Ukrainian civilians sheltering under a bridge in Kyiv Ukrainian civilians sheltering under a bridge in Kyiv. Photo: Міністерство внутрішніх справ України / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0, license linked below article

Kevin Ovenden on the monstrous inversion of the horrors of war and the hypocrisy of the west

It is impossible to know with any accuracy what is happening on the ground in the horrible Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

It is a war. And as we know from previous wars there is a barrage of misinformation.

Some things are clear. First is that there is civil resistance in Ukraine to the invasion and in Russia to their government’s war. 

The images of thousands of people demonstrating in the port of Kherson on the Black Sea against the Russian occupation of their city showed the depth of opposition to the invasion and also the power of civil mobilisation. 

The same can be said in Russia. Today, on International Women’s Day, women have been laying flowers with messages saying “No War” at memorials across the country to the millions who fell in the Second World War resisting the Nazi invasion. 

Meanwhile socialists and communists in Russia organising to stop the war are over-represented among those being arrested and detained by a government that hypocritically uses that war to try to justify this one. 

The hypocrisy does not stop there, though. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Ukraine. Most of the estimated 2 million refugees have fled westwards, and most of them to Poland, about 1.2 million. Perhaps 100,000 have fled eastwards to Russia. That in itself is an indication of the complexity underlying what is an indefensible war and invasion on any grounds.

Still we find in so much popular media commentary – not just news, but chat shows and celebrity outbursts – that these Ukrainian refugees are worthy of help and sheltering in a way that others, from outside of Europe are not. 

The hard-right Polish government epitomises this. It still refuses to take a share of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan while using its enforced acceptance of those from Ukraine due to events to claim the moral high ground in Europe. 

Similarly, the right-wing government of Greece is in fact, but not in admission, repudiating all the legalistic arguments it makes against refugees arriving via Turkey in order to claim it is a moral force when it comes to refugees from Ukraine. Especially Greek speakers from Mariupol. 

But the biggest hypocrite – in fact, liar – has to be the British government. It has allowed in just 50 Ukrainian refugees on visas. Today it was exposed in parliament that Priti Patel’s Home Office is simply lying about the setting up of a visa centre in France for those Ukrainians wishing to come to Britain. 

The stance of Boris Johnson’s government is nothing short of sickening – urging on the fighting in Ukraine against the Russian troops, but not prepared to accept in any meaningful way those fleeing the consequences of that fighting. 

Ending the fighting, however, seems remote. That is especially if we take our cue from most of the media that has abandoned talk of peace and replaced it with talk of “who is winning?”

In a monstrous inversion this leads to reporting the suffering of refugees one minute and then to essentially advocate pouring more weapons into the war zone and to punish the Russian people, not only their leaders. 

As if the impoverished Russian miner were any different from his counterpart in Ukraine. Or the Ukrainian billionaires were different from the Russian billionaires, both presiding over hugely impoverished populations. 

That is why the battles of ordinary Ukrainians and Russians against this war are so important. 

And in Britain and the Nato countries too. For it is clear that a reaction and escalation are pouring out of this conflict. Lithuania is a poorer country in the richest capitalist bloc in the world, the EU. 

It has reportedly announced that it will not be sending the vaccines it had promised to one of the poorest countries in the world, Bangladesh, because it did not vote with the Nato countries at the UN meeting on Ukraine. 

This is reaction writ large. And it betrays a racist logic. In the name of intra-European (white) solidarity, we will punish poor brown people in a country whose repressive apparatus we didn’t care about so long as its sweated textile workers provided cheap clothing to us.

There will be a lot more reaction. The world is at a turning point. The social-democratic prime minister of Sweden has ruled out the country joining Nato as it would create further “destabilisation”.

So can we please stop the tub-thumping from not just conservatives but from many liberals too? No – in making this correct observation the centre-left Swedish prime minister is not naive nor a pro-Putin stooge.

We need to discuss this crisis and act. Not be intimidated from discussing and thrown into passivity.

The price of gas and oil is skyrocketing. The same on the futures markets for wheat and important metals that are produced in Russia and Ukraine. 

The price of a barrel of oil has soared to $139 a barrel. There is rising talk of a return to the 1970s and “stagflation” – both rising prices and a stagnant economy or recession. Globally.

Everywhere workers are meant to pay the price of this. And for rising arms expenditure. 

As energy bills and rising National Insurance tax hit in Britain in the next three weeks these things will come home to millions of households. 

Truly helping ordinary people in Ukraine and peace protesters in Russia, as well as all those fleeing conflict, crisis and climate chaos, means fighting the British government. 

It does not mean giving them the benefit of the doubt or conceding an inch to Boris Johnson’s war on working people and the left at home. 

Before you go

Counterfire is growing faster than ever before

We need to raise £20,000 as we are having to expand operations. We are moving to a bigger, better central office, upping our print run and distribution, buying a new printer, new computers and employing more staff.

Please give generously.

Kevin Ovenden

Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.