From a recording of a pro-NATO/UKRAINE rally in New York where the crowd chants “AZOV” in praise of the Nazi battalion.
In April of 2018, I received a voicemail from a particularly famous Ukrainian restaurant in New York City, inviting me for an interview for the hostess position I applied for. It was the only call back I received in the myriad of places I applied to work for, so naturally I returned the call in the same breath I heard their words. Shortly after, I began what would become four years of meeting, bonding and then breaking away with the Ukrainian community in New York City.
But I did not just stop at getting to know the Ukrainian diaspora through work. I befriended them and became good friends with them. I got to know the Ukrainian community through taking action to surround myself with them through work, education and interpersonal relationships. I had been invited to Ukrainian boat parties, Ukrainian Valentine’s Day parties, and I went to the annual Ukrainian Festival in Manhattan. I had been relatively immersed in the social circles of young Ukrainian immigrants for four years and what I saw were well meaning, good hearted people that had been far too entrenched with historical revisionism and nationalist propaganda. I even took myself on a trip to Ukraine in the summer of 2019, visiting Soviet and War on Donbass Memorials. There I saw the rise and fall of the Great Ukrainian people, who once were liberators for the world against fascism to the very perpetrators of this great evil. Looking upon memorials of the dead Ukrainian men killed in battle fighting their own people, I was brought to tears when I thought to myself “what is this all for?”.
As much rage the rehabilitation of fascists incites in me, I ask how can we blame them when they were born on the heels of the dissolution of the USSR, when media and education of the rising capitalist regimes exalted everything about the USSR was bad, when nationalists have been hiding and passing on their legacy to their kids of a nationalist independent Ukraine? Although it is not based in historical reality, it has become their reality. They have learned to fully see the Ukrainian people as not part of the Soviet Union, but a colony of it. The descendants of collaborators both in Ukraine and abroad fought relentlessly for their stake in the future of their Ukrainian nation, and now they have political, social, and economic power. The Ukrainian nationalists lead the militaristic force in the country.
Yet we must also be a bit honest. The Ukrainian diaspora in New York City do not see themselves in the Ukrainians of Donbass, of Odessa, of Kherson or Kharkov. Many of them come from petit bourgeois families of Ukraine who take on a vastly different class character than those who could not leave, thus they have varying political interests.
We in the west are sold this idea that all of Ukraine is united against Russia, with exception to Donbass and Crimea. This couldn’t be further from the truth as there are millions of Ukrainians who opposed Maidan and Ukrainian antagonisms and continue to do so. Those that have been vocal now risk arrest or even extrajudicial murder. But what is true is that the Ukrainians in New York City have been united in pivoting their country to the West and towards an anti-Russia antagonism. They’ve worked tirelessly from the ‘50s with elder generations of Ukrainian immigrants to the recent wave of young petit bourgeois Ukrainian expats and their children. And with them, they’ve brought the legacy of Ukrainian nationalism, they’ve brought Bandera to the streets of NYC.
It is essential we make a particular distinction between refugees prior to February 24th, from immigrants of non-war zone areas of the country. Refugees along the battlelines in the East largely found funding through foundations and later applied for asylum in Western countries, many still waiting for answers. But refugee status was not then available for central and western Ukrainians, who make up a large part of Ukrainians in NYC. Instead, these immigrants largely arrived through lotteries or by extended family who were already settled in the USA. What’s more is that much of the Ukrainian population in New York, despite immigration status, do have some political influence. At the base level, 77% of Ukrainians in NYC are eligible to vote.
I ask of the Ukrainian-American community, what is it that you think you are fighting for? Are you defending the Neo-Nazi battalions that committed atrocities against the people of Donbass, who you claim are too victims of Russian aggression? Are you fighting for the liberation of your people, who lived without conflict with Russia until 2014? Do you think Europe and America, who continuously overthrow Latin America’s governments installing right-wing regimes and funded death squads in our countries, think they’re your allies? Ask why those who have never paid the price for crimes against my people, are your people’s “friend”.
There has been deep historical revisionism in your education and your community. People who once killed Ukrainian Jews, Poles, Romas, and Ukrainian communists are called Freedom Fighters, given museums all throughout Lviv, while the legacies of Ukrainian Bolsheviks are spat on and erased from Ukrainian history. “They fought for an independent Ukraine”, they fought for an independent Ukraine in the same way Hitler fought for a strong, independent Germany. Let us revisit the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalist’s statement of principles published in Surma in 1929:
The so-called Heroes of Ukraine, Stepan Bandera, Roman Shukhevych, Symon Petliura may not have been in the German Nazi Party, they may have conflicted with Hitler’s armies at various points, but their image of their “independent Ukraine” was mirrored to that of Hitler’s Germany. The pure Ukrainian state, free from Bolsheviks, Jews, and Romanis.
Peltiura, Lebed, and Bandera are names of the past now replaced with Yarosh, Biletsky, Kostubaylo leading the de-Russification of their pure, independent Ukraine state where communists are banned, fitting for a liberal “democracy”. Now the independent Ukrainian state has reached the enormous achievement of Europe’s second most corrupt country!
Ask yourself, who told you Stepan Bandera was a hero? What is the Ukraine he sought to build, because you don’t run a country solely on the principle of independence? Has it been Russia, the country asking for peace agreements with Donbass for 8 years the aggressor, or the Neo-Nazi battalions you’ve been propagandized to call heroes?
After the end of the Great Patriotic War, Ukrainians as all Soviets were tasked with the deNazification of the new German Democratic Republic, to rebuild a country decimated by fascism and war. They did not throw the Germans away or seek revenge, they built a strong country where more than 40% of East Germans feel nostalgia for. The Ukrainian people must not and will not be thrown away either. You must take the lesson from us Latin Americans who have been plagued by U.S. imperialism since the independence revolutions of our nation, my own family fleeing a genocidal regime backed by the United States in Peru. When you stop looking West, when you stop looking for comfort in your identity with nationalism, only then can Ukraine find its former glory. The illness of Nationalism has gripped your country suffocating it at the heart, leading you down to war. You can point the fingers everywhere, but three will always point back home. Your leaders do not care for you, they will and have sold you out. The rich get richer in Ukraine will working class Ukrainians suffer and die. Only a working class movement can save you, only deNazification can save you.
For more context on the US’s proxy war in Ukraine please watch comrade Kayla’s recent video:
Kayla Popuchet is a Peruvian-American CUNY student studying Latin American and Eastern European History, analyzing these region's histories under a scientific socialist lens. She works as a NYC Housing Rights and Tenants Advocate, helping New York's most marginalized evade eviction. Kayla is also a member of the Party of Communists USA and the Progressive Center for a Pan-American Project.