A Russian Experience

Russia Study Tour participants in Moscow organized by the Global Network.
(Photo: May 9th, 2019)

The Global Network has just completed its ‘Russia Study Tour‘ visiting Moscow, Crimea, and St. Petersburg. We learned so much from the many individuals and organizations which we met and connected with. The general consensus of our group is that Russia is a place very similar to the United States of America. It is a nation full of people fighting against their own government, corporations, and oligarchs. People are alienated, overworked, suffer from a lack of jobs and opportunities (19% poverty rate), living under the threat of war and climate crisis, but many want to live in a sustainably peaceful world. 

The first 1/3 of our trip was in Moscow where we held presentations from both our group and organizations in Russia. The presentations focused on a variety of topics: space weaponization, surveillance, international conflicts and cooperation, US imperialism, Russian capitalism, Soviet history, 2014 Ukrainian Crisis, Crimea’s history, and much more. I will upload these presentations sometime in July when I return home and am able to edit the videos.

Many of the participants in our Russia Study Tour are members of the US Veterans For Peace (VFP) organization. We had to chance to meet the Russian VFP group, who has been organizing for 25 years! The founders of Russia VFP were inspired by the US VFP. Sanctions have prevented them from visiting the US so there has been a lack of connection between the two groups. Despite this obstacle, the US VFP organization could visit Russia in the future, as did many of the participants of our trip who are members of US VFP.

Russia Veterans For Peace and our Russia Study Tour from the US standing together.
(Photo: April 2019)

I had the chance to visit the Exhibit of Soviet Achievements. This place was established by Joseph Stalin to exemplify the solidarity between all the republics of the Soviet Union. Several buildings have been constructed in dedication to each republic. There is also a space museum in the area which highlights the space programs of all nations on earth. The exhibit is a wonderful place to just walk around, view beautiful architecture, absorb the rich and diverse environment, and to think about what socialism can bring to the people. 

Entrance to the Exhibit of Soviet Achievements. On top is a monument dedicated to the proletariat and peasant, the two main classes who fought in the 1917 Russian Revolution. (Photo: April 2019)
Fountain at the Exhibit of Soviet Achievements. Each monument represents a different republic in the Soviet Union. (Photo: April 2019)
The building dedicated to Ukraine at the Exhibit of Soviet Achievements.
(Photo: April 2019)

The second 2/3’s of our trip consisted of visiting various places in Crimea. This was a main focus of our trip. We wanted to learn the current situation in Crimea and its history, the current situation in Ukraine and Russia’s border, and how Russia is responding to these events. We attended a panel of speakers who explained the 2014 Ukrainian crisis and its ongoing situation. In general, Crimea overwhelmingly voted to be a part of Russia with a 98% vote. Crimea is a diverse place with over 175 ethnicities and a very rich history, much of it tied to Russia. Nearly everyone there accepted the fast that the US was involved in a coup attempt and supply/train the fascist organizations throughout Ukraine in order to destabilize the border of Russia.

We marched in the May Day parade in Crimea and locals really welcomed us into their event, many of them taking photos behind our banner which read, NO TO NATO. We also visited a WW2 museum which highlighted the heroic fight which took place in Crimea against Nazi Germany. It is called the 35 Battery Museum, or Maxim Gorky Fortress, and is located in Sevastopol. This history is still alive and well in Russia and Crimea.

Panel of speakers who discussed the 2014 Ukraine crisis and its ongoing situation.
(Photo: May 2019)
May Day parade in Crimea. (Photo: May 2019)
Underground Memorial at the 35 Battery Museum in Sevastopol.
(Photo: May 2019)

We also visited the meeting place of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin during WW2 in Yalta, Crimea, which has now been converted into a museum. In the public education system I received in the US, Yalta was just a name of a place but after visiting Yalta I now see why the 3 leaders met here. It’s a beautiful resort and vacation destination. We learned that up to 90 percent of the kids in the Soviet Union had free trips to Yalta in the summer time. Many of the places there still host students from all over Russia. 

Banner drop at the Museum of the Yalta Conferenceby the participants of the Russia Study Tour. (Photo: May 2019)

In addition to our trip in Crimea we visited a veterans group which consisted of a WW2 Soviet veteran, a Cold War era Soviet veteran, an Afghanistan Soviet veteran, and the wife of a WW2 Soviet veteran. As an Afghanistan veteran I immediately asked the Soviet veteran on his thoughts of the US occupation of Afghanistan since 2001, which is still on going. He replied with one simple question, “How many schools and hospitals has the US built in Afghanistan”? I replied with, “probably zero”. The US usually bombs schools and hospitals in our wars, and we have the history to prove it. When it came to the WW2 Soviet veteran, he was mostly concerned about the current climate crisis and environmental damage. This was very surprising to hear from a 92 year old man (who still does push-ups!). I also asked the Cold War Soviet veteran his thoughts on Joseph Stalin, “Many Americans are scared of socialism because of the things we hear about Stalin, so from you perspective, was Stalin evil?” He replied, “Stalin tried to uplift the most oppressed people in society.” I agree. That’s the whole point of socialism. Capitalism cares only about profit, hence the name Capitalism. Socialism cares about the people, starting with the most oppressed people in society, hence the name Socialism. I have this talk, among other talks, filmed and will publish sometime in July when I arrive back home to the US.

Meeting with a veterans group in Yalta, Crimea. (Photo: May 2019)

The 3/3 part of our trip was in St. Petersburg. We did quite a bit of sightseeing to learn about their rich history. We visited a large memorial of, sometimes called, ‘the 900-siege of Leningrad’. Leningrad was the previous name of St. Petersburg. The city suffered very much and sacrificed a lot during WW2. Approximately half a million people are buried here. The memorial is sobering.

Will Griffin standing at the Piskariovskoye Memorial Cemetery. 
(Photo: May 2019)
Victory Day in St. Petersburg. (Photo: May 2019)

Finally, we walked with Russians on Victory Day. It’s one of the largest celebrations in Russia, commemorating the victims and victory of WW2. Descendants of WW2 victims and soldiers carry photos of their loved ones. We heard over 1 million people marched in St. Petersburg. Looking at WW2 from the Soviet/Russia perspective makes me wonder what it is like to fight in a just war, a war of defense. In the US, we have no idea what it is like to participate in a just war. The US waited until late into WW2 to join, did very little, and dropped two unnecessary Atomic Bombs on Japanese civilians. The US lost half a million people in WW2, but the Soviet Union lost over 27 million people, defended their country from invasion, and fought for the entirety of the war. The Soviet Union won WW2, not the West. It was a just war to defeat the rise of Nazism and fascism. 

Today in the 21st century, the rise of fascism is growing due to capitalism’s failure to give the people of the world a decent standard of living while the bourgeoisie live in decadence. Wars continue with no end, billions of people are exploited, millions die unnecessary deaths, and our environment is suffering dearly. Who will be the leader to fight all of these issues in the 21st century?


Here are some blogposts from myself and Bruce Gagnon, the lead organizer of the Russia Study Tour, if you want to read more about the trip and places we visited. 

Will’s Blog:

Bruce’s Blog: