[News] Understanding the War in Ukraine

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Thu Mar 10 11:53:02 EST 2022

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*Understanding the War in Ukraine* 

*By Vijay Prashad*

The war between Russia and Ukraine began much before February 24, 
2022—the date provided by the Ukrainian government, NATO and the United 
States for the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. According 
to Dmitry Kovalevich, a journalist and a member of a now-banned 
communist organization in Ukraine, the war actually started in the 
spring of 2014 and has never stopped since.

He writes to me from the south of Kyiv/Kiev, Ukraine, and recounts an 
anecdote: “What’s there at the front line?” asks one person. “Our troops 
are winning as usual!” comes the response. “Who are our troops?” the 
first person inquires and is told, “We’ll soon see…” In a war, 
everything is in dispute, even the name of Ukraine’s capital (Kyiv in 
Ukrainian, and Kiev in Russian, goes the debate 

Wars are among the most difficult of reporting 
assignments for a journalist. These days, especially, with the torrent 
of social media and the belligerence of network news television 
channels, matters on the ground are hard to sort out. Basic facts about 
the events taking place during a war are hard to establish, let alone 
ensuring the correct interpretation of these facts. Videos of apparent 
war atrocities that can be found on social media platforms like YouTube 
are impossible to verify. Often, it becomes clear that much of the 
content relating to war that can be found on these platforms has either 
been misidentified or is from other conflicts. Even the BBC, which has 
taken a very strong pro-Ukrainian and NATO position on this conflict, 
had to run a story 
about how so many of the viral claims about Russian atrocities are 
false. Among these false claims, which have garnered widespread 
circulation, is a video circulating on TikTok that wrongly alleges to be 
that of a “Ukrainian girl confronting a Russian soldier,” but is instead 
a video of the then-11-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi 
confronting an Israeli soldier in 2012; the video continues to circulate 
on TikTok 
with the caption, “Little [girls] stand up to Russian soldiers.”

Meanwhile, disputing the date for the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian 
war as February 24, Kovalevich tells me, “The war in Ukraine didn’t 
start in February 2022. It began in the spring of 2014 in the Donbas and 
has not stopped for these eight years.” Kovalevich is a member of 
Borotba (Struggle), a communist organization in Ukraine. Borotba, like 
other communist and Marxist organizations, was banned 
by the previous U.S.-backed Ukrainian government of Petro Poroshenko in 
2015 (as part of this ongoing crackdown, two communist youth 
leaders—Aleksandr Kononovich and Mikhail Kononovich—were arrested 
by Ukrainian security services on March 6).

“Most of our comrades had to migrate to Donetsk and Luhansk,” Kovalevich 
tells me. These are the two eastern provinces of mainly Russian speakers 
that broke away from 
“Ukrainian government control in 2014” and had been under the control of 
Russian-backed groups. In February, however, before the Russian invasion 
of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized 
these “two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent,” making 
this contentious move the stepping stone for the final military invasion 
by Russia. Now, Kovalevich says, his comrades “expect to come back from 
exile and work legally.” This expectation is based on the assumption 
that the Ukrainian government will be forced to get rid of the existing 
system, which includes Western-trained-and-funded anti-Russian 
right-wing vigilante and paramilitary agents in the country, and will 
have to reverse many of the Poroshenko-era illiberal and anti-minority 
(including anti-Russian) laws.

*‘I Feel Nervous’*

“I feel quite nervous,” Kovalevich tells me. “[This war] looks very grim 
and not so much because of the Russians but because of our [Ukrainian] 
armed gangs that are looting and robbing [the country].” When the 
Russians intervened, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy handed out 
weapons to any citizen who wanted to defend the country. Kovalevich, who 
lives in central Ukraine just south of the capital, says, “My area was 
not affected by military actions—only by the terror of [right-wing] 
nationalist gangs.”

During the first days of the Russian military intervention, Kovalevich 
took in a Roma family who had fled from the war zone. “My family had a 
spare room,” Kovalevich tells me. Roma organizations say 
that there are about 400,000 Roma in Ukraine, most of them living in the 
western part of Ukraine, in Zakarpatska Oblast (bordering Hungary, 
Poland, Romania and Slovakia). “The Roma people in our country are 
regularly assaulted by [right-wing] nationalists,” Kovalevich says. “The 
nationalists used to attack them [Roma] publicly, burning their 
encampments, calling it ‘cleansing garbage.’ The police didn’t react as 
our far-right gangs always work in cooperation with either the police or 
with the security service.” This Roma family, who was being sheltered by 
Kovalevich and his family, is on the move toward western Ukraine, where 
most of the Ukrainian-Roma population lives. “But it is very unsafe to 
move,” Kovalevich tells me. “There are nationalists [manning these] 
checkpoints [along] all roads [in Ukraine, and they] may shoot [anyone] 
who may seem suspicious to them or just rob refugees.”

*Minsk Agreements*

The war in the Donbas region that began in 2014 resulted in two 
agreements being signed in Belarus in 2014 and 2015, which were named 
after the capital of Belarus, and were called the Minsk agreements 
These agreements were aimed at “[ending] the separatist war by Russian 
speakers in eastern Ukraine.” The second 
of these agreements was signed by two leading political figures from 
Ukraine (Leonid Kuchma, the president of Ukraine from 1994 to 2005) and 
from Russia (Mikhail Zurabov, the ambassador of the Russian Federation 
to Ukraine, 2009-2016), respectively, and was overseen by a Swiss 
diplomat (Heidi Tagliavini, who chaired 
the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in 
Georgia, 2008-2009). This Minsk II agreement was endorsed 
by the UN Security Council resolution 2022 on February 17, 2015. If the 
Minsk agreements had been adhered to, Russia and Ukraine would have 
secured an arrangement that would have been acceptable in the Donbas.

“Two Ukrainian governments signed the Minsk agreements,” Kovalevich 
tells me, “but didn’t fulfill it. Recently Zelenskyy’s officials openly 
mocked the agreement, saying they wouldn’t fulfill it (encouraged by the 
U.S. and the UK, of course). That was a sheer violation of all rules—you 
can’t sign [the agreements] and then refuse to fulfill it.” The language 
of the Minsk agreements was, as Kovalevich says, “liberal enough for the 
government.” The two republics of Donetsk and Luhansk would have 
remained a part of Ukraine and they would have been afforded some 
cultural autonomy (this was in the footnote to Article 11 
of the February 12, 2015, Minsk II Agreement). “This was unacceptable to 
our nationalists and [right-wing nationalists],” Kovalevich says to me. 
They “would like to organize purges and vengeance there [in Donetsk and 
Luhansk].” Before the Russian military intervention, the UN High 
Commissioner for Human Rights found 
that more than 14,000 people had been killed in the ongoing conflict in 
Donetsk and Luhansk despite the Minsk agreements. It is this violence 
that provokes Kovalevich to make his comments about the violence of the 
ultra-nationalists and the right-wing paramilitary. “The elected 
authorities are a cover, masking the real rulers of Ukraine,” Kovalevich 
says. Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy and his allies in the parliament do 
not drive the governing process in their country but have “an agenda 
imposed on them by the far-right armed groups.”


Negotiations are ongoing 
on the Ukraine-Belarus border between the Russians and the Ukrainians. 
Kovalevich is, however, not optimistic about a positive outcome from 
these negotiations. Decisions, he says, are not made by the Ukrainian 
president alone, but by the right-wing ultra-nationalist paramilitary 
armed groups and the NATO countries. As Kovalevich and I were speaking, 
the Washington Post published a report 
about “Plans for a U.S.-backed insurgency in Ukraine”; former U.S. 
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton implied 
an Afghanistan-style guerrilla war in Ukraine, saying, “We have to keep 
tightening the screws.” “This reveals that they [the U.S.] don’t really 
care about Ukrainians,” Kovalevich says. “They want to use this as an 
opportunity to cause some pain to the Russians.”

These comments by Clinton and others suggest to Kovalevich that the 
United States wants “to organize chaos between Russia and the 
Europeans.” Peace in Ukraine, he says, “is a matter of reconciliation 
between NATO and the new global powers, Russia and China.” Till such a 
reconciliation is possible, and till Europe develops a rational foreign 
policy, “we will be affected by wars,” says Kovalevich.

/*Vijay Prashad* is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a 
writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter 
He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books 
and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research 
He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial 
Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, 
including/ The Darker Nations 
/and/ The Poorer Nations 
His latest book is/ Washington Bullets 
with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma./

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