Civilians speak out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (What’s Happening newsletter #19)

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Civilians speak out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

On 24 February, Russia invaded Ukraine. This followed years of increasing tensions after the 2014 Ukrainian coup, and amid a context of controversial NATO expansion eastwards. The situation is complex, but anti-war campaigners have been clear in their opposition to the invasion and the civilian suffering it is causing.

Phoenix Media Co-op spoke to civilians in the region to amplify their perspective. One Russian-speaking Ukrainian living in Kiev woke up to the noise of fighting and soon sought refuge in a church as others sheltered in the subway. In her hometown in the east, her family supports the Russian action, but she insisted: “I want to live in peace. I want to be close to others, not just Russia.” Speaking on Sunday 27 February, she said invading forces were “turning the country into ruins”. She added, however, that the aggression was also bringing people together. “Ukrainians hope for negotiations between countries to end this madness,” she said.

Over in Russia, another person told Phoenix Media Co-op that “everyone I meet is against the war”, in contrast to government propaganda statements. She is usually disenchanted by the country’s politics and tries to avoid discussing it, but said “everyone was talking about it”. And she called it “one of the worst decisions this government has made”. She added that she is already having some problems making payments via her bank due to international sanctions.

In Belarus, another civilian stressed that his family has also had problems using bank cards in recent days. Because he works for a company that relies on goods from Europe, he’s worried about losing his job too. “We can’t do our jobs or make plans, because [Belarusian leader] Lukashenko depends on Putin,” he said. But “people who think critically”, he emphasised, “are against this war”. And despite the threat of arbitrary police detention, some small protests against the war have been organised, especially in the capital of Minsk.

Finally, Phoenix Media Co-op’s Slava Zilber was in Hanover, Germany, on Saturday 26 February for an anti-war protest there. He interviewed a Russian protester, who said:

I am deeply ashamed. And I feel so sorry for the Ukrainian people. This is actually the first protest in my life just because in Russia it is not safe to do that. Thank god – recently I started to live in Germany. At least I’m able to openly say what I don’t agree with.

She added:

Starting a war and invading a foreign country – this is not acceptable. This is not acceptable just because our country in 1941 experienced the same. And this is fucking scary.

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IPCC report – starkest language yet

On 28 February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its latest report Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, confirming that “People around the world are already suffering from the impacts of climate change at 1.1C of warming.” “Beyond 1.5C would put peace, security, economic stability and nature in peril across our planet and be an existential threat for far too many.”

The report states unequivocally that some of the human-caused change is already causing “increasingly irreversible losses, in terrestrial, freshwater and coastal and open ocean marine ecosystems” with the impacts of glacier retreat and thawing permafrost “approaching irreversibility”.

Although the report has major sections on adaptation, it warns that unless the emissions that are driving climate change decline “rapidly” then the options for societies to adapt will become “increasingly limited”.

The report also confirms the inherent inequality of climate change – poorer communities, women, children, and Indigenous people are all projected to be the most vulnerable. “As richer nations go on emitting more and more greenhouse gases, so the devastation and costs grow.” It estimates that currently around 3.5 billion people live in situations “that are highly vulnerable to climate change”.

The main message is that carbon emissions must be reduced rapidly – other proposed solutions (such as reflecting sunlight) carry major risks, and that the magnitude and rate of risks “escalate with every increment of warming”.

Many current models predict an overshoot of 1.5ºC, but the report warns that many problems “will persist even if temperatures return to 1.5ºC” and that feedbacks such as permafrost emissions or the loss of forested carbon sinks “will make returning to 1.5ºC by 2100 more difficult”.

The report begins with a ‘Summary for Policymakers’ – its message is clear.

Another bold action against Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems

After 11 acquittals over the past couple of months, activists from Palestine Action evaded police who were guarding the EliteKL subsidiary in Tamworth on 28 February, and gained access to the roof which they began to dismantle.

Recently, police arrested a young climate activist in Oxford, raiding their family home and taking them for interview in London, apparently on the basis that they were pictured in white trainers similar to those worn by someone in an action spraying paint on the offices of Elbit’s landlords. Two independent sources have confirmed the person in question had no association with Palestine Action, and they have been released without charge.

Fossil fuel sponsorship of cultural institutions under pressure

Real Media is emerging from its brush with Covid-19 and has just published a round-up of recent news (some of it good!) about oily arts sponsorship. 

Check out the full article which includes a short film of a fake exhibit at the British Museum’s BP-sponsored ‘World of Stonehenge’ exhibition, with activists posing as BP staff, revealing to visitors their plans to drill under the ancient monument.

Other News

    • While corporate media shows crackdowns on peaceful protest in Russia, the UK’s controversial Police Bill was debated again late into the night in the Commons on 28 February. Although some Conservatives rebelled, the Lords amendments which had dampened some of the worst aspects of the legislation were voted down. Among other things this means that police can shut down a protest if they judge it to be too noisy (with serious prison penalties attached) and they can impose conditions on one-person protests. The bill will go back to the Lords for further review before becoming law, but it is clear the Conservatives are keen to push through this draconian legislation. 
    • The Lords also voted down various aspects of the racist Nationality and Borders Bill on 28 February, taking out the plan to automatically criminalise refugees coming across the Channel, and challenging the government’s proposal to be able to strip millions of people of their citizenship without warning. Again, the large Conservative majority in the Commons is likely to vote to reinstate these.
    • Civilians protested against Myanmar’s military dictatorship this weekend by taking to the streets and using “guerilla tactics to avoid bullets”, according to Twitter observer @AyeAyesann. The actions were organised to commemorate the 1-year anniversary of 28 February 2021, one of the bloodiest days of anti-coup protests across the country.
    • Transgender Action Block is organising a trans rights protest in Soho on 5 March to demand for the current system to be replaced with “one based on self-identification, accessible to all ages, with legal protection for non-binary people and those who detransition”. “While this doesn’t line up conveniently with a parliamentary debate, we will still demand autonomy just as loudly. Join us if you can, and invite your friends! We still want as many of you out with us as possible!” This event was initially planned for 21 February, but was cancelled due to storm conditions. The collective is dedicated to bringing radical transgender liberation in the UK by reforming the Gender Recognition Act to allow trans people to self identify and for non-binary identities to be legally recognised.

That’s all for this week. But please let us know of any stories and issues you’d like to see more of, and remember to subscribe to our YouTube channel.