Ultra-nationalist activists march towards Independence Square to commemorate ‘Maidan heroes’ in Kyiv on April 29, 2014. AFP

A Guide to Ukraine’s Far Right.

Claims about Ukraine’s far right taking over the government are false, but ultranationalism is rearing its ugly head in unexpected places.

by Devin Ackles, Hromadske International

produced by Maxim Eristavi, Randy R. Potts

What You Need to Know:

✓ Since the Maidan Revolution became a major protest movement both the President Yanukovych and Russian governments claimed it was led by far right groups;

✓ Russia officially annexed Crimea based on trumped up “fears” of Ukrainian far right elements moving to kill ethnic Russians. The Russian invasion has given the the far-right a premise to explain why they are needed to protect the country from Russia;

✓ Far right parties as a whole lost in both the Ukrainian presidential and parliamentary elections;

✓ Individuals from far right groups recently attacked cinemas for screening LGBT movies;

✓ Few individuals from far right groups have gained offices in the new post-revolutionary government;

Get up to speed on Ukraine. Follow Hromadske!

Notorious neo-Nazi among Ukraine’s Newest Citizens

On 5 December, Belarusian citizen Sergei Korotkikh was granted Ukrainian citizenship by the Ukrainian president. Korotkikh’s citizenship came at the behest of President Poroshenko who commended him for his “courageous and faithful service” as a member of the Azov battalion, one of many volunteer paramilitary groups that were created to fight against the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Korotkykh and President Poroshenko ( Photo: president.gov.ua)

Korotkikh’s name caught the eye of many in both civil society and the media in the region who know him better for his ties to, and membership in, several neo-Nazi organizations in Russia. Some of his associates in Russia are known for their attacks on minority groups, including migrant workers from Central Asia and the Caucasus. Korotkikh is an old and close associate of Maxim Martsinkevich, the most famous Russian neo-Nazi and founder of «Occupy pedophilia», a worldwide-known anti-gay vigilante movement.

After the news broke locally that Korotkikh had been granted citizenship, civil society and several local news outlets went on the offensive, asking government officials why they had granted Ukrainian citizenship to a known neo-Nazi.

Some have accused the Ukrainian government of being incompetent for not carrying out a background check, others say it is in denial.

The government’s response has fallen somewhere between aloofness and apathy. When asked by journalists if the government was aware of Korotkikh’s background, Minister of the Interior Arsen Avakov said that he would check it out, but defended him for his assistance in keeping the south-east port city of Mariupol out of separatists’ hands.

Far right protesters clash with police outside the Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv on October 14, 2014. Photo by Reuters.

How Popular Is The Far-Right in Ukraine?

The far right’s popularity in the international media grew throughout Maidan and boiled over as Russia prepared to annex Crimea in order to “protect” the ethnic Russian population living on the peninsula. Looking back, it has become clear that most of the coverage was a combination of Russian media’s all out misinformation campaign that pushed a “fascist junta” narrative both at home and abroad and lazy journalism by some international media outlets.

Rise Of Several Neo-Nazis In Ukraine Not Result of Public Support — Umland
While there is some support for figures that are part of the Far Right, like Andriy Biletsky, who is an MP, people didn’t vote for him because he was a neo-Nazi. Instead, they voted for him because he was a known figure, said Andreas Umland, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation. These Far Right figure, like Biletsky, have emerged out of nowhere in the past five months and people simply aren’t familiar with their backgrounds, said Umland.

The truth is, the far-right’s role on Maidan was always peripheral. Its existence in post-Maidan Ukraine has been similarly marginal with far right presidential candidates garnering only around 1% of the vote. Svoboda, the sole far-right party in the previous incarnation of the Ukrainian parliament, was unable to break the 5% minimum barrier this time around.

Of the total 424 MPs in post-revolutionary Ukrainian parliament, only 6 have any affiliation with the far right.

Of the total 424 MPs in the post-revolutionary Ukrainian parliament, only 6 have any affiliation with the far-right — to varying degrees. But some leaders of the right-wing, following their armed defense of the Ukrainian territory from Russian-backed separatists as members of the Azov volunteer battalion, have gained the confidence of the Ministry of Interior.

With the ouster of Yanukovych, the far right organisations have lost the major source of negative voter mobilisation. Svoboda’s success at the 2012 parliamentary elections was partially determined by its image of the most radical opposition to Yanukovych’s regime (the image promoted by the regime itself), so Svoboda (and the Right Sector too) could be considered an “anti-Yanukovych party”. Without Yanukovych, its raison detre became — at least in the eyes of the voters — debatable.

Picture of Azov Battalion Members (Photo: Azov Battalion’s Vkontakte page)

The Azov Battalion

As the separatist threat in eastern Ukraine became more pronounced, the Minister of Interior permitted the creation of paramilitary groups formed of volunteers.

One of the most well-known and biggest battalions to emerge from this new system was the Azov battalion, headed by well-known far-right figures with a history of supporting neo-Nazi ideology.

One of the most well-known and biggest battalions to emerge from this new system was the Azov battalion, headed by well-known far-right figures with a history of supporting neo-Nazi ideology. Their battalion’s emblem (seen above) appears to be a variation of the wolfsangel (a.k.a. Wolf’s Hook) symbol employed by neo-Nazi groups.

As a result of their loyalty to the Ukrainian state and dedication to defending Ukrainian territory, leaders from the battalion have gained credibility with the authorities in Kyiv, who remain silent on some of the members’ prior affiliations.

The one where President Poroshenko calls controversial Azov battalion ‘heroes’, awards them with honorary weapon.
Mariupol, Eastern Ukraine. September 8, 2014

Top-Figures of the Far-Right in Ukraine’s Government

Andriy Biletskiy. Photo: Azov Battalion VKontakte page

Andriy Biletskiy

Independent MP

With the support of Prime Minister Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front party, whose banner he campaigned under, Biletskiy was able to secure a seat in the Ukrainian Parliament. As commander of the Azov volunteer battalion, his profile has grown considerably over months of fighting in eastern Ukraine. Biletskiy was born in Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, where he also spent his formative years.

Before leading the Azov battalion, he was the head of both the Patriot of Ukraine organization and its umbrella organization the Social-National Assembly. The Social-National Assembly’s ideology, founded in 2008, is openly racist and anti-semitic.

Ihor Mosiychuk. A screenshot from a Youtube video.

Ihor Mosiychuk

Radical Party MP

A compatriot of Biletskiy, he served as the head of the the extreme right wing Social-National Assembly’s press service from 2010 until 2014. He has a long, well-documented history of participating in far right movements stretching back into the mid-1990s. Before joining the Patriot of Ukraine and Social-National Assembly, he was a member of the Social-Nationalist Party of Ukraine before it was reorganized into the Svoboda party in 2004.

Before being elected as a representative of the Kyiv City Council, and later an MP of the Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian Parliament) as a member of Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party, Mosiychuk was briefly a deputy commander for the Azov Battalion.

Vadym Troyan. Photo: People’s Front Party website

Vadym Troyan

Kyiv Province Police Chief

Before his appointment as head of the Kyiv Oblast’s police by the Minister of Interior, Troyan had a brief career as a police investigator in Kharkiv until 2004. After leaving law enforcement, he worked in the private sector. He is also allegedly a long-time member of the Social-National Assembly and has known Biletskiy for some time.

Gulliver Cragg, France 24 correspondent in Ukraine

A recent report by the local investigative news team at Nashi Groshi (Our Money) has revealed that Troyan may have had some ties to former Kharkiv Oblast governor (and now Minister of the Interior) Arsen Avakov. The head of Avakov’s press service while he was governor is the owner of a telecommunications company called “Triolan”. Troyan worked for one of the company’s affiliates from 2010–2012. In recent Kyiv Post interview, he denied any ties with neo-Nazi movements, going as far as to suggest that ‘there are no skinheads in Ukraine’:

Troyan denies connection to right-wing extremist organizations and says that the Azov battalion was tolerant and there “it didn’t matter what religion you were or what language you spoke.”
He generally sees extremist right-wing groups as marginalized and a fear primarily stirred up by Russian propaganda meant to turn international sentiment against Ukraine.
“We don’t have skinheads,” he said asking whether anyone had seen any in Ukraine over the past five years.
Andriy Parubiy. Photo: Ukraine Crisis Media Center

Andriy Parubiy

Parliament’s Deputy Speaker

A low profile politician before Maidan, Parubiy helped to organize the self-defense forces that would go on to repel attack after attack from the riot police and as a result became a legend. Following Maidan he was appointed the Secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council, during which time he helped to form Ukraine’s new National Guard.

His official biography celebrates the fact that he helped to form the Social-Nationalist Party of Ukraine (SNPU) back in 1991 with party co-founder Oleh Tyahnybok — a party that would eventually be transformed into Svoboda. He was one of the main organizers of the Orange Revolution. Parubiy is a political chameleon, moving from one party to another, but did not join Svoboda in parliament. He is currently the Deputy Head (Speaker) of the Verkhovna Rada.

Dmytro Yarosh. Photo: Esquire Ukraine

Dmytro Yarosh

Independent MP

He has become byfar the most recognizable face of the Maidan revolution, thanks in large part to Russian propaganda that pegged him to the Right Sector, which he leads, as a large underground fascist movement. While he failed to garner even 1% of the vote during the presidential elections, he later was successful in getting elected as an independent candidate to the Ukrainian Parliament.

Yarosh has been active in mainstream Ukrainian nationalist movements since the late 1980s, when he joined the centrist “People’s Movement of Ukraine”. In the 1990s he would go on to found and lead the nationalist organization “Stepan Bandera All-Ukrainian Organization ‘Tryzub’”. A conservative Ukrainian nationalist organization, its official website describes its enemies as being “imperialism and chauvinism, fascism and communism, cosmopolitanism and pseudo-nationalism, totalitarianism and anarchy, any evil that seeks to parasitize on the sweat and blood of Ukrainians”.

Boryslav Bereza. A screenshot form a Youtube video.

Boryslav Bereza

Independent MP

A spokesperson for Right Sector, little is known about his personal history. A native of Kyiv, Bereza became a virtual overnight superstar on the political talk show circuit in Ukraine where he became known for his biting commentary and sense of humor — almost exclusively in the Russian language. Winning a seat in the Verkhovna Rada, his focus has been to create a real opposition to the current coalition government in order to push them to commit to reforms.

Yuriy Levchenko. Photo: Svoboda party press service

Yuriy Levchenko

Independent MP

In 2008, he began his political career by joining the far-right party Svoboda. According to Levchenko’s official biography, he received a Bachelor’s in Economics from the London School of Economics and a Master’s in Management from the Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg in 2007.

Since joining Svoboda he has worked as the party’s main political analyst and one of its strategists. He has not made any public statements that would confirm a ‘far-right’ ideological background, but his membership in Svoboda makes him a member of the right-wing movement. After a hard-fought battle with a member of Kyiv’s long-entrenched political elite, he secured his MP seat in a single mandate district. Like Bereza, his focus also appears to be creating a real opposition to the coalition.

Andriy Illenko. Photo: pohlyad.com

Andriy Illenko

Independent MP

One of the youngest MPs in parliament, he is a Kyiv native and is one of the key ideologues of Svoboda. A graduate of the philosophy department at Ukraine’s premier institution of higher education, Taras Shevchenko University, he joined the Kyiv chapter of Svoboda while he was still in high school. In his writings found online he has argued in favor of “social-nationalism”.

Photo: Reuters/Gleb Garanich

Is Ukraine’s Far-Right Dangerous?

There is speculation abound that members of the far-right have been brought into the Ukrainian government in order to neutralize them. If a member of the far-right is a police chief or member of parliament, this shows that the Ukrainian authorities (officially) value their presence — and during a time of war, creating a united domestic front is indeed critical for Ukraine.

Still, despite a lack of electoral support, Ukrainian far-right movements are a growing source of troubles for local authorities amid the general weakness of law-enforcement institutions in the post-revolutionary country.

There is visible and growing involvement of far-right military groups in violent corporate raiding, a backside illegal business many right-wing militia and members of volunteer battalions have facilitated for years now.

On the Eastern Ukraine front line, largely uncontrolled far-fight volunteer fighters are condemned by local and international watchdogs for alleged war crimes and human rights violations. Many fear of these heavy-armed fighters coming back home and becoming a part of street gangs, once when the war with Russia is over.

On Ukrainian streets there is a visible and growing involvement of far-right military groups in violent corporate raiding, a backside illegal business many right-wing militia and members of volunteer battalions have facilitated for years now and found ways to profit out of general instability.

Ukraine Far Right Groups Make Money As Hired Thugs — Anton Shekhotsov
The war and general upheaval in Ukraine has provided members of criminal Far Right groups the opportunity to profit not only by acting as fighters, but also in illegal arms and drugs trades, said Anton Shekhovtsov, a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna.

LGBT Ukrainians have become one of the most common victims of far-right attacks. One of Kyiv’s gay clubs was raided by right-wing militia a number of times just in a span of 6 months. A gay pride in Kyiv was canceled in Summer of 2014 following violent threats from the far-right and the refusal of local authorities to provide security backup for the event. Back in October 2014, a Kyiv cinema was set on fire by self-proclaimed right wing radicals during an LGBT movie screening.

Shortly after there was another attack on a cinema in Kyiv for the same reason. The authorities have passed it off as ‘hooliganism’.

Ukrainian leftist activists are also under growing pressure of violent attacks and threats from the far-right. During the post-revolutionary period many leftist groups canceled public meetings or demonstrations out of fear of being assaulted by righ-wing extremists. In one of the attacks, a well-known Ukrainian leftist intellectual and lecturer at the National University ”Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” was brutally beaten by far-right militia in downtown Kyiv:

People gather in Independence square as coffins of anti-government demonstrator killed in clashes with police arrive in the square on February 21, 2014 in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Why Are Ukrainians So Sensitive On The Topic Of The Far-Right?

Have you ever tried having a chat with a regular Ukrainian about possible far-right threats in their country? If yes, you probably faced an emotional push back from them. Why is this happening?

Like many other nations that have had to endure Russian or Soviet imperialistic rule, nationalism has long been a touchy subject for the authorities. Save a few brief moments in Ukraine’s history, the authorities labeled every opposition or dissident as ultra-nationalist.

While local collaboration with Hitler’s forces have some merit, the common narrative in the former Soviet Union drastically exaggerates these ties — and completely ignores the facts surrounding Ukrainian resistance to both Nazi and Soviet forces. Following the guerrilla warfare in Western Ukraine during and after World War II, the Soviet authorities (and their successors in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus) equate pushes for a stronger national identity and self-determination as being akin to supporting pseudo-fascist/Nazi ideals.

70 or so years of ideological reinforcement in the 20th century has served the authoritarian leadership of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus quite well — more often than not, any spike in nationalist sentiment in the region is absurdly dumbed down to a desire to restore Hitler’s Third Reich. Given the USSR’s obscene losses during World War II, this naturally creates public resentment against nationalistic movements.

But considering the cataclysmic and traumatic legacy of the Soviet Union, many in Ukraine still struggle with identifying modern far-right or far-left ideologies without mixing them up with twisted historic perspective left by the Soviet era.

The narrative goes like this: Nazis are bad. Some nationalist groups fought against the Soviet Union and therefore took the side of the enemy. All ‘right wing’ nationalists are Nazi sympathizers and want to destroy the foundations of Soviet/post-Soviet civilization. Nationalists (anti-imperalist by nature) are evil.

After 23 years of independence, Ukraine has only recently begun to tear Imperial Russian and Soviet ideology down. But considering the cataclysmic and traumatic legacy of the Soviet Union, many in Ukraine still struggle with identifying modern far-right or far-left ideologies without mixing them up with the twisted historical perspective left by the Soviet era.

Get up to speed on Ukraine. Follow Hromadske!