Ukraine has since February 24th, 2022 been under siege. Due to the conditions of war resulting from the Russian invasion, we cannot at this time provide accurately validated and verified data and information on the current situation in neither Ukraine nor Russia.
The Russian regime is through warfare, crackdowns and legislation suppressing all independent and free media in both countries, this affects reporting by local and foreign journalists. The general media coverage is contaminated with propaganda.
As a result of this, we ask visitors to this site to be patient as we are steadily trying to provide validated and verifiable information on the war, its background and the role of far-right actors among those fighting in this conflict.
The change of power resulting from the 2013-2014 Euromaidan protests, the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by the Russian Federation, as well as the outbreak of war in the east of Ukraine led to profound social, political and economic changes. The militarized society is facing an economic crisis and the rise of radicalism, in particular, of far-right forces.
Today, Ukraine remains one of the poorest countries in Europe. Labour migration to European Union countries (primarily Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia) has become a mass phenomenon since 2015. The rate of migration has decreased only because of quarantine restrictions. The war also caused internal migration. As of 2021, about 1.5 million internally displaced persons from the east of the country have been registered.
Public attitudes in Ukraine remain extremely polarized. Although Volodymyr Zelensky won the 2019 presidential election with 76% of the vote, and Servant of the People, the President’s party formed a mono-majority in the parliament, over the years the ruling team has lost popular support. There is also a significant regional division in support of pro-Western and pro-Russian political forces. Since 2021, a radical change in Zelensky’s politics towards a more authoritarian model of governance has been observed. An extrajudicial system of sanctions based on decisions of the National Security and Defense Council is used against political opponents, their businesses and controlled media.
Despite a notable increase in the number of human rights, feminist, and LGBT+ initiatives supported by Western institutions, the human rights situation in Ukraine remains difficult. Hate crimes are almost never investigated. The activists face daily obstruction of their activities, including attacks by the far-right. Nationalist rhetoric is normalized in society, and the change of power in 2019 did not affect this.
While the problems of some social groups are widely represented in the media thanks to the work of non-governmental public organizations, the others remain marginalized. The members of the Roma community remain the most vulnerable group. In the same way, xenophobia towards Russians is normalized, which is justified by the continuing conflict in the east of Ukraine and the threat of a full-scale war.
Status of the far-right in the country
Euromaidan protests and the outbreak of war in the east in 2014 contributed to the significant growth of the far-right in the country. The ultra-rightists gained considerable moral authority as Maidan participants and war veterans, while a weakened version of nationalism became the dominant ideology. During the war years, the far-right also gained military experience, access to weapons, positions in the security services and the opportunity to receive grant funding from the state for their own projects.
According to the Marker monitoring group, there were 81 cases of far-right violence in Ukraine in 2020. Groups most at risk of attack include representatives of those opposition political forces, which the far-rightists consider to be pro-Russian; the LGBT+ community; the feminist movement; representatives of youth subcultures; leftists; anti-fascists, and journalists. The peak of far-right activity typically occurs during nationwide political events, such as parliamentary, presidential, or local elections, as well as the months of Pride.
The largest far-right group in Ukraine is the Azov Movement. It includes the National Corps party as its political wing, the Azov National Guard Regiment as its military wing, and the Centuria organization (called National Vigilantes until 2020) as its street paramilitary wing. Many other groups and organizations are also part of the orbit of the National Corps. The movement is led by Andriy Biletsky, the head of the National Corps party.
Other important actors include the All-Ukrainian Union “Freedom” (Svoboda Party), the Right Sector, the Basics of Future (former C14), and others. Despite the electoral failure of the nationalists, who united around the All-Ukrainian Union “Freedom”, in the 2019 parliamentary elections (the bloc gained 2.15% of the vote and did not enter the parliament), the party has mayors in three regional centres: Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil and Khmelnytskyi, as well as one deputy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, elected in a single-mandate district.
Ukraine was also a place of emigration for neo-Nazis from the Russian Federation who had taken a pro-Ukrainian stance in the conflict. Some of them served at the front as members of the Azov regiment. Among them are Sergey Korotkikh (Botsman, Malyuta), Denis Kapustin (“Nikitin,” “White Rex”), Alexey Levkin, Mikhail Shalankevich, and others.
Most far-right groups do not openly conflict with each other, although a division of interests is observed. The National Corps is the recognized hegemon of the far-right scene, mostly focused on violence against political opponents from among the pro-Russian opposition. However, its members often join the radical actions of other, smaller groups. Smaller far-right organizations, especially those focused on street violence rather than on the political movement, also actively cooperate with one another. The most notable cooperation in 2021 was between the Basics of Future (former C14), the National Resistance, and Tradition and Order/Ukrainian Flag.
Status of antifascists in the country
The active use of pseudo-antifascist rhetoric by Russian propaganda and the myth of the Great Patriotic War (a propaganda interpretation of WW2) as the basis for the separatist movement in the Donbas have significantly discredited the antifascist movement, which had not been numerous even before 2014. Today, the representatives of the Russia-oriented oligarchic parties speak in the name of anti-fascism. Both far-right and patriotically-minded public figures emphasize that anti-fascism is in fact nothing more than a pro-Russian position. From their point of view, only Kremlin admirers can talk about the ultra-right in the country.
Despite this, there are anti-fascist groups in Ukraine that have recently become increasingly active. They join street rallies organized by both leftist and liberal movements (March 8, LGBT+ Pride), arrange actions of solidarity with anti-fascists from neighbouring countries, and organize direct actions against neo-Nazis. Nevertheless, the monopoly on street violence still belongs to the ultra-right. Their mobilization potential far exceeds the anti-fascist potential, they can count on impunity for violent actions, patronage from deputies and officials, as well as the mainstream press, where a national-patriotic consensus prevails. This allows the media not to talk about ultra-right violence, especially if it is aimed at unpopular social groups.
Key moments in the development of the nationalist movement generally coincide with key political events in the history of independent Ukraine.
Before the events of the first Maidan in 2004, the far-right movement was extensive and influential.
The most prominent right-wing radical organization of the 1990s was UNA-UNSO (Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense), whose members participated in the Transnistria conflict, the wars in Georgia and Chechnya. They also became the basis of the power bloc during the Ukraine without Kuchma mass protest campaign in 2001. The protesters demanded that the then President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma be removed from power. As a result of the confrontation with the police, many members of the UNA-UNSO were arrested and imprisoned for several years. In fact, the organization never resumed after that, although formally it still exists today.
Another powerful nationalist organization, the All-Ukrainian Union “Freedom” referred to as Svoboda Party, has radical right-wing roots. It arose as a result of a rebranding of the Social Nationalist Party along with some significant weakening of its rhetoric. In 2003, during the presidential elections that ended the first Maidan, Svoboda supported the opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. The leader of Svoboda, Oleh Tyahnybok, has been remembered for his anti-Semitic statement, which was broadly propagated by the pro-government media, made at an action in support of Yuschenko. Nevertheless, this even helped Svoboda become the country’s main nationalist organization.
During the parliamentary elections in 2012, Svoboda received the highest level of electoral support among explicitly nationalist Ukrainian political forces over the whole independence period – 10.45%, having won 37 seats in the Verkhovna Rada.
The main event that brought the far-right movement from the margins was the Euromaidan and the beginning of the war in eastern Ukraine in 2013-2014. The most prominent right-wing organization during Maidan was the Right Sector. It became a symbol of the radical wing of the protest and united quite a few people who had not previously identified themselves with nationalism. However, the Right Sector failed to convert its popularity during the Maidan into political capital and lost its leading position after a couple of years, giving way to the Azov Movement.
Azov (and the National Corps party later) eventually became the most recognizable far-right organization in Ukraine due to its active participation in combat operations during the first years of the conflict, its far-right ideology, recruitment of members of the football fan movement, and purposeful work to create its own myth, including in the West. In some aspects, Azov became the regional leader of the movement. Overall, Maidan made nationalism the dominant ideology in Ukraine’s humanitarian policy, normalized far-right political forces, and allowed far-right organizations to establish a monopoly on street violence.
The normalization of the far-right after Maidan and their entry into civil society also imposed certain restrictions, forcing them to intelligently form their media strategy. While in the 1990s and 2000s far-right violence was often subcultural and directed against visible national minorities and anti-fascists, since 2014 the strategy has changed significantly. Today, attacks on people because of skin colour are extremely rare, as well as anti-Semitic attacks by organized far-right groups. The main targets have become their political opponents (predominantly pro-Russian forces or those whom the far-right refers to as such), marginalized ethnic communities (Roma), LGBT+ activists, feminists, and leftists.
The most violent attacks over the few past years were:
– The 2015 far-right attack on the Equality March (Kyiv Pride), which turned into a mass beating of participants. A law enforcement officer was wounded in the neck by a homemade grenade explosion;
– protests at the Verkhovna Rada on 31 August 2015 against the adoption of constitutional amendments regarding the special status of the Donbas, which were necessary for the implementation of the Minsk agreements to end the war in the east of Ukraine. As a result of the use of a live grenade, 157 people were injured and three members of the National Guard were killed;
– The murder of writer Oles Buzina in 2015, allegedly committed by two members of the far-right C14 organization (renamed as the Basics of Future);
– a series of Roma pogroms in 2018, culminating in the murder of 24-year-old David Pap and stabbings of his family members. The pogroms were started by C14 members, who destroyed a temporary Roma settlement in Kyiv, after which the initiative was picked up by other rightist organizations in various Ukrainian cities;
– An attack by members of the National Corps on a bus with members of Patriots for Life in 2020. They stopped the bus on a highway and shot with traumatic weapons.
Ukrainian far-rightists have always maintained ties with like-minded people from neighbouring post-Soviet countries. Until 2014, there was a common field of interaction between the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian far-right, united by concerts and friendship of football fan groups. More respectable right-wing organizations such as the Svoboda Party also tried to build international relations, in particular by meeting with members of Marine Le Pen’s National Front, Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party, Jobbik and other European right-wingers.
2014 was a turning point for the Ukrainian right, as the sympathies of nationalists from different countries were divided between support for Ukraine and Russia. Some of the contacts with parties that supported Russia were lost, and one of the main tasks was to promote a pro-Ukrainian position. Today, the main promoter of Ukraine on the international far-right scene is the Azov Movement and its political wing, the National Corps party. Olena Semenyaka is the person responsible for international relations.
The strategic political goal voiced by the National Corps is to build an Intermarium – an interstate association of countries between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea based on conservative values, which would cut Russia off from Western Europe. The Intermarium Support Group, which regularly holds international conferences hosting right-wing politicians and experts, was made to promote the idea.
Another strategy for the Azov Movement is to involve international ultra-rightists in fighting on the side of Ukraine. During the active phase of the war in the Donbas, groups were active in Western Europe to recruit far-right fighters to the Azov Battalion. When the intensity of the conflict declined and Azov was withdrawn from the front lines, its main activity became military training. Thanks to the access of the Azov members to weapons and military training grounds, Azov became a military hub for far-right activists from around the world. Today, however, this direction is no longer as active.
Azov helped some ultra-rightists move to Ukraine. These primarily were Russian and Belarusian neo-Nazis, but also several citizens of the United States and Western Europe. The emigration from Russia was also facilitated by a wave of prosecutions undertaken by Russian security services against neo-Nazis in criminal cases since the 2000s. The absence of a language barrier, long-standing personal contacts, and a historical pull of ties between movements in neighbouring countries made this emigration quite comfortable. One of the most prominent Russian far-right activists who joined Azov back in 2014, Sergey Korotkikh (Botsman), explicitly called for all Russian far-right activists to move to Ukraine. In his words, “anything was possible” there. Some right-wing emigrants from Russia, such as the organizer of far-right MMA tournaments Denis Kapustin or the leader of the M8L8TH band Alexei Levkin, also use their connections in Europe to popularize the Ukrainian far-right.
The far-right parties are barely represented in the parliament. The All-Ukrainian Union “Freedom” (Svoboda Party) had the greatest electoral success in 2012, winning 37 seats in the Verkhovna Rada. In the 2020 elections, the united bloc of nationalists won only 2.15%, failing to cross the 5% electoral threshold. Only one representative of Svoboda entered parliament under the majoritarian system. These results can also be explained by the fact that mainstream political parties adopted nationalist rhetoric after Maidan. However, the nationalists still have good positions in local councils, mostly in Western Ukraine, and Svoboda representatives are mayors of several cities, including three regional centres.
But the influence of the ultra-right on political processes through street control far exceeds their electoral successes. The peaks of far-right violence traditionally occur during election campaigns. In some cases the far-right have actually occupied the city or regional councils, pressuring the deputies and demanding that they make certain decisions. They also situationally cooperate with parliamentary parties, propose draft laws, participate in joint protests, harass opposition politicians, and disrupt their events. In general, they are perceived as an influential political force with significant mobilization potential, which no other political party has.
The National Corps party and the Azov regiment were traditionally associated with former Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who held the post from 2014 to mid-2021. Avakov’s connection to the leader of the National Corps, Andriy Biletsky, can be traced even further back to the time when Avakov was a politician in Kharkiv and Biletsky was the head of the Kharkiv neo-Nazi Patriot of Ukraine organization. Avakov’s son also has friendly relations with Russian neo-Nazi Sergey Korotkikh (Botsman), who joined the Azov Movement.
The nationalist forces in Ukraine mostly claim to be in opposition. However, the nationalists got a number of ministerial portfolios in the post-Maidan government, as well as the post of deputy speaker of the Verkhovna Rada. Subsequently, most of the nationalist ministers lost their positions.
The position of the National Corps can be described as politically flexible. During the 2019 presidential elections, they staged a massive campaign against incumbent President Petro Poroshenko, who was trying to remain in office for a second term. Members of the National Corps harassed the President during his tour and disrupted election meetings. Poroshenko built the campaign around the nationalist slogan “Army. Language. Faith”, while his opponent Volodymyr Zelensky was considered nearly an agent of Russia by the patriotic community. However, starting from 2020, and especially from 2021, a confrontation between the National Corps and Zelensky’s new government began to take shape. It became especially noticeable after Interior Minister Arsen Avakov resigned and went into public opposition.
The main goal voiced by the ultra-right is to “prevent revenge” in the political and military dimensions. Militarily, this means rejecting attempts to resolve the conflict in the Donbas peacefully, in particular in the Minsk format, which the nationalists call capitulation. The ultra-right consistently advocate militarization and rejection of the special status of the Donbas, they call for a ban on troops withdrawal from the front lines and adoption of a law on collaboration instead of an amnesty law, etc. On the political level, they call for the elites who were ousted in 2014 to return to power. Therefore, the main opponents of the far-right are the pro-Russian opposition and its sympathizers. Most of the recorded cases of violence were aimed at representatives of pro-Russian parties, NGOs, or journalists who represent media controlled by pro-Russian politicians.
Another important topic for the ultra-right is the struggle for “family values”, which includes a confrontation with feminist and LGBT+ initiatives. This topic was actively raised both by traditional nationalists and street neo-Nazis from relatively small organizations. Attacks on feminist and LGBT+ conferences, marches, and film screenings rank second among all cases of far-right violence recorded in Ukraine.
The far-right forces have no influential media of their own. Nevertheless, the hegemony of nationalist discourse in Ukraine allows nationalist messages and hate speech to circulate freely in the media space. Especially when it comes to supporters of pro-Russian political forces, ethnic Russians, or people who live in the uncontrolled territories in the East of the country. Leaders of far-right movements regularly appear on leading TV channels as commentators or studio guests. The most frequent media guest is the leader of the National Corps, Andriy Biletsky, but members of far-right street organizations are also often invited, for instance, to discuss attacks on LGBT+ events or the Roma pogroms.
After the VKontakte social network was blocked in Ukraine and Facebook became severely censored, Telegram became the main information platform for the ultra-right. On Telegram, the far-rightists publish videos of training sessions, attacks on opponents, information about left-wing and LGBT+ activists, and coordinate information campaigns. Katarsis, the most popular far-right Telegram channel, has nearly 30,000 subscribers. The administration of the channel regularly organizes cyberbullying campaigns. Over time, Katarsis has become a source of information for reputable media outlets.
As a rule, official telegram channels of right-wing organizations do not contain overtly neo-Nazi content, or it is presented in a veiled form. However, there is constant interaction and re-linking between radical and moderate Telegram channels, which clearly indicates ideological and organizational ties.
The sources of funding for far-right parties and movements are difficult to establish. At the beginning of the war in eastern Ukraine, volunteer battalions (not all of them are ultra-right) were often financed by big businesses and oligarchs. For example, the Azov battalion was funded by businessmen Serhiy Taruta, Ihor Kolomoisky, and Roman Zvarych. Since Azov became part of the National Guard, the regiment has been financed from the state budget.
Political parties in Ukraine mostly do not explain the sources of their funding. This also applies to the nationalists. As a rule, funds are contributed by individuals and presented as private contributions by party members. But these people for the most part are not occasional members contributing small amounts. They are related to each other or are figureheads whose real income is too small to make substantial contributions to party accounts. While, unlike most political parties, the nationalists (the National Corps party, Svoboda Party) do have a developed network of cells, as research by the Chesno project shows, the National Corps uses a similar system of raising funds. This is confirmed by former members of the organization.
The far-right also derive income from security companies they have created. These companies, in particular, guard industrial enterprises or construction sites, especially if there is a conflict of interest between owners or a conflict between a developer and the community. Such companies can provide services not only to protect businesses but also, on the contrary, for raider attacks.
The ultra-right actively use their status as combat veterans to create non-governmental public organizations, which receive funding from the government’s social programs. These are primarily the rehabilitation programs of the Ministry of Veterans, as well as the national-patriotic education program of the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine. Almost all organizations applying for grants for national-patriotic education are nationalistic or openly ultra-right-wing.
Another way to make money and legalize paramilitary structures is their participation in municipal guards. Such structures have been created at the initiative of some city mayors, particularly, in Kyiv. In fact, they duplicate the functions of the police, although formally they have much less power. Members of the Municipal Guards often come from the far-right milieu, and their activities are politicized and take on a nationalist direction. In addition to material support, this allows them to gain access to special police forces and to act on behalf of the law.
There is much speculation about the funding of the Ukrainian far-right from abroad, in particular, by the Russian Federation. This opinion is based on the formal coincidence of conservative right-wing rhetoric (anti-feminism, homophobia) with the conservative policy of the Russian leadership. Since the topic of Ukrainian nationalists is actively used by Russian propaganda, radical ultra-right actions are often called a planned actions by the Kremlin to discredit Ukraine.
There is also an important precedent of cooperation between irreconcilable opponents, when in 2010 the Svoboda Party allegedly received money from the pro-government Party of Regions, although it was in stiff opposition to it. In this way, the Party of Regions wanted to somewhat enhance the visibility of the nationalists to strengthen their own pseudo-antifascist rhetoric. However, Svoboda denies receiving money from the Party of Regions.
Despite regular statements by public figures that the ultra-right are funded by the Russian Federation, there is no evidence yet. In most cases, it is more realistic to believe that the ultra-right movements are financed from internal sources, based on the conversion of the power capital they have acquired into economic capital.