By Nat South for the Saker Blog
There are some comments made on social media, to whitewash and downplay the serious issue regarding a far-right/ ultranationalist movement in Ukraine. Such simplistic takes are seen as a sound reason for denying a Russian military intervention* in Ukraine. This article provides some responses to these, by using a combination of corporate MSM and Ukrainian information to address the points made about a handful of far-right groups and individuals and their influence.
- How many deputies does Right Sector or other ultranationalists have in the Ukrainian Rada?
Remarkably, people use this stance over and over on social media and in the press to justify that there is no ultranationalism problem in Ukraine. To them, support & evidence and ultra-nationalism ought to translate into votes and winning seats in the Ukrainian parliament. If only it were as simple it is seems. It goes much much deeper, and the roots are deeply established.
The focus isn’t that there are just a few ultra-nationalists that were elected to politics recently, but how since 2014 ultra-nationalists were a vector for unsettling changes in socio-political structures and provided cover for wider acceptance of an overtly fascist ethno- nationalism within Ukrainian institutions, namely in education and in the military.
Roll back a few years, there were plenty that used their status as a volunteer fighter in Donbass (known as the Anti-Terrorism Operation — ATO) to get elected back in 2014. Practically all of them lost in the 2019 parliamentary elections. This is the crucial aspect to carefully note. The background to the 2019 parliamentary elections was when Zelensky had been elected as president on a platform to bring peace to the country.
Here are some examples of the Donbass ATO unit members who become deputies:
- Ex-commander Azov battalion: Andriy Biletsky (ex Verkhovna Rada deputy 2014- 2019), founder of the neo-Nazi Social-National Assembly;
- Ex-commander Aidar battalion: Sergei Melnichuk (Ex-Rada deputy 2014-2019);
- Ex- company commander, Aidar: Ihor Lapin (Ex- Rada deputy 2014-2019);
- Ex- Dnipro Battalion commander: Yuriy Bereza
- Ex-Aidar volunteer, helicopter pilot, Nadiya Savchenko — Ex-Rada deputy (2014-2018)
- Ex-commander of Donbass battalion: Konstantin Grishin, former Rada deputy, (Self-Help party), alias – Semyon Semenchenko.
Only of one of the above was elected and represented a radical right party, the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko, all of the others stood for mainstream political parties. Notably, the leader of the Radical Party (RP) Oleh Lyashko did admit that members of his party murdered anti-Maidan leaders during the ‘revolution of dignity’ and extrajudicial murders of non-combatants in Torez in 2014.
Yet, all of the above Rada Deputies served in far right / ultranationalist volunteer units. The very same nationalist units cited on multiple occasions in human right reports for “credible allegations of torture and other egregious abuses” + incommunicado detention & violence against civilians . Additionally, there are many others who fought in Donbass and also became Rada deputies.
Moreover, many of the far-right fringe groups successfully stood for election in 2014, reflecting a change in perception. However, 5 years later, the reality of what the ultra-nationalists brought with them, (regular threats, conflict, language & cultural restrictions, corruption, crime) was no longer acceptable to the majority of ordinary voters.
“The election result was the one-party majority, a novelty in Ukraine, for President Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party with 254 seats.” Wikipedia. This is the crux of the matter, people wanted a change, people just did not want to vote for the ultranationalists parties and their policies. The likes of Svoboda, led by Oleh Tyahnybok did get 2.15% and just the one seat in the Verkhovna Rada. Even Oleh Lyashko lost his seat in 2019.
During the last 8 years, a number of prominent ultra-nationalist groups have made their mark on Ukrainian society. The notorious Azov’s political wing, the National Corps headed by none other than the ex-Azov commander, Andrei Biletskiy, as well as Right Sector, and its armed Volunteer Ukrainian Corps (DUK) and UVA, along with Svoboda linked groups, (key Maidan participants), have been consistently and fiercely opposed to any sort of a peace settlement in Donbass.
Similarly, the ex-Rada deputies, who participated in the Donbass ATO, other ultra-nationalists, have to date, largely enjoyed judicial impunity in the wake of committing crimes, given their official status and connections to military and nationalist units. Some examples of this are provided later in the article.
Electorally, the ultranationalist parties may not be popular and get parliamentary seats, due to a wish for a change in politics, namely a peace settlement in Donbass, but also due to the various fractions, frictions and bickering between ultranationalists groups. Obtaining a peace settlement was one of the main electoral promises made by Zelensky in 2019. Hence, the overwhelming election of Zelensky, across the board, with 73% of the votes, apparently due to widespread disenchantment with Petro Poroshenko’s policies.
Ever since the events in Maidan back in 2014, ultra-nationalists have latched themselves in various sectors, local politics, police, the security service (SBU) and military structures. There are numerous examples of this over this 8-year period, too many to cite here, but just a couple examples provided to underscore the extent of the power and influence of ultra-nationalists in Ukraine, as well as highlight the cooperation between official bodies and far-right groups and outline some of the ties that ultra-nationalists have.
A suspect in the 2015 murder of the journalist Oles’ Buzina, an ultranationalist, ex-ATO volunteer (Kyiv-2), Andrey Medvedko, (ex-Svoboda Party, ex C-14) was voted in 2019 to the public council of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU). Medvedko was never put on trial.
Avowed neo-nazi, Azov deputy commander, Vadim Troyan, was appointed in 2014 by the Interior minister (MVD), Arsen Avakov, as police chief for Kyiv Oblast & later in 2016, promoted to 1st deputy chief of the new National Police.
It is the same MVD minister, Avakov, who helped to create the ATO volunteer battalions in 2014, but also backed Azov as well, and then integrated Azov into the National Guard structure. This is the same Interior minister who said in 2014, “to promise the Russians anything, and then hang them after the victory”.
In 2018, C-14 was used as a vigilante group, signed a partnership with a local Kyiv Council and also the police to carry out patrols. This is the same group that got sponsorship from the Ministry of Youth & Sports, “under less $17,000 for a children’s camp.” The same C-14 that carried out pogroms against Roma. The C-14 leader, Yevhen Yaras openly acknowledged working with the Ukrainian security service, (SBU).
Just when things couldn’t actually deteriorate regarding deeply unsavoury shenanigans at the highest levels, Zelensky appointed Oleksandr Poklad as the SBU’s counter-intelligence chief in 2021. Poklad known as the ‘The Strangler’ is a decidedly shady character, typical of the post-Maidan scene, with links to organised crimes and involvement in extrajudicial killings.
March 2022, some everyday examples of ultra-nationalists in power, as mayors of Ivano-Frankivsk, Konotop (article) or the city council of Ternopil with their huge banner of Bandera. In fact, they don’t hide the fact that they revere Bandera and his ideology, (more on this in the 2nd part of this article).
Over just half of all the funds allocated by the Ukrainian government for children’s and youth organisations in 2020 went to various ultra-nationalist projects. All done primarily to foster and increase an already existing popularity for Bandera.
Now replicate these examples a thousand times over, across Ukraine over eight years to get a sense of the tip of the ultra-nationalist iceberg. More examples are also provided later in the article.
Back in 2019, Zelensky tried to advocate for peace, but ended up appeasing the ultra-nationalists and of late, progressively established himself more and more with individuals and groups, from those very same radical ultra nationalist / extremists entities.
Ex-president Petro Poroshenko, likewise has used the nationalist leaders and groups during the 1st December 2021 demonstrations against Zelensky. Basically, a rent-a-mob those various political entities use to their advantage. This exchange of mindsets isn’t surprising, given that Andriy Parubiy,  , the co-founder of Social Nationalist Party of Ukraine, was the on the party list for Poroshenko’s “European Solidarity Party”. An example of an ultra-nationalist gaining some traction by extending into the ‘conventional’ political system.
Although the ultra-nationalists as political parties are on the margins, they still have significant socio-political influence wider in society. For instance, the parades and massive torchlight rallies in Ukraine by various ultra-nationalists, approved by local authorities and local enforcement, reminiscent of the 1930’s torchlight processions. Paradoxically, the Western press expressed anguish and anger when such a torchlight march took place in in Charlottesville, USA, the one. But in Ukraine, nothing of the sort is expressed by Western corporate MSM on the numerous marches in various Ukrainian cities.
Additionally, although Zelensky initially make some tentative steps to try and get a peace settlement back in autumn 2019, this was totally scuppered by the threats made by ultra-nationalists, who forcefully asserted their “No Capitulation” campaign. Other high-profile Ukrainian politicians “drew red lines that Zelensky should not cross during the Normandy Format meeting”.
Moreover, no concerted attempts were made by Brussels, Washington or the OSCE to effectively pressurise Zelensky to cut loose from using ultra-nationalist units in the military, (first and foremost: Azov), nor were any efforts made to assist Zelensky in removing the ultra-nationalists out of official or elected positions.
2. There are just a handful of neo-Nazis / ultra-nationalists / extremists. Or, they’re only 0,005% of the military.
By solely mentioning ‘Azov’ as being teeming with Neo-Nazis, alleging that there are only about 900 to 1500 members, thus stating that is it a relatively small proportion compared to the total Ukrainian armed forces. Thus, the Neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists is correspondingly insignificant. As if that was okay to start with.
“Ah but there are neo-Nazis in most militaries…” This type of comment misses the point completely. Only Ukraine has tolerated whole units with Neo-Nazis or supporters of Bandera and allowed units to have fascist-inspired insignia and flags. Only in Ukraine, is overt Neo-Nazi ideology permitted in the ranks. For the sake of fighting the ‘Muscovites’.
Yet, just Azov accounts for more than 1500 volunteers, up to double or triple that numbers, given the other battalions, as well as 2 regiments and other units across Ukraine. Add in the Right Sector’s units, conservatively estimated at around 10,000 volunteers. Not included are also other ultra-nationalist military units, Aidar, Donbass, nor the special police battalions, including Kharkiv, Dnipro, Kyiv-1, Kyiv-2 and a dozen other units. Then there are others such as the Carpathian Sich, OUN volunteers and foreign volunteer units. Their odious ideology and zeal is matched with their outright hatred for Russians. Some ultra-nationalists love to wear the Totenkopf, a symbol by the SS stormtroopers, who considered themselves to be the elite. These ultra-nationalists are currently the spearhead in fighting Russian forces across Ukraine.
Recently, the French President, Emmanuel Macron claimed that Russia’s special operation to demilitarise and “de-Nazify” Ukraine is “not a fight against Nazism”. A prime example of the denial or attempt to ignore some deeply serious issues that are being constantly overlooked by Western politicians and MSM. Evidently, he never got to read The Atlantic Council’s 2018 article Ukraine’s far-right problems or browsed through this photo essay.
The concept of ‘de-nazifying’ is probably totally lost on most people in the West. What should have been added was a reference to reclaiming nazi-era ideology and glorifying nationally a nazi-inspired supremacist. Even Zelensky stated categorically that “this is a normal and cool thing.” Why would he need to say such things if it wasn’t to placate and please a certain part of Ukrainian society?
“There are indisputable heroes. Stepan Bandera is a hero for a certain part of Ukrainians, and this is a normal and cool thing. He was one of those who defended the freedom of Ukraine.” Zelensky
Ethno-ultra-nationalism in Ukraine has different strands, but all converge on reclaiming the ideology espoused by Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and Ukrainian Partisan Army (UPA) and their activities in the 1940’s. Right Sector, OUN, C-14, National Corps foster and practice a cult principally centred on Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych, (See the photo below — Bandera Readings 2022, for an example). The government is no exception either, along with the Rada as well in promoting, nurturing these WWII fascist leaders, in order to establish them as part of Ukrainian culture. Bandera has been officially recognised as a national hero since 2010. Maidan was the catalyst in accelerating this process, more violently, more brutally on one hand and more insidiously by officials in education, culture and the military. Violent far right units that got patronage from Washington and Brussels.
As the C-14 leader, Yevhen Yaras stated back in February, it is not a question of numbers per se, but actual influence and capability to mobilise people and resources. This was the vividly the case in Maidan, (as reported in a BBC documentary), and as he clearly said in his talk, and it is still certainly the case nowadays.
A clear example of this influence happened in December 2021, when Zelensky appointed the Right Sector founder, Dmitro Yarosh, as advisor to the chief of the general staff of the Ukrainian armed forces. More recently, in March 2022, Zelensky appointed the ex-Aidar commander, Maksym Marchenko, as the new head of the Odessa Administration.
Ultra-nationalists have been unable to regain a political foothold via the political parties, yet this doesn’t stop them from asserting their presence in society in general:
- marches & demonstrations; (15,000 Ukraine nationalists march for divisive Bandera — USA Today)
- disrupting council meetings & court proceedings; (BBC documentary 2018)
- pogroms against Roma (Kyiv, Lviv);
- attacked other protests & events (LGBT, environmentalists, International women’ s day marchers) as reported by HRW;
- intimidation, blackmail and murders of opponents.
Their deeply unsavoury activities did raise alarm by human right and civic groups back in 2018. The concerns were about how the far right “created an atmosphere of near total impunity that cannot but embolden these groups to commit more attacks“. This deplorable situation has never been dealt with by authorities. Fast-forward five years, the reluctance was still there to even start tackling part of the problem. Rather than being seen as a liability, their presence is seen in some quarters as a necessary obligation.
Thus, the ultra-nationalists gained a firmer foothold, by the fact that they were the ones who went to the ATO, the ones willing to continue fighting in Donbass. Add in a perpetual fear that these groups could turn against the government or officials, as recently evidenced by the 1st of December 2021 protests, no official is willing to confront them. This shows the extent of the influence and power that they can wield. For instance, Dmytro Yarosh, the founder of Right Sector publicly threatened Zelensky in an interview that he would hang from a tree.
Since 2018, a continuous effort has been made to legitimise Ukraine’s extremists, (i.e. 2018 — National Militia cooperation with the police, during the 2019 election). Even though, groups linked to Azov, and both military wings of Right Sector are in fact illegal military groups, not officially part of the military or National Guard structure, it is telling how they are seen and valued at the highest levels of government.
1st December 2021 saw Zelenskiy in the Verkhovna Rada, giving the country’s highest state award, “Hero of Ukraine”, to the Right Sector unit commander, Dmitro Kotsyubailo. The unit is part of the Right Sector’s Volunteer Ukrainian Corps (DUK), a stand-alone irregular military unit, part of Right Sector.
A reminder to the readers that Right Sector units are predominantly manned by ultra-nationalists and neo-nazis. An example is Dmitro Kotsyubailo himself as one of thousands of examples, (centre photo with statue of Bandera and Right Sector flags):
Dmitro Kotsyubailo’s unit has been given anti-tank missile systems. Likewise, an Azov unit in Kharkiv got given the same systems, as this tweet shows:
As I said earlier, here are the ultra-nationalist units that get fast tracked training & access to NATO weaponry, as part of a total of $2.5 billion given by the U.S. alone to Ukraine. This isn’t indicative of a tolerance by Kyiv, but tacit acceptance of these units as well as the ideological stance that they have. Not only Kyiv, but Washington, London, Paris, and Brussels. A modern-day revamping of Op Gladio style units to fight the Russian military now and Donbass units since 2014.
A broader perspective can be glimpse through these selected headlines:
- For Ukraine’s Far Right, War With Russia Can Be an Opportunity (Haaretz 2022)
- Preparing for War With Ukraine’s Fascist Defenders of Freedom (Foreign Policy 2014)
- A Year After 1/6, Ukraine’s War Draws U.S. Far-Right to Fight Russia, Train for Violence at Home (Newsweek 2022)
Western politicians, corporate media, think tanks experts are blatantly ignoring these deeply unpleasant aspects in Ukraine. However, given the widely circulated MSM articles that flagged up the far-right in Ukraine, most media outlets and journalists are willingly glossing over these aspects as well as the accompanying violence and brutality against civilians for daring to oppose this Ukrainian ideology. All in the pursuit of fighting the Russian military.
It is fair to say that overtly fascist elements provide a stream of volunteers for Azov, Right Sector, C-14, OUN, National Corps, and others, whose members have been integrated into the military, National Guard, police, security services & also in mainstream political parties. Paradoxically, the Russian intervention has provided a catalyst for the growth in Ukrainian ultra-nationalist military units.
Blindsided by citing simplistic comments, those who do not wish to look any further, as such, for them, there are just a handful of weak ultranationalists. Case closed, conveniently so for them. Yet, the disturbing reality shows the opposite and this article only attempted to provide a brief insight. The Ukrainian ultra-nationalists certainly pack a punch above their weight.
Both the U.S and Europe only understand to some extent the considerable danger represented by violent extremism when is present in their countries. Yet, they shut their eyes to very same danger, amplified by a conflict, fostered with the connivance of authorities.
* to use a standard U.S. and NATO MSM/military terminology.
 which became the political party ‘Svoboda’. He was also the leading hand of Euromaidan “Self-Defense” fighters and activists.