RHI: Interview with Andrew ‘Che’ Sokolov

Andrew ‘Che’ Sokolov has been interviewed in May 2015 by the RHI. He was, at the time, imprisoned at Mariupol’s jail

Could you tell us about your political career? What is your political identity?

By my social origin I am a worker, a machinist, a gunmaker. By my political views I am a Russian revolutionary, a communist. While a youth, I have made my way up from a moderate left activist to a radical supported of armed struggle. I have been a member of different left organizations – from Trotskyites and CPRF [Communist party of Russian Federation] to RCYL(b) [Revolutionary Communist Youth League ({Bolsheviks)] and RCWP [Russian Communist Workers’ Party]. After the authorities’ repression in 1997 I have gone to jail for the first time. So, the new period of my life began – the prison one. Now I am 36 years old, and I have spent 9 of them in prisons by 4 sentences (left terrorism and arms traffic). This Ukrainian captivity is my fifth prison already. A strange prison. As long as I don’t know what lies ahead me: exchange, or a court sentence, or shooting like hostages if the war intensifies. There is complete uncertainty.

What are the charges pending against you?

I am accused of information assistance to the DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic] Ministry of Defense. Allegedly, I have visited several Donbass plants and consulted them as an arms specialist on possibility of arms repairing at those enterprises. That’s my “crime”. And the evidence is – my passport of a Russian citizen, St.George’s ribbon at my car antenna and my “voluntary” testimony acquired under menace of torture while I have been confined in a secret military prison in the “anti-terrorist operation” zone from December, 16 to 29, 2014. That’s all. By the Ukrainian law the DPR is considered a terrorist organization, and everybody who helps it – soldiers, policemen, doctors, teachers – are “terrorists”, too. What a nonsense! I was kidnapped on December, 16 at an Ukrainian checkpoint between Donetsk and Gorlovka when I was driving my car to see my comrade, the anarcho-communist Egor Voronov. I drove to that checkpoint by mistake, I had no map.

Of course, I was not planning to leave from the DPR to Ukraine (both Gorlovka and Donetsk are DPR). Having seen a car with Russian plate numbers and the St.George’s ribbon, they detained me at once. And for more than two weeks I was kept in a secret prison, with a mask on my head, for I could not see where I was confined and where I was driven to. It is common practice of the Ukrainian state towards prisoners. As well as beating, torture and murder. I have described those days in details in my article “Everybody speaks under captivity” published by my comrades. Now I understand very well what other comrades felt under such situation in Argentina or Chile in the 1970es. When you are kept by military men and they may do absolutely what they want to you, for everybody – you are away, you have disappeared. A human life does not cost a gun cartridge here.

Describe the political situation in Donbass.

The political situation in Donbass in the situation of protracted war. It is war that has influence on all economics and politics here. The society militarization has taken place. While Ukraine may afford to divide the country’s life info “peaceful” part and “anti-terrorist” zone, but the DPR has neither territory nor people for it. All the land is searched by artillery and rockets. The was has touched everybody, and everybody has to take part in the defense and work for the front. The more so since almost half of the population have become refugees and left to Russia. There are few people remaining here. Only 60-70 thousands of Novorossia army stand against 250 thousands of Ukrainian army. Such force difference results to hard economic situation and to poverty for remaining in Donbass civilians. There are poverty and inflation in Ukraine, too, but it is several times harder in the DPR and LPR [Lugansk People’s Republic].

A “strange” war is going on here. “Arms cessations” are made and but kept by no one. Electricity, gas and coal go through the front line. Hidden trade is going on. Local elites solve their financial problems and affairs behind rank-in-file militants’ back. But only workers and peasants fight (from both sides).

When formal “elections” were organized in autumn 2014, legalizing yesterday’s medium oligarchs who had supported Anti-Maidan –Zakharchenko and Plotnitskiy. Communists were removed from these elections by formal reason. All this causes displeasure among common people and Novorossia military. I talked to many rank-in-file militants, and they want changes of this situation. To expel oligarchs and to conduct nationalization. To go fighting – knowing that they give their lives for their own plants, their own mines, their own land. But not for yesterday’s bourgeois elite which had changed theUkrainian flag to the flag of DPR.

Such attitude is the spitfire of future civil war inside Novorossia itself. And this spitfire becomes drier month by month. It were workers and peasants returned from the front line who made the
revolution of 1917. Experienced of protracted war and hatred to the rear masters.
Political situation? There is Russia, on one side, and Ukraine and NATO, on the other, people’s social displeasure with poverty and war – on the third (more truly, here and around). This is the situation. Very hard!

Which political forces are in power in Donbass? How important are the oligarch? How important are the Russian chauvinists? What about the importance of the Communists?

All political forces in Donbass were formed in spring 2014 yet, during the so-called “Russian spring”. For a year of war their radicalization took place, from moderate demands of Ukraine federalization to complete secession and Donbass independence. Too much blood has been shed to return incorporated into united Ukraine even under autonomy conditions. Great disappointment came after people’s belief that Russia would adopt Donbass like Crimea or bring troops for its defense. That did not happen.

This conflict failed to be solved without much pain (neither Moscow nor Washington seem to have wished). The main reasons of the war beginning are well-known – it is Donbass’s response to Kiev Euro-Maidan, protest against one country part’s nationalist politics imposing upon another (West and East of Ukraine) which is symbolized by derogation of Russian language and “Lenin-fall” (destruction of Lenin statues). A nationalist liberal revolution took place in Kiev having changed a moderate oligarch Yanukovich to the team of nationalists and oligarchs of Poroshenko group. Many people think it was not a revolution but a take-over. And it happened in a multi-national country. It is similar to Yugoslavia. Nationalists raising to power in a multi-national country is a direct way to its destruction and war. That’s what happened to Ukraine – Crimea and Donbass are lost forever. That’s why the main political forces became the Anti-Maidan supporters and those who expected for Russia’s help. Unfortunately many people even from old Ukrainian local elite, local Donbass bourgeoisie, policemen and former military took the lead. Those are directly conservative forces.

As before the war as now the left play a small role here. Why?

Because their majority was not ready for such struggle, for armed politics. But those who were first to take up weapons and began to create militia, they have actually became the new power. For years of peace Ukrainian communists have forgotten the essence of Marx’ and Engels’ “Communist Manifesto” and the only way to the victory through rebellion and armed struggle. Two decades of bourgeois elections and parliamentary games have blunted all the “teeth and claws” and turned the CPU [Communist Party of Ukraine] into an analogue of Russian CPRF [Communist Party of Russian Federation], into “constructive opposition” just for “venting”. That’s why, when the power was “growing on trees” in Donbass as well as in the whole Ukraine, they were a poor show, except for their symbolic participation in the Anti-Maidan. But the time for meetings and pickets had already gone. It was necessary to begin more radical acting, and the left failed to do it. That’s why, instead of social rebellion, a long war between “seps” [“Separatists”] and “ukes” [“Ukrainians”] started. Nationalists have actively joined from both sides. But the left stayed on the sidelines.

I spent little time in Donbass, from December, 4 to 16. But now I talk a lot to imprisoned militiamen. And I can surely speak that I haven’t met a single “Russian chauvinist” or nationalist among them. Or are they so lucky to avoid being imprisoned? Just the opposite, all our prisoners who are over 40 years old, who remember the Soviet era, all of them are internationalists and have gone to war because of their wish to fend off those “patriots” who had come to bomb and shoot them.
Nostalgia for Soviet era is very strong among them. They support ideas of nationalization and socialism. There is a great aspiration to social justice among them and working youth. They are raw material for left propaganda. Hoo! Where are you, communists?

Only one example. During my stay in the DNR [Donetsk People’s Republic], in the city a local comrade from the CPU [Communist Party of Ukraine], a communist – a pensioner came to me. He brought a gas pistol and wanted to know if it was possible to convert it into a live one. I examined the pistol, it appeared to be made of aluminum float, it was impossible to convert such a pistol normally. I informed him on that and promised to find a normal gun for him. He was a chief of a small detachment consisting of one of the plant’s workers. They needed weapon for the plant guarding and nationalization. There were people in the detachment but no weapon. That’s what for I had arrived here. To help such comrades!

What does such a scene look like?

I had only read about similar situations in books on the 1905 revolution. At that time workers acquired weapons where they could, by any ways, for creating their detachments. I explained him it was necessary to acquire money first, and the old technique of all revolutionaries was expropriation. Then it would be possible to arm workers normally and to start social changes. Is it fantastic? No, it is a real case!