Ukraine protests: fascists at core of huge new paramilitary force

By Tash Shifrin | 17 February 2014
Fascist Svoboda units of the paramiltary "Self Defence" march through Kiev

Fascist Svoboda units of the paramilitary “Self Defence” march through Kiev. Pic credit: Samson Dunay

Fascist fighters are at the heart of a new paramilitary force that can already muster thousands on the streets of Kiev. The paramilitaries are openly recruiting, carrying out combat training and marching in Ukraine’s capital.

[UPDATE 18 Feb 2014, 11.30am: These are the people in combat gear you can see in the news, besieging the Ukrainian parliament right now. See the blue, three-fingered flags of fascist Svoboda in these pictures.]

Every antifascist should be worried by this development – and its speed and openness.

The paramilitaries have sprung from Ukraine’s “Euromaidan” protests. Most of those supporting Euromaidan are not in any way fascists. But the acceptance of the fascists’ leading role has been a distinctive and disturbing feature of the movement.

>> For a wider analysis of what lies behind Euromaidan, see this post

The main fascist party, Svoboda, rose from nowhere to win 10.4% of the vote in the 2012 elections and has 36 MPs.

Its presence at the head of the movement has been entirely normalised by its three-way alliance with the conservative Fatherland and UDAR (“Punch”) parties. The three make up the pro-EU opposition to president Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russian Party of the Regions.

An old poster for Patriots of Ukraine - the paramiltary wing of Svoboda

An old poster for Patriots of Ukraine – the paramiltary wing of Svoboda

Svoboda – like most modern European fascist parties – made its electoral breakthrough after cleaning up its image, changing its name from the Social-Nationalist Party, ditching its nazi Wolfsangel logo for a three-fingered emblem – and distancing itself formally from its paramilitary wing, the Patriots of Ukraine (see poster, right). Other paramilitary nazi groups kept under the radar.

Now all that has changed.

In early December, Svoboda activists began to make a splash at Euromaidan, toppling Kiev’s statue of Lenin and occupying the city hall. They used this base to train up “defence” squads.

Svoboda’s role gave cover for other nazi groups. Fascists took the lead in the most militant activity – including heavy fighting against the police in January – winning them support and admiration.

The fascist fighters included a new alliance, Pravy Sektor (Right Sector), bringing together hardcore nazis from the UNA-UNSO, Trident, Carpathian Sich and other groups under leader Dmytro Yarosh.

Now, as the protests have reached something of a stalemate, there has been a dramatic shift towards building a paramilitary force, dubbed Samooborona or “Self Defence”.

The letters on the shield are “UPA”, the initials of the wartime Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Pic credit: LB.UA

The letters on the shield are “UPA”, the initials of the wartime Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Pic credit: LB.UA

This move is endorsed by Euromaidan’s politician leaders, who called for people to join Self Defence “hundreds” or squadrons – actually from 50 to 300-strong – at Euromaidan’s main rally of 9 February.

The Self Defence claims 5,000 members in Kiev with 10,000 across Ukraine – there is even an online sign-up form, asking about fitness levels and military experience.

A spokesperson claimed 35 “hundreds” were aligned with the conservative Fatherland party, with 20 run by fascist Svoboda.

These troops are nominally under the Euromaidan “commander”, Fatherland MP Andriy Parubiy. They include “former special forces, spetsnatz” members in the 18th hundred.

But the Right Sector Self Defence forces – they claim 1,500 in Kiev – act under their own commander, Yarosh. Allied with them are 200 Afghan War veterans (from the former USSR’s 1979-89 war).

Right Sector tweeted this, captioned: "Future government". That's the White Power Nazi 14/88 slogan behind them.

Right Sector tweeted this, captioned: “Future government”. That’s the White Power Nazi 14/88 slogan behind them.

The force is well equipped with battledress, bullet-proof vests, steel shields, helmets, masks, batons and other weaponry. The fighters have fortified their barricaded positions with barbed wire, a watchtower and a giant catapult for hurling molotov cocktails.

Earlier this month, columns of fighters marched through the streets of Kiev to “picket” the parliament building – and are set to do so again on Tuesday 18 February. That ain’t what democracy looks like.

Euromaidan PR tweeted this photo of "activists" going to picket the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament building

Euromaidan PR tweeted this photo of “activists” going to picket the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament building

It is a force to be reckoned with. And it is clear that a very high proportion are fascists.

The real divide reflected in Euromaidan is that between two factions of the oligarchy that controls Ukraine: those whose interests lie with the EU and those who profit from alignment with Russia. Euromaidan is in effect a mass mobilisation behind the pro-EU faction of the ruling class.

The protestors – many motivated by anger at economic collapse, political corruption and police violence against the protests – have not issued any independent demands of their own. The protest has been used as a lever by the opposition politicians in their battle with Yanukovych.

Now there is a new lever – the paramilitary force on the streets.

Among the Euromaidan demonstrators and their supporting media the growth of the paramilitaries – Svoboda, Right Sector and all – has become normalised, just as Svoboda’s presence in the main protest was. Media crews gamely watch the combat training.

The fascists have seized the opportunity of Euromaidan to make a second breakthrough, after their successful move into parliamentary politics.

Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok is now an equal member of the opposition leadership team dealing with Yanukovych – and with EU officials and US representatives.

On the streets the nazis of Svoboda and the Right Sector no longer have to keep quiet about paramilitary stuff. They are recruiting openly. They are on the march.

>> Background analysis – why we should say: neither Euromaidan nor Yanukovych, neither Brussels nor Moscow



  1. tash said:

    Here’s the nazi Right Sector’s appeal issued today, as fighting outside the Ukrainian parliament continues, for “all owners of firearms come in square”.

    I don’t support either the pro-Russia Yanukovych or the pro-EU opposition leaders. They are all as bad as each other.

    But having a bunch of armed paramilitaries, many of them hardcore fascists, trying to tell parliament what to do is definitely not what democracy looks like. This is bad news, whichever way the battle goes.

    18 February 2014 at 1:51pm
  2. Mustn't grumble said:

    Thanx a lot for this informative article.

    It was linked today on urban75

    20 February 2014 at 7:21pm
  3. Gustav said:

    Thanx for very good in depth articles on the Ukrainian crisis.
    You are very clear on your position, that is, that you do not support either the pro-russian leaders or the pro-eu leaders. That’s all well and uncontroversial in my point of view. But my concern is, what standpoint remains that will have a positive effect on Ukraine and common people? What do you support that is a concrete option/movement for Ukrainians? Is Maidan out of the question?

    My pragmatic standpoint would be to hope for an association agreement between Ukraine and EU on the presumption that it is a realistic and a concrete road on staving corruption and fascist movements in Ukraine and also human rights. As an association agreement is one step towards EU and sets in motion structural alignment processes from which one aspect is to create more transparency and combat corruption. I would not like to think I am extremely naive. I have been to Ukraine several times in democracy-building projects among youth from all over Ukraine and Europe. It is very clear to me from these meetings and projects that an absolute majority of them wants to be part of the EU because of what it represents to them(!); democracy, human rights and little corruption. It sure made me look at EU with new eyes and I felt like a spoiled brat compared to these young people just wanting basic human rights, as I myself went there with only pessimistic views on EU.

    Yes, I went on these projects with a very pessimistic view on EU, wanting to leave the union and its “imperial” ambitions as I then saw it. I see now, a much more diverse image of EU, a mosaic of different ideas on what Europe is and what people in the streets and in power want it to be. It is not just one thing or one aspect. I weigh them together and personally I see foremost a peace project and a concrete post-nationalism-project with a potentially huge impact on state building and identity politics and structures, that we all have to consider no matter what kind of system we have. Even if those people seeing EU from that positivistic perspective are in minority or absent where critical decisions are made that outline the union and its politics, we still have democracy. What we lack are engaged citizens in these decision processes. Nothing will get done watching random TV program. I think that is critical to the declining labour movements/unions, local government politics, privatization of schools here in sweden for instance, or declines of democratic capital anywhere. Western labourers, middle class, etc, does not engage in politics. But I digress…

    In spite of what we in the west as members like to think about EU… Isn’t it possible that the soft power that EU has can build up a momentum in Ukraine towards democracy that would in the long term gain also the working class and at present, hold off the rising fascist movement. For what else could we expect from Ukraine without EU as a positive force and attraction, without the prospect of a socialist movement in Ukraine? Where are they going on their own?
    Nationalism is the single biggest force and defining structural vessel in the world for how our politics take form. The Nation State is alive but not well. Can we really afford in the long term to throughout the Union on the assumption that it is merely a capitalist project when it clearly has other aspects that are of most debaters forgotten or overlooked?

    21 February 2014 at 6:25pm
  4. shug said:

    I find this all extremely disturbing,that 70 years after the defeat of fascism in Europe we once again see these thugs shaping policy by the gun or grad and terrorizing innocent people .
    I find it hard to ignore the plight of the majority population of Donbas civilians who are not armed,
    but are being shelled and terrorized by armed fascist punitive units coming into there villages n towns and hunting down those they ‘suspect’ of crimes.summary executions etc..
    in my view the people of Donbas region had every right to reject a coalition containing fascists as a post revolutionary government, that threatened to ban russian language,
    then the same coalition sent troops containing fascist punitive battalions into the Donbas.
    what were the people of Donbas to think ?

    2 November 2014 at 8:40pm

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