Youth activist Hunter Christopher reports on the urgent need for solidarity and the campaign to end Tory visa requirements for refugees
Not many people around the world are aware that a bunch of young socialists and supporters from around the world were going to attend an online seminar by our Ukrainian sister organisation the SD Platform the weekend that war broke out. The SD (Social Democracy) Platform are an incredible group of young people working to build social democracy in Ukraine. They are veterans of the Maidan revolution and are truly the most inspirational people I’ve been blessed to meet. Now they are fighting for their lives and need our help to not die soon after this article is published.
The night the war began I was on the phone with my comrade Małgorzata, texting and expressing our utter heartbreak at watching Russia invade. We knew we needed to rally our friends in the international socialist youth movements to do something. Two days later, through the incredible lobbying efforts of our friends and pushed to completion by the German JUSOS from within the SPD, Germany joined the other countries in supporting the disconnection of Russia from SWIFT.
But we knew we had to do more, and since that first night we’ve brought together 40 organisations on the left to provide political, practical and direct aid, not just for our comrades in the SD Platform and the young trade unionists of Ukraine, but to help as many Ukrainians as possible and end Putin’s bloody war.
In a few days, our activists have grown from a chat group into a serious international operation. We’ve raised over €7,000 in direct aid to refugees in Poland and to the SD Platform to help their activists, both those in Ukraine fighting and those fleeing the war.
Our Polish activists have been performing 24-hour shifts to help people at the border, directly in crossing and in finding transport to families and people offering their homes to those in need, while comrades in Warsaw are running shifts at the Central Train Station, where thousands of people are awaiting a place to go, to find them places to stay across the city. Sadly, the city government has not stepped up, leaving civil society and our activists to coordinate a massive humanitarian effort wholly through the goodwill of volunteers. At night, our activists are still there in the cold, among the many volunteers from the city, providing the needed coordination to tackle the overwhelming tide of people in need. After endless days in the field, they have rapidly become experts in refugee resettlement and their former political offices have become shelters and aid storage.
In the UK, on the second day of the Russian war on Ukraine, our comrades in the SDLP Youth launched our #opentheUK campaign, where we continue to push the Tory government to join with the rest of Europe and waive the visa requirements for Ukrainian residents fleeing war. By the start of this week, only 50 visas had been issued with thousands waiting. How many lives, how many children will die before the inevitable backtrack by this callous government, which is out of step with public opinion and common morality?
We also salute the efforts of the #closeLondongrad campaign to end oligarchy in the UK, both British and Russian. It is not a real democracy if governments can be bought and sold, and this crisis has shown how deeply corrupt so much of our Western system is, filled and overflowing with dirty money. Now that we have this moment to reflect, especially as socialists, we must ask ourselves: why were we fine with letting authoritarian regimes and their backers profit off the democratic world and influence it to such a massive degree that it can affect the trajectory of geopolitics?
Our team has also launched an operation to fight back in the growing information war that is consuming social media and alters people’s perceptions of reality. We have major concerns with the limited non-English/Russian/Ukrainian reporting on the war which means information has more opportunities to be distorted and abused. To fight this battle, we have launched a massive translation project to get good information out there and debunk the conspiracies flying around – not only to prevent problems now but pre-empt them in the future. We are also working to develop a Wikipedia-style website to provide easily searchable information on the conflict and its wider context, to help educate people in a variety of media with verified sources.
Most people in Labour are already aware of our growing problem with people falling into Putinist propaganda framing, especially the faux left-wing cosplay version where it is masked in legitimate criticism of NATO and anti-imperialist rhetoric. This is deeply tied with an uncritical acceptance of the ‘Ukraine is controlled by neo-Nazis’ conspiracy theory, pushed for eight years now – a theory infamously embraced by the originator of the conspiracy, Vladimir Putin, as his justification for war and the horrific slaughter of the Ukrainian people. The only way to fight this and not make it entrenched as legitimate political opinion is if we actively debunk it and do rapid education to show the true situation and history.
The Russian and Belarussian people are trapped by the constructed reality Putin has been weaving for decades, so it is important to raise awareness of the horrors being carried out in their name, as much as it is to guard our citizens and comrades against believing the lies. With the news that Russia intends to close its internet to non-RU domains, the grip of Putin’s constructed reality will only become tighter.
The only way this war does not end in tanks rolling up to Moscow is if Putin is brought down from within Russia. But that is the future, and we live in the now, and our comrades need your help today, not tomorrow, and not in a week when you have time. Labour, our trade unions, our entire movement and all the left has a short, brief moment to save the lives of our SD Platform comrades, our trade unionist kin and those who have worked to build a free democratic Ukraine.
You can do more, and you must. Don’t just doomscroll, do something. Our Ukrainian comrades from the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine and the SD Platform appeared again on Tuesday in front of Labour MPs to call for a no-fly zone, secure corridors to evacuate millions of civilians being slaughtered, and massive humanitarian and military aid. The previous night I was asked to find out how to get bulletproof vests and helmets to our comrades. Two weeks ago I was planning my wedding. This is my life now: saving my friends, trying desperately with my comrades to do something in this moment.
We are Team #SlavaUkraini, socialist organisers trying to just live our values, and we need your help to do this – financial, political and all other sorts of support. Don’t just sit by while history demands a response.