Ukraine’s ultra-right increasingly visible as election nears

While the far-right groups have so far failed to unite behind a single presidential candidate, they have gained growing clout, with the government reluctant to challenge them. Andriy Biletsky, the leader of the National Corps, one of the most visible ultra-right groups, predicted that the nationalists «will become the backbone of civil defence in Ukraine.»

Supporters of Petro Poroshenko gather during an election campaign rally in Khmilnyk on Wednesday.

Supporters of Petro Poroshenko gather during an election campaign rally in Khmilnyk on Wednesday. Credit:AP

Andriy Yermolayev, the head of the New Ukraine independent thinktank, said the government in the past had turned a blind eye to the rise of nationalist groups, using them as a scare tactic. He added that now the ultra-right has turned on the authorities.

«The well-organised and aggressive nationalism in Ukraine is a child of the government,» Yermolayev said. «The government has lost control over radical nationalists. Poroshenko has lost that game.»

The government has also been beset by allegations of corruption after a journalistic investigation linked Poroshenko’s top associate and an arms factory he controls to alleged embezzlement in the defence sector. The president denied any wrongdoing and ordered an official probe into the claims.

The country’s ultranationalist groups came to the fore in 2014, when they spearheaded massive street protests that led to the ouster of Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych. Russia responded by annexing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backing separatists in the east, moves that drew Western sanctions. Thousands of Ukrainian nationalists then headed to the east, forming volunteer battalions that served as a vanguard for the Ukrainian forces in the rebel regions.


Since then, the influence of nationalist groups has steadily grown, driven by public dismay over the country’s economic woes and rampant corruption. Mostly teenage members of the ultra-right groups have followed the guidance of war veterans, practising martial arts and learning how to handle weapons. The number of ultra-nationalists is estimated at about 10,000, and they can quickly take thousands to the streets and resort to violence.

«They have undergone organisational, military and ideological training,» Yermolayev said. «They are strongly motivated and active.»

Torch-bearing ultra-right activists regularly march to the beat of drums across the downtown Ukrainian capital, chanting «Death to Traitors of Ukraine!» During one scuffle at the memorial to a Red Army general killed in World War II, an elderly woman approached a group of radical nationalists shouting «Hang the Russians!» and defied them, saying: «I’m Russian, hang me!» One of the right-wingers, Kiryl Nedin, pushed her back and was briefly detained for resisting police.

At one demonstration, Yevhen Karas, the leader of C14, a highly visible nationalist group, boasted of the growing power of the ultra-right.

«Of all the political parties in Ukraine, I think, no one (except us) can gather so many people, who sincerely and regularly will come to protests and actions,» he said.

International human rights groups have strongly criticised the Ukrainian government for failing to track down and punish those responsible for the acts of violence and intimidation. The government has promised to rein in the ultranationalists, but has taken no action.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the right-wing organisations will be stopped.

«They all know it very well,» he said. «And… there will be no amnesty for them.»

The Ukrainian ultra-right argues that the nationalist ideology will eventually prevail not only in Ukraine but across Europe as well. A growing nationalist wave has taken hold in Europe, with populist governments in countries like Hungary and Poland and an increased presence of the far-right Alternative for Germany party in Germany’s politics.

Members of nationalist movements march during a rally marking Defender of Ukraine Day in Kiev, IN October 2018.

Members of nationalist movements march during a rally marking Defender of Ukraine Day in Kiev, IN October 2018.Credit:AP

Miroslav Mares, an expert on right-wing extremist groups at Brno University, said Ukraine’s far right has been successful in reaching out to ultranationalist forces in Europe.

«They have good relations to some neo-Nazi groupings in Central and Eastern Europe,» Mares said. He added that early in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, some members of Europe’s neo-Nazi groups trained and fought with the Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian ultra-right paramilitary group created by Biletsky that advocated white supremacist views.

The Ukrainian far right also appears to have ties in other countries. Australian Brenton Tarrant, accused of slaughtering 50 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch in New Zealand, mentioned a visit to Ukraine in his manifesto, and some reports alleged that he had contacts with the ultra-right. The Soufan Center, a research group specialising on security, has recently alleged possible links between Tarrant and the Azov Battalion.

Yermolayev, the political analyst, noted that a violent image projected by Ukrainian nationalists could serve as an argument for those in the European Union who are reluctant about putting Ukraine on a membership track any time soon.

«How can you integrate a country plagued not only by corruption but also nationalism?» he said.


Most Viewed in World





You may also like...