Anastasia Shevchuk gave this address to a Sydney Stop the War Coalition protest against Russia’s war on Ukraine on March 6.
* * *
I want to begin by reading a poem from the Ukrainian writer Ilya Kaminsky, whose native city of Odessa is currently preparing for a Russian incursion.
We Lived Happily During the War
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we
but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America
was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.
I took a chair outside and watched the sun.
In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money
in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)
lived happily during the war.
* * *
I stand here today as my birth city, Kyiv, undergoes continued shelling from Russian troops. I stand here today shocked and anxious about the safety of friends and relatives, and the generations of trauma that this war is inflicting on ordinary people.
I also stand here today as a beneficiary of a violent economic and political order that has fuelled this conflict. The relative prosperity and peace of those of us in the West who hold a privileged socio-economic, racial or able-bodied position is built on the suffering of everyone who this economic and political order deems expendable, including in this case the Ukrainian people.
I want to begin by acknowledging this because the path to peace begins by addressing the role state violence plays in our own communities.
This violence is not unique to Ukraine. It’s the violence of this state’s continued murder of First Nations people — it’s the violence of poisoned Aboriginal land from nuclear testing in Maralinga, from uranium mining, fracking and coal mining across the country, from the upcoming destructive gas drilling on the lands of the Gomeroi people.
It’s the violence of conflict in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestine, so many more, and it’s the violence of states around the world, including so-called Australia, that continue to torture those escaping from this violence because they are not the “right” skin colour.
It’s the violence of state inaction and obfuscation on climate change and the displacement of 71,000 people per day due to worsening climate disasters.
I do not invoke these instances of state violence to minimise the pain of Ukrainian people or compare sufferings.
I invoke them because peace begins with solidarity over our shared struggle. Our struggle is not against the Russian people. Our struggle is not against a designated bloc of “evil” states.
Our struggle is against the violence of an accumulation of power, resources and decision-making in the hands of a tiny group whose position at the top is contingent on doing everything they can to protect the interests of those who profit from exploitation and war.
Our struggle is against the capitalist order.
Today, both the Russian and Western powers of this order are trying to position themselves as the saviours of the Ukrainian people.
The absurdity of the Russian case is widely discussed.
But in relation to the West, when Europe and the United States raced Eastern Europe into rapid privatisation after the Soviet collapse, fueling the emergence of the oligarch class on whose backs Putin has built his regime was this in the interests of the Ukrainian people?
When Ukraine was forced to integrate into the international neoliberal order, sending inequality and poverty soaring and further entrenching corruption, was this in the interests of the Ukrainian people? When Australia does everything in its power to maintain a global order reliant on fossil fuels, growing the power of states like Russia in the process, is this in the interests of the Ukrainian people?
And, I ask, when the West offers no way out of this conflict other than starving the Russian people into regime change, no matter how long this takes or how deadly the cost in Russia and Ukraine, is this in the interests of the Ukrainian people?
This war is primarily the product of the aggression and imperialist appetites of the Russian political class.
But if we are to work for peace and for the interests of the Ukrainian people, we must recognise that peace will not come from the geopolitical ambitions of state leaders or from military escalation.
Peace will come from communities who stand united in solidarity against state violence in Ukraine, in Russia, in so-called Australia and everywhere.
Peace will come from the choice each of us makes to support those in our communities and around the world who are victims of state violence. Peace will come from our choice to resist state violence wherever we are.
This includes supporting Ukrainian people or the Russian people bravely protesting the war. But this also includes resisting Australia’s military expansionism. This includes fighting for the rights of refugees, from Ukraine and from all other places torn about by war or climate change. This includes showing up for First Nations struggles across this continent. This includes building communities of support that enable us to care for one another as we face state violence.
I think back to 2004 and 2014 when Ukrainian people occupied Independence Square in sub zero temperatures to push for their freedom against the interests of oligarchs and corrupt politicians. Peace comes from our capacity to say as they did then — razom nas bagato, nas ne podolaty — together, we are many, we cannot be defeated.