Ukraine: “Tsar and gunpowder”

The right-wing regime in Kiev is using war hysteria to bolster its support within the country – at least in the west – but news has been emerging of Ukrainian soldiers refusing to fight in the east, of their mothers and wives demanding they be brought back home. Here we republish an article by Andriy Manchuk in which he reminds today’s Kiev regime of how Tsar Nicholas II’s regime ended after whipping up war hysteria.

Our Tsar – Mukden, our Tsar – Tsushima,

Our Tsar – bloodstain,

Stench of gunpowder and smoke,

In which reason – is dark.


Our Tsar – is miserably blind,

Prison and whip, judging, execution,

Tsar-hangman, those lower in two,

What he promised, he could not give.


He's a coward, he feels stammered,

But it will be - the day of reckoning awaits.

Who began his reign - with Khodynka,

He woul finish - standing on the scaffold.

“Our Tsar” – this symbolic poetry by Konstantin Balmont – was banned in its time (after the Russo-Japanese war of 1905). Devoted to the Russian autocrat, it turned out to be impressive poetic prophecy. His reign did symbolically begin and end in blood. Mukden, Tsushima, and then Tannenberg became symbolic words for the subjects of Nicholas II. During his reign, the country became embroiled in a series of aggressive and unpopular military conflicts in which the army, for the most part hungry, demoralised and suffering from a lack of basic necessities, suffered a crushing defeat.

The patriotic hysteria that gripped society at the very beginning of the Russo-Japanese War and World War I, quickly gave way to disappointment and protests demanding an end to the senseless slaughter. Poverty and the high cost of living led the people who had been brainwashed by propaganda and the soldiers in the trenches to fraternising with the "enemy", shooting in the back the officers and refusing to fight – gradually realising that military conflicts interested super-rich "oligarchs", incompetent generals, bloodthirsty politicians, corrupt government officials and speculators who profited from the devastation.

So it is today, the same people as 100 years ago are the beneficiaries of the current civil war in Ukraine.

Many of those who voted for Poroshenko – in the absence of candidates that could in any way express the people's interests – did not hide the fact that they expect from him only this: a speedy end to the war. And if – to put in the words of Balmont – the new president is not prepared to give them what he himself has in fact promised numerous times to Ukrainians between the lines of his crafty campaign speeches, then "Our Tsar", in the best case, risks seeing the deception on which he obtained his “throne” from the nation being stripped away even before the end of his presidency, whose legitimacy has already been undermined by the campaign "of blood", right in the midst of terror, rampant censorship and persecution of opponents.

Of course, Poroshenko himself is the least interested in what goes on in the world. The oligarchic clique who seized the country after winning "Euromaidan", is badly in need of continuing the massacre in the east. It sees in military patriotism, an effective mechanism of social control, which helps to rally behind them bamboozled people, while simultaneously multiplying at their expense their own personal capital. Having planted on Ukrainians an invisible chain of propaganda, they train them on the "enemy" as watchdogs, ready to bite and poison "the strangers", while guarding the master's goods. But whether they voted for him out of naiveté or desperation, the voters expect from Poroshenko not the "stench of gunpowder", but sweet worldly smells. And this frustration cannot lead to a controlled Maidan movement, but to the revolutionary squares of Paris in January 1793.

The fact that Ukrainians are tired of violence and war is shown by the rebellion of the wives of the soldiers – the first major anti-war actions and anti-government protests in regions loyal to the new government. On May 27th, the military wives of Novovolynsk blocked the international road and railway track, demanding the return home of their husbands, brothers and sons. And on May 29th in Kiev, in front of the national parliament, soldiers' wives came from the nearby regional capital of Zhitomyr. They told reporters that their husbands were stationed outside of Sloviansk, and did not even have body armour, while the command refuses to let them go home, despite the fact that the rotation period has long passed.

The residents of Zhytomyr have said that they are going to coordinate with the families of the soldiers of Novovolynsk and Rivne. Of course, these people can be reproached for the fact that they went out only when there was a threat of the death of their loved ones – not caring what happened to those who are "pacifying" Donbass currently. Nevertheless, this is a genuine popular, "selfish” protest against the war, sharply contrasting the jingoistic sentiments of metropolitan intellectuals. And it promises to be a precedent, setting the stage for the development of a mass democratic movement for peace, which could include a combination of people with different views from different regions of the country.

However, the government is openly ignoring demands to return troops from the fronts of the civil war. As if in mockery of the soldiers' wives, the defence minister Koval told parliament that the rotation periods in the army have not been programmed – and their designated soldiers will continue to serve as cannon fodder on the front lines, up to the "bitter end" of the anti-terrorist operation. And at the same time, there was news from Slaviansk about fifteen soldiers – among whom was Major General Kulchitskii – who died in the helicopter downed by militias. He was carrying soldiers to artillery positions on Mount Karachun, from where the Ukrainian army regulars are shelling Sloviansk.

All this puts the army on the verge of spontaneous rebellion, which has erupted in the 3rd battalion of the 51st mechanized infantry. According to Ukrainian media, fighters, whose colleagues who recently died tragically under Volnovakha, locked themselves in a railway carriage, where they were sharing a bottle of spirits, refusing to obey orders.

“The 3rd battalion of the 51st mechanized infantry brigade (shot at near Volnovahka, Donbass) were moved from the East to the South for supposedly “continuing training”. But just yesterday, and the day before, the soldiers were informed that they were going back to Rivne for training. Having lost any kind of trust in the generals in light of the latest events at Volnovakha and during the funerals in Rivne, and the betrayal of the generals; the soldiers have begun an open rebellion,” reports Volodymy-Volynskyi blogger Roman Martynyuk.

After the publicity of these events, it became known that mass disobedience is presently brewing within the army. “Discontentment among the 2nd battalion as well, which is still in the Rivne barracks. Soldiers and officers saw with their own eyes the extent of the situation when they sent the 51th brigade – the largest fighting force in the Ukrainian land forces – the generals were saying ‘go north’ then ‘go south’ to the extent that the soldiers are ready to shoot them. The generals have begun wearing bulletproof vests out of fear of fragging! Yesterday evening, one of the soldiers from the Rivne barracks informed Novovolynski Dyloviy that over 1200 soldiers and officers are prepared to disobey the decision to move them to Mykolayiv. They were promised that they would be guarding the Ukrainian-Belorussian border,” as reported by local media Novovolynsk Diloviy.

According to them, the soldiers who participated in the battle of Volnovaha have been taken back to Mykolayiv region and "are there without food, weapons and are guarded by gunmen." So as of now, the regime is fighting against these people, as well as against the people of the Lugansk region and the Donbass, continuing the “anti-terrorist operation." against them.

Of course, these are far from large-scale protests – many under the magic touch of the “good oligarchs”. But Poroshenko must understand the meaning of these sentiments in society – especially among military conscripts, who reflect them much better than the volunteer Nazi Freikorps mercenaries and private armies of the oligarchy. Tsar Nicholas II – who by the way, was a big fan of sweet confectionery kalaches from then Baron Filippova – also lost power after a riot of angry soldiers, who did not want to go back to the front to die for their lords. And he refused to suppress the popular uprising in Petrograd for the lack of bread, which were among the first workers’ movements – by the wives and daughters of those very soldiers.

Tsar Nicholas went on his way to the Ipatiev house, where a rich industrialist, Filippov, supplied him with cakes, and fled into exile, becoming the hero of the poem by Mayakovsky – in which workers send their former master a specially baked "chocolate fig." And these verses certainly please Poroshenko even less than those of Balmont.

“Studying history, you see that social revolution cannot expect to succeed in a country that has not suffered a total military defeat. It needs a most visible military defeat, to understand it. It is disappointment in the system, which leads to the collapse and purging away of all the existing standards, faiths and loyalties, when the war is being fought by a conscript army – that is the necessary catharsis before the revolution," Ernest Hemingway wrote perceptively after the First World War.

Is there where things are gradually going in Ukraine, whose citizens have recently been receiving bills with new tariffs for electricity and gas? It is true that for now, this protest can only express itself through the extreme right, who will not seriously fight against their sponsors the oligarchs. But who knows what will happen as a result of this to the president who "began to reign" with the bombing of Donetsk and Slaviansk. Add to that the Volyn residents who want and expect the world – as with the rest of the country. Is this what the new president – owner of the Kiev factory with the last surviving monument in Kiev to Karl Marx behind its gates, whose name is still carried by the privatized factory – can expect of things to come?

When choosing gunpowder, be ready for explosions.

(May 30, 2014)