On the Frontier of Whiteness? Expropriation, War, and Social Reproduction in Ukraine

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. In this long read on social reproduction by Olena Lyubchenko.

 

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, theatres, 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, and 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 manoeuvres.  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 risk 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 violence 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 the 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, and 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 fences 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 feedback 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 funnelled 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 appears 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-defence – 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 defence 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 defence “vital to the defence 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 laws”[vii], 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%, education by 36.2%, and 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 the 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 war.

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 a peaceful 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 travelling 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’s 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 defence 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. www.hsozkult.de/conferencereport/id/tagungsberichte-8478; 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. https://www.undp.org/publications/assessing-impact-war-yemen-pathways-recovery?fbclid=IwAR2RWLa63a38d7JdxDFHpdaod-#modal-publication-download  

[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. https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-AD(2015)041-e 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. https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/d/0/417005.pdf  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.


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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.

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