[ Part 1: Are There Neo-Nazis in Ukraine? ]
“They have right now existential issues to deal with, and the far-right groups are helping defend Ukraine,” Farkas told Newsweek. “So at this moment in time, the Ukrainian government needs all the help it can get from its citizens, regardless of their ideology.”Obama-era Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, Evelyn Farkas. From Newsweek, 5 January 2022
War makes strange bedfellows.Helen Thomas
The necessities of war became opportunities for Ukrainian neonazis. Marginal groups had become defenders of the revolution and some of their members celebrated as heroes. Their fighters entered into volunteer battalions to fight separatists in the east.
Some may argue that the government had little choice but to enlist ultranationalist radicals into the armed forces to deal with a national emergency. They may say that this is a temporary arrangement, until the war ends. However, a ceasefire was agreed to between Kyiv and the separatists in 2014, and these militias still have not been disbanded.
When the war ends and the soldiers’ services are no longer needed, will the Nazi groups shrink back to obscurity?
Politically Useful Violence
C14 has certainly proven itself useful to the Euromaidan revolution. Founder Yevhen Karas told Radio Svoboda that his organization had a “few dozen members” from 2011 to 2013 and that they fought pro-Russian paramilitaries like the Loyal Cossacks. They were at the Euromaidan protests in November 2013, helping to form the Right Sector.
When the opposition parties’ National Resistance Headquarters created the paramilitary “Maidan Self-Defence” C14 was one of the applicants to form a sotnya (“Hundred,” a unit of ~100 soldiers like the Roman centurions) under their command.
C14 members joined in droves when Andriy Parubiy, the new Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, offered to train the Hundreds for service in volunteer battalions. Karas claims that 90% of C14 members joined a volunteer battalion, mostly the Kyiv-2, Harpoon, OUN, and Right Sector battalions. Yevhen himself served with the Kyiv-2 and Harpoon Police Battalions in the Anti-Terrorism Operation.
When Karas spoke with Radio Svoboda in 2018 he said that C14 had grown from a few dozen members in Kyiv to hundreds of members across Ukraine. Many of these may have joined C14 to defend the Maidan or to fight the separatists in the east, but the organization will survive even if the war ends.
C14 members were recorded attacking a Romani camp in Kyiv one month after Karas’ interview. Despite the ongoing racist crimes of C14 the Ministry of Youth and Sport awarded grants to two C14 projects. The Department of National-Patriotic Education gave the equivalent of $16,800 USD to Educational Assembly and to C14-Sich, the organization’s summer camp for children.
C14 projects received these grants again in 2019, this time to fund Educational Assembly, Union of Veterans of the War with Russia (“Спілка ветеранів війни з Росією”), and National Center for Human Rights (“Національний центр правозахисту”).
Union of Veterans of the War with Russia
The Union of Veterans organizes political actions for veterans’ causes, finds work placements for veterans, and promotes militarism.
National Center for Human Rights
The National Center for Human Rights provides legal support and files human rights complaints on behalf of veterans and activists. In other words, they help C14’s core demographics get out of trouble.
The National Center for Human Rights is an association of several Ukrainian human rights initiatives not affiliated with political parties. Public activists with experience in human rights work are the basis of the Center.From NCP’s Facebook page
In order to improve and solve acute social problems, we have taken on the niche of human rights. We help participants in the war with Russia, politically persecuted activists, victims of illegal actions of law enforcement agencies. Based on objective information, we do not seek to acquit the suspect or accused, but demand fair treatment.
Through these projects C14 was able to build its own ideological apparatus. The group taps veterans for their experience to teach and train new members. They run a summer camp to train youth and they provide ideological training through Educational Assembly. They have a legal organization to protect their new soldiers and activists from the courts.
Azov Youth Corps
National-Patriotic Education grants were also given to the Azov Movement in 2019. The group received funding for two existing projects: their “Azovets” youth camp where children are taught basic military skills by Battalion veterans, and their Leadership School which expressly trains youth to become leaders in the Azov Movement.
C14 and Azov have propagated themselves to a new generation using public funds.
Proximity to State Power
Though C14 presents itself as nonpartisan its leaders are not. Several are members of the ultranationalist party Svoboda; Yevhen Karas was himself a Svoboda candidate for Kyiv City Council in 2014.
The affiliation with Svoboda is not limited to a few individuals in the organization. A 2018 investigation by Hromadske found that C14 was not only an associate of Svoboda but had been founded in 2010 as its youth wing. The association was reportedly still in effect during the Euromaidan, when Svoboda was one of the three opposition parties in the National Resistance.
After the President had fled the country and the Prime Minister had resigned these parties formed a coalition government. Svoboda received choice appointments to the new Cabinet. Founder Andriy Parubiy became Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, with Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh as his deputy. Oleksandr Sych became Deputy Prime Minister. The party’s deputy chairman, Andriy Mokhnyk, became Minister of Ecology, and Ihor Shvaika became Minister of Agriculture. The Defense Ministry was also briefly held by Ihor Tenyukh, a member of Svoboda and former Commander-in-Chief of the Navy.
The post-Maidan coalition broke up in July 2014 in order to trigger an early parliamentary election. Though Svoboda would lose most of its seats and all of its cabinet posts in this election it retained friends and members in high places. Andriy Parubiy, who had co-founded the party and had organized the volunteer battalions, would be re-elected as a member of the Verkhovna Rada with the Popular Front party. He would serve as Deputy and then full Chairman of the Rada from 2014 to 2019.
C14 is not just a gang of racist hooligans who carry out hate crimes against minority groups. The organization has a sophisticated system for propaganda and recruitment. It has patrons and partners in the government. It is closely related to a mainstream political party. The war has given C14 the chance to taste state power and to build a self-reproducing political machine.
In the next part of this series we will investigate the Azov Battalion’s origins and ideological inspirations, and the political programs that these groups will advance.
[ Part 3: The Social-Nationalist Movement ]
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[ Featured image from The Daily Mail, “Shocking pictures from inside neo-Nazi military camp reveal recruits as young as SIX are being taught how to fire weapons (even though there’s a ceasefire)” 12 August 2015 ]