Democracy Now: Battle of Donbas: Dramatic Interview from Ukrainian-Held Severodonetsk as Missiles Rain Down

Charles Keener

Amy spoke with journalist Billy Nessen while explosions were happening all around him. To me, his is a fairly rare perspective.
I have pasted in the part where he talks about "Russian imperialism" and the role of and attitudes toward Azov. His view, based on what he has heard from people in Ukraine, is very different than some reports but certainly worth considering in my opinion.


Battle of Donbas: Dramatic Interview from Ukrainian-Held Severodonetsk as Missiles Rain Down | Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN: — you’ve had a long, storied career in journalism. You worked for the United Nations covering South Africa in South Africa. In the Global South, there is a lot of criticism of the United States and NATO really provoking this war, not to say there isn’t criticism of the brutality of the invasion, but the ever eastern inching of NATO toward Russia. And now you have Sweden and Finland saying they’re going to join. Why did you decide to come to Ukraine?

BILLY NESSEN: You know, I have not only been a journalist, but I was an activist much of my life and working and oriented toward issues of the South, or what we used to call the Third World. So, I am very much attuned to that. And I had actually put down my — I had stopped working as a journalist, and I had focused on raising a family. And when Russia invaded Ukraine, I thought I had to come here. I can understand the perceptions that the South has that this is somehow a battle of West and East or of some part of the world versus American imperialism. But I thought, even though those issues are there, I thought there was also a Russian imperialism. And if you know the history and the perceptions of people all around Russia, you begin to understand that there is something called Russian imperialism, and at times it can be worse than American imperialism. And I thought this was one of the times.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to you right as the soldiers have given up, the Ukrainians, at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. How much information are you getting about that? What effect does that have on the Ukrainians where you are?
BILLY NESSEN: Yeah. I mean, we have an internet — so, I should say that we don’t have cellphones. We don’t have any water. We don’t have electricity except a generator. And we’ve got this Starlink from Elon Musk, is the only way that we’re speaking to you. I mean, everyone is cooking outside. There’s no fuel to cook. There’s just wood. I saw people and filmed people cutting down dead trees today in order to cook the food. People here are staying alive because of the humanitarian aid that’s coming in. And I’m speaking to you from the large center of that. So, we get news from the outside, and we also hear from talking to soldiers and special forces and the police every day. People see that situation, Mariupol, and those people who fought there as heroes, as their “lions,” they call them. And even though they have now been defeated, they see it as an enormous victory of Ukraine, that, you know, if you — they’re going to fight. They see it as an existential question. If they don’t fight, then Russia is going to take over. So there’s no choice for them. And as I say, they look to the Mariupol defenders as the heroes of this country. If Putin wanted to get rid of the Nazis, you know, or the fascists, as he called them, Nazis or fascists, he has actually ennobled those people who by the West were considered, you know, conservative or right-wing or fascist. I think that’s — you know, we get a lot more information talking to people. I’ve talked to people in the Azov Battalion or brigade. They exist all throughout eastern Ukraine. And they long ago were put into the National Guard, and they’re professional. And for a lot of people, the fight that they waged shows how professional they are. 
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the Azov Battalion, the brigade? I mean, for people here who have been following it for years, you’ve got — it’s a white supremacist, right-wing brigade. And the idea that you’re saying, that it had become mainstreamed — I mean, there was a time when the U.S. put restrictions on weapons being sent, that would end up in the hands of this brigade.
BILLY NESSEN: Well, listen, you know, the job first of a journalist, I think, is to communicate what the people in a place feel or think, and then secondarily is the analysis. And I think figuring out exactly who is who and what was what is something that is going to go on for a long time. If you say to them, the people here, that Azov are fascists, they laugh at you, you know, or you say that fascists have a lot of support in Ukraine, people say, “But the one party that was considered” — out of 39 parties, I think — “that was considered sort of far-right or fascist got less than 2% of the vote,” I think, in a field of 39 other candidates. Zelensky is Jewish. He won 73% of the vote in the second round. You know, I think they’re probably more — one, they’ll also say that here there might be some fascists, but in Russia they’re in power. And they look to the vote in France, or they know about Trump, and they think, well, America and France have far more far-right people than they do in Ukraine. People laugh at it. You know, they don’t have popular support at all in terms of an ideology, but they’ve gotten even more support, Azov, as a fighting unit. But I don’t think it’s a far-right battalion anymore. It once was, but it’s been integrated into the army. And I think people in America and some in Europe on the left, generally, want to say that that means that the military — and then, therefore, the government — is far-right or fascist, rather than that these far-right people don’t dominate that battalion and don’t dominate the military in any way.

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