How prevalent are far right nationalists in Ukraine?

Matt Florence
8 min readJan 26, 2017


An introduction to the new Ukraine.

By Matt Florence

Azov battalion was once a paramilitary but has now been made an official part of the Ukrainian national guard. The black hooked symbol on their flags is a “wolfs angle” which was a Nazi SS symbol used during World War 2.

For people keeping tabs on the current civil war in Ukraine, it is common to hear pro-Russian sources and supporters labelling the Ukrainian government as “Nazis” and “fascists”, often bringing up comparisons between the current war in Ukraine and the Soviet fight against Germany during World War 2. So how prevalent are far right nationalists in Ukraine? Let’s examine the details.

Members of the far right nationalist paramilitary Right Sector during a demonstration on the 21st of July 2015. The red and black flag with the trident is modeled on the flag of the OUN-B which was a far right nationalist and anti-soviet terrorist group funded by Nazi Germany to fight communism.

How did the war start?

In early 2014 there was a coup in Ukraine in which the then Russian allied Ukrainian government was overthrown by Ukrainian nationalists. During the coup the secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council in charge of the Ukrainian armed forces was a man called Andriy Parubiy who was the founder of a now dissolved neo-Nazi party called the Social National Party of Ukraine. Working alongside Parubiy was Dmytro Yarosh who was leader (now former leader) of the far right nationalist paramilitary Right/Pravy Sector. After the coup a man called Oleksandr Sych became the Deputy Prime Minister. Sych belonged to a nationalist party called Svoboda which believes that Russia is controlled by a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia”. In 2014 the far right nationalist party Svoboda which was formed by members of a now dissolved Neo-Nazi party called the ‘Social-National Party of Ukraine’, had thirty-six deputies in the 450-member Ukrainian parliament.

Who are Azov Battalion?

Currently as this article is being written the Ukrainian city of Mariupol is under the occupation of an army called Azov Battalion, whose flag sports a symbol called the wolfsangle which was best known as being a symbol used by two Nazi German SS divisions during World War 2. Since 2014 the Azov Battalion has been absorbed into the Ukrainian military as an official wing of the Ukrainian army which gives it access to weaponry from the Ukrainian government including machine guns, grenades, sniper rifles, and other such up to date and professional military equipment., Within Mariupol the Azov battalion held a 5,000 strong torchlight march called ‘March Khorobrikh’ (March of the Brave) led by Ukrainian parliament member Andrey Beletsky, emulating the torchlight processions of fascist Germany. In august of 2015, affiliates of Azov established a summer camp which trained children how to operate Kalashnikov rifles. Despite their far right nationalist tendencies, their nostalgia for Hitler, their use of Nazi German SS symbols, and their hatred for Russians and Communists, Azov Battalion members insist that they are not Nazis and that those who claim they are Nazis are only trying to smear the reputation of the Azov Battalion.

(Above video: the Azov Battalion’s Neo-Nazi military camp for children.)

Journalist Tom Parfitt wrote an article in the British Newspaper the Telegraph, describing an interview with an Azov battalion member: Asked about his Nazi sympathies, he said: “After the First World War, Germany was a total mess and Hitler rebuilt it: he built houses and roads, put in telephone lines, and created jobs. I respect that.” Homosexuality is a mental illness and the scale of the Holocaust “is a big question”, he added.

So how did Ukraine reach a point where this became the norm?

In 2014 the Ukrainian government of President Viktor Yanukovych was forcibly overthrown in a nationalist coup supported by the United States. Yanukovych fled Ukraine and different factions in Ukrainian politics have been fighting to the death to fill the power gap ever since. The coup ended with a man called Petro Poroshenko becoming the new president of Ukraine. Before becoming president after the coup, Poroshenko was Ukraine’s ex head of the council of Ukraine’s National Bank and a multi-millionaire with a wealth of $720 million (according to the Bloomberg business journal). Ever since Poroshenko came to power the United States and Barack Obama have openly declared their support for him.

A photograph of the Odessa Trade Union massacre in 2014. Ukrainian nationalists set fire to the building which resulted in dozens of Russians being burnt to death. Survivors who attempted to stand outside the window ledges to escape the flames where shot at by the Ukrainian nationalists
Another photograph of the Odessa Trade Union massacre. © Sputnik/ Alexander Polishchuk

Very shortly after the coup forwarded by far right nationalists, attacks on trade unionists and ethnic Russians became increasingly more violent up until the point where armed and organised paramilitary groups were conducting mass killings of ethnic Russians and trade unionists. One of the most infamous cases happened in the Ukrainian city of Odessa on the 2nd May 2014 when far right Ukrainian nationalists threw Molotov cocktails into the headquarters of the Odessa regional federation of trade unions, suffocating and burning dozens of people to death and forcing people to jump out the windows of the trade union building to their deaths while Ukrainian police watched.

In early 2014 the eastern region of Ukraine called Donbass which has a high ethnic Russian population, refused to accept Poroshenko as the new president. Many factions of the Ukrainian army and police in Donbass denounced Poroshenko and a two Donbass cities called Donetsk and Luhansk declared their independence. Donetsk and Luhansk with possible (although unconfirmed) support from Russia have been fighting against Poroshenko’s Ukrainian government ever since. Meanwhile in 2014 after the coup Russia annexed Crimea and turned it into an administrated region of the Russian Federation.

Azov Battalion is only one of approximately fifty volunteer organisations within the Ukrainian war. The border between Ukraine and Russian occupied Crimea is patrolled by a far right nationalist paramilitary called Right/Pravy sector whose flag design is based on the OUN-B which was a group funded by Nazi Germany to fight against the Soviet Union. Neo-Nazism in high up Ukrainian politics is not something of the past.

Who was Stephan Bandera and why is he important?

A picture of Ukrainian nationalist leader Stephan Bandera in Kiev city hall. Bandera led an anti-Soviet terrorist group called the OUN-B which received funding from Nazi Germany and killed members of Soviet collective farms.

One man who constantly appears in images of Ukrainian nationalists is a man called Stephan Bandera, a very popular historical figure among Ukrainian nationalists. Stephan Bandera was a Ukrainian nationalist who was a member of an anti-communist rebel group called the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). The OUN split and Bandera became the leader of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists — Bandera (OUN-B). The OUN-B conducted numerous attacks on Soviet collective farms and killed many Soviet officials and supporters. When Germany invaded Ukraine the OUN-B worked with them to fight against the Soviet Union and even aided in the holocaust against Jews and Polish people. However the OUN-B later came into armed conflict with Germany and Stephan Bandera was sent to a German prison camp. As the Soviets moved further east during World War 2, the Nazis released Bandera and funded the OUN-B in an attempt to slow down the Soviet advance.

In Kiev a gigantic portrait of Stephan Bandera is currently hanging above city hall, the centre of Ukraine’s capital city. Despite witnessing white supremacist symbols and Stephan Bandera Portraits displayed alongside American confederate flags inside Kiev city hall, the BBC attempted to play it down as if this was only a small fringe fraction of the anti-Russian mobs. Despite the Ukrainian government arming open Neo-Nazis with military weapons and the fact that many high up Ukrainian politicians are ex-members of the now dissolved Neo-Nazi party the Socialist Nationalist Party of Ukraine, the BBC claims that “ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers are not being attacked or under threat of violence. And anti-Semitism has played absolutely no role in the demonstrations and government.”

The western media response

Such claims are typical of western media outlets, who are currently falling over themselves to justify arming and training open fascists and Neo-Nazis with stories of “Russian aggression”. Britain and the United States have sent military equipment to the Ukrainian government in support of Poroshenko’s government. According to the BBC the British armed forces have sent military officials to train Ukrainian soldiers.

The news that British troops are currently training Ukrainian armed forceshow to use advanced military equipment should shock the world, but the silence on Ukraine in western media is silent unless it can somehow be used to attack Russia’s reputation on the world stage.

Margaret Thatcher telling the Mujahideen that “the hearts of the free world are with you” on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border in 1981.

In the eyes of the United Kingdom and the United States, fascism is preferable to peaceful cooperation with Russia. Let’s not forget how the USA supported the Mujahideen in Afghanistan which set the stage for religious extremists to dominate Afghanistan, their support and shelter of German and Japanese war criminals after World War 2 to spread propaganda against the Soviet Union during the cold war, their invasion of Russia during the civil war in the 1920s, and their current support of rebels in Syria which has seen many of their weapons getting into the hands of ISIS and similar groups of anti-Syrian religious zealots. Ever since the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, the UK and USA have always been the aggressors whenever it has come to confrontation with Russia.

The BBC before the fascists gained power
The BBC after the fascists gained power

It is interesting to note however that the claims made by western media outlets such as the BBC have rapidly changed since the western backed government Poroshenko government took power. In early 2014 (before Poroshenko took power on the 7th June 2014), BBC Newsnight aired a documentary which showed how extensively far right nationalists and fascists had infiltrated the anti-government protests and conducted the coup. BBC Newsnight’s uploaded a documentary onto YouTube titled “Neo-Nazi threat in new Ukraine: NEWSNIGHT“ by Gabriel Gatehouse which shows BBC camera men being escorted around Ukraine by far right paramilitaries of Right/Pravy sector and being introduced to the armed white supremacists of C14. These groups showed gave the BBC reporters a tour of the ruined headquarters of the Ukrainian Communist Party which nationalists and white supremacists had taken over and occupied. However as mentioned above the BBC rapidly changed its view on the Ukrainian war soon after Poroshenko came to power. In February 2015 the BBC posted an article with a video showing BBC reporter Rupert Wingfield-Hayes visiting Azov Battalion in Mariupol. In the video report Rupert Wingfield-Hayes trips over himself to praise the Neo-Nazi militia, almost coming close to painting them as heroes. In the report he says that Azov have “been accused of having Neo-Nazis in its ranks”. Men sporting Neo-Nazi symbols fire guns just meters behind him as he says this.

As to be expected of any fascist coup, the Communists were some of the first to be targeted. The Communist party has been outlawed in Ukraine and priests were invited by the authorities to sprinkle holy water on the seats the communist party leaders once sat on. Far right nationalists and white supremacists stormed the headquarters of the Ukrainian communist party, as shown by BBC Newsnight, and communist symbols such as the hammer and sickle and red star have been outlawed.

(This article was first published in 2016 on before the site was taken down. This article has been edited several times to correct factual mistakes)



Matt Florence

Matt Florence is historian and journalist from England.