Published for the first time in English on our website, this interview with Vasiliy Volga, leader of the Ukrainian Union of Left Forces, was conducted in May 2018 by Halyna Mokrushyna, independent researcher and writer.
By Halyna Mokrushyna
Introduction by Halyna Mokrushyna
Vasiliy Volga is a veteran of Ukrainian politics and the leader of the Ukrainian party Union of Left Forces. He founded the Union in 2007 after leaving the Socialist Party of Ukraine which, because of internal squabbles, was not able to secure seats in the Verkhovna Rada in the 2007 parliamentary elections. Volga’s position as an active critic of the current Ukrainian political regime based on right-wing nationalism places him under the close surveillance by security services. Very recently, on November 6, his home was searched and he himself was summoned for an interrogation to the office of the Security Service of Ukraine where he was presented with phony, groundless accusations. Vasiliy Volga also receives threats from the extreme right ‘patriots’ of Ukraine. It takes courage to take a leftist, anti-nationalist stance in the stiffing political atmosphere of the post-Euromaidan Ukraine where hundreds of political opponents of the Poroshenko regime have been imprisoned or intimidated. Vasiliy Volga certainly has this courage.
The program of the party that he founded, the Union of Left Forces, is based on principles of modern democratic socialism, that is, overcoming the domination of capital in society through the full democratization and socialization of private ownership. The goal of the party is the development of Ukraine as a social, people’s state, in which the principles of social justice are implemented and the interests of citizens take priority over the interests of political parties, industrial-financial groups and foreign powers. The development of Ukraine as a social, people’s state is impossible without dismantling the existing clan-oligarchic economy and system of governance and replacing it with mechanisms of real democracy and active protection of the interests of citizens
( http://www.sls.org.ua/party/party-programme/ ).
Internationally, Ukraine should restore the policy of ‘multiple vectors’, that is to remain neutral and develop good relations with all neighboring countries. Multilateral, friendly ties with Russia should be restored. Ukraine should become an active participant in the creation of a new space of security and cooperation between the countries of the European Union and those of the Eurasian Economic Union. Due to its geographic location, Ukraine could become an important bridge of cooperation between Europe and Asia.
Domestically, the party advocates the restoration of peace in Ukraine on the basis of modern values of cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity. Any ideology that propagates interethnic or interfaith dissension should be opposed, and any form of discrimination based on ethnic, cultural or language preference should be eliminated. All peoples living on the territory of Ukraine should be able to freely maintain and develop their cultural traditions. That is why communities, where ethnic minorities are concentrated geographically, should be granted broader cultural independence and local people’s councils should be given more rights in determining the national-cultural policy within the territories of their jurisdiction.
This program reflects the political views of its founder – Vasiliy Volga. His views are not popular in the governing circles of post-Euromaidan Ukraine, where right-wing nationalism has gained significant strength and where the president has declared a ‘one language-one faith- one state’ policy. Following the adoption of anti-democratic laws on ‘decommunization’ and the outlawing of the Communist Party of Ukraine, leftist movements in Ukraine have been driven out of the public space and official politics by extreme-right thugs, who regularly intimidate leftist activists by threats and direct physical assault. Government and police authorities have turned a blind eye to the thuggery, or actively encouraged it. Courts have been intimidated and threatened from upholding laws that protect citizens from threats, intimidation and violence. In the case of the Union of Left Forces, their attempts to organize public meetings in various cities in post-Euromaidan Ukraine have been aggressively disrupted by extreme-right paramilitaries (read about one such instance here). The work of the party is blocked for now, but Vasiliy Volga remains active. He appears on various talk shows on Russian television (he is not welcomed on mainstream Ukrainian television) and he comments regularly on social media on the current situation in Ukraine.
On Ukrainian nationalism:
‘I learned in Galicia [western Ukraine] how solid is the foundation of Ukrainian nationalism. I had my own financial services company and we had offices in Western Ukraine. I never spoke Ukrainian, growing up in a military town and being schooled in Russian. I discovered and was fascinated by the traditional religiosity of people. I liked the fact that people have this clear, strong tradition on which one can educate children and the nation. I became interested in what was, in reality, the Ukrainian ‘national liberation’ movement [i]. I started learning Ukrainian and in half a year I was speaking it quite fluently.
I was really interested in finding the truth. In all the streams of information unleashed by pro-liberal intelligentsia, it was very difficult to discern truth from lies [ii]. At the beginning of the 1990s, I met local deputies from the Ukrainian Republican Party [iii].They were working on uncovering the hide-outs of the OUN-UPA in the Carpathian Mountains and wanted to open a museum of the “national liberation movement”. I went with these deputies and I also gave them money to open a museum in Ivano-Frankivsk [a regional center in Western Ukraine] – to tell the historical truth as it was. But when I arrived at the opening ceremony, I saw that there was not a single document in the museum that would show the terrorist methods of Bandera and his guerillas – for instance, orders to dress up as an NKVD officer and kill a local Communist Party member or a teacher. There was a huge scandal. I was ready to recognize the struggle of small nations for independence, such as Ireland against the British or the Basques and Catalans against the central government in Spain. I cannot approve of terrorist means, but I can understand. But, let’s tell the truth, I urged. The deputies responded: “You don’t understand. This is the beginning of a powerful ideological fight.”
And then I met Levko Lukianenko [a prominent Ukrainian dissident, one of the leaders of the anti-Soviet movement, founder of the Ukrainian Republican Party – HM]. I had several long evenings of discussions with him. He told me that while Ukraine was under moskali’ [a pejorative term for Russians in Ukrainian language – HM], there was a goal – to fight. When this independence suddenly fell on the dissidents, they did not know what to do. They saw that the nationalism did not enter into people’s hearts. ‘And I understood why’, Lukianenko told me. There is no nation without blood. And Lukianenko was rejoicing when after Euromaidan the civil war started in Ukraine, because all these deaths are a purification, the birth of Ukrainian nation.’
Volga broke up with Ukrainian nationalists and in 2000 founded ‘Hromadsky Kontrol’ (Public Control), a non-governmental organization that would monitor the activities of all the branches of power, similar to People’s Control in the Soviet Union. According to Volga, Hromadsky Kontrol was the largest and most powerful civil society organization in Ukraine until 2004. They had offices in all regions of Ukraine. There were around 44 thousand active members in the organization. These members were mostly younger retirees who accumulated knowledge and expertise and wanted an active social engagement. They worked for free. They would follow a short course on the relevant Ukrainian legislation (Constitution of Ukraine, a law governing their specific industry, a law on how to address the authorities about the information, a law on corruption) and upon the successful graduation were given an insignia of membership. Hromadsky Kontrol members worked in all regions of Ukraine. They undertook a lot of work on preventing drugs trafficking; four people were killed. According to Volga, from 2000 to 2004 it was the largest and the most powerful civil society organization in Ukraine. And then the Orange Revolution of 2004 came.
‘The organization started boiling. In Western Ukraine people were of one opinion – in Eastern Ukraine of another – all according to the map of political preferences. I insisted that we are a civil society organization, we do not do politics. Our task is to control the power holders that people will elect and we have to work within the law, within the Constitution, exercising civil control over the authorities. If we take one side or another, we become participants in building a power structure. This is inadmissible.
Maidan is in full swing [iv]. I walk on the Maidan, talking with people, telling them not to break the Constitution. I was walking with the Bible and the Constitution, citing Saint Peter – that any power is from God, and that which opposes the authority opposes God’s will. It was all hopeless. Several times I had to run away, or the police helped me. And then one day Pifer called me, the American ambassador [v]. He called me, Zakharov [Yevhen Zakharov is the head of the well-known Kharkiv Human Rights group and a long-time human rights activist – HM] and several other human rights advocates. We met in a restaurant. And it was for the first time that I was offered a bribe of one million dollars – as a grant to develop my organization. I applied for various grants before, including to Renaissance without success [vi]. Pifer offers me one million dollars, only if my organization would participate in Maidan, that is for Yushchenko, against Yanukovych. I refused. One day I would like to see that this bribery is investigated. There were people there – embassy workers, it was on the first floor of restaurant Pervak in Kyiv. Later I learned that some public figures who attended the meeting took the money and went to Maidan. It was then when I glimpsed the true nature of the so-called people’s revolt.’
Vasiliy Volga founded his own party – the Union of Left forces – on the basis of Hromadski Kontrol. After Viktor Yanukovych was elected president of Ukraine in 2010, Volga, as an experienced politician and manager, was appointed the head of the State Commission for Regulation of Financial Services Markets. In July of 2011 he was arrested on the suspicion of intent to accept a bribe. He was tried and sentenced to five years in prison but was released before the end of his term, in January of 2015. Shortly after this, during an interview he gave to the Ukrainian website RBK, Volga explained that there were several reasons for his arrest: as the head of the state commission he uncovered billions of fraud, as well as fraud in the country’s insurance market; as the leader of the party Union of Left Forces he refused to merge his party into the ruling Party of Regions, a fraudulent practice in which the Party of Regions was engaged to boost its membership and increase its political influence. But the main reason, Volga believes, is his constant outspoken criticism of the kleptocratic regime of total corruption, forgery, and stealing that developed in Ukraine following the fall of the Soviet Union. Because of the weakness of the Ukrainian political system, one in which the President controls all the branches of power, all Presidents, with no exception, participated in this comprehensive, all-consuming, all-inclusive theft.
This is what Volga thinks about the current political Ukrainian elite:
‘I know all these Ukrainian politicians – Turchynov [Oleskandr Turchynov is the current Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine – HM], Poroshenko, Yulia Tymoshenko – very well. I worked closely with Poroshenko for two and a half years. They all pursue their own gains. I saw how Tymoshenko acts. She is a very strong, cruel person. She acted cruelly in business. She will kill anybody for money. All they want is money. They do not want money as we want – as a means to satisfy vital needs. No, they perceive money as a way of “seizing the space” in the widest sense of the word. They need money as a form of power. Money for them is an obsession, a paranoia, a drug, a way to consolidate and increase power. They are terribly afraid of losing money because they compete with each other not for life, but for death, and if one of them shows a weakness, others will eat them alive. These are paranoiac people’.
Being from the Donetsk region and involved in high level Ukrainian politics, Volga had close contacts with Yanukovych. Here is what Volga thinks about the former president, who was ousted from power in a coup d’état:
‘Yanukovych was inevitably moving towards Maidan. I have to say that both Yanukovych and Nikolai Azarov [prime-minister of Ukraine under Yanukovych – HM] had demonstrated exceptional work capacity. What we did in two and a half years [spring 2010 – fall 2013], when I was a minister in the government, nobody achieved anything like this. Roads, bridges, airports, stadiums, two new plants…the Ukrainian economy has not seen anything like this since Soviet times when something new was built instead of something old being plundered. Tribute should be paid to Azarov’s genius, to Yanukovych as an organizer of a very, very high level. He consolidated people around him to reach a goal. Principles of consolidation varied, and we can dispute the morality of some of them, but he found the motivation to unite people, not only did it unite these very complicated persons [Ukrainian oligarchs – HM], it structured them and forced them to work as one mechanism, in the same direction. It was clear even then that if Yanulovych disappeared, it would all crumble and nothing would remain. He was a very powerful, God-gifted organizer. But a series of his people started wringing out from Kyiv businessmen land, profitable businesses, large communal enterprises, such as cemeteries, funeral business, servicing cemeteries. Sons of some high-ranking politicians in the Yanukovych team – you could see them in the Kyiv restaurants; how they behaved. And the rumors multiplied, photos were taken, it was reported in media. And I haven’t mentioned how they threw people out of their offices. It is all true. All of this happened. There was ground for discontent, and it was used with efficiency and mastery by the Americans to stir up Maidan. People went out to protest against the Yanukovych way of doing business. There was the potential for protest, protest that was absolutely legitimate but it was used by certain forces – to organize a coup d’état with the goal of setting Russia on fire – who became too assertive. Geopolitical games began. Ukrainian neo-Nazis rode on the wave of these processes’.
On the split within Ukrainian society:
‘Nation is a spirit, according to Hegel, a certain community living on common territory and having a common aspiration and identifying themselves as such. So Ukrainians do exist. And to deny this is a folly. There was no intense Ukrainization until the first blood was spilled. When the blood was spilled, when the first dead bodies of young soldiers who died in the East started coming in, not after Crimea… I live in a small town in Kyiv region. In the last four years they raised utility prices fourteen times. People do not have the money for it. Salaries are miserable, jobs are being reduced. People are leaving…The discontent with the policies of raising utility charges is growing…But when a young soldier dies, and his body is displayed near the House of Culture, they bring in children from school, all dressed in embroidered shirts, and everybody is standing and crying, the chaplain is saying the mass, and they tell everybody: ‘This Mykola died for you, so that the Russian bear does not come and eat your children’. They come home, turn on the TV and they see how Russian occupiers eat their children, fry them on a spit…This is a complex phenomenon. Propaganda, multiplied by blood, makes Ukrainization very solid.
And this will last many years, and the process is irreversible. My family is split in two – I do not talk to my sister. She declared herself a “banderite” [a follower of Bandera, the leader of the OUN-UPA]. And what happens to children? What happen to a child who was 14 when the war started? He was young, he thought about girls, and now he is 18. They explained to him that for four years Ukraine had been at war with Russia. They do not tell you that Ukrainians are fighting with their brothers, with insurgents. Hromadsky Kontrol had biggest structures in Donetsk and Lugansk. Do you know how many people from our ranks died in the insurgency? Before, we could sit at the same table after a working day at Hromadsky Kontrol, and a Lviv person would drink together with a person from Donetsk. It all ended. And how does a child at school feel when they bring a coffin once a month?
I do not see any other solution than by force. From one side or another. Otherwise it will be impossible to reunite the two sides. If there is no big deal between Putin and Trump on spheres of influence, whether Americans leave Ukraine or Russia stops supporting rebel republics with the humanitarian aid and say: OK, Ukraine, do whatever you want, and Ukrainian army will enter Donbass and kill half the population – a Croatian version – I do not see a peaceful resolution of this conflict. Already two nations are being formed – for one, the heroes are those who killed the heroes of the another. For one people, the Great Patriotic war is sacred and we defeated Hitler, for another…You cannot imagine what is happening in mass-media here, in Ukraine, on the eve of May 9th. The main idea that is imposed on people’s mind is that Western Ukraine greeted Hitler with bread and salt just because Hitler was better than Stalin. Blood that is being spilled in the East, accelerated all these processes on both sides. Polarization’.
On the current situation in the Donetsk’ People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic and the protest movement in Ukraine:
‘After the excitement phase comes the depression phase. The protest movement was crushed. Some people were arrested and intimidated, the rest were dispersed. The SBU [Security Service of Ukraine] came to them with papers, which they signed that the law on decommunization was adopted and if they violated it, they would be arrested. And that’s it. A person is scared. He is not going anywhere. The work is paralyzed. These may be the reasons, but a fact remains a fact: we, Ukrainians, accepted the reality that we are being destroyed. So I do not see any reason, any pretext to see resistance rising from within, I cannot see [it].
What happened in Crimea was annexation, supported by the population. Crimea was crucial for Russia’s national security. And to be honest, in the last fourteen years the Ukrainian power did everything they could to alienate Crimea – absence of broadcasting in Russian, of Russian language higher education and so on. Donbass, Kharkov, Odessa also rose up in the hope that they would not be part of Bandera’s Ukraine, that they always were at one with the Russians. Their opinion was ignored and a coup d’état was organized to throw out a President they had voted for. It does not matter whether by that time they liked him or not. They felt very strongly that he was their president. They remember very well Tymoshenko’s statement on Maidan in 2004 that Donetsk and Lugansk should be fenced in with a barbed wire and destroyed with atomic bombs. That nonsense she was talking…
Donetsk people remember all of this. And when the cup overflowed, the people rose up. Moreover, Russia took several steps to support the insurgency. These steps were decisive and bold and confirmed that Donetsk chose the right direction and that they would receive the same thing that Crimea did. But they did not receive it. Now the mood in Donetsk and Lugansk is difficult. I think, around 30% are ready to go back to Ukraine, at least to return somewhere. Everybody understands that enterprises in Donetsk and Lugansk do not work because of one simple reason – American sanctions. Anybody who buys products from them, any billionaire, will be cut off from using SWIFT [the international banking network – HM]. He will go bankrupt. So it’s impossible to launch the system. Consequently, there is unemployment, there is poverty. People are tired. They are tired of not being either here or there. Corruption is rampant, equal to the corruption in Kyiv. People are afraid to talk about it; they talk in whispers. Wives of the republics’ leaders manage holdings on the distribution of the humanitarian aid or commerce. It is all true. And the unwanted disappear, this is also true. In this stagnant swamp where people have lost faith and nobody sees clearly the direction in which to go, everybody acts according to the principle of after me, the deluge. We will see. The mood is very gloomy’.
[I] Volga refers to the guerillas of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), under the leadership of Stepan Bandera, and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), who collaborated with the German Nazis occupation of Ukraine during World War Two and fought against the Soviet Army in Western Ukraine during and after the war.
[ii] Volga is referring to the publication during the perestroika years of the 1980s of massive quantities of articles about the crimes and repressions of the Stalin regime
[iii] The Ukrainian Republican Party was founded in April 1990 by several Ukrainian dissidents on the basis of the Ukrainian ‘Helsinki group’ and under the leadership of Levko Lukianenko. Several other dissidents dissociated from the Lukianenko group, stating that the party was based on authoritarian principles
[iv] Maidan, or the so called Orange Revolution, is a series of mass protests in Kyiv in November 2004 – January 2005, sparked by the alleged fraud of the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election. In the second tour of the election Viktor Yanukovych, representative of the ‘pro-Russian’ Ukraine won by a small margin of 3% against the pro-Western opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. Yushchenko supporters and western observers of the elections publicized evidence of many incidents of electoral fraud by the pro-Yanukovych side. Under the intense pressure from the West another run-off was held in Ukraine, although such a provision does not exist in the Ukrainian legislation, and Viktor Yushchenko won
[v] Steven Pifer served as the United States Ambassador to Ukraine from November 1997 to October 2000; at the time of the Maidan he was serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, in charge of Russia and Ukrainedossiers
[vi] International Renaissance Foundation in Ukraine is part of the wider Open Society Foundation, a network of NGO, financed by George Soros