by Dagmar Henn
(Thanks to Anja and Riema for their help with the translation!)
This is a long text, and I don’t know how many readers are really willing to get involved. This is not about geopolitical considerations or rendering diagnoses. I have tried to grasp the inner nucleus of the struggle and to turn it transparent on the level of ethics and morality, to explain why I (as an atheist, to be honest) perceive in this Donbass war the very struggle between good and evil, which concerns us all and is of global impact, although its consequences might not be felt everywhere with the same acuteness.
Many of the videos which serve as examples and evidences in this text are very hard to look at. Whoever is really ready to confront this story should take enough time and make breaks whenever necessary. I haven’t seen them all at once. A human being capable of doing so, must be completely cold-hearted.
But it is important to go down into great depth, in order to grasp what fascism and anti-fascism really mean. Quite a lot of people don’t know it, while many others only have a superficial notion, buried under stereotypical discourses. In order to really identify and grasp fascism you have to know both sides: the cool and prosaic interests of economic power and the genuine barbarism, utter inhumanity. Only the understanding of both sides provides the base of real resistance.
The infamous video
The way in which the video which presented Givi and the war prisoners at Donetsk airport was used for propaganda, especially for demonizing the militia in German media met all expectations. BILD created the title: “ That’s the way separatists torture Ukrainian soldiers ” and added their own shortened video version (containing an only incomplete translation – as usual). Since then they have referred repeatedly to these shown sequences.
Here you can see first the video the article is about (as well as the article about Givi in the ZEIT ). Here is the Russian version without any blackened parts, for everybody who is keen to see all anatomic details (my honest advice: leave them out. They do not really contribute much to your understanding, but might cause a considerable amount of disgust.)
Now some background knowledge about the presented scenes: It is not difficult to perceive that at the beginning of the video Givi and his „Somalis“ have just left the battlefield. The context is – as it can be concluded from the prisoners’ statements –a further attempt to storm Donetsk airport. In that case Ukrainian troops were lured into the battle under false pretences. They were told they had to fetch wounded soldiers. It’s no wonder that this finally resulted rather in a massacre than an ordinary battle.
That the ordinary soldiers had no idea what they were supposed to do becomes quite obvious in this video: At 8:09 the prisoner says that they had been lied to “so that we didn’t know where we went to. We have often refused attacks, if we had known what would have happened, where we would have to go… we would not have gone there either.”
It seems quite obvious that Givi has returned from a situation in which he and his battalion have rather played the part of executioners instead of soldiers, thanks to the honorable strategy of this Ukrainian commander. It can be imagined that the soldiers feel abused and are even more enraged than usual. Additionally, that morning a bus had been hit in Donetsk, (the very bus even our media reported on). One of the places the prisoners had been led to was exactly the mentioned bus stop. The Ukrainian commander arrives there at the time when the car is still burning in the street (18:18) and the corpses of the victims have not even been removed. Probably Givi’s battalion knew about the terror attack .
The captured commander is no unknown person. He was third on the electoral register of the Right Sector. Presumably Givi thought at that time that he dealt with a regular army officer. But this man, in fact, if you want to judge his position and ideological frame on a scale adapted to World War 2 categories, he could be compared to an SS-Obersturmbannführer. He is not only a member, but a leader in a criminal organisation. (On the original homepage of the Saker there is an article about him under the title “ Givi Nets a Big Fish ”.)
Despite of this extreme situation, which definitely goes beyond an “ordinary” arrest after an “ordinary” battle (but implies the terror against Donetsk and the abuse of adversarial soldiers as canon fodder), Givi does exactly two things: He stuffs the Ukrainian military insignia into some of the soldiers’ mouths and he slaps the commanding fascist.
Here it has to be taken into consideration that this is not only the situation of Givi + his battalion/the prisoners, but additionally the Situation of Givi/his battalion. For everybody involved in the course of the battle, the situation is supposed to be extremely disgusting. They are all highly enraged. And Givi can not deal with it, simply by ignoring the circumstances. If he did so, the risk that they might take the right into their own hands would be enormous. (In the background, translated as well in the subtitles, though so quickly that it is hardly perceptible, you may hear remarks like “shoot them all”.) There are indeed good reasons why he has to voice his rage. By doing so, he gives relief to his troops. Even if he seems to step off the path of “ideal” behavior here, he does so in a way that releases emotional pressure, but doesn’t lead to permanent damages. All in all his reaction is not only controlled, but even wise.
Dealing with the dead
If one carefully listens to the passages which have been translated in the BILD with “Here is your glorious Ukraine. Be happy!”, one can realize that the tone is not sneering here, but rather sad. Further statements of that kind, which are quoted in that scene, are intended as well to mask the men’s horror .
To everybody who – quite reasonably – abstains from watching the original version: Here the deceased Ukrainian soldiers are shown in a close-up view. They arrive in an estate car and are unloaded.
What is not shown in the video, but has to be integrated into the chain of events, is the fact that the dead are laid in coffins and after a religious ceremony are shifted in lorries by the survivors and afterwards handed over to the Ukrainian army. The video footage shows nothing less than a disrespectful treatment of the corpses. Nobody will seriously believe that dead soldiers will be carried away from the battlefield and driven off in a hearse, as long as the shooting is still going on.
And nobody should assume that those who thus show respect even to fallen enemies perform this transport in a cheerful, affectionate or even exceedingly dignified way. What they transport here is nothing but tattered flesh, whose human traits they need to ignore at that moment, as they are the ones that have turned human beings into these remainders. If the transported elements will ever regain their human qualities in their eyes again, depends on the further proceedings. Only after perceiving them one might judge whether they have acted respectfully or not.
Here is the video of the hand-over (do not ask me why it starts with the sequence showing the mortar.)
At 5:04 in the video Zakharchenko shows his outrage that no Ukrainian representatives has shown up at the ceremony. The Ukrainian military has often left their dead just behind…
The Prisoners‘ March
Zakharchenko asks the prisoners in the second video “if you have no conscience, you see? If you can’t understand who you are fighting against and who are the real beasts, if your officers don’t want to collect your deceased comrades back…”.
These are the reasons why the prisoners are “displayed”. Many prisoners had explained to him they had been told that they would fight against Russian invaders and had to free the citizens. They don’t know (or suppress the knowledge) what their artillery has done to the Donbass cities.
An evidence for that can be found in the first video at 12:10. The prisoner is asked by a female passenger: “Say, what have you come here for?”, and he answers: “We were told a completely different story.” Similar utterances can be heard in various other videos about Ukrainian war prisoners, such as in my favourite video which shows the interrogation of a Ukrainian artillerist from Gorlowka.
Of course our domestic media comments tend to interpret the procedure in which the perpetrators are confronted with the consequences of their deeds – as an act of humiliation. In Donbass they proceed like that again and again. Imprisoned pilots were led through the towns and villages they had thrown bombs on, artillerists and ordinary soldiers through the cities they had fired on. There they had to meet their victims‘ family members.
But here we can find historic examples from World War II, too. The procedure resembles far less the parade of German war prisoners through Moscow in 1944 than the “visits” the citizens of Weimar and Jena were “persuaded” by US-troops to pay to Buchenwald, not really on a voluntary base, but quite effectively under an educational point of view.
All in all, the enterprise these troops have been involved in is an ongoing war crime, as artillery attacks against residential areas are a far worse breach of the Geneva convention than Givi’s slapping enemies, even if they might have occurred a dozen or a hundred times. The list of Ukrainian war crimes is long, it contained nearly every item after the battle of Slaviansk and even today only two war crimes are missing: the use of nuclear and biological weapons (phosphor bombs have been used repeatedly; they are not only disgustingly inflaming, but because of their highly poisonous vapours they have to be regarded as chemical weapons). None of these war crimes is mentioned in the German press, or even if they are mentioned, “trivial” details, such as that this conduct of war has to be called highly criminal, are cautiously left out (sole exception: the fragmentation bomb that hit a Red Cross station in Donetsk, but only because it killed a Swiss citizen….)
That means: All prisoners were involved in one vast crime. Despite of that they are generally treated in a very respectful way. And this respect lies in the very procedure that has been named “humiliating”, because they are treated as human beings who are capable of learning and recognition. As if one could rightfully assume that they wouldn’t have done what they did, had they been aware that they attacked their brothers and sisters with all available instruments of elimination.
Exactly that attitude characterises the video from Gorlovka. It is especially interesting and credible, because it was published with a completely different intention – as both prisoners state here that they have been prevented from participating in the Ukrainian election. This video was not placed in the internet to give testimony of the way prisoners of war are treated. But I have hardly ever seen an interview that was conducted with similar subtlety. One of the two artillerists is very close to a nervous breakdown. But this breakdown is due to the recognition of what he was involved into, and he gains that recognition without any pressure, just because he is given space and time to understand. He is not treated as if he was an evil person, just as the Ukrainian side deals with their prisoners. But he is talked to like a reasonable human being, capable of understanding, with calm and respect, in the midst of a town which even then had to suffer continuous artillery attacks and had to mourn victims of war on a daily basis.
If one compares the recording of the large troops of prisoners and of the imprisoned commander, one can see the difference. The largest part of the group seems to be honestly shocked. They couldn’t imagine being sworn at by the population and they didn’t reckon with the devastating amount of destruction. Other recordings like that of Zakharchenko’s press conference prove that they have really grasped and learnt something.
There is a further video showing detailed recordings of that fascist at the bus stop in Donetsk. A close observation shows a complete lack of empathy or shock. Quite the opposite, for a short moment he even exposes something like triumph. To the question “Who has done this?” the fascist commander does not answer with „us“, as most captured soldiers do. First he does not answer at all, then he says: “The artillery.” Finally, when the militia is pushing him into a car in order to save him from the population of Donetsk, one of them quotes him: “He said that the f*cking specops did it or the Russians” (1:21).
Like the Ukrainian pilot Sawtshenko, who has been presented as a case of human rights’ violation, he can not be convinced of having done something wrong. He shows the same cold and contemptuous glance like Sawtshenko and their historic ideals. Just look at the pictures you can find under the keyword Hermine Braunsteiner-Ryan in order to see what I mean. She was the main accused in the Majdanek trial and her arrogant coldness could even be felt in front of a TV-set.
The real abyss
The images of the bombed cities are probably known. And everybody reading this text knows already how closely this war repeats the Nazi war of annihilation.
But it is far less known how deep these analogies reach. It was quite late that the first reports shone up from those who had been Ukrainian prisoners. In relevant quantity this started after the beginning of the POW exchange during the ceasefire of Minsk 1.
Here I want to show some videos illustrating this point, that enable you to form your own opinion. I tried to choose videos that enable everyone to evalute their credibility.
The first one is a report of Komsomolskaia Pravda from a POW exchange. The prisoners are interviewed immediately after their exchange, and not all of them had any relation to the militia. Watch it:
Another early report is an interview with the brother of Matros (one of Motorola´s commanders). Matros had desperately searched for his brother, who got caught by the Ukies. The video puts the focus mainly on the meeting of the two brothers, but the younger one tells as well how he was treated by the Ukrainian troops:
Later, after the larger exchanges, reports like this one came up:
All this reports imply that torture nowadays is a normal procedure in the treatment of prisoners (no matter where and for what). But the first reports gave the impression that those ending up in „regular“ prisons, in the hands of the „regular“ state power, f.e. the SBU, are a bit safer than those falling into the hands of the national guard or even the fascist battalions.
Later it became visible that this is just some type of division of labour. An example for that is the following interview by Graham Philips with the widow of a man who got murdered :
There are too many reports about systematic torture to dismiss them easily. And note: we are not talking about infringements or excessive violence that always can happen in a state of war. We don´t talk either about a situation between an old and a new state, that you find in Donetsk and Lugansk, where the normal institutions of a state don´t exist any longer or not yet and therefore inevitably open violence replaces structural one. We talk about a state with all institutions, with courts, jails and police, that turns torture into a regular procedure and accepts the assassination of prisoners or even encourages it. Nowhere this is expressed more clearly than in reports stating that prisoners who are destined for execution still get tortured before, as a principle. Even the pretence of the intent to investigate, as the US use to legitimate torture, is absent. This is nothing else but an inebriation of violence organised by the state, an orgy of annihilation, nothing else but – fascism.
The tip of the iceberg
Even though there is an impressive quantity of reports about atrocities, the real amount of crime will only be visible after the junta is defeated. There are only fragments known about what happens in places like Slaviansk, Kramatorsk or Mariupol that are under Ukrainian occupation; it is very hard to evaluate what is is rumour and what is fact. Just through some civilians that got in captivity somewhere, somehow, for any reason and got exchanged there are some more or less reliable reports about what is happening there. Meanwhile the Russian Foundation for the Study of Democracy published it´s second report about war crimes in Ukraine that collected a lot of these reports and shows the systematic procedure behind it, and there is a new website called Warleaks that collects and publishes such information.
Some perhaps know already the short indications about life under Ukrainian occupation in a video about Debaltsevo I posted some time ago. This Interview with a mother out of a village formerly occupied by Ukrainian troops short after liberation is much more detailed and quite hard to stand (for me this is one of the most horrible between many horrible videos from this war):
It is necessary to give some background for this video that clarifies that there is no accidental action in this case, no assault against single persons, for what reason ever. The mother tells her son had been tortured for several days and then was thrown into a mine. This is a planned staging of a well known story from WW II. It is told in the novel „ The Young Guard “, an obligatory reading in soviet schools. The historical events also took place in Donbas, not far from the place of their second staging.
Meanwhile there are rumours about secret jails on the Ukrainian side and talks about unknown numbers of disappeared people. Involuntarily even Amnesty International recently confirmed these fears:
„Vasiliy Budik an advisor to the Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defence, told Amnesty International that the separatist forces presented a list of some 1,000 persons whom they wanted to have exchanged for the prisoners they were holding, which was later reduced to less than 200 because, according to him, people on the original list did not exist or were held in Ukrainian prisons since before the conflict started (Vasiliy Budik, in interview with Amnesty International, Kyiv, 2 April 2015).“
Budik, who is presented as an official by Amnesty, is actually founder of the battalion „Donbass“ and a close friend of Dmitri Iarosh, the head of Right Sector. You don´t need a lot of imagination to decipher what it means, when this guy says „people did not exist“. For sure they got on the list because they existed.
But one shouldn’t dismiss tales that can´t be proven at the moment. End of February last years some informations circulated about an assault against anti-maidan-marchers at Korsun. For several months only a few lines could be found about it, f.e. in the appeal of the antifascist headquarters from 7.3.2014. It was impossible to evaluate from afar whether these reports were true or exaggerated. Only in summer a longer video came up that interviewed the victims of this event and clarified that this bits of information were not only true, they even underestimated the facts.
The same happens over and over again. Therefore there are serious reasons to fear that what´s really going on under fascist rule in Ukraine tops our expectations by far. Until now we just see the tip of the iceberg.
A balance of terror?
It seems that media adapt to the fact that Kiew atrocities can´t any longer be hidden completely. So they shift to the strategy to declare that both sides are evil, but the „separatists“ are more evil. The report of Amnesty International that I quoted above can serve as example (btw, it mentions videos, but doesn´t link them, and it refers to sources like Kijv Post that turn the wildest tabloid into fountains of truth). Meanwhile not only Givi, but Motorola too get turned into scarecrows.
Let´s look at the relevant questions unemotional.
Are there wars without atrocities? You might wish it, but the idea isn´t realistic. When the taboo of killing broke down (and that is the inevitable consequence of any war), then all the weaker moral limits are at least in serious danger. Exactly that is the reason why punishment delivered to uphold discipline inside the troops tends to be very harsh. To believe the members of the militas don´t commit any atrocities equals the belief in Santa Claus.
There is just a single option to prevent such a development – don´t wage a war. But Donbass people didn´t have this choice, this was visible latest with the events in Odessa on May 2. last year. They only had the choice between defenceless surrender (including their families) or armed resistance. Even though nearly nobody seems to have expected a war at the beginning of the uprising (it is confirmed in this interview with Zakharchenko from May), the decision for armed resistance was legitimate and right.
The differences in warfare should be known. Ukrainian troops act like an enemy force, not like troops on their own territory; it isn´t their only goal (or not even their primary one), to win against the opposing forces, but to deliver the largest possible damage, aiming at the population as much as at the infrastructure. Here the conflict is extremely asymmetric. Donbass doesn´t have the possibility to cut off Kiev from food deliveries, to deny Ukrainian retirees their pensions or to transform West Ukrainian villages into heaps of rubble. But perhaps history will grant us the proof whether Novorossian troops will behave like that f.e. in Lvov…
This type of behaviour indicates that the junta expected to lose this conflict. Even the Nazis, with all their bestial treatment of soviet population, didn´t destroy the infrastructure before they were forced to retreat. Before that they had expected to use it themselves. The Ukrainian rhetoric about „liberating“ these areas gets strongly contradicted by he manic shelling of cities with heavy artillery and intentional heightening of risks for the civilian population (like by sabotaging water infrastructure, as it happened in Slaviansk). In case of success this strategy creates a zone that´s useless even for the victor.
This kind of warfare is a crime in itself. And this balance is clear.
There are claims from Novorossia that certain troops will not be captured. This is stated mainly regarding the volunteer battalions, especially those from Right Sector. Is that criminal? Red Army as much as it´s Western allies rarely captured SS members.
But it is surprising that the Ukrainian soldiers Amnesty quotes in it´s report as testimonies of atrocities or executions nearly all belong to two categories – they are either members of one of those volunteer battalions (and it´s funny to observe how Amnesty wriggles around stating that fact) or members of elite units of the Ukrainian army. In both cases people who generally are not captured, following official statements. Not only the fascist „leading actor“ of the first video above survived against the officially proclaimed rules, but also those men Amnesty talked with (the former is even soon to be exchanged).
The thin line
Even if we assume that all of the accusations above were true, still there would be a decisive difference left which makes it possible to identify the last thin line between good and evil in an environment soaked with violence . This difference is made clear through the videos filmed by members of Right Sector.
There is a whole series of videos showing supposed or real executions. The first of these videos circulated before the events of Odessa. Recently it was a video of a crucifixion and the last one was a video showing how two captives were hung, which according to the public prosecutor of Lugansk was found on the cellphone of a member of a Ukrainian sabotage squad.
Each of these videos was followed by a debate concerning the authenticity of the respective video. This debate is in fact futile and rather serves as a measure of self-protection; after all, why should someone who knows he will get away with murder unpunished and who most probably has done so before take the effort and bear the costs of faking such a video? Here too Odessa has set the standards; there are hours of video material available with most of them enabling an easy identification of the perpetrators, but without any consequences for them. These circumstances support the assumption that even the most horrific pictures are in fact authentic; and here as well the Ukrainian fascists act exactly as their historic role models who loved to proudly pose next to their victims too.
But here a completely different subject is crucial and this has been proven through the simple fact that such videos exist. This kind of violence is not only not being punished; not only is it not hidden; it is being publicly glorified instead. For the persons involved it is no reason for shame but rather for pride, and should one of the videos be fake, then the reason for it´s existence is that claiming responsible for such deeds results in a higher status.
And how should a state machinery which allows massacres as the in Odessa or even encourages them in any way be able to act against the perpetrators? Which accusation can it bring against those that acted upon the presidential claim that hundreds of „separatists“ will have to pay with their lives for every dead Ukrainian soldier? After the recent decision of the Ukrainian parliament to suspend the declaration of human rights in Donbass, any kind of prosecution of any kind of atrocity against members of the militias or even civilians in the Donbass region has become completely unimaginable. Through this decision they have simply been deprived of their humanity.
As difficult as it may be in many cases to enforce discipline in an army formed out of loose militias and as likely as it might be that, with this kind of warfare and the proven brutality of the opponent, atrocities do happen, on the side of Novorossia there are not only proven efforts to stop and prosecute encroachments but there also is a distinct moral discourse.
In the first video it can be found at minute 13:50 :”We should never be like them.” Here you find the most covert and deepest battle of this war. Exactly here the Red Army achieved its greatest victory in World War II. The Red Army did not retaliate. Had it done so,nothing would have been left of Germany.
In midst of the omnipresent violence this is a continuous struggle which is not necessarily always victorious. But it´s recognition is important, and that it isn´t supplanted by a glorification of violence. This interview with a militia commander whose son was murdered by the fascists is one example.
There are variations of this discourse. It will be held in different ways in the communist units and in the orthodox ones. But it is essential that it exists and that it is promoted actively ( this is one of the tasks of the political sections which according to my knowledge are part of all units of Novorossia). The following video gives you an idea on how this is being done:
Good and Evil
At this point – whether and how humanity can be preserved or if it disappears or is even destroyed systematically – the fight in Donbass is a repetition of WW II and the fight against European fascism. The true heart of antifascism can be found at exactly this point, in the continuous struggle for one’s own humanity in the face of darkness.
Historic documents reflect this as much as the reports of the present; you just have to remember the ” Vow of Buchenwald ” or the ” Dachau song “. Antifascism is not “we are the good guys, you are the bad guys”- a game that can be played if needed in the streets of each and every city. It is the fierce fight against the darkest form of imperialist rule, which can only succeed along with this inner battle.
How far this knowledge has already been lost is visible not only in the „antideutschen“ variancy which regards itself as anti fascist but totally denies the fact anti fascism never treated the people and the fascist power as one and the same. It can also be seen in an recent article written by the secretary of VVN titled “alte Assoziationen” ( old associations, antifa January/February 2015) where he supposedly indulges in polemics against Niekisch and his national Bolshevism but actually accuses him for his sympathy for the Soviet Union and his rejection of liberalism…and thereby duplicates the alleged “Theory of Extremism”, the assertion that there was no difference between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Ultimately and casually the true antifascist tradition in Germany is declared null and void, and humanism is replaced by liberalism, the so called package of “western values”.
Reality though is different, as shows us Ukraine.There is no clear border between liberalism and fascism; we can see that everyday in the mainstream media or in the affectionate flirting of the Green Party elite with Ukrainian fascists. And how could it be otherwise when it is the ideological expression of one form of the rule of capital , while fascist ideology is the expression of the other. Exactly where the deepest difference is marked between antifascism and fascism, when it comes to humanity, human sympathy, liberalism offers – nothing.
Like in a lens we witness the struggle for the future of mankind in Donbass. On the one unrestrained glorification of power and violence, on the other hard-headed but decisive resistance. And above all it gigantic illuminated letters say”coming soon to a theatre close by”. While the majority of the German Left is, full of servility to general opinion trying to lay off the last ideological protection.
In order to regain a morale which allows real resistance against fascism (which is of utmost urgency since Ukraine may be the first European country where the beast raises its head, but it is unlikely the last) we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It should suffice to remember. Even in German it was stated clearly and often enough.
English translation of the poem: