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Ukrainian Feminist: We Need Western Solidarity in Fighting Russian Imperialism

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We speak to Oksana Dutchak, a Ukrainian feminist and co-editor of the leftist journal Spilne, who fled to Germany because of the “inability to live under the constant pressure of fear” as Russian invaded. She says Western leftists and feminists who have misgivings about Western military support for Ukraine often overlook that Ukrainians are fighting for self-determination and against imperialism. “What does it mean to stop the war? How it should be stopped? There are questions which should be in the center if you want to give a political answer to the challenges Ukrainian society is facing,” she adds.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Secretary of State Tony Blinken has announced he expects to talk soon with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine five months ago. Blinken said the call will focus on a possible swap to free two jailed Americans — the basketball superstar Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan. CNN reports the Biden administration has offered to free jailed Russian weapons dealer Viktor Bout. The Kremlin says no deal has yet been reached. Blinken said the call with Lavrov will focus on the possible prisoner swap, not the war in Ukraine.

SECRETARY OF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN: My call to Foreign Minister Lavrov will not be a negotiation about Ukraine. Any negotiation regarding Ukraine is for its government and people to determine. As we’ve said from the beginning, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.

AMY GOODMAN: On the battlefront, Ukraine is preparing to launch a counteroffensive to retake the southern city of Kherson, which has been occupied by Russia for months. In recent days, Ukrainian forces have fired U.S.-provided long-range artillery to damage at least three bridges in Kherson in an attempt to cut off Russian troops.

Meanwhile, Russia has launched missile strikes from Belarus today on several targets in northern Ukraine, including the region of Chernihiv and areas outside of Kyiv. The Russian strikes come a week after Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Kremlin is seeking to seize more land in Ukraine than just the eastern Donbas region.

To talk more about the war in Ukraine, we’re joined by Oksana Dutchak. She is a Ukrainian feminist and Marxist sociologist, co-editor of the left Ukrainian journal Commons. She fled her home in Kyiv with her two children the day Russia invaded, and is joining us from Leipzig, Germany. Her husband remained.

Oksana Dutchak, thank you for joining us. Can you talk about the situation in Ukraine and why you left, but what you understand what’s happening now?

OKSANA DUTCHAK: Yes. Good morning, I think. I’m glad to be here. Thank you for inviting.

So, the situation in Ukraine is, of course, very complicated. For months it’s already now. And yeah, I’m among those who left the country, and there are a number of both internally displaced people and refugees from Ukraine. It’s like unseen, probably, in the recent European history. So, the original situation is generally very difficult. I personally left for various reasons, but also, of course, for fear for my life and life of my children, and for inability to live under the constant pressure of fear, which you have with the daily strikes and daily sirens, like, and warnings about the possibility of strike.

Currently I’m trying to be engaged in a numerous way to be helpful, at least from the distance, and many of my comrades back in Ukraine, they are doing all they can, actually, to support the resistance of Ukrainian society. Some of them are either doing some volunteer and fundraising for civilians and relocating people from dangerous zones and providing them with humanitarian relief. Some of them joined the military force of Ukraine. Some of them are supporting military force of Ukraine by providing protective equipment, medicines and things like that. But in any way, like, many people in Ukraine do it, and yeah, but the majority of leftists has also joined this common effort of the society.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Oksana, could you comment on what you think — what kind of support the international community, Europe, the U.S., have been providing and what you would like to see more of?

OKSANA DUTCHAK: Well, of course, we see the unprecedented level of support for refugees, which also raises a lot of questions about why this level of support was never applied to people fleeing other regions with wars, civil wars or other disastrous situations. But in terms of Ukrainian refugees, of course, the support is now — well, it varies from country to country, because some countries, they don’t have necessary resources to provide extensive support, or they don’t see it possible. Some are providing far more support, of course, than others, but it’s also the question to the inequality of countries inside the European Union and other — and non-European Union countries of the region.

On the other hand, there is, of course, military support, which, to my extent, is — should go on. And there is the support on the side of the economic sanctions against Russia, which I still find not quite satisfactory, because the question of the main source of export of Russia, like exporting fossil fuels, it’s still under the big question whether this sector of Russian economy will be under the sanction as a substantial sanction and when it will happen. So, that’s what I see from the position, and I know that there are a lot of discussions between different leftist groups and movements to which extent this support is necessary or desirable. But as being a Ukrainian leftist and supporting Ukrainian resistance against imperial invasion and the Ukrainian resistance for self-determination of Ukrainian society, I of course find the support necessary.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Oksana, I want to go to an article that you wrote. You co-authored a text earlier this month that was published earlier this month in the journal that you co-edit, Commons. The article was really a manifesto called “'The Right to Resist.' A feminist manifesto.” And I’lll just read a short excerpt of what you wrote. “We, feminists from Ukraine, call on feminists around the world to stand in solidarity with the resistance movement of the Ukrainian people against the predatory, imperialist war unleashed by the Russian Federation. War narratives often portray women as victims. However, in reality, women also play a key role in resistance movements, both at the frontline and on the home front: from Algeria to Vietnam, from Syria to Palestine, from Kurdistan to Ukraine.” So, could you talk about what prompted this statement, and what a feminist solidarity would look like?

OKSANA DUTCHAK: Well, this statement was a collective effort of several Ukrainian left feminists, and it was — we tried to get as much support as possible both from Ukrainian feminists but also from international feminist community. And basically, it was a reaction to some problematic, highly problematic, statements by various participants and groups of the mostly Western feminist movement. Explicitly, that was the reaction of one antiwar statement, signed, if I remember correctly, by 150 people, which is called “Against the War,” and it was published in spring, like when the war started. And we found it extremely problematic also in its content, but also by the very fact that it was not signed by a single Ukrainian person. So, we kind of felt that Ukrainian voices, voices of Ukrainian feminists, are basically not represented and not listened to. And in order for them to be listened to — at least there would be a possibility to hear them — you need to present these voices. And we decided to write this text, the collective statement by Ukrainian feminists, and it was heavily supported, of course, from Ukrainian feminists.

And basically, this statement criticized the position taken by many on the feminist movement globally, which is that, basically, Ukrainian society either should not resist or — they are using this general notion that war is — militarism and war, in general, is something extremely patriarchal, and we don’t have to do anything with it as feminists. But you can easily state it if you are sitting in some safe place and your life and life of your family and life of your communities is not affected by the war. But if it is affected by the war and if the very existence of these communities and people you relate to is threatened, of course, you cannot say, like, “OK, we just won’t do anything,” and, yeah, just call for stop the war, which doesn’t make sense. This is about an abstract call. What does it mean to stop the war? How it should be stopped? It’s a very — like, there are questions which should be in the center if you want to give a political answer to the challenges Ukrainian society is facing, and, like, regionally, region in general, not only Ukrainian society.

So we decided to draft this paper under the motto of the right to resist, that Ukrainian society, Ukrainian activists, Ukrainian feminists, Ukrainian left feminists and all the people concerned have the right to resist to the imperial aggression of Russian Federation. And we kind of called international, global feminist movement to support this right, to express solidarity with it and with the demands we were voicing in this manifesto.

AMY GOODMAN: And have you been communicating, Oksana Dutchak, with Russian feminists? Have you found common cause with them? And I’m wondering if you can also comment on this number that’s come out of the U.S., not confirmed by Ukraine, not confirmed by Russia, but about 75,000 Russian soldiers dead in this war so far, which is just an astounding number, well more than the Russians died in 10 years of war in Afghanistan.

OKSANA DUTCHAK: Yes. We are communicating with Russian feminists. As it appeared so, there are, like, historical reasons for that, that Russian feminist movement is now maybe the most, like, in the core of Russian antiwar resistance. So, there is this Feminists Against War initiative, which is a horizontal network of activists from various — like, from Russia, but they are in various countries, both in Russia and in European countries and other countries. And they are trying to make some kind of a rhetorical but also practical resistance to Russian invasion in Ukraine. We are communicating with them. I also participated during some events with them, on some common — yes, on some discussions, on panel discussions or presentations. So, in general, of course, yes, we do communicate with them. Unfortunately, I must say that my hopes for opposition against the war in Russian society would be far bigger, but it didn’t happen. It’s still very big and very small.

And here comes the number of 75 soldiers which were — is killed or injured on the Russian side during the war. In general, I —

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Seventy-five thousand.

AMY GOODMAN: Seventy-five thousand —

OKSANA DUTCHAK: Yes, yes, 75 —

AMY GOODMAN: — according to the U.S.

OKSANA DUTCHAK: Yes. Of course, we don’t know the exact number, and we would not know them for quite a long — the war should, like, come to some logical end before some figures, like reliable figures, will come out. But, of course, it is totally possible, like, this figure, because, yeah, many are missing, many are killed, many are injured, and so on. And it’s true that it’s bigger than for all the — bigger number of casualties than during all the campaign in Afghanistan.

I also have some hopes that in the long run it can trigger some changes inside Russian society, some changes, some opposition to what is happening and what their government is doing, because, unfortunately, now Russian society is very demobilized. And it is a result of the conscious politics of Russian government for years. So, their aim, aim of the Putin regime, was not to get support from the society, like active support, but just to demobilize it to the level that, yeah, government can do whatever, society will not resist.

And, of course, there is — we all remember the story which was happening during Chechen War in Russia when there was a very active organization of a committee of soldiers’ mothers who were campaigning and opposing government in that war, in Chechen War. Whether it will happen now, it is really hard to predict. When these losses of soldiers, when all these deaths and injuries will start to accumulate and influence the Russian society to an extent, whether that will trigger something like that, like the committee of soldiers’ mothers, it is really hard to say, because, on the one hand, of course, such huge casualties cannot go unnoticed, because it will — it will trigger the only mechanism which works in a demobilized society. And this mechanism is, we act on when it concern us personally, or our families or our friends. And if we are talking about soldiers killed, of course, they have families, they have friends, and they have communities in which they have been living. So it can trigger some response.

But, on the other hand, you should also understand that the huge difference between the previous, like, large-scale wars which Russia or Soviet Union was involved, like Afghan War, like Chechen War, those people, those soldiers, they are not drafted soldiers, so they are not — they are paid for; they are not conscripts. And the biggest difference was that during the Afghan War it was those who were conscripts who were involved in that war and who were killed. So, this is basically the same difference which you — in the context of U.S., you can see in — if you compare War in Vietnam and War in Iraq. So, War in Vietnam, it was constantly and massively opposed by a huge part of U.S. society because those were conscripts who were fighting there, as far as I understand. And the War in Iraq, it, of course, triggered also a lot of opposition, but this opposition very fastly, like, was demobilized, because those were mostly contractual soldiers who were fighting in Iraq. It was also one of the factors. Of course, there were many others.

So, I think, in the long run, it will trigger some processes in Russian society. But it’s also only in the long run, and those processes won’t necessarily will be of the sufficient level to raise some visible and practical opposition inside the Russian society.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to go to Moscow in a minute with Nina Khrushcheva, as well as talk about, overall, what’s happening in Russia. And as I talked about the number of Russian soldiers who died in Afghanistan, far under that 75,000 number, a million Afghan civilians died — it could be double that — during the Soviet occupation. Oksana Dutchak, I want to thank you so much for being with us, feminist Marxist sociologist, co-editor of the Ukrainian journal Commons, speaking to us from Leipzig, Germany. She fled her home in Kyiv with her children the day Russia invaded.

Next up, we will speak with a Russian historian who left his home in Moscow after the war, and we’ll speak with Nina Khrushcheva, coming up. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Something in the Way” by Nirvana. The WNBA superstar Brittney Griner was spotted wearing a Nirvana shirt in a recent court hearing in Russia, the focus of an international campaign to free her from Russian detention.

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Ukraine Invasion: Russian Opposition to War Has Been Smashed, with Many Dissidents Fleeing Abroad

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