Late on February 6 or early February 7 2020, Facebook user “Angelika Greg-Delany” shared a purportedly true account to the group #WalkAway Campaign — purportedly first about her encounter with a Russia-bashing “Bernie Sanders supporter,” and her response about the evils of socialism during her time in Ukraine.
A first few lines set the scene: The wife of a “husband and wife customer” purportedly launched into a tirade about United States President Donald Trump, Russia, collusion, and a phone call with Ukraine, before asking the self-identified Ukrainian woman (who says she works in “sales,” and is not supposed to discuss political matters at work) what she thought:
Well today I was working with a husband and wife customer. They were very chatty, asking questions and listening to information about our products, when the wife asked me where I was from. It is a frequent question because I have an Accent. I told her I am originally from Ukraine. Well that was the trigger she was waiting for.
She immediately began bashing President Trump and his administration for the Russia Collusion and the Ukraine Phone call. Trump withholding Aid and how Bernie Sanders should be the next President. Then she rambled on and bashed the President for another five minutes. Then with a very proud smile on her face she asked me what I thought? Well to heck with political correctness! I answered.
In the next portion, Delany quotes herself as responding at length, first citing the “ignorance of people” unaware of Soviet life and complaining about having been sexually harassed and not having the ability to wear western clothes:
I came from The Soviet Socialist part of the Ukraine. I barely survived the 25 years I lived there. I am often amazed at the ignorance of people who know nothing about life under a socialist regime praising the virtues of Socialism. I had free medical and it was terrible, and never free. I got free education, until it came time for college and when I was not a member of the communist party was rejected. The country gave me a mandatory job in a State owned milk factory. I spent hours a day in lines to find basic goods and services. I was sexually harassed almost on a daily basis. I had to listen to the daily drum beat of fake news and propaganda about how we were the only super power in the world and how we lived a better than anyone else in the world, yet I could not travel abroad to see for myself. I was not allowed to wear western cloths or read western magazines, because they were classified as a danger to society. No thank you, I will be voting for President Trump. He loves America almost as much as I do. He wants to keep the rule of law to protect my individual liberties and allow me, self determination. He actually has helped Ukraine more than all former US Presidents combined and Israel too. He is going to expose the Media, the Democrat Party and the corrupt Intelligence agencies under Obama for colluding in a coup to remove a duly elected President. I live in the greatest country on earth and it will stay that way because of the things President Trump is doing and in spite of the things the Democrat Party is doing to destroy it.News Bulletin: Google's new campaign to stop the spread of disinformation on Ukrainian refugeesNews Bulletin: Google's new cam...
Now, Would like to purchase this product? The woman was getting madder with ever word and the husband was standing behind her with his mouth on the floor. She stormed off and told him to finish with me because she couldn’t take any more of this. He sheepishly gave me his info and thanked me for helping .. Isn’t America the greatest place on earth? I felt great the rest of my shift because I think the husband is a closet Conservative.
It is time to be more like President Trump and stand up for what is right and say hell no to political correctness! MAGA!
Delany’s post was quite popular, racking up 10,000 shares in about 12 hours. But it was also a mixed bag of anecdote, opinion, and purported firsthand experience — not all of which was verifiable. We’ll attempt to break it down into parts and check them individually.
The Bernie Sanders-supporting married couple clients – did they exist?
The encounter described by Delany tested plausibility from the get-go, as it was a great basis to form a rant about “socialism” and “communism” as it related to her post. No identifying information was included, and it seemed just as likely the encounter was a parable as a real-life occurrence.
Moreover, of candidates in the Democratic field, Sanders is sometimes lumped in as a beneficiary of putative Russian interference in the 2016 election. Other candidates’ supporters tended to be focused on the specter of Russian interference, so a die-hard Sanders fan wasn’t the most likely person to be angry about Russia (however, Sanders’ embrace of universal health care and “free” college made him one of the few Trump opponents Delany could plausibly shoehorn into the rant.)
To elaborate, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg supporters might not have the same rosy view of Medicare for All (as just one example), which effectively would defang the rant and make it even less plausible. But angst about Russia and collusion was also necessary to string the anecdote together.
What’s the #WalkAway Campaign?
The #WalkAway Campaign, depending on who is explaining, is either a grassroots move away from the Democratic Party, or an astroturfing effort to make it seem a mass exodus of Democrats from the party is underway. Posts from Republicans such as the one linked above are exceedingly common in those groups, further indicating the effort is largely populated by people who were not Democrats to begin with. A 2018 article found that a number of purported #WalkAway Campaign supporters were actually people from stock photographs.
When did Delany emigrate to the United States from Ukraine?
By her husband’s explanation (they appeared to share a Facebook account), in or around 1989:
… When I was a tent maker missionary in the USSR in 1989, I was allowed to work with real Angels … When I finally had a dream that I could recall. It was a dream too real, about the most beautiful woman I had ever seen and her son. The woman in this dream was my wife, and yet I was not married. I woke in a sweat, and wondered what I had just seen. That very same day I met that woman in that dream in a random store in Kiev, Ukraine. I was looking for supplies for our project in Pervomysk, Ukraine. I finally mustered enough nerve to asked her out and while she was telling me about herself, she said she had a son from a previous marriage. I asked her if he was about four years old, with blond hair and green eyes. She said yes, how do you know? I explained about my dream. Thank God for his infinite wisdom, He does not do things in a vacuum. God had given Angela dreams about me as well. She told me the minute I walked into the store that day she heard a voice that said “It’s him!” She had not seen me yet and wondered what the strange voice was. When we did see each other, We both stared open mouthed at each other. It was like looking into our own dreams. She said she had seen me twice in dreams that month and could not stop talking about it to her mother. We married after three months.
When did Delany come to America?
Again, according to her husband’s post on Facebook linked above, the couple met in our around Pervomysk, Ukraine. Additional posts to the page indicate they remained in parts of the former USSR through the early 1990s.
In another post, Delany said:
Who would return to a lifestyle of pure evil when they have tasted of the blessings of America? My life has Two halves. 25 years in a Socialist Hell and 24 years in a Free Market Paradise. Why would you even try to convince me your way is better???
In 2019 or 2020, 25 years prior was about 1994 or 1995.
Was Delany describing communism or socialism? What’s the difference?
By her account, again, the terms and ideologies appeared to be conflated. In the beginning of her purported response to the Sanders supporters, she recounts:
I came from The Soviet Socialist part of the Ukraine. I barely survived the 25 years I lived there. I am often amazed at the ignorance of people who know nothing about life under a socialist regime praising the virtues of Socialism. I had free medical and it was terrible, and never free. I got free education, until it came time for college and when I was not a member of the communist party was rejected.
Fears of communism sparked by Sanders’ 2016 run led to a 2015 Vox explainer about the functional differences between “communism” and “socialism” as they related to how world governments and parties behave and interact:
So in practical political terms, “communism” has come to connote a belief in revolutionary political change or, at the very least, more dramatic and transformative democratic change than social democratic parties have advocated. “Socialism” has come to connote commitment to democratic processes and the taming of capitalism through reform. But communist parties would almost universally identify themselves as committed to the goals of socialism — more committed, indeed, than their squishy social democratic rivals. And for their part, many democratic socialists — like US presidential candidate Norman Thomas and British Prime Minister Clement Attlee — were vehemently anti-communist.
That same explainer went to lengths Delany did not, explaining the relevance of Sanders’ positions to modern analogues in countries such as Finland and Sweden:
The good news is that neither Sanders nor European social democratic parties favor the creation of a Soviet-style economy or a Soviet-style political system. There are plenty of other models of socialist society, some of which have worked in practice, and many of which have never been tried.
In particular, the Nordic social democracies that Sanders praises are demonstrably economic success stories. One could fairly argue that these societies have successfully ended, or at least drastically curtailed, the worst excesses of capitalism. In 2012, the relative poverty rate — the share of the population living on less than half the median income — was only 9 percent in Sweden and 5.4 percent in Denmark. In the US, by contrast, it was 17.9 percent. Infant mortality in Finland is roughly half that in the US, largely because poor Finns get better health care than poor Americans.
Also in 2015, the Washington Post enlisted a high school teacher to explain the difference between communism and socialism after then-candidate Donald Trump conflated the two:
… I scaled it back a bit and talked to Tori Waite, who teaches high school history at Del Mar High School in San Jose. After all, since most of us were first introduced to these ideas in high school, perhaps we just need a refresher.
“When we teach about the different types of economies,” Waite said, “the first thing we do is we talk about economic questions. How is it made? Who makes it? Who gets to buy it? Based on the economy, different people answer those questions.”
“In a communist country, the government answers those questions. There’s no private business. There’s no private property. The government decides.”
“In a capitalist society, the people make those decisions. The businesses, the market decides how much products will cost, how many there are, where it will be made.”
“In the socialist system, there’s a mix of both. The government operates the system to help all, but there is opportunity for private property and private wealth. That’s generally how we talk about it.” … A socialist government could control all of the means of production — or it could, for example, use taxes to redistribute resources among the population.
Additional context from the Vox explainer involved why Sanders selected the label of “democratic socialist,” which, according to the Senator himself, has to do with the origins of the Democratic party as it relates to labor issues:
And in the US, where “socialist” has never been a mainstream label, it’s stranger still, given how much of Sanders’s platform is shared by American politicians who don’t identify as socialists. He supports single-payer health care, but so do 53 House Democrats. He supports full employment through government jobs, but so does Congressman John Conyers, who, while friendly with some democratic socialist groups, has not to my knowledge adopted the label himself. Overall it’s hard to see the big distinction between Sanders and especially liberal Democrats like Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) or the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s leaders Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), both of whom have endorsed Sanders.
So why take on the “socialist” label, knowing it might be an impediment? In his interview with Vox, Sanders suggested that he might not identify as a socialist if Democrats had stayed true to the labor liberalism of the New Deal, but that given the current economic policies of the party, setting himself apart is necessary. “There was a time — I think under Roosevelt, maybe even under Truman — where it was perceived that working people were part of the Democratic Party,” Sanders said. “I think for a variety of reasons, a lot having to do with money and politics, that is no longer the case.” If identifying as a Democrat is no longer enough to mark oneself as a politician of and for the working classes, then another moniker is needed — and “democratic socialist” is as good as any.
Did Delany live in “socialist Ukraine,” or was the country communist?
Much of the relevant modern history of Ukraine and the USSR is tied to the fall of the USSR on December 26 1991. What is now known as Ukraine was indeed known as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic until 1991:
Both formally and actually the Ukrainian SSR was a unitary state without autonomous parts. Until 1940 it contained the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, which that year became a separate Union republic. In 1954 Crimea oblast [province] was transferred from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR. After a local referendum in January 1991, the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR recognized the Crimea’s autonomy. Until the end of 1991 the Ukrainian SSR was part of a broader federation of the USSR and its governing organs were subordinated to the governing organs of the USSR. Until 1990 the leading force in the political system in the Ukrainian SSR was the Communist Party of Ukraine, which was merely a branch of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
As Delany said, the party in power until 1991 was the Communist Party of Ukraine. As change swept through the countries of the former USSR in 1990, Ukraine’s communist party began losing a strangehold grip on its governance:
The most significant development of 1990 [in Ukraine] was the beginning of parliamentary democracy. The first competitive elections to the Ukrainian parliament (which replaced the old-style Supreme Soviet), held on March 4 , broke the Communist Party’s monopoly on political power in Ukraine. The parliament that met in mid-May had a substantial democratic bloc that, with the defection of numerous communist deputies from strict party discipline on particular issues, reduced the CPU’s core majority to 239 of the 450 members. Changes in the political leadership proceeded rapidly and culminated in the parliament’s election of the recent CPU secretary for ideology, Leonid Kravchuk, as its chairman. On July 16 sovereignty (though not yet independence) was claimed in the name of the “people of Ukraine”—the entirety of Ukraine’s resident population without regard to nationality or ethnicity; the declaration marked the onset of a gradual convergence of views on key issues between the communist majority and the democratic opposition, whose agenda was increasingly adopted by the pragmatic Kravchuk.
Based on Delany’s timeline, it seemed the answer to whether she lived under communist or socialist rule is that it was communist in practice and socialist largely in name.
That was almost 30 years ago — is modern universal healthcare as bad as the post says it is?
Universal healthcare coverage is one of the biggest — if not the most prominent — platform plank and issue of debate in the 2020 Democratic primary. Delany’s post painted a deeply unpleasant picture of “government controlled healthcare,” in which everyday people lack access to necessary treatment and medications, and in which “free healthcare” is “never free.”
In the context of American political opinions, Delany’s is certainly valid in as much as many people oppose the introduction of “Medicare for All.” Many other Americans strongly support such a program, with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren among candidates advocating for some form of universal healthcare.
Outside the realm of opinion, there are certain inarguable facts when it comes to universal healthcare and the developed world. The first is that of 33 developed nations on Earth, 32 have some form of universal healthcare. The United States is unique among them in lacking a system like it.
As noted in previous fact checks about Medicare for All, a December 2019 video from the United Kingdom, in which British people on the street react to questions and answers about the cost of healthcare for American citizens, spread virally:
Ambulance call out? $2,500. Childbirth? $30,000.
— PoliticsJOE (@PoliticsJOE_UK) December 3, 2019
The Guardian‘s coverage of the video explains:
In the UK, there are no questions asked about whether you would prefer the better, more expensive surgery, or the cheaper one – the best option is simply chosen for you; something that public health officials spend hours poring over, in publicly available cost-benefit analyses. And it costs the UK government less than the US – the UK government pays about half what the US does towards healthcare – with better outcomes than the US to boot.
Meanwhile, in the US, the average consumer spends more than $10,000 a year on healthcare, and 52% of all debt collection actions include unpaid medical bills.
A significant number of Americans go broke trying to pay off their medical debt – 530,000 bankruptcies a year are because of debt accrued due to a medical illness. Outside of going broke is a nasty reality – about 45,000 Americans die annually because they don’t have healthcare. As one Brit in the video succinctly puts it: “Man, so if you’re poor, you’re dead.”
Back in 2016, a former Finland resident who moved to the United States penned a piece for The Atlantic about limited American understanding of “Nordic socialism,” writing:
A Nordic person myself, I left my native Finland seven years ago and moved to the U.S. Although I’m now a U.S. citizen, I hear these kinds of comments from Americans all the time — at cocktail parties and at panel discussions, in town hall meetings and on the opinion pages. Nordic countries are the way they are, I’m told, because they are small, homogeneous “nanny states” where everyone looks alike, thinks alike, and belongs to a big extended family. This, in turn, makes Nordic citizens willing to sacrifice their own interests to help their neighbors. Americans don’t feel a similar kinship with other Americans, I’m told, and thus will never sacrifice their own interests for the common good. What this is mostly taken to mean is that Americans will never, ever agree to pay higher taxes to provide universal social services, as the Nordics do. Thus Bernie Sanders, and anyone else in the U.S. who brings up Nordic countries as an example for America, is living in la-la land.
But this vision of homogenous, altruistic Nordic lands is mostly a fantasy. The choices Nordic countries have made have little to do with altruism or kinship. Rather, Nordic people have made their decisions out of self-interest. Nordic nations offer their citizens—all of their citizens, but especially the middle class—high-quality services that save people a lot of money, time, and trouble. This is what Americans fail to understand: My taxes in Finland were used to pay for top-notch services for me.
When I lived in Finland, as a middle-class citizen I paid income tax at a rate not much higher than what I now pay in New York City. True, Nordic countries have somewhat higher taxes on consumption than America, and overall they collect more tax revenue than the U.S. currently does—partly from the wealthy. But, as an example, here are some of the things I personally got in return for my taxes: nearly a full year of paid parental leave for each child (plus a smaller monthly payment for an additional two years, were I or the father of my child to choose to stay at home with our child longer), affordable high-quality day care for my kids, one of the world’s best public K-12 education systems, free college, free graduate school, nearly free world-class health care delivered through a pretty decent universal network, and a full year of partially paid disability leave. As far as I was concerned, it was a great deal. And it was equally beneficial for others. From a Nordic perspective, nothing Bernie Sanders is proposing is the least bit crazy—pretty much all Nordic countries have had policies like these in place for years.
A British doctor writing for TIME in October 2019 raised some of the same points, and in doing so challenged the claim doctors in universal healthcare systems are unhappy and underpaid:
Whether you have heartburn or a heart attack, whether your baby has meningitis or you need a liver transplant, whether you’re walking down the road to your family doctor or an air ambulance is scraping you off the side of a mountain to get you to a trauma center, no one will ask for your credit card or insurance details — it’s already been paid for through your taxes. No questions. No exceptions. No deductibles. No weighing up whether it’s more important that your children eat than you investigate your shortness of breath. And if the very worst happens, your family won’t be left with a bill for your death.
With that in mind, I find it utterly baffling that universal healthcare is such a political hot potato on your side of the pond. I hear arguments that your government can’t afford it, even though current UK spending on healthcare is $4,000 per head compared with your $10,000. I even hear untrue, outrageous, outlandish statements about “death panels” from political fear mongers, presumably with financial skin in the game, that are utterly alien to anyone with experience in the NHS system. And yet conversely, Gallup reports for the fifth year in a row that the availability and affordability of healthcare is the single biggest concern for Americans, with 55% worrying about it “a great deal.” Even the most conservative estimates of the number of Americans declaring bankruptcy due to health care bills sits in the hundreds of thousands per year. In the UK, you can count the number of health care bankruptcies on the fingers of, at worst, a hand.
So what’s true and what’s false about Delany’s post?
As we mentioned, Delany’s post was a mixed bag of opinion, assertion, and anecdote. We don’t know if the conversation occurred as described or at all, and it was possible the “angry Bernie Sanders supporter” was part of a parable about the evils of communism-cum-socialism.
It appeared that Delany — the wife part of the husband and wife shared Facebook account — met and married an American man in or around 1989, and lived in Ukraine at the time. Based on modern political history, Ukraine was ruled by the Communist Party of Ukraine until 1991.
Delany’s claims about the risks of universal healthcare were predicated on her own supplied experiences 30 years earlier in a failing communist state on the verge of collapse. Factually, 32 of 33 developed nations maintain some form of “socialized medicine,” systems their citizens are loathe to surrender (even if they are underfunded or overburdened). Reasonably, the most reasonable comparison for single-payer healthcare would be made with systems like the UK’s NHS, not the USSR’s long-defunct systems. On a whole, the post was presented out of context; for that reason, we rate her claims Decontextualized.