FROM THE EDITOR (LIVA): This is one of the last interviews given by Aleksey Mozgovoy—the commander of the Prizrak Brigade, who openly asserted that the residents of the Donbass and of Ukraine should act together to end the rule of the “super-rich” capitalists on both sides of the front line. On May 9, 2015, immediately following the festivities in the centre of Alchevsk, he went to one of the districts in this working-class town—to a children’s playground, which his fighters were helping to rebuild. Ukrainian politicians usually turn events like this into PR opportunities. There were, however, no cameras of local journalists or idle gawkers at this playground. Laying aside their firearms, Mozgovoy and fighters from his unit, joined by several communists from Greece and Italy, worked together with shovels and crowbars, installing swings and slides for children and conversing among themselves. They were helped by children from the neighbourhood. Journalists from LIVA took the opportunity to ask Mozgovoy their questions.
These May days in Alchevsk were marked by a unique event—an international anti-fascist forum, which brought together leftist activists from Italy, Greece, England, Germany, Spain, Poland, Turkey, Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. Among them were members of popular leftist bands—the Turkish Yorum and the Italian Banda Bassotti, as well as journalists from a number of international publications. The authorities in Lugansk refused, at the last moment, to support what, in their opinion, was an overly left-leaning conference; Mozgovoy subsequently undertook to ensure that it could take place in Alchevsk, unafraid of entering into conflict on its behalf. He discussed this openly during his address at the opening of the Forum, on the sidelines of which he actively, without arrogance, engaged with leftist journalists.
The participants of the Forum could witness the kind of work launched in Alchevsk by the Prizrak commander and the communists—political activists of his Brigade: aid to kindergartens and schools, free distribution of medications and food to those in need. They also learned about plans for reconstruction of the war-torn region, the former owners of which had long ago left for Kiev, Moscow or the European Union. In conversations with residents of Alchevsk and Stakhanov, in the streets and at the festivities in honour of Victory Day; by holding concerts, gathering thousands of people, they were able to appreciate the popularity of Mozgovoy among the residents of the city, with whom he would talk frankly and openly. All this was debated in excited discussions, which united activists from Rojava, who spoke about the Kurdish experience in self-governance, Greek and Spanish activists, who argued about the policies of Syriza and Podemos, an organizer of a British trades union, who shared his practical experience, and Italian leftists, who talked about the importance of internet technologies to the development of the left movement, immediately offering to share their skills in a practical way.
Of course, none of this could fail to influence Mozgovoy himself, helping him better to define his own ideas and views, which previously were vague—as inevitably happens with a person with no previous involvement in politics. That is why it is a particular shame that this genuinely vibrant and extraordinary man shortly thereafter tragically died on the outskirts of Alchevsk, killed in an ambush along with his press-secretary and members of his personal guard. The wave of remembrance events that are now taking place not only in the Donbass, but also in many countries of the world, demonstrate the symbolic importance of this individual to so many—precisely because while nationalistic intellectuals stoked the fires of a tribalist civil war in the interests of the capitalists, Aleksey Mozgovoy, a native of the village of Nizhnyaya Duvanka, openly declared the need for a social struggle which could unite Ukrainians in the fight against their true enemy.
LIVA: Aleksey, you have helped to organize an international leftist forum, which was attended by activists of communist, trades union, and student organizations—over a hundred people from ten different countries. It is known that the official authorities of Lugansk, who initially promised to assist in the holding of this forum, ultimately refused to support it. But when the request was made to you following their refusal, you immediately agreed to organize the conference in Alchevsk. What is the importance of this event? It is fairly unusual not only for the warring Donbass—you could say that even in the former USSR there were no such similar leftist forums.
A.M.: I believe that it is important to use this opportunity to talk about what is happening here [in the Donbass] and to secure support from like-minded people from the outside. We understand that the mass media—not only Ukrainian—severely distorts everything. It can be said that the Ukrainian channels never show any truth whatsoever about what is happening here. In Europe, I think the situation is the same. This meeting, this congress, opens the possibility for people who came here—and I stress, they did so of their own volition, because we did not know them before and did not invite them specifically—personally to look at how we live here, what we are doing, and what is going on here in reality. Both in Alchevsk and in the Donbass. Journalists as well.
Yes, there was pressure. But we held the meeting in spite of it. I want to give our guests the opportunity to talk to people, to observe our life, our problems, and our work. That’s how we can learn more about each other. That is why I supported this meeting. We are all free here, and we live in a free land. No one destroys Lenin monuments here, and no one prohibits red flags, the hammer and the sickle.
We are sharing experiences. Learning a lot that is new. Just now we were told about the civil war in Greece—how it was.
LIVA: In May of last year, you said that the oligarchs are the principal enemy of the people of the Donbass and of Ukraine. Has anything changed, or do you continue to stand by this position?
A.M.: Nothing has changed. The oligarchs remain our principal enemy. Not only for us, but also for the residents of Kiev and Dnepropetrovsk. All this time I have wanted to ask them—why do they then fight against the Donbass, and not against these oligarchs?
But we also have another enemy—this is our own, I would say, cluttered consciousness. We cannot lie to ourselves that everything will fix itself and that, suddenly, all will be well. We simply do not have the time for this falsehood. We must accept responsibility and act.
LIVA: Tell us about your social projects. We saw that you help the population: a chain of free food-distribution points has been established, kindergartens and schools have been repaired, salaries for teachers are being paid, at least partially. Now there are also children’s playgrounds.
A.M.: We do what all regular people’s government institutions should do—authorities that do not hide from the people, do not lie to them, do not spit at them. We help the poor and the disadvantaged, we try to reach everyone who needs assistance in these difficult wartime conditions. Assistance for kindergartens and schools is the foremost task in any situation. They have to operate—even war should not be an obstacle to children learning. We simply help to ensure that the schools are open, that children can attend classes, and teachers—that they can work as they have always done. Without this, there is no future.
And the children’s playgrounds… We must build them so that we do not have to dig trenches in the future. I believe that more attention must be devoted to the upbringing of the youth—to make sure that these kids are not educated by the television, along with the Praviy Sektor, but nurtured by us. We believe that new youth sports-clubs should be created, and have already organized a soccer club SKA Prizrak. Boys play there along with Militia fighters and communicate. Not many take the time to engage these lads: what this led to, we can all see now in Ukraine.
LIVA: But how can you ensure that social policies are implemented in these wartime conditions?
A.M.: This is not an easy task. For example, we tried to organize agriculture, our own “kolkhoz” [a collective farm –ed.]—in order to feed Alchevsk with our own food and not to depend on anyone in that regard. This is beginning to help our situation. Four free canteens accommodate about seven thousand needy citizens—you have seen it all, you have been able to talk to those who eat there. But this is just the beginning.
LIVA: The anti-fascist forum, the Jubilee anniversary of the Victory over Nazism. What does anti-fascism mean for you?
A.M.: It is a struggle against the enslavement of our people. Everyone was able once again to witness how quickly fascism and the very same oligarchs come to an agreement. Whether it is Krupp or Kolomoiskiy. An oligarchy was built in the country, and fascism inevitably followed. That is how it was, and how it will be again. Victory Day is necessary not just for parades, but to make sure that we never forget this. Many thought that this evil will never be reborn. After all, so much time had passed since the war. No. Again they crawled out.
LIVA: What about the Banda Bassotti concert? Did you like it?
A.M.: I heard very familiar Soviet-era songs. I heard songs from Italian partisans. But, in general, you must have seen yourself how many residents of Alchevsk came to the concert, and how they cheered this music. The holiday for the town was a success.