After the war began, many of our comrades in Kiev became either
volunteers or members of the Anti-Authoritarian Squad within the
Territorial Defense. Now the squad is mainly engaged in training and
guard duty. When the enemy was still in the Kyiv region, the guys went
to frontline positions to help the Ukrainian Armed Forces (AFU) with
surveillance from drones, participated in transporting refugees through
the green corridor, and went out on calls from citizens about sabotage
We talked to Ilya, an anarchist from Russia who has lived in
Ukraine for almost 3 years and participated in the 2020 Belarus
uprising. About the difficulty of mastering the craft of war, the role
of arms in liberation and the political prospects of our region.
Living in Kiev, it’s understandable why you didn’t stay away.
But why did you go specifically to the military detachment and not
engage in volunteer or other civic activism?
First of all, I will say that I believe that all areas of activity
are very important. Volunteer work, media work and political organizing,
which cannot be carried out only within the military structures. The
front is not just along battle lines, but in all areas where people do
something together to make the anarchist movement manifest itself in
confrontation with the imperialists.
Nevertheless, I have decided to take the military path. I believe
that our movement needs to be able to stand up to its adversaries with
arms. This has always been important to me as part of my political
outlook and personally. Understanding that I and we could do it.
Also, it was not only a personal decision, but part of our collective
planning. After the New Year, the anarchist movement in Kiev held
meetings, where we decided what we were going to do, how we were going
to coordinate with one another. Even then I decided that I would focus
on this direction. Literally in the first days of the war it worked out
Did you have any military skills before that?
Yes, I had experience in basic military training. We practiced that
with our comrades as part of our political approach. But because we were
able to organize the training process when all the events started, I
was able to learn and master a lot of things.
Is it hard to immerse yourself in the military?
It’s certainly not easy. But we had some like-minded people with us,
who were picking up a machine gun for the first time, and everyone got
the hang of it pretty quickly. Here, as in any other craft, it all
depends on interest and diligence.
You have to memorize a lot, but at the basic infantry level, I did not notice anything that breaks the brain.
There is a certain amount of physical stress, you can’t walk all the
time, you have to be able to run a little, fall down and get up again.
But this, again, is a gain, a matter of training.
All people with average health and the desire to figure it out can
get in fairly easily if there is an interest. So if anyone is wondering
how realistic it is to master it, I would advise not to be afraid, but
to try and most likely it will work.
That said, to say that I’m directly immersed in the craft of war
would be too dashing to wrap up. Here we are, after all, in the
beginning stages. Even two months of more or less systematic training is
not the time in which you can get right into it.
Ilya, an anarchist in anti-authoritarian unit
Speaking of basic skills. How much power do you think the
militia has at all in modern warfare? Given the strong
professionalization of the army.
Of course, a professional, high-tech army has great advantages over any popular, guerrilla warfare.
Nevertheless, militias and guerrilla warfare also play a big role.
Since Putin’s regime acts as an occupier, the resistance is led by many
local people who know the urban and rural environment well. This gives
them a great advantage.
Also, fighting spirit. If people are really fighting seriously, as we
have seen in Kurdistan, then even the high-tech army which is much more
technologically advanced than the Turkish army in this case cannot
However, the most interesting thing is that any militia and guerrilla
also strives for professionalism. To professionalism in guerrilla work.
You have to look for ways to get the latest technical tools and have
professionals who know how to handle them. There should be no
misconception that a partisan is just an undisciplined grandfather
Kuzmich who took a Berdanka, hid in the woods and is doing something
In fact, professional armies have borrowed a lot of partisan tactics.
These are small groups, small stealthy strikes, and quick withdrawals.
To master such tactics in order to act skillfully in this area is also
quite a challenge. Anyone who is seriously thinking about people’s war,
the war of non-state actors against state actors should think about
Besides the mentioned combat tactics, in what other ways do
popular, anarchistic military structures differ from the state and
First of all, by the social ideal for the sake of which they exist
and fight. I am not sure that they can differ so much structurally from
the conventional armed forces. A military situation requires a certain
command system, a certain hierarchy. Even if it has to be temporary and
criticized, it nevertheless exists and without it at the moment it is
not clear how.
We know that “the rifle gives birth to power,” doesn’t this
also apply to the anarchist armed structures? Don’t they, like other
armed formations, have the potential to impose their will on other
“The rifle gives birth to power,” but, let me put it loosely, the
rifle can also give birth to the power of the people. Well,
powerlessness, if you will, are in a sense synonymous to me. I have
always regarded guns and, more broadly, violence as more of a tool. It
is true that much of man’s power and oppression is based on weapons and
violence. But it also follows, in part, that this tool must be used to
crush power and oppression. If this world of war has been imposed on us,
then we must also be militant to defend our social idea. It is no
coincidence that the fist with the outstretched machine gun was the
symbol of many insurgent organizations. It is a symbol that the monopoly
on violence can be taken away from the state and the oppressors.
The rifle in the hands of the people, in this case Ukrainian society,
which collectively resists Putin’s imperial aggression, is not a symbol
of power, but a symbol of hope for liberation from power. A symbol of
resistance to brute force.
But in fact the rifle is not in the hands of the Ukrainian
people, but in the hands of only part of the people, in the hands of the
I don’t have the numbers, but from the feeling of what I have seen
with my own eyes here, a huge number of volunteers have joined the
Territorial Defense forces, all sorts of auxiliary military structures
and the Local Self-Defense. It seems to me that the entire active part
of Ukrainian society is now in contact with a machine gun, with a rifle
in one way or another. We’ll see what happens next. In any case this
experience of self-defense of the people and collective resistance to
the aggressor is a valuable experience. How it will be implemented in
the future – I would not venture to speculate now.
Well, then let’s talk about the future in a different way, how do you think the situation in the region will develop in general?
Whatever it is, it’s completely impossible to predict lately. I, to
be honest, absolutely did not think that this full-scale war would
Unfortunately, I believe less and less that the war can just end
quickly. Either it will enter a protracted stage, or there will be
attempts by Putin to somehow advance sharply, or attempts on the
Ukrainian side to actively counterattack.
The war will lead to further destabilization in the region. This
promises big problems for the people. At the same time, destabilization
of the authoritarian regimes of Lukashenko and Putin is possible. Which,
of course, opens up the possibility of change for the better in our
countries. In this situation, anarchists from Belarus and Russia need to
prepare to actively participate in the events.
Why do you think this war is capable of undermining the regimes of Lukashenko and Putin?
Because of the sanctions, because of the large losses, as far as can
be judged now, because of the huge investments in the war, because of
the reputational losses. Perhaps now there is some excitement in Russia
about Putin, but it is obvious that at the moment the goals are not
being achieved, losses are being incurred, and gigantic resources are
And the Lukashenko regime, for one thing, is simply closely tied to
Putin’s. If Putin’s regime ceases to exist, then Lukashenko’s main
support base will disappear. Secondly, the occupation is also carried
out using the Belarusian territory. As far as I can tell, this causes an
additional exasperation against Lukashenko in Belarus itself. This
encourages people to organize for one or another form of political
struggle. For example, the diaspora, which is already very
anti-Lukashenko, becomes even more organized and mobilized. We know
that, for example, there are many Belarusian volunteers in Ukraine. I
think this may become a factor in the collapse of the regime at some
What do you think people in Belarus should do in this
situation? Those who want the war and authoritarian regimes to end as
soon as possible, but who have no connections with organized like-minded
people, no experience.
The algorithm is the same: preparation, organization, and action.
Even if people are not members of a political group, because everything
is covered up and it is impossible to make direct contact.
It is necessary to master the skills, to prepare for action. Putting
up flyers and graffiti is useful, if people can do it, then let them do
it. But in Belarus, society will have to fight the regime in order to
defend itself. We must be prepared for this, for a direct confrontation.
It is necessary to organize, to unite with at least several trusted
people. Reliable, so you can rely on each other. This could be 2 people,
And, of course, action. Any contribution now, especially in Belarus
and Russia, is incredibly valuable. For example, the railroad war. This
is something that even simple dudes here in Ukraine know about. We were
literally talking to guys from the National Guard 5 minutes ago, and
there’s a guy there who says, “But in Belarus, people burned so many of
these relay cabinets, committed sabotage. It really helped.”
Now it’s definitely time for action. February 24. After this line, I
don’t know what else to expect. We need to strike at dictatorial
regimes. If you can only do it alone, do it alone. But by all means
fight. I hope we can bring it all together and coordinate so that this
popular struggle can bring concrete political results.
Boris Engelson for pramen.io