May 15, 2022
From Gatorna (Sweden)


We republish from Lefteast a
text by Olena Lyubchenko that poses unavoidable questions on the
relationship between the current war in Ukraine and the combination of
militarization and austerity that has characterized the country since
2014. Overcoming campism and the equivalence between the interests of
people in Ukraine and those of the Ukrainian state, Olena draws
attentions on the fact that those paying the highest price of that
combination are the women, whose workload has increased since the
dismantlement of social services and increase in military expenses made
in the name of Europeanization. Ukraine is now proclaimed the defender
of Europe, but it has already been integrated in Europe in the last
decades through the surrogacy market, through reproductive labor of
women, put at the bottom of the chains of care without which no Europe
would exist, through remittences and energy agreements. Olena invites us
to assume the stance of those women, migrants and workers that try
daily to make ends meet: the core of what we called a transnational
politics of peace. As the war in Ukraine is manifesting more and more
clearly as part of an ongoing third world war, in which from all side we
are called to any sacrifice for the sake of the war, we invite everyone
to discuss about how to fight transnationally against the precarization
and violence that this war is exacerbating in the next meeting of the Permanent Assembly against the War on May 22nd. We need to keep joining forces across the borders to strike the war.

I have been writing and re-writing this short reflection for seven
weeks. Weeks spent aiding relatives and friends in fleeing Ukraine and
directing solidarity funds to the Ukrainian resistance and mutual aid
organizing. Having walked the streets of Mariupol almost every summer
since I was a child, and for the last time in the summer of 2019 before
the pandemic – my father’s grave is in a village just outside Mariupol –
reflection is a difficult task. In cities like Mariupol, we are
witnessing the destruction of hospitals, schools, theaters, and critical
infrastructures like roads and railways. The damage amounts to a direct
extirpation of Soviet-era public infrastructures by the Putin war
machine – an act of ‘decommunization’ indeed.
What has been for working-class Ukrainians, a slow and depressing three
decades of class decomposition, immiseration, and depopulation, has for
the last two months accelerated into massacres, destruction, and forced
displacement. It is the destruction, too, of history and memory. The
war tends to cancel all exceptions, nuances, discussions. I hope that
this darkest of hours carries the task of necessary critique for a
different future.

As horrifying images of devastation, death, and rape in places like
Bucha circulate widely online, and as fleeing Ukrainian women with
children are welcomed in Europe while undeserving ‘Others’ are barred
from entry, we are told time and again by Western and Ukrainian elites
that ‘Ukraine is fighting a European war’ and ‘Ukraine is defending
Europe’. In this context, the emerging idea of ‘Ukrainianness’ and its
equation with ‘Europeanness’ is mediated through a conceptualization of
race, class, gender, and sexuality. Ukraine’s sovereignty and
self-determination are increasingly understood by local elites to be
bound up with incorporation into ‘fortress Europe’ and the making of the
‘Ukrainian nation’ as ‘white’ and ‘European.’ The concept of
‘self-determination,’ borne by the internationalist, anti-colonial,
anti-imperial revolutionary left is instrumentalized today. In the use
of Western and Ukrainian elites, the history of local internationalism,
communism, and anti-fascism is separated from ‘self-determination’
through Eurocentric maneuvers. Ironically, in this sense, this
utilization is not far from Putin’s own attacks on
Ukraine’s self-determination, which he scornfully asserts is bound up
with Leninist principles of anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism.

Recent scholarship on Eastern Europe, which attends to race, class,
and imperialism (and less so to gender and sexuality), explores the
variegated peripheralizations of different Eastern European and
post-Soviet countries vis-à-vis ‘Europe’.[i] These
peripheralizations materialize as nations’ unequal levels of access to
‘whiteness’, meaning, their inclusion into the capitalist economy on
European terms, ‘middle-class’, Western, (un)communist nations – the
supposed winners of neoliberalism. Historically, the ‘whiteness’ of
Eastern Europeans has been contingent. While versions of ‘Europeanness’
are elevated, any deviations from the presumed norms of such identity
risks a loss of status with attendant material repercussions for the
populations of the ‘post-socialist’ space. Disciplined through
dispossessive IMF loans, energy policies, precarious migrant work
opportunities, and remittance dependence, the region and its peoples
have been remade as precarious ‘Europeans.’

In an effort to unsettle the present preoccupation with
military-strategic questions, as well as the methodological campism and
nationalism that has plagued many of the debates on the war in Ukraine
that dwell on the terrain of the military-industrial complex, I propose
to shift attention instead to a critique of political economy and an
honest engagement with the capitalist state in Ukraine, the racializing
elements of Ukrainian nationalism, the everyday dynamics of social
reproduction in Ukraine, its ‘European’ future, and the theatrics of
European and North American sympathies against a background of colonial
violences elsewhere.

In this piece, I situate the war in Ukraine within the broader
context of Ukraine’s position in global patterns of production and
social reproduction[ii],
focusing in particular on its racialized and gendered dynamics. Using
social reproduction feminism, I trace how, since 2014, Ukraine’s
militarization has been intimately linked to austerity measures,
effectively displacing the burdens of resisting Russian aggression and
preparing the state for a highly unequal process of ‘Euro-Atlantic’
integration onto households and especially women. Militarization,
austerity, and aggression in this context act as processes of
dispossession and primitive accumulation. They “generate global reserves
of labour-power whose cross-border movements are at the heart of the
worldwide production and reproduction of capital and labour.”[iii] In
this way, racialized citizenship reproduces precarity and exclusion for
some and security and inclusion for others, just as the Ukrainian
working class’s historical differentiation within global capitalism is
being rewritten and instrumentalized.[iv]

Good Europeans

In the first few weeks of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the world witnessed racist violence on Ukraine’s borders with Poland, Romania, and Hungary. African, South Asian, and Middle Eastern refugees, as well as Roma citizens of
Ukraine, and thousands of international students studying and working
in Ukraine, were barred from crossing borders, and were sometimes even
obstructed from boarding trains carrying refugees to the EU by
Ukrainians who formed human chains.
Journalists reporting from the border wearing blue and yellow pins
quickly denounced this discrimination, then swiftly moved on to images
of Ukrainian children receiving toys from friendly German volunteers.
“Stranded Indian students watched as Ukrainian pets crossed border to
safety,” read one headline article.
In North America and Western Europe, restaurants have been serving
Ukrainian dishes, donating the proceeds to the war effort in Ukraine,
while malls have been lit up in blue and yellow. Tech giant Amazon’s
website now boasts a “Help the people of Ukraine” button. Some of the
biggest corporate landlords in
Canada – those that have been evicting working class households during
the pandemic while raising the prices for already-inadequate housing –
have ‘banded together’ to offer free and subsidized housing options for
Ukrainians fleeing to Canada. The media and Western policymakers have
decided that Ukrainians are ‘good,’ ‘European’ citizens, who are
valuable, educated, IT professionals. Racism was treated not as a
structural issue, but as bad behaviour.

Ukrainian resistance to the Russian military is celebrated as heroic, brave, and democratic, and simultaneously self-determination,
national liberation, popular violent resistance elsewhere is not
extended the same celebration, instead labelled terrorist, with ‘heroes’
jailed, ‘illegalized’, and so on. Our responsibility is to ask, “why?”.
Surely, the circumstances confronting the citizens of Afghanistan,
Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Gaza, Ethiopia are also exceptional? By the end of
2021, the conflict in Yemen alone had caused 377,000 deaths, nearly 70
per cent of them children younger than five.[v]
We did not see free toys and food on the Polish border for those women
and children, but rather tear gas, water cannons, truncheons,
police dogs, and razor wire. Just some months ago, Poland was becoming
the latest frontline of high-tech surveillance deterrence on its border
with Belarus. In October 2021, its government approved the
installation of a €350m border-security fence along half its border
with Belarus, reaching up to 5.5 metres, with advanced cameras and
motion sensors directly profiting arms and tech companies. The Guardian reports that
“Frontex awarded a €100m (£91m) contract last year for the Heron and
Hermes drones made by two Israeli arms companies, both of which are used
by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip. Capable of flying for more
than 30 hours and at heights of 10,000 metres (30,000 feet), the drones
beamed almost real-time feeds back to Frontex’s HQ in Warsaw.” Poland
also hopes to adopt a “vehicle-mounted sound cannon that blasts
‘deafening’ bursts of up to 162 decibels to force people to turn back.”
Shall we also just ignore how Poland was a handmaiden to the forces destroying Iraq and Afghanistan while at the same time instituting a far-right sexist regime at home? Ukrainian troops,
too, went to Iraq. The UK, Canada, and France, among others, have been
quick to send money to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to
investigate Russian war crimes in Ukraine, while the ICC has been
struggling to find funds to prosecute war crimes in Afghanistan, Syria,
Iraq. Our responsibility is to ask why. Liberal justice is intertwined
with systemic racism as Western resources are funneled to Ukraine for a
‘crisis in Europe’ but withheld in situations when Western countries are opposed to accountability for their own war crimes. The same thing goes for humanitarian relief. In this light, as Ralph Wilde writes,
the theatrics of official European sympathies for Ukraine appear as “a
sociopathic, racist gaslighting of the people of Iraq”, and the many
others dispossessed by European and North American wars.

The media’s emphasis on Molotov cocktails in Ukraine gives the
impression that this war is being won solely on the strength of a
radical strategy of people’s self-defense – much like that of the
Palestinians, who of course receive no such adulation. Ukraine is a
different context of ‘protecting your land’ not because fighting for
self-determination is not strong – on the contrary, we have witnessed
the collective strength and courage of Ukrainian resistance, but because
the Ukrainian war effort is being led from above by the state apparatus
and supported from the outside by a well-funded fighting force, wrapped
in imperialist, capitalist interests. This factor begs a distinction
between popular Ukrainian national interests and the interests of the Ukrainian capitalist state as well as an account of how the latter has dispossessed the former through militarization-cum-austerity since
2014. Ukraine inherited 30% of the Soviet military stockpile, has
quadrupled its military spending over the last ten years, and had nearly
500,000 troops (250,000 regular and a 250,000 strong national guard,
which incorporates neofascist groups like the Aidar and Azov battalions
within its ranks) before the outbreak of hostilities. It has an advanced
domestic arms industry and has become the recipient of highly
sophisticated anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft systems, drone
technologies, and heavy weapons as in recent months. In short, Ukraine
has a professional standing army that is arguably more impressive than
any of NATO’s Eastern European members (and only behind Turkey and
Russia in the region). Since the invasion, the US has committed more
than $1.7 billion in ‘lethal aid’ to Ukraine in addition to $2.5 billion
spent between 2014 and 2021, including training, and with more from other NATO allies. On
April 28, US Congress authorized $33 billion for more artillery,
antitank weapons and other hardware as well as economic and humanitarian
aid. As the New York Times reports,
when combined, “the United States would be authorizing $46.6 billion
for the Ukraine war, which represents more than two-thirds of Russia’s
entire annual defense budget of $65.9 billion…By comparison, the
Pentagon last year estimated the total war-fighting costs in Afghanistan
from 2001 to 2020 at $816 billion, or about $40.8 billion a year”. The
drastic increase in US military aid and, importantly, the invocation of
Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease Act of 1941, thereby deeming Ukraine’s defense
“vital to the defense of the United States”, foretells escalation, and US interests in a long war.
While this ‘aid’ has helped check the Russian advance, it is important
to think over the long-term how militarization ‘trickles down’ into the
lives of working-class people trying to make ends meet.

If there’s no bread, let them eat guns: Neoliberal reforms and militarization

The militarization of Ukraine since 2014 has been coupled with
neoliberal reforms aimed at facilitating the growth of capital at the
expense of the reproduction of working-class households. Since the war
began in 2014, the state has institutionalized dramatically lower costs
of social reproduction through what Jennifer Mathers calls
“extraordinary demands on civilian society – and particularly on
households and women whose resources are already overstretched”,
justified and normalized by the needs of the war effort and calls to
‘sacrifice’ for ‘the nation.’[vi] The
cost of national security spending, which has quadrupled in the past
decade, has been socialized through austerity budgets – with women
absorbing the cuts to the social wage and the public sector.
International financial institutions like the IMF have placed strict
limits on social spending, with significant implications for women,
including de facto elimination of fuel subsidies, causing higher prices
for gas, heating, electricity and transportation, sweeping spending cuts
on health, education and child assistance benefits, and a major reform
of the pension system. Arguably, starting in 2015, “de-communization
which banned Communist political parties and symbols, renamed
Soviet-era cities and streets, and facilitated the persecution of
Leftist scholars and activists all under the same sweeping label, also
included the ‘de-communization’ of social policy. New social and
economic reforms were extended in the name of the modernization and
Europeanization of what little of the welfare state remained following
the ‘90s Shock Therapy reforms. Contravening the Ukrainian constitution,
which proclaims Ukraine to be a welfare state, Commons reports that
the reforms have included reduced fines for employers for
non-compliance with labour laws, deregulation of occupational health and
safety codes, a newly financialized pension system, decreased medical
spending, and movement towards the privatization of healthcare. In
comparison to 2013, in 2016 the state cut spending on health care by 36.3%, on education by 36.2%, and on civil service by 30.6%.[viii]
The economic reforms pushed by the IMF and adopted by the Ukrainian
state, have accelerated rising inequality, with 67% of Ukrainian
households in 2021 characterizing themselves as ‘poor’. Dispossession through austerity-cum-militarization has resulted in feminization of precarious employment and poverty.

For the two million people who have been displaced by the war in
Donbass, prior to the outbreak of the current aggression, social
reproduction has been nearly impossible during the last eight years. In
November 2014, the Ukrainian state stopped funding government services
in the separatist areas of the region, including pensions. This is a
particularly stark example of the expropriation of past labour and the
current disposability of retired workers in the country. Many Ukrainian
citizens entitled to an old-age pension, who happened to live on the
other side of the front line, had to cross the border into
Ukrainian-controlled territory in order to receive their pensions. In
2016, a strict control measure was introduced by the Ukrainian
government, requiring “internally displaced persons” to register at an
address in government-controlled territory and check in bimonthly to
maintain pension eligibility. Many elderly people, mostly women living
in the occupied regions, have had to travel every 60 days for up to 24 hours on buses, walking, waiting in long queues, without shelter and basic conditions like bathrooms, to access their pensions averaging
a meagre $90 per month. Those workers unable to travel due to health
and mobility issues were left without even this income. From December
2018 to April 2019, 18 elderly people died from mostly heart-related
health complications as they made the difficult journey through the
‘contact line’ separating the belligerents.[ix] The UN estimates that 400,000 people have lost access to their pensions since the 60-day rule was implemented in 2016. Ukraine’s Pension Fund reportedly has accumulated a debt of
86 billion hryvnas (approximately US$3.5 billion) owed to pensioners
who live in non-government controlled areas. This represents a direct
expropriation of Ukrainian working people by the state, legitimized by

Violence against women has also been heightened because
of the war. Mathers writes that “masculinized bodies travel to
participate in combat operations as soldiers. When they return to the
peace world to recover from the physical and psychological injuries of
war, they are cared for largely by households as a result of cutbacks in
the state’s provision of health care.”[x] In 2018, the Ukraine-controlled parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions respectively saw a 76% and a 158% increase in reported cases of domestic violence compared
to the average of the previous three years. Members of the military and
police are exempt from administrative proceedings in courts of general
jurisdiction, which essentially serves to protect them from criminal
prosecution for domestic violence.

Migrant Labour, Social Reproduction, and ‘Frontier Whiteness’

Post-Soviet Ukraine’s industrialized economy, public infrastructure,
and skilled labour force underwent a period of primitive accumulation
through the neoliberal Shock Therapy reforms, forming its own flavour of
the capitalist state, that of a neoliberal kleptocracy.[xi] As a result, like other Eastern Europeans in the ‘90s,
Ukrainian mothers and grandmothers have been working as migrant
domestic workers, leaving their families behind, cleaning the homes of
rich Italians, Germans, Poles, Americans, and Canadians and doing the
social reproductive work previously borne by the Western ‘white women’.[xii] This
was my mother, too. Since 2014, a dramatically larger number of
Ukrainians has been mobilized as cheap social-reproductive labour,
remitting much of their income to cover the gaps in state provision at
home and compensate for the damage of war and militarization. These
workers were not greeted with hot soup, phones, and EU benefits on any
border of the European Union as their country was being plundered by
‘European-oriented’ neoliberal reforms. Here is a ‘happy’ story of a
Ukrainian migrant worker, displaced by poverty and war, in Poland during COVID-19:

IDI4 came to Poland from Berdiansk in 2018. Her 5-year-old daughter
joined her in September 2020. Her husband died in the war in October
2019. In Ukraine, she studied accounting, and had various jobs in retail
and administration. In Poland, she studied medical care in a training
college and now works as a cleaner in a surgical block at a hospital.
[…] At the hospital, there are now thorough procedures, a great amount
of protective equipment that needs to be worn and changed, regular tests
and repeated training sessions to ensure cleanliness. She feels
responsible and takes care to clean thoroughly before traveling home.
She receives a 250 PLN Covid bonus. Her daughter goes to playschool
while she is at work, but accompanies her in extra cleaning work at a
doctor friend’s house, where the daughter plays with his children while
she cleans.

In 2020, the number of Ukrainian workers living abroad was estimated at
between 2.2 and 2.7 million, equivalent to 13-16% of total employment
in the country. By the end of February 2020, the number of Ukrainians in Poland had
risen to 1,390,978, 44% of whom were women, mostly employed in the
precarious care sector in bigger cities. Ukraine is the world’s
tenth-largest recipient of remittances in absolute terms, and in 2020 these formed 9.8% of the country’s GDP.[xiii] According to new data from
the National Bank, in 2021 remittance flows to Ukraine surpassed $19
billion. In 2018, 33% of remittances came from Poland, 32% from other
EU Member States, 9% from Russia and 9% from the United States and
Canada. Remittances
have contributed about 50-60% to the recipient household budgets and
“in comparison to households not receiving remittances, expenditures of
families with migrant workers for housing and education were 2-4 times
higher and for food 20% higher.” Whereas in Ukraine, the costs of social
reproduction have been off-loaded onto the households preparing workers
to be sent abroad, in the EU countries, the arriving Ukrainian labour
power is ‘cost free’ – that is, it is ‘paid for’ by the past labour of
households and communities in Ukraine, while its ongoing renewal through
subsistence is cheap because migrant workers are excluded from state
benefits and EU social citizenship at large.

The social reproduction of EU citizens and Ukrainian workers is
geographically determined and entangled in co-constitutive dynamics of
gender, race, and class, against the backdrop of the “threat” of Black
and Brown refugees. Gendered labour ‘produces the nation’ and forms the
boundaries of Europe. As Daria Krivonos and Anastasia Diatlova argue,
“it is through the symbolic exchange of women and their reproductive
labour between East and West that Europe comes into being.”[xiv] One
of the paradoxes of Central European anti-migrant rhetoric toward the
Global South is that this region has benefited heavily from migration
from the East, including Ukraine.[xv] While
Polish women are employed as domestic workers in Western European
countries, “in their contacts with domestic workers from Ukraine, Polish
employers nonetheless often behave as self-appointed paternalistic
representatives of Western values and lifestyles.”[xvi] Whiteness, then, forms not a dichotomy but a gradient.[xvii] Gradations
of “peripheral whiteness,” or proximity to Europe, move from Brussels
to Warsaw, from Warsaw to Lviv, from Lviv to Donetsk. The racialization
of Eastern European women in the care and domestic work industry has
concrete political economic modes of operation, embedded in the
commodification of care in neoliberal Western Europe[xviii] and
the continuous feminization of poverty in Eastern Europe, with its own
flavour of dispossessive militarized austerity in post-2014 Ukraine.

Just like migrant labour, Ukraine’s assisted reproduction
technologies industry or “repro-tourism” is also deeply dependent on
transnational networks, class and racialization – quite literally
oriented towards the reproduction of ‘white’ European babies by ‘poorer’
white socially reproductive labourers. The surrogacy industry in
Ukraine positions itself as more competitive in contrast to surrogacy
industries in India or Thailand in large part due to the ‘whiteness’ and
“Europeanness’ of the workers. During the first and second waves of the
COVID-19 pandemic, the BioTextCom commercial surrogacy agency in Kyiv
was in the spotlight,
when mostly Western-European bound babies born to Ukrainian gestators
became stranded ‘stateless’ in a hotel due to pandemic lockdowns. Once
accused of human trafficking because doctors provided biomaterial from
unknown Ukrainian sources instead of biological parents, the industry is
in the spotlight again amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The
Ukrainian state does not collect official statistics on surrogacy in
Ukraine, but it may be a leader in the commercial surrogacy industry for
foreigners, with an estimated 2,000-3,000 surrogacy babies born yearly.
While the cost to
prospective parents is US$38-45,000, surrogate mothers are paid only
$300-400 monthly and another $15,000 at the end of pregnancy. When the
invasion began, around 800 couples were expecting a child from
a surrogate mother in Ukraine. Due to the invasion, surrogate mothers,
nurses, and children are all stranded once again. Surrogates are placed
in a situation where they must continue to provide care beyond the
agreed-upon contract and await payment until the adoptive Western
parents are able to register the baby, born stateless – neither a
Ukrainian nor an EU citizen, and unregistered in Ukraine. Some Ukrainian
surrogates are unable to flee into
Western Europe away from the war, fearing that they may be “required to
register as the babies’ legal guardian under the less permissive
surrogacy law”. The EU border regime and differential and unequal
regulation of reproductive industry and labour across the East-West
divide, downloads the economic risks associated with surrogacy
(potentially life-long) onto the worker.

The commercial surrogacy industry in Ukraine is an example of
outsourced reproduction for wealthier Western countries, whereby
reproductive work need not migrate to the EU at all, but rather
completely takes place inside the periphery. In 2018, journalists reported that
the surrogate market brings over $1.5 billion USD to Ukraine annually.
While surrogate pregnancy and birth do not count toward the surrogate
mother’s time worked for pension purposes, the industry and its clients
rely on the ‘free’ past social reproduction of the surrogate mother in
Ukraine as well as the country’s general infrastructures of care, much
from the Soviet era. Ukrainian surrogates give up all rights related to
controlling their pregnancies, while risking the abandonment of unwanted
children, particularly those with disabilities,
by client parents. Egg donors and surrogate mothers in Ukraine “are
constructed in the discourses of infertility clinics and recruitment
agencies as bearers of whiteness (both in terms of producing white
children and belonging to ‘white culture’), femininity and
hypersexuality in relation to the predominantly European recipients.”[xix] The BioTextCom “About Us” webpage states,
“Welcome to the largest European type donors base. Ukrainian genetic
pool is considered to be the best for infertility treatment” –
characterizing Ukrainian nationality explicitly as European and more
fertile, therefore implicitly more desirable than surrogacy in the
Global South, not to mention homogenizing different Ukrainians.
Following Hill Collins’ critique of citizenship and nationalism from a
Black Feminist perspective, I posit that in selling ‘whiteness’ for
cheap, BioTextCom racially demarcates the ‘good’ vs. the ‘bad’ kind of
womanhood: white women, who birth the ‘right kind’ of children, the
desirable future European citizens (in this case), in contrast to the
undesirable “Others”.[xx]
The description of egg donors on the database is racially classified by
“beauty, intellect, health, humanity” – in this exact order of
priority. The ‘beauty’ part is demarcated by both the exoticism of
Eurasian ‘mixed’ origins and the nevertheless resulting ‘whiteness’:

“Some people say that beauty of Ukrainian ladies is explained by
numerous conquests and resettlements of people that resulted in rich
genetic mix. We can’t know for sure about it. The only thing we can
claim for sure is that experts and female beauty devotees unanimously
say that Ukrainian women are the most beautiful in the world, if we mean
European type of appearance. Regular built and body weight, fair eyes,
hair and skin, fine face features count in favour of Ukrainian donors.”

References to past Eastern conquests, embodied in Ukrainian women,
imply a position of the frontier of Europeanness, civilization, and
whiteness that is new. Hiding the increased feminization of precarious
work and poverty in Ukraine since 2014, BioTextCom guarantees that most
donors are “middle class” and primarily motivated by charity and not
poverty, as is supposedly the case in the Global South. This is far from
the truth. Interviews with surrogate workers show that while some women
who engage in surrogacy in Ukraine are displaced by the war in the
Donbass region, others from smaller Ukrainian towns, engage in surrogacy
to supplement their
income for basic needs. Evidently, ‘Ukraine’ is employed in producing
whiteness as it resides on its frontier, where its function is in large
part attributed to maintaining a border around civilization for and
inside Europe through cheap social reproductive labour.[xxi]

The World is Cheering Ukraine On

Again, when we hear on the news that ‘Ukraine is fighting a European
war’ and ‘Ukraine is defending Europe’, amid images of fleeing ‘poor
white’ women with children prioritized over racialized ‘Others’,
‘Ukraine’ is being made ‘white’ in the global imaginary. That is, “the
injunction to ‘return to Europe’ by way of Europeanization is enabled
and conditioned on the mythologies of Western civilization, and that
Europeanization at once marks (promulgates) and unmarks (naturalizes)
racial whiteness”.[xxii] The
paradox is that Europe’s existence as such has only been possible
precisely because of the exploitation of global working peoples through
expropriation of resources and today neoliberal economic reforms and
reproduced by feminized labour. This includes cheap labour from Ukraine,
which is relatively ‘privileged’ in relation to migrant labour from the
Global South (yet by no means as privileged as Western
middle-classes). W.E.B. DuBois’s concept of the “psychological wage” of
whiteness illuminates the relationship between race and class in the
making of the poor white worker: “It must be remembered that the white
group of labourers, while they received a low wage, were compensated in
part by a sort of public and psychological wage. They were given public
deference and titles of courtesy because they were white”.[xxiii] Constructed
by the Ukrainian state and liberal elites and welcomed in the West,
Ukrainian nationalism as a process of a ‘return to Europe’, is entangled
in historically unequal gendered and racialized relations of global
capitalism, as revealed by a global social reproduction perspective. The
already impoverished population of Ukraine, lacking resources in the
precarious public sector and healthcare, is subsidizing the war effort
with household labour – socializing the costs of war and defense at the
expense of people’s livelihoods. What is the character of Ukraine’s
self-determination, whom does ‘Ukraine’ represent and include, and
indeed, what is the future political project? Keeping in mind the
structural issues of militarization, nationalism, and austerity, with an
eye toward the post-war future, will resistance to Russian imperialism –
with its roots in the Tsarist Russian Empire and contradictory Soviet
nationalism policies and dispossession of the peasantry – translate into
building solidarities with anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist
struggles and movements in the Global South? This would require
rethinking Ukraine as an anti-racist, pluralist, socialist political
project from below, and, crucially, a critique of Eurocentrism.

Victory to the working people of Ukraine, solidarity with the Russian anti-war movement!

[i] See
the following initiatives and works: Tagungsbericht: Historicizing
“Whiteness” in Eastern Europe and Russia, 25.06.2019 – 26.06.2019
Bucharest, in: H-Soz-Kult, 17.10.2019.; Paul Stubbs.
2022. “Colonialism, Racism, and Eastern Europe: Revisiting Whiteness and
the Black Radical Tradition 1.” Sociological Forum 37, no. 1:
311–19; Böröcz, József. “‘Eurowhite’ Conceit, ‘Dirty White’ Ressentment:
‘Race’ in Europe.” Sociological Forum 36, no. 4 (December 1, 2021):
1116–34; Daria Krivonos and Anastasia Diatlova. 2020. “What to Wear for
Whiteness? ‘Whore’ Stigma and the East/West Politics of Race, Sexuality
and Gender.” Intersections EEJSP 6(3): 116–132; Sedef Arat-Koç. 2014. “Rethinking Whiteness, ‘Culturalism,” and the Bourgeoisie in the Age of Neoliberalism” In Theorizing Anti-Racism: Linkages in Marxism and Critical Race Theories, ed. Abigail B. Bakan and Enakshi Dua. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 311-339; Agathangelou, Anna M. 2004. The Global Political Economy of Sex: Desire, Violence and Insecurity in Mediterranean Nation States. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

[ii] An
expanded view of production, as developed by social reproduction
feminism arising from Marx’s critique of political economy, includes
both production for surplus and various forms of social reproduction—the
mental, manual, and emotional labour involved in maintaining existing
and future life—as a necessary, integrated process. See Barbara Laslett
and Johanna Brenner. 1989. “Gender and Social Reproduction: Historical
Perspectives.” Annual Review of Sociology 15: 381-404; Tithi Bhattacharya. ed. 2017. Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression. London: Pluto Press.

[iii] Sue
Ferguson and David McNally. 2015. “Precarious Migrants: Gender, Race
and the Social Reproduction of a Global Working Class.” Socialist Register (Merlin
Press, 2014): 1-23; Jennifer G. Mathers. 2020. “Women, war and
austerity: IFIs and the construction of gendered economic insecurities
in Ukraine.” Review of International Political Economy 27(6): 1235-1256.

[iv] On
‘differential inclusion’ in North America and Western Europe, please
see: Bridget Anderson. 2010. “Migration, immigration controls and the
fashioning of precarious workers.” Work, Employment and Society 24(2):
300–317; Judy Fudge. 2012. “Precarious migrant status and precarious
employment: The paradox of international rights for migrant workers.” Comparative Law and Policy Journal, 34, 95; Leah F. Vosko. 2019. Disrupting Deportability: Transnational Workers Organize. Ithaca: Cornell University Press;

[v] Taylor
Hanna, David K. Bohl, Jonathan D. Moyer. 2021. “Assessing the Impact of
War in Yemen: Pathways for Recovery.” United Nations Development
Programme, 3-67, 32.

[vi] Jennifer G. Mathers. 2020. “Women, war and austerity: IFIs and the construction of gendered economic insecurities in Ukraine.” Review of International Political Economy 27(6): 1235-1256.

[vii] Council
of Europe. 2015. “Joint Interim Opinion on the Law of Ukraine on the
condemnation of the communist and national socialist (Nazi) regimes and
prohibition of propaganda of their symbols, adopted by the Venice
Commission at its 105th Plenary Session,” Venice, 18-19 December. Accessed March 15, 2022.

[viii] Jennifer G. Mathers. 2020. “Women, war and austerity: IFIs and the construction of gendered economic insecurities in Ukraine”. Review of International Political Economy 27(6): 1235-1256, 1239.

[ix] OSCE Report, April 8, 2019. Accessed March 15, 2022.

[x] Jennifer
G. Mathers. 2020. “Women, war and austerity: IFIs and the construction
of gendered economic insecurities in Ukraine.” Review of International
Political Economy 27(6): 1235-1256, 1236.

[xi] Volodymyr
Ishchenko and Yulia Yurchenko 2019. “Ukrainian Capitalism and
Inter-Imperialist Rivalry”. In Immanuel Ness and Zak Cope (eds.), The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism. Palgrave Maacmilan.

[xii] While
I focus here in particular on social reproduction, this sector is one
among others such as tourism, seasonal farming, construction, where
Ukrainian migrant workers find employment – jobs that are characterized
as dirty, dangerous, and precarious. See also Sara Farris. 2018.
“Social reproduction and racialized surplus populations.” In Peter
Osborne; Éric Alliez and Eric-John Russell, eds. Capitalism: Concept, Idea, Image – Aspects of Marx’s Capital Today. Kingston upon Thames: CRMEP Books, 121-134.

[xiii] This number has probably fallen in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

[xiv] Daria
Krivonos and Anastasia Diatlova. 2020. “What to Wear for Whiteness?
‘Whore’ Stigma and the East/West Politics of Race, Sexuality and
Gender.” Intersections EEJSP 6(3): 116–132, 120.

[xv]Alexandra Levitas. 2020. “Care Work During Covid-19: Public Health Implications of Ukrainian Migration into Poland.” CMR Spotlight. 19, 2-5.

[xvi] Anna Safuta. 2018. “Eastern Europeans’ ‘peripheral whiteness’ in the context of domestic services provided by migrant women.” Tijdschrift voor Genderstudies 21(3): 217 – 231, 225.

[xvii] Researchers
have shown that the racialization of Ukrainian migrant workers in
Hungary works through the prism of the existing racist discourses about
the Roma population in Hungary: “By complementing contemporary economic
and social processes with special substitutional and transformational
rules, the social attitude towards someone being a stranger from the
“Ukraine” appears close to that towards a “Gipsy”. This process is
significant as the adaptation of content elements of ethnical categories
assists articulation of social differences of the “Ukrainian”, while
making the system of structural inequalities stronger in the local
society, a process originating in earlier times.” See Borbély Sándor.
“The Ukrainian is a nefarious Gipsy” – micro-policy of the foreign
immigration in the borderland settlement of Kispalád.” Tér és Társadalom Vol.
29. No. 3. doi:10.17649/TET.29.3.2708, 4. See also: Tibor Meszmann and
Olena Fedyuk. 2019. “Snakes or Ladders? Job Quality Assessment among
Temp Workers from Ukraine in Hungarian Electronics.” Central and Eastern European Migration Review 8(1): 75–93.

[xviii] Sara Farris. 2017. In the Name of Women’s Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism. London: Duke University Press.

[xix] Polina
Vlasenko. 2015. In (In)Fertile Citizens: Anthropological and Legal
Challenges of Assisted Reproduction Technologies, Lab of Family and
Kinship Studies Department of Social Anthropology and History University
of the Aegean, October, 197-217, 202.

[xx] PatriciaHill Collins. 2009. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. [2nd ed.]. New York: Routledge.

[xxi] I
thank my colleagues and friends, Lina Nasr El Hag Ali, Rhaysa Ruas,
Brent Toye, and Sophia Ilyniak for discussions around this concept.

[xxii] Nadezhda
Husakouskaya and Randi Gressgård. 2020. “Europeanization as
Civilizational Transition from East to West: Racial Displacement and
Sexual Modernity in Ukraine.” Intersections: East European Journal of Society and Politics 6(3): 74-96, 76.

[xxiii] WEB Du Bois.1935. Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 700.

Olena Lyubchenko is a PhD Olena Lyubchenko is a PhD
Candidate in Political Science, based in Toronto. Her research interests
include neoliberal restructuring, dispossession, and financialization
of social reproduction as well as struggles around life-making. Olena’s
dissertation draws on social reproduction feminism and traces the
transformation of the gender contract and social citizenship model from
the Soviet to the post-Soviet era in Russia. Olena is an editor at

Olena Lyubchenko​