the TV tries to convince people that they are rich, it can’t make food appear in the refrigerator. Sooner or later everyone realizes that. Eventually I understood.
One teacher later told me: “The victory of socialism in our country will not be achieved by those who remember the Soviet Union, but by the generation that was born and grew up under capitalism. Because socialism is not nostalgia for the past. Socialism is the choice of those who are fed up to the limit with all the ‘charms’ of the capitalist world.”
WW: Tell us about the activity of the Lugansk communists after the 2014 Maidan coup in Kiev.
EP: The main cause of the Donbass uprising in spring 2014 was the reaction of residents of Eastern Ukraine to what took place in Kiev. The people of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions did not want to live in a country of victorious fascism. We did not want to burn alive like the Odessans in the House of Trade Unions, did not want visiting groups of neo-Nazis to smash our monuments and mock our history. Civilians of Lugansk and other cities in the region wanted to be heard, because it’s unfair when the fate of the whole country and all its regions is defined by a crowd of a few thousand in the capital.
The communists have always been on the side of working people. And in the most difficult days, we did what we were supposed to — we came to the defense of people. In Lugansk and Donetsk, even in Kiev and Western Ukraine, communists continued to defend the interests of the people, to be close to the people and help them. We do not divide the people of Ukraine into Russians and Ukrainians. We recognize only the division between rich and poor, fascists and anti-fascists.
WW: What kind of work have you been doing since the war began?
EK: Before the war, we tried to do everything to prevent its onset. We were sure that the crisis could be solved by political means, through negotiations. But unfortunately, Kiev did not want to hear the voice of Donbass. When the war started, we did everything possible to alleviate the plight of the population suffering from the fighting. We helped with the delivery of humanitarian goods, and our members continued to work in the municipal councils of towns and villages of the region.
Our comrades who found themselves in parts of Lugansk controlled by the Ukrainian army likewise did their utmost to protect the people. Many communists were subjected to political repression by the Ukrainian authorities. They were not only accused of separatism, but also physically massacred, tortured, illegally held in custody.
And every day of the war, on both sides of the border that divides the Lugansk region, the communists fought first and foremost for peace.
WW: Why did you choose to organize an international solidarity forum at this time?
EP: Today there are three urgent problems facing the people of Lugansk and Donetsk that can only be solved with the active intervention of the international community.
The first problem is the cessation of all hostilities by Ukraine in the Donbass region. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian side constantly violates the Minsk ceasefire agreement. Settlements in the region continue to be shelled.
The second problem is the blockade of the territory of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions not under the control of the Ukrainian army. Ukraine prevents the free importation of goods into the territory of Donbass, resulting in hundreds of thousands of people experiencing enormous difficulties in purchasing food and medicine.
The third problem is the Ukrainian government’s failure to fulfill its obligations regarding social payments and benefits guaranteed by the Constitution of Ukraine, including pensions, to residents of Donbass.
Without solving these three problems, the residents of Donbass are doomed to starvation and extinction. Humanitarian assistance cannot meet the minimum needs of people, and besides, humanitarian aid can’t be regarded as a long-term way to resolve problems.
That’s why it was so important for us to hold this solidarity forum, which not only included words of support, but also outlined specific steps to provide real, effective assistance to Donbass.
WW: What were your impressions of the forum?
EP: I think the international forum will go down in the history of our region because it’s the first such event in our land. And I think it is very important and significant that it was organized by communists.
The forum gave new hope to residents of Donbass. People have seen that they are not alone in their struggle — the workers of the world support them.
The forum adopted four documents: A statement condemning fascism in Ukraine, a statement expressing support for the residents of the Donbass, an appeal to the heads of states and governments of the world demanding pressure on the government of Ukraine to force it to implement all points of the peace agreement, as well as a declaration establishing an International Committee of Solidarity with the Donbass: “Anti-Fascism, Internationalism, Solidarity.” The [last] document provides a definition of the goals, objectives and forms for further joint work of the organizations participating in the forum.
WW: What comes next for the new International Committee?
EP: In addition to the organizations participating in the forum, we hope other political parties, social movements and independent activists who stand in solidarity with the residents of the Donbass, but for whatever reason could not take part in the forum on May 8, will join.
Together we will continue the work that began during the forum: to put international pressure on the Ukrainian government to force it to comply with its peace commitments, dissemination of reliable information on the implementation of international agreements and post-war reconstruction in the Donbass, organizing solidarity campaigns with the Donbass, [and] public events on the processes taking place in Ukraine. That’s how we see the first steps of the committee.
WW: What role do you see for the communists in Lugansk?
EP: All the ordeals which the Lugansk region has passed through showed that the communists are ready to be close to the people at any time, and under any circumstances [the communists] will protect their interests and fight for their rights. Now and in the future, we will do as we have always done — fight for justice, for building a better, fair society, for the triumph of humanism and democracy, for the victory of socialism.
We will conduct this work at the local level and now internationally. We are ready and open to cooperation with all concerned forces around the world. Anyone who wants to help save the Donbass should join with us.
WW: What is your vision for a socialist future in the Donbass region?
EP: Today it’s difficult to talk about what kind of future awaits Donbass — whether socialism is possible or the region will return to capitalism.
Let’s be honest: In a sense, Lugansk and Donetsk are objects rather than subjects of large-scale international geopolitical processes. Do the leading international players want a socialist Donbass? I think the answer to this question is obvious.
But this doesn’t mean that we do not have a chance or that we should stop fighting for the victory of our ideas. Sooner or later, the idea of equality and justice will prevail in the world. And our task is to do everything possible to ensure the triumphant march of socialism all over the world starts with Donbass.