A year after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began, both Ukrainian and Russian civil society groups have been initiating various forms of assistance to Ukraine. This is the first of two interviews Global Voices conducted with two different grassroots initiatives. One of them, based in Germany, supports fighters in the Ukrainian army and educates the European Left about Russian imperialism. The other, based in Saint Petersburg, helps Ukrainian refugees in Russia to reach Europe.
Due to the risks faced by activists, the interviews are being published under condition of anonymity. In this instalment, we speak with members of the Good Night Imperial Pride initiative.
Global Voices (GV): How did the idea to create an initiative with such an unusual name come about? Why did you choose it?
Good Night Imperial Pride (GNIP): Our initiative started with a campaign to buy night vision devices for the Ukrainian army. The name was born from ideas to reflect the purpose of the campaign and the essence of this war. Thus, two associations: night and imperialism united in “Good Night Imperial Pride,” referring to the classic anti-fascist slogan “Good Night White Pride,” which is against white supremacists.
From German comrades, we heard that the name is unusual. It turned out that in the European left environment, the word “imperial” is perceived as unambiguously referring to the USA. Indeed, criticism of American imperialism is a big topic for the European Left. The idea that the concept of imperialism can be applied to Russia seems strange here. So we realized that we still have a lot of work to do.
GV: What are your main initiatives?
GNIP: We provide equipment for anti-authoritarian activists on the front in Ukraine [Ukrainian, Russian, Belarusian unit of anarchists serving in the Ukrainian army in various regiments now]. We collect money, we buy and ship equipment with the help of friendly initiatives to Ukraine. In the first months of a full-scale war, we still worked separately. One of us bought equipment: body armor, helmets, pouches, silencers. Others bought tourniquets to stop bleeding, contact lenses and other things of personal necessity.
In April, the need for financial independence arose, and we organized ourselves into a group. Since then, we independently organize fundraising campaigns and continue to buy equipment. We campaigned to buy night vision devices, cars, drones, winter clothes.
For fundraising, we use social media, organize events, and sell merch. We have two formats of events: public lectures [and] parties. We are in Berlin and here, rave[s] [are] the most effective way to raise money, but also very labor intensive.
One of our additional important task is information and educational activities. We write posts and hold lectures: we tell how Russian imperialism works, we debunk the myths about Ukrainian nationalism [the alleged by Russian propaganda persecution of Russian-speakers/nazism] . In autumn, we invited a friend, an anarcho-feminist from Kherson, to give a lecture on the Makhnovshchina and the history of the anarchist movement in Ukraine.
GV: What is your support base like?
GNIP: It’s hard to say how many people support us now. Many we do not know personally; we get donations, and we do not know who does it. They are mostly European and American leftists who want to support anarchists and leftists at the frontline in Ukraine.
A certain backbone of support at the start played a key role — these are friends in the anarchist communities that helped spread the word about GNIP and garner support from a wider audience. Switzerland, Finland, Germany — thank you, all.
Sometimes support comes unexpectedly. Recently, we have been able to raise money at a birthday party. A guy we met at our lecture on Russian imperialism invited us to tell his friends about GNIP and asked them to donate money to us instead of giving him birthday gifts.
GV: Who are the people you help?
GNIP: In the first months of a full-scale war, we helped an anti-authoritarian platoon — it was a unit in the Kyiv region for 50+ people […] of different left anti-authoritarian views. At this link you can find an interview with it.
When Ukraine [resisted] the attack on Kyiv, the platoon disbanded, and the people dispersed along different departments. Now, we support people from the anti-authoritarian platoon and other leftists.
In the summer, we raised money for a drone for the aerial reconnaissance unit, where two anarchists from Kharkiv serve. One of them is a feminist; before the war, she made a socio-cultural center in Kharkiv.
In autumn, EUR 7,800 were collected for a car for a group of Belarusian anti-authoritarians, political emigrants who now fight on Ukrainian soil.
In December, we campaigned for the purchase of an evacuation rover for a paramedic. Before the war, he was a union activist.
GV: What would you like to achieve?
GNIP: The immediate task is to expand the support base and increase donations by 1.5–2 times. Our political goals are the victory of Ukraine, the complete de-occupation of its [eastern] regions and the restoration of infrastructure. And of course, fighting against Russia’s imperial policies — otherwise there will be no rest for the neighboring countries.
As for our information activities, we want the support of Ukraine to become an unconditional consensus among the European Left.
GV: What do you say to people who think that helping the army (Ukrainian or otherwise) is immoral?
GNIP: Usually we hear this from people with pacifist ideas from Western countries where there is no war. We explain that pacifism is a perspective of the privileged. Oppressed peoples have to defend themselves in order to survive. This is self-defense.
But in the leftist scene this is not a general problem; after all, there is an understanding that violence can be justified when it is a liberation struggle against oppression.
In addition, we came across a position about the immorality of supporting any army, oddly enough, among Russians we know. And it is precisely [coming] from them that it is difficult to perceive [as any other way] than as cynicism and hypocrisy. Russia is waging an aggressive colonial war against Ukraine and carrying out genocide. How to stop it, if not with a weapon in hand?
GV: Are there results that you are proud of? Were there any failures?
GNIP: There [don’t] seem to be any failures so far. Each fundraising goal achieved is a reason to be proud.
GV: How do you manage to engage in activism amidst other responsibilities?
GNIP: We have a small team, [which] helps [to make] decisions quickly. We try to prioritize and distribute areas of responsibility. Some may devote more time to GNIP, others less.
For one of us, prioritizing activism after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine meant postponing school for a semester and taking a long vacation from work.
For another [member], balancing activism with work and other commitments is a challenge, but activism is a pressing need. How else to deal with the continuous horror, grief and hatred? Only to act, to contribute to the end of the war and the victory of Ukraine.
Fortunately, we have met many wonderful people and teams who support us, run campaigns together with us, help us with contacts and ideas. We are part of a small but vibrant solidarity network that keeps us going.