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Ukraine's anarchists have come together in support of the war


What's that expression - war makes strange bedfellows? Well, that's on display in Ukraine, where a growing number of Ukrainians are embracing a tradition of anarchism that goes way back there. But they're doing so in support of their government and institutions like NATO, all in an effort to defeat Russia. NPR's Julian Hayda reports from Ukraine.

JULIAN HAYDA, BYLINE: If you wade deeply enough into any city's culture, you'll be sure to find hubs of counterculture. You know the types. Call them punks, hippies, beatniks, whatever - they espouse a deep distrust of institutions and tend to be against whatever the mainstream is for.


UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in non-English language).

HAYDA: This pub in central Dnipro was built for people like that. But instead of being any old punk bar, this one is dedicated to a local countercultural hero.

YAROSLAV KYRYLOV: Nestor Ivanovych Makhno.

HAYDA: Nestor Makhno, a Ukrainian revolutionary leader who, a century ago, claimed thousands of square miles of southeastern Ukraine to create an anarchist utopia. The free territory, as it was called, was based here in Dnipro in the wake of a collapsing Russian empire and the rise of the Soviet Union.

KYRYLOV: (Through interpreter) As an anarchist, he opposed all state power.

HAYDA: I ask the 20-year-old pub manager, Yaroslav Kyrylov, to tell me a little bit about this venue's namesake.

KYRYLOV: (Through interpreter) He believed in the equality of all people and that all needs can be met through mutual aid.

HAYDA: Not every patron of Makhno Pub is an anarchist, but Maks Shvechkoii, who I find puffing on an unfiltered cigarette on the patio, is.

MAKS SHVECHKOII: (Through interpreter) Anarchists don't just accept anybody as their leader. But during times like this, we do what we have to do.

HAYDA: Times like this - wartime. You might actually think that anarchists are always against the state. But in Ukraine, once an epicenter of anarchism...

SHVECHKOII: (Through interpreter) We rally together for victory.

HAYDA: Sometimes that means signing up to the Ukrainian armed forces, swearing allegiance to a military commander and still looking up to Nestor Makhno.

SALAM: (Non-English language spoken).

HAYDA: I reach Salam fighting on the outskirts of Bakhmut. That's not his real name, by the way. He adopted it as a call sign when fighting against the Russian-backed regime in his native Belarus.

SALAM: (Non-English language spoken).

HAYDA: He says Russia poses a far more clear and present danger to the world than any other power. As a self-styled antifascist, he sees it as his duty to fight on the side of Ukraine. But for an anarchist who rejects statehood, he agrees it might look a little odd that he's defending the state of Ukraine.

SALAM: (Through interpreter) I may hate NATO with my whole heart, but if it weren't for their weapons, we'd all simply be dead.

HAYDA: He tells me there are quite a few anarchists in his unit and that they all get along with people with other views. It helps, he says, to have a common enemy in Russia. I ask, why don't many of his American comrades of the anarchist-Antifa variety look at geopolitics in the same way?

SALAM: (Through interpreter) They live in countries where there is relative peace. Sure, there are plenty of social problems. That's undeniable. But they've never had to worry about a violent neighbor, hundreds of times more powerful, rolling tanks in to disrupt any attempts at liberty.

DENYS PILASH: You need to retain your critical point towards any kind of imperialism and expansionism.

HAYDA: Denys Pilash is an activist and magazine editor in Kyiv who sees himself as somewhat of a Ukrainian ambassador to the global left. He has spent a lot of time appealing to antiauthoritarians around the world to help Ukraine, especially holdouts in the global south.

PILASH: We aren't the only people who are suffering from war. And, yes, we need to remember about what's happening in Tigray, in Ethiopia or in Yemen or in Myanmar.

HAYDA: Pilash says that, like Nestor Makhno argued a century earlier, the only way to a sustainable peace is to enlist the support of others who have also resisted the world's big powers, whatever those powers' political stripes may be. The lesson for him, like other anarchists in Ukraine, is that the reality of war means political compromise.

Julian Hayda, NPR News, Dnipro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Julian Hayda