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War Resistance in Russia and Ukraine

This report on the many forms of war resistance in Russia and Ukraine, from anti-war protests to desertion of military personnel, is reposted from the website of the International Workers’ Association.

by Stephen Shenfield



6 min read

This report first appeared on April 1 in the English-language section of the website of the International Workers’ Association.

The current Russian-Ukrainian military conflict has led to a wild explosion of the most disgusting, cavernous nationalism on both sides of the front line. In Russia, they are calling to ‘crush’ the enemy, in Ukraine – to fight for the ‘fatherland’ to the last man. In both states, propaganda seeks to dehumanize the enemy as much as possible, and, unfortunately, many ordinary people fall into the trap set by those in power. Even many who claim to be ‘leftists or ‘anarchists’, intoxicated with patriotic poison, eagerly rush to support the bloodbath.

Unfortunately, this always happens in the wars waged by states. Suffice it to recall the hysteria that gripped the countries of Europe on the eve and during the first weeks of the World War One… 

All the more attention and respect are due to those people in Russia and Ukraine who resist the destruction and bloodshed. Here is a brief survey of the main kinds of anti-war protests over the month since Russian troops invaded Ukraine. 


In Russia, mass demonstrations against the war began on the very first day and did not stop for 2–3 weeks. At first, they generally took place daily and throughout the country. All were illegal and brutally dispersed. In addition to street meetings and processions, other methods have been used – hanging posters, drawing graffiti, posting leaflets and stickers, and distributing anti-war literature. In some places Molotov cocktails have been thrown through the windows of police stations and military registration and enlistment offices… 

Most protests have been spontaneous. In some instances the bourgeois liberal opposition called for protests. So did feminist organizations on March 8. Unfortunately, not all of the protesters can be considered truly anti-war, that is, truly opposed to all belligerents. Especially among the liberal protesters there are many supporters of Ukraine; even NATO sympathizers have been spotted. 

The exact number of protesters is unknown, but the number of cities in which demonstrations took place and the number of people detained during the protests indicate their scale. In total, street actions have taken place in more than 100 cities and towns. According to human rights activists, by March 13 alone the police had arrested about 15,000 people at these protests. A few are released simply ‘with a warning’; thousands of others have been fined or charged with administrative offenses. By March 25 in St. Petersburg alone the courts had heard 3,710 cases: 861 people were fined, 2,456 were charged with administrative offenses, and 123 were sentenced to forced labor.

Some protesters face criminal charges. The new laws against ‘spreading false information’ and ‘discrediting the army’ carry prison sentences of up to 15 years. In the month since the outbreak of hostilities, 46 people in Russia have been indicted on criminal charges. Nine of them are in custody and three are under house arrest. At least five of the accused are outside Russia. In total, cases were initiated in 22 regions of Russia: Adygea, Tatarstan, Karelia, Moscow City, Ingushetia, St. Petersburg, Kemerovo, Tomsk, Tyumen, Belgorod, Vladimir, Moscow, Tula, Sverdlovsk, Pskov, Samara, Rostov, and Novosibirsk regions, Crimea, and the Primorsky, Krasnodar, and Trans-Baikal Territories. Criminal cases are being investigated under 14 Articles of the Criminal Code — 10 under the new Article 207.3 on ‘public dissemination of false information about actions of the armed forces’, 9 (including at least 3 street artists) — under Article 214 (Part 2) on ‘vandalism motivated by hatred’, 9 — under Article 318 (Part 1) on violence against a representative of the authorities, 2 — on charges of ‘justifying terrorism’. In addition, cases of hooliganism, insulting a representative of the authorities, calling for extremist activities, inciting hostility or riots, storing ammunition, and even desecration of the bodies of the dead and their burial places are under investigation.


In Ukraine, anti-war protests are no less difficult than in Russia. In addition to repression by the authorities, who have begun to ban and arrest political opponents and adopt terrorist laws (including punishments from 15 years in prison to life imprisonment for ‘collaboration with the aggressor’, ‘looting’, and ‘high treason’), wartime conditions themselves prevent protests. How can people attend street actions under a hail of Russian missiles and shells? However, even here it is possible, based on fragmentary information, to present at least a general picture. 

One of the most common actions objectively directed against the consequences of a military conflict is so-called ‘looting’, numerous cases of which are reported from many cities of Ukraine. Of course, a variety of incidents are included in this category — from banditry, murder, and robbery of civilians to real social protest, when residents left without food and other essential goods simply expropriate them from stores. Such ‘popular expropriations’ and ‘hunger riots’ were noted both in cities controlled by the Ukrainian authorities and in those occupied by Russian troops. 

Residents have attempted peacefully to stop the entry of Russian military equipment into urban areas in order to avoid destruction. Thus in Koryukovka (Chernihiv region) on February 27 local residents came out to meet Russian tanks, stopped the column, and entered into negotiations with the troops. As a result, they agreed not to enter the city.

On March 26, the mayor of the Ukrainian city of Slavutych held talks with Russian troops that had entered the city and agreed with them on demilitarization. He assured them that there were no soldiers and weapons in the city and persuaded the soldiers to leave. The Russian military ‘will not search houses’ but people must voluntarily hand over non-hunting weapons. Local Ukrainian authorities remain in Slavutych and will receive humanitarian aid from the Russian side.

There is also evidence of residents –- in Kharkov, for instance — demanding that the Ukrainian military not place military equipment in the areas where they live. 

Disobedience and Desertion

Many rumors are circulating about disobedience to orders and desertion on both sides. Unfortunately, there is no way to verify them. The media mention low morale and little desire to fight in the Russian military units sent to Ukraine.

The Ukrainian side claim that about 200 Russian marines from the 155th Brigade refused to take part in military operations. It has also been reported that military personnel of the 810th Marine Brigade, stationed in the Crimea, refused to take part in a landing in the Odessa area. 

There are other fragmentary reports that do not allow us to judge the scale of these phenomena. The mother of a soldier assigned to a unit in the Leningrad region said that her son, like many others who were drafted into the army, was forced to sign a contract with the army. In January the unit was sent to Kursk, then to Belgorod, and then they began to be sent to fight in Ukraine. ‘According to the woman, the soldiers are taken to Ukraine to fight, but some of them refuse and are threatened with charges of desertion.’

A contract soldier from Ufa, Albert Sakhibgareyev, said that his brigade, while on exercises in the Belgorod region at the end of February, received machine guns and an order to fire from artillery mounts ‘where they were ordered.’ The soldiers began to doubt that they were in training when return shots flew in their direction. After that, Sakhibgareyev looked at the news on his mobile phone and found out that Russia had sent troops to Ukraine. A week later, he was beaten by an ensign, left the unit and returned home to Ufa. For desertion, he could face up to 7 years in prison.

Twelve troops of the Russian Guard from the Krasnodar Territory OMON [special police], together with their commander Farid Chitayev, refused to enter the Crimea. They explained that they refused to execute an illegal order. None of them had been informed about the tasks of the ‘special operation’ or agreed to participate in it. They were dismissed from service. 

Several troops from the Izhevsk OMON, after the destruction of their platoon together with its heavy equipment, left the territory of Ukraine and submitted their resignations. 

At the end of March, the former President of South Ossetia acknowledged that some of the soldiers recruited in this republic to take part in hostilities in Ukraine had returned home from the front without permission… 

Nor is everyone in Ukraine eager to ‘defend the fatherland.’ This is evidenced by posters seen in the early days of the conflict in Odessa. On these posters the command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine sternly asks: ‘You do not want to fight? That means you don’t love your country.’ The very appearance of such posters testifies to the fact that there are quite a few such reluctant fighters. 

The Ukrainian authorities have announced mobilization and do not let men aged 18 to 60 leave the country. Nevertheless, as comrades from Ukraine report, in reality large-scale mobilization is not occurring — in contrast to 2014–2015, when mass raids on those liable for military service in Ukraine were commonplace. During the first week of hostilities they tried to hand out subpoenas at checkpoints, but this was later declared illegal.

However, many men, just to be on the safe side, try to cross the borders into neighboring countries illegally. A BBC Ukrainian correspondent in early March said that at the Mogilev-Podolsky checkpoint on the border with Moldova ‘in every second car, if not in every car, there were men of military age trying to go abroad, but they were turned around… As the border guard told me, some cars simply turned around, in some the women got behind the wheel, and the men left.’ 

According to a deputy of the city council of Mukachevo in Transcarpathia, every day hundreds of men, in defiance of martial law, pay to cross the border with the EU countries. In Transcarpathia this shadow business has already reached an industrial scale. The cost of a certificate and transfer to Poland goes as high as 2,000 euros. In the Odessa region the cost was $1,500 per person. Edition LIGA.net, which has studied the ‘market’, cites sums dozens of times larger. According to the Ukrainian Border Service, over 1,000 men of military age were caught on the border during 21 days of the conflict. Those fleeing the war go to Poland, Romania, Moldova, and – in fewer numbers — Hungary.

Of course, not all the men seeking to leave the country illegally should be considered people who simply do not want to fight. There are many rich people among them, since finding such money to pay for crossing the border is not an easy task. Some may have to sell everything they possess, but the rich do not care. They start and provoke wars and then safely hide abroad, leaving ordinary people to die and kill for them. This is also true of that part of the Russian ‘elite’ which has emigrated.

As of March 28, over 340 people in Ukraine have been charged with criminal offenses that ‘reduce the defense capability of Ukraine under martial law’. About 100 of them are charged with high treason or collaboration. Over 1,700 male citizens of Ukraine of draft age have been identified who tried to cross the border of the country illegally. This was announced by the Communications Adviser of the State Bureau of Investigation Tatyana Sapyan. In the last 24 hours alone, channels for transporting people across the border have been exposed in the Vinnitsa, Chernivtsi, Odessa, and Lviv areas.  

In an attempt to suppress desertion, the authorities submitted Bill No. 7171 to the Verkhovna Rada [Supreme Council]. It threatens men of military age who illegally leave Ukraine under martial law with up to 10 years’ imprisonment. 

Finally, residents of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic report forced mobilization there. Men are seized right on the streets, given weapons, and sent to the front with no training. Those who can try to hide at home and not go out. That is another way to resist the war!

Source:  https://aitrus.info/node/5941

Note.  I have improved the translation here and there and omitted links, superfluous detail, and a couple of passages that express attitudes not fully shared by the World Socialist Movement. Stefan

Photo of author
I grew up in Muswell Hill, north London, and joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain at age 16. After studying mathematics and statistics, I worked as a government statistician in the 1970s before entering Soviet Studies at the University of Birmingham. I was active in the nuclear disarmament movement. In 1989 I moved with my family to Providence, Rhode Island, USA to take up a position on the faculty of Brown University, where I taught International Relations. After leaving Brown in 2000, I worked mainly as a translator from Russian. I rejoined the World Socialist Movement about 2005 and am currently general secretary of the World Socialist Party of the United States. I have written two books: The Nuclear Predicament: Explorations in Soviet Ideology (Routledge, 1987) and Russian Fascism: Traditions, Tendencies, Movements (M.E. Sharpe, 2001) and more articles, papers, and book chapters that I care to recall.

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