Valentina Lisita's trolling inadvertently exposes more on 'Material Evidence' campaign in New York

In a series of typically vitriolic Tweets,  pro-Putin pianist and part time Twitter troll Valentina Lisitsa took time today to support the anti-Ukrainian photo exhibit in New York – Material Evidence – and help cover up its dirty handlers while also smearing Euromaidan Press. As readers may recall, in a previous article I uncovered the truth behind this exhibit and its connections to Russia’s extremist far-right, as well as its part in an anti-American content farm. The exhibit’s website’s association to propaganda efforts were extensively documented.

Ms. Lisitsa is partially correct, the domain ‘Material-Evidence.com’ shows its administrative contact to be the exhibit’s curator, Mr. Benjamin Hiller. The reason for this is simple and anyone can see in the WHOIS report: it was updated October 8, 2014. Ostensibly, this was to disassociate the involvement of any Ms. Zakharova. ‘She’ remains the registered owner for sites like Anti-Liberal.com and Grant-JT.com (the associated site of the far-right Journalistic Truth, working with Material Evidence and promoted through them).

The original owner
The original owner

The registrar for Material-Evidence.com remains REG.RU, a Russian service; its contact email the same associated with all of the other extremist or propaganda content farms.

We have since reached out to Mr. Hiller and he has informed us that in light of this news he is going to reevaluate his involvement in the project and whether our claims were true, and issue a statement regarding the situation. He reiterated that he does not support Russia’s far-right, and informed us that the Russian government involved itself in the Moscow exhibit:

“The Russian Government pressured the photographers not to show two images in Moscow as “it would shed bad light” on the “Pro-Russian Separatists” in Crimea. These images are shown in NY.”

He also took time to address the name issue, saying he was made the owner for legal reasons:

“We had to change the admin after the webpage developer used the name from this crazy Pro-Putin ballerina – we warned him that he gets sued for that if he keeps on going.”

We will continue to update the public on the Material Evidence campaign, and future statements from those involved. We will also continue to debunk any and all statements from Ms. Lisitsa in her campaign to discredit Euromaidan Press and journalists exposing the truth everywhere.

Pro-Russian performers in Donetsk make Nazi salutes

Yesterday in Donetsk performers celebrating the 6 month anniversary of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic” took part in a Nazi march while giving a torrent of Hitler salutes. The performers mocked Ukrainians as “Nazis” and “fascists” in Donetsk’s main square, but did so under the flag of “New Russia” while German music played in the background.

Russians enacted a similar, but much more lavish performance during a national broadcast in occupied Sevastopol earlier in the summer.

Poroshenko: 'UPA are heroes,' will consider giving veterans legal status

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko believes that now is a good time to address the question concerning the status of the wartime Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) & Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA).

During a press conference in Kyiv on Thursday, when asked about his position on whether UPA soldiers deserved recognition, Poroshenko said it is worth considering giving the veterans legal status as combatants in World War II.

“In Galicia, Ivano Frankivsk, Ternopil, Rivne, and Volyn this issue was already resolved by the local councils. Across the country it was not,” said the president. Poroshenko recognized that earlier the topic was divisive in the country, and because of this it was not addressed first hand. Instead, he said now was “the right time.”

“What is a warrior who defends his state, who protects it in the same way the soldiers of the UPA did…this is a good time to raise the issue,” said Poroshenko. He then added that he sees Ukrainian insurgent fighters as an example of heroism.

On Twitter, he repeated this sentiment, saying: “UPA soldiers – an example of heroism and patriotism to Ukraine.”

Poroshenko’s statements come nearing the UPA’s anniversary on October 14. Former president Yushchenko made similar inroads to define the UPA as war veterans, and bills have been proposed in the past to grant UPA veterans government benefits on par with their Soviet army counterparts, including higher pensions and public transportation discounts.

A controversial topic in Ukraine, The UPA fought against the Soviet Union, Poland, and Nazi Germany for Ukrainian independence from 1942-1956. Their history is particularly reviled among some in eastern Ukraine, Russia, and Poland, but extremely popular in western Ukraine to this day. Because of Ukraine’s Soviet legacy, the group never managed to attain state recognition.

The battle flag of the UPA became a popular symbol during the Euromaidan protests and current conflict with Russia, and is adorned by many Ukrainians as a “sign of the stubborn endurance of the Ukrainian national idea even under the grimmest conditions.”

The UPA has been described as “the most important example of forceful resistance to Communist rule,” and the mortality rate for Soviet troops fighting Ukrainian insurgents in Western Ukraine is said to be higher than the mortality rate for Soviet troops during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. In turn, Russian propaganda has continued to this day to discredit its veterans and supporters as “Nazis” and “fascists” despite fighting both German and Russian fascism in World War II.

Is Luhansk about to be annexed by Russia?

In a series of Tweets today, German MP and member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Marieluise Beck described the Russian occupation in Luhansk as she saw it – and the ominous signs of its potential annexation.

Occupation & infrastructure

In the messages, Beck says that the city is “full of Russian soldiers,” and that an engineering brigade has already begun the reconstruction of infrastructure, including electrical lines, to Russia.

Columns of Russian armor and thousands of troops have been seen in the region in recent days.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already called for discussions on the region’s “statehood” and Russian-installed officials have announced bilateral negotiations with Moscow  “at the highest level” over the supply of Russian gas to occupied territory via a Luhansk pipeline. Such negotiations bypassing Kyiv would confer de facto recognition of southern Luhansk as being independent from Ukraine.

“In Moscow we have discussed the issues concerning the heating season and gas. We have a separate pipeline and we were guaranteed to receive gas supplies. The pipeline comes into the Lugansk region and covers the Donetsk region. We are the only two regions that in general do not rely on Ukraine,” Leonid Baranov, the Donetsk Republic’s so-called “Minister of State Security” told Russian media.

Russian passports

Mirroring Crimea, Beck also confirms that Russian passports are already being handed out in the city, and that Russian soldiers are distributing to locals cash sums of Russian currency.

After the Russian-Georgian ceasefire, Russian-backed police in South Ossetia forced ethnic Georgians to accept Russian passports or leave, amounting to ethnic cleansing.

“Russian authorities have launched the full-scale issuing of Russian passports in Donetsk and Luhansk. It is being done to give Russia an excuse to bring in the Russian Army under the pretext of protecting Russian citizens,” said Yuriy Serhiyev, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United Nations yesterday.

Ominous similarities

Since signing a ceasefire agreement with Georgia two weeks ago, the Russian military and its local allies have carved a substantial buffer zone around the tiny enclave. To consolidate its latest conquests, Moscow has shipped in what Georgian officials describe as “industrial batches” of passports.

“The Russians are telling everyone in the town they must take a Russian passport,” said Akhalgori shopowner Guram Chkhvidze. “One came to me and explained that if I did not take it, my safety could not be certain. I was scared, so I am leaving.”

The Telegraph, August 30, 2008

Linguistic and religious Russification

Russification has also begun in the school system, with Beck also informing that lessons are already being conducted with Russian school textbooks. In Crimea, the Ukrainian language was summarily banned from schools by Russia.

“The Ukrainian church and the mosque in Luhansk have been closed. The Ukrainian-Orthodox priests had to flee,” read another tweet by the German MP observer.

Sectarian violence and religious persecution has been widespread during the conflict, with pro-Russian separatists considering Christian denominations such as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Roman Catholics, and Protestants, as anti-Russian and see them as obstacles in the path of the separatist goal of uniting the region with Russia.

Previously during the occupation and annexation of Crimea by Russian forces, Ukrainian Catholics were forced to flee the peninsula under threat of arrest and property seizures. “All my parishioners are patriotic Ukrainians who love their Crimean homeland. But Russia is now seeking to drive us out,” Father Milchakovskyi told the Catholic News Service in April. The Ukrainian Catholic Church was banned under the Moscow regime from 1946 to 1989, resulting in many clergymen arrested and Church property appropriated by the state and Russian Church.

New Russia or Novorossiya, Russia’s name for the occupied parcels of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, has already embedded in its constitution that it will act as a monolingual Russian state, with the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian Orthodoxy acting as the official state religion.

What next?

This story will develop in the coming days with a Tuesday press conference already scheduled by Russian-installed officials. The ongoing ceasefire may just be the calm needed to begin the process of solidifying Russian hegemony in the region, as occurred in Georgia. It remains to be see what form of annexation will take place: be it the formal annexation of Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk, facilitating their recognition as vassal states in the model of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or unofficial recognition as Russia maintains with Transnistria.

Pro-Russian insurgents openly recruit child soldiers

Donetsk militants are now recruiting child soldiers, and they’re not hiding the fact either.

This worrisome fact comes from a Russian photojournalist who recently arrived in Donetsk by train to document the situation.

The boy seen above, Andrew, is 15 and wears the uniform of the Vostok Battalion. The identity of the two masked adolescents who flank him wielding assault rifles are not known.

Andrew was recently put in a unit of reinforcements during an actual combat mission, but has so far avoided taking part in any battles. A Donetsk Republic militant says the boys have yet to be ‘baptized by fire’. Despite not being an adult, the terrorist group has already made him a commander of a training division.

Andrey feeding the magazine of his Kalashnikov assault rifle
Andrey feeding the magazine of his Kalashnikov assault rifle

The apple does not fall far from the tree, though: his parents approved of sending him off to fight the Ukrainian army, and his father is also a member of the notorious Vostok Battalion, one of the many terrorist groups to emerge in eastern Ukraine that is largely made up of Russians and Chechens.

He’s been indoctrinated to believe tropes typical of Russian propaganda. Andrew says he’ll fight to the death against what he calls “the junta” because “we have nowhere to retreat.” He believes his cause is defending against a “true genocide.”

While according to the Geneva Conventions, recruiting children over the age of 15 into an armed force is permissible under certain conditions, under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which was adopted and signed in 2002, non-state actors and guerrilla forces such as the Donetsk Republic organization are expressly forbidden from recruiting anyone under the age of 18 for any purpose.


Source
Via: UkrNews24, Obozrevatel

Police exhume more ‘mass dumping sites’ of executed victims in Sloviansk

A number of journalists, including VICE News’ Simon Ostrovsky, who has done some of the best reporting on the crisis in eastern Ukraine to date, posted photos today of an exhumation being conducted by police. Police informed Ostrovsky that the dig site he witnessed was used as a ‘mass dumping site’ for victims executed by men under Russian terrorist Igor Girkin’s command. At the mass grave, skeletal remains of those from the Russian-Ukrainian civil war also turned up during the dig for bodies.

Recall that previous mass graves were discovered in the city, notably containing priest’s and their families, and documents have shown Girkin to have carried out summary executions on residents of the city.


Update from CNN:

[hr]

More of the old ultraviolence – confessions & testimony add up

While many of tales of atrocities have come to surface over the past few months, most have been defined by two attributes: the perpetrator’s Russian origin, and the body of evidence coming from the testimony of victims and witnesses.

Some first hand interviews have offset the latter, shining light on the motivations and actions from both sides of the trigger, these have still mostly come from foreign invaders and not locals. One Sovietized insurgent from Armenia detailed his destructive foray into Ukraine, confirming that 80% of militants occupying Donetsk are foreigner like himself. Another Russian mercenary issued his disinterest in Luhansk’s destruction to the New York Times, ‘not giving a damn about any of this.’

Volodymyr Parasyuk, a revolutionary hero to many in Ukraine, provided first hand details of a captive’s confession, one that offers more than just casual indifference as a reason for violence. As the account goes, the National Guard’s Dnipro Battalion captured a Ukrainian paratrooper who had turned-coat and defected to the militants in the Donetsk Republic terrorist organization – informing them of military positions, weapon intel, checkpoint locations, and made possible Grad rocket attacks on Ukrainian positions.

The prisoner, Dmytro, was of the belief that Putin was going to save them, and that they already had Russian assistance.

He also told Parasyuk how the Donetsk Republic’s men treated the location population: “They get all liquored up in the evening, they go down the streets, and they shoot at innocent civilians. Whoever kills more wins the bet.”

He also admitted that the group had raped young girls, “and anyone who refused got a rifle to the head and was offered a choice: obey or get a bullet to the head.”

Regionnaires (Party of Regions members) and Commies always yell that these aren’t terrorists, that they’re just people with different views, and that Russians are our brothers. But here’s the way it is, they’re no brothers of ours. These are swine who hate everything Ukrainian and dream of destroying the Ukrainian nation, so that there’s not a trace of it left.

While it may be hard to gauge how much of the above is true – either said under duress or as twisted bravado – the scars of war undoubtedly yield likened brutality the world over. What sets Dmytro apart, however, is that he is not a foreign plunderer but a local collaborator; and not one with blasé detachment but frenzied indifference to his own people. If insurgent forces are described as “anti-Kyiv,” then why is equal attention given to local innocents?

It is true that the Russian backed ‘militias’ have been described as disorganized, chronically dysfunctional, and also drunk, just as the above testimony illustrated.

UN monitors have especially noted the steady rise in wanton violence by Russian-backed groups in Ukraine. “A climate of lawlessness prevails in the east with an increase in criminality, killings, abductions and detentions by the armed groups,” said UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic. More than a simply gradient increase, Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch bluntly called these groups are “out of control” and “abusing people at will.”

Another top UN human rights office official described the situation as a “reign of fear, if not a reign of terror,” in the areas controlled by these terrorist groups.

Amnesty International deputy director Denis Krivosheev describes, in clarifying that the bulk of abductions have been carried out by Russian-backed groups, that victims are “often subjected to stomach-turning beatings and torture.”

Russian-backed militias have also been known to employ terrorist tactics (MH17 aside), with Human Rights Watch noting that they use “beatings and kidnappings to send the message that anyone who doesn’t support them had better shut up or leave.”

But perhaps Oliver Carroll described the regional situation and local phenomenon best in Foreign Policy, calling it bluntly “a bit of the old ultraviolence,” a reference to Stanley Kubrick’s classic A Clockwork Orange – because that’s what the situation on the ground, unleashed from the east, is increasingly appearing to be.


Translation assistance courtesy of William Risch

Malaysian airline shot down by 'Buk' missile system, verified in possession of pro-Russian militants

Map of the area
Map of the area
CNN map of Hrabove
CNN map of Hrabove

Following today’s tragic news that a Malaysian airliner carrying 295 passengers had crashed in eastern Ukraine, Interior Ministry advisor Anton Herashchenko stated that the plane was in fact hit by a Buk surface-to-air missile (SAM) launcher. Buk SAM systems can fire missiles up to an altitude of 22,000 meters (72,000 feet).

Reports indicate that the plane has crashed in the town of Hrabove, Donetsk region, which is near the occupied towns of Snizhne and city of Torez. Both locales are roughly 20km from the crash site in Hrabove.

Do Russian insurgents have access to these missile systems?

Security and Defense Council spokesperson Andriy Lysenko informed that near Snizhne a Buk SAM was seen not belonging to the Ukrainian army. The presence of a Buk-type SAM in the town was verified by Associated Press journalists earlier Thursday.

Russian terrorist Igor “Strelkov” Girkin admitted that they had shot down a plane today over the city of Torez, but have claimed it to be a similarly large Antonov An-26 transport aircraft.

[quote style=”boxed”]”In the vicinity of Torez, we just downed a plane, an AN-26. It is lying somewhere in the Progress Mine. We have issued warnings not to fly in our airspace. We have video confirming. The bird fell on a waste heap. Residential areas were not hit. Civilians were not injured,” he was quoted.[/quote]

While Girkin issued a statement saying that they shot down the “transport aircraft,” he later denied having weaponry to take down the Boeing 777 at that altitude.

Despite denials to the contrary, on June 29 press service representatives of Girkin’s “Donetsk People’s Republic” organization told Russia’s ITAR-TASS that they had “taken control” of multiple Buk missile defense systems.

The U.S. Department of State has said this week that more advanced air defense systems are beginning to arrive to deployment sites which have then been transferring equipment from Russia to its proxies in Ukraine. Also, the DoS notes that Russian insurgents have been actively looking to recruit volunteers with experience operating heavy weapons such as air defenses.

Taken together, it appears abundantly clear that insurgents have access to, and use Buk SAMs and have openly admitted to engaging aircraft with them.

[hr]

Interior Ministry: Pro-Russian terrorists murdered, mutilated two Sloviansk priests & their sons

Security officials have exhumed a mass grave in the Donetsk region where they say a pile of mutilated bodies – two priests and the two sons of one of them – were found. The official, Interior Minister advisor Anton Herashchenko, reports the dead were involved in assisting the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO).

“We have now exhumed a grave where two priests from Sloviansk were buried. Also, the two sons of one of the preists, who were tortured and killed just because they helped our soldiers,” said Herashchenko.

While Herashchenko refrained from stating which denomination the priests belonged to, but Patriarch Filaret has previously spoken out against “numerous death threats against the Kyiv Patriarchate clergy and believers” by Russian-backed terrorists in the Donetsk region. Virtually all Christian denominations other than the Russian Orthodox Church have been subject to levels of harassment, threats, kidnapping, torture, and violence.

Sloviansk has had a documented history of brutal murders during its occupation by Igor Girkin’s militia, who was recently discovered to have carried out summary executions.

[box size=”large”]Editor’s note: This article originally mentioned “children” were found, but was later changed solely to “sons.” While they were the priest’s children, officials have not explicitly informed that they were minors and we would like to avoid any confusion.[/box]

Look far right, and look right again

The Russian political establishment thinks that Ukrainians are ‘traitors to Orthodox civilisation and Russian unity.’ But it is not only Putin’s Russia that is behind the challenge to democracy in Ukraine.

Russkiy mir

In 2006, Russian nationalist historian Mikhail Smolin condemned former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma’s book Ukraine is not Russia, arguing that Ukraine was a ‘sickness,’ and Ukrainians were ‘South-Russian separatists,’ ‘traitors to Orthodox civilisation and Russian unity.’ To a greater or lesser extent, this view of the Ukrainian people is shared by the entire Russian political establishment and underpins many of the Kremlin’s responses to developments in Ukraine.

The notion of ‘Russian unity’ or russkiy mir (literally, Russian world) would seem to imply the existence of a transnational community of people and societies committed to Russian culture and language. The idea was adopted by Putin as early as 2006, and is obviously imperialistic, but it also reveals a deeper and probably more important insight into Moscow’s domestic and international politics. Since Putin’s regime correctly recognised Western-style liberal democracy as an existential threat to the well being of its elites (not the people), it has crushed democracy in Russia and successfully convinced a large number of Russian people that Western-style democracy is destructive (look back at the 1990s, they say) and essentially alien to them. To compensate for the rejection of liberal democracy and, therefore, becoming part of the West, the Kremlin and its loyal opinion-makers have offered the Russian people the belief that they are a unique civilisation in its own right: you do not need Western values because you are different; Russian culture is not only different but superior to Western culture.

putin-pic4_zoom-1000x1000-9229

Moscow proclaimed the uniqueness of Russian culture to justify both the rejection of Western-style democracy and Western modernisation. But the Kremlin – unlike China – has failed in its attempts at authoritarian modernisation, and Russian culture, as intrinsically understood by Putin’s regime, is about not modernising at all. Russkiy mir is an, ‘unwesternisable’ and ‘unmodernisable’ community. This is why Putin’s Russia is not fascist, as some commentators suggest: both Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany strove for an alternative modernity rather than rejecting the idea of modernisation altogether.

Obviously, no society should be forced to modernise along Western lines unless it so wishes. However, the danger of the Kremlin’s ‘non-modernisation,’ driven by the elites’ urgent need for self-preservation, is that it clashes with Russia’s natural progress towards social modernisation, which is determined by globalisation. Thus, the Kremlin’s ‘non-modernisation’ agenda is not only to conserve the existing traditionalist elements of Russian society, but also to suppress those who embrace Western-style modernisation. This suppression has resulted in almost all the social conservative policies that Putin’s regime has produced so far, showing disdain for – if not openly persecuting – human rights and environmental activists, social, cultural and sexual minorities, progressive artists and musicians, etc.

Another danger of the Kremlin’s refusal to modernise is that the uniqueness of the ‘unwesternisable’ russkiy mir needs constant corroboration, meaning that hindering the progress of Westernisation and democratisation in the countries that are allegedly part of russkiy mir is crucial for continuing to substantiate the ‘non-modernisation’ thesis to the Russians. Putin’s attempts, first to sabotage Ukraine’s democratic revolution, and then to undermine the country’s post-revolutionary development were aimed at Russian citizens, to prevent them from observing Ukraine’s successful democratisation; otherwise, if those Little Russians did it, why can’t we?

Belonging to russkiy mir

It is essential to stress that russkiy mir is not a community of ethnic Russians or societies committed to Russian culture. The Kremlin’s flirtation with Russian nationalism, although convincing, is inherently a means to secure the rule of the political and financial elites in Putin’s Russia. To be part of russkiy mir is to fit their agenda: disdain for liberal democracy, suppression of human rights, and undermining the rule of law. This explains why liberal citizens of Russia, or ethnic Russians in Ukraine who supported the democratic revolution, do not belong to russkiy mir; they are ‘national traitors’ or ‘Russophobes.’ It also helps to explain why the defenders of russkiy mir in Eastern Ukraine are racists and homophobes; and why the best friends of russkiy mir in the West are corrupt politicians and undemocratic political parties.

In May 2014, an ‘epic thread’ appeared on the Facebook page of the Right Sector, a far right Ukrainian movement that emerged at the beginning of the Euromaidan protests in November 2013. A photo of Conchita Wurst, the extravagant Austrian winner of 2014 Eurovision Song Contest, was posted with the comment: ‘Do we need this kind of ‘Europe’? Or would it be better to restore the real Europe at home and build a strong national state that would be free not only from Moscow imperialists but also from Western liberasts?!’. This post became a disaster for the Right Sector, as the overwhelming majority of the commentators – many of them actual subscribers to the Right Sector Facebook page – condemned the homophobia and intolerance of the post. One commentator said: ‘You have Putin’s view of Europe… Europe is different and Conchita demonstrates that people are different… And, with the kind of attitude that you demonstrate, you’d better go to a referendum and join Russia.’ Another comment was no less devastating: ‘If you’re homophobes, then don’t turn on the TV. Go and visit neighbouring fascist Russia – they think the same way you do. Shame on you.’ Apart from comparing the Right Sector to Putin’s Russia, some comments also denounced its isolationism: ‘Do you want Juche [North Korean autarchy) ideas in Ukraine or do you want Ukraine to be a full member of the world community? If you want Juche, then you are enemies of Ukraine; if you don’t, then stop this silly hysteria and talk about self-isolation. Simply put: stop talking nonsense. Glory to Ukraine!’

Written in Ukrainian and Russian, comments like these affirm that Ukraine’s departure (‘South-Russian separatism’) from russkiy mir or the sphere of influence of Putin’s Russia is not about creating an unbridgeable ethno-cultural cleavage between the Ukrainians and Russians. It is about rejecting what Putin’s Russia apparently stands for: intolerance, illiberalism, and isolationism.

Far right… and far far right

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Unfortunately, the annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and the proxy war that the Kremlin has waged against Ukraine in eastern parts of the country have created the conditions for some elements of Ukrainian society to evolve in the direction of russkiy mir. The natural feeling of humiliation deriving from the loss of territory and military failure, resulted in a psychological need for the deceptive comfort of populism and its simplistic rhetoric and actions. Similar attitudes were to be found in Russia after the defeat in the first Chechen war – attitudes that contributed to the rise of Putin.

After Ukraine’s presidential election in May 2014, many journalists and experts on Ukraine, who highlighted the pathetic results of the two ‘official’ far-right candidates, Svoboda’s Oleh Tyahnybok (1.16%) and Right Sector’s Dmytro Yarosh (0.70%), completely ignored the strong electoral performance of another presidential candidate, Oleh Lyashko, who obtained 8.32% of the votes and finished third. In his political programme, peppered with 23 exclamation marks, Lyashko presented a textbook example of unabashed populism, while, during his campaign, he postured in a military uniform promising to ‘return Crimea to Ukraine!’ In the run-up to the presidential election, Lyashko praised militarism and bragged about unlawfully questioning a captured separatist. However, not only have the Ukrainian authorities ignored Lyashko’s criminal actions, but society has largely failed to condemn his behaviour.

Social-National Assembly (SNA)

Lyashko worked with Right Sector extremist elements, namely the Social-National Assembly (SNA); and by spring 2014 had effectively managed to lure them away from Right Sector. The SNA is a neo-Nazi movement, which has always been too extreme for the Right Sector. According to its official documents, its ‘nationalism is racial, social, great-power imperialist, anti-systemic (anti-democratic and anti-capitalist), self-sufficient, militant and uncompromising’. Its ideology ‘builds on maximalist attitudes, national and racial egoism,’ while glorifying the Ukrainian nation as part of the ‘White Race.’

Lyashko’s Radical Party nominated several SNA members as candidates in the May 2014 Kyiv city council elections: Oleh Odnorozhenko (its ideologue), Ihor Mosychuk, Ihor Kryvoruchko, and Volodymyr Shpara. It seems plausible to suggest that SNA members will also be included in Lyashko’s party list in the early parliamentary elections possibly taking place in autumn 2014.

The SNA was also behind the formation of the Azov battalion, a volunteer auxiliary police unit that was armed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine as part of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) launched against the (pro-)Russia separatists in Eastern Ukraine. The Azov battalion does not consist solely of SNA members (although there are unverified reports that all the volunteers are required to sign up to the SNA before joining the battalion), but the SNA leader Andriy Biletsky is its commander, with Mosychuk as his deputy. The battalion includes members of Misanthropic Division, an international neo-Nazi movement, whose Ukrainian ‘branch’ – mostly based in Kharkiv – is affiliated with the SNA. The Division considers that, rather than liberating Eastern Ukraine from illiberal and undemocratic (pro-)Russia separatists, their ‘black squadrons are fighting in the ranks of the pagan battalion Azov against the residues of modern society represented by khachi [racist slur for natives of the Caucasus region], chavs, communists, liberals, Asians and other Untermenschen.’

Media coverage

The SNA’s participation in the ATO in Eastern Ukraine, and Lyashko’s cooperation with the neo-Nazis, run in parallel with mainstream Ukrainian media according the SNA a degree of legitimacy by proclaiming them ‘defenders of the Ukrainian motherland.’ They are almost never presented to audiences as SNA members, but specifically as fighters of the Azov battalion. In the same manner, RT (formerly Russia Today) presents members of European far-right parties who support the Kremlin’s agenda, as simply European politicians, without mentioning their undemocratic doctrines.

Recently, SNA members have appeared on Ukrainian TV, and interviews with them have been published by respected media outlets. Their ideology was very rarely questioned although sometimes they took the liberty of appearing on TV wearing clothes with dubious symbols. Regretfully, the same media that provided objective coverage during the Maidan revolution were now legitimising the SNA by refusing to regard their ideology and activities as problematic.

Ihor Mosiychuk

Hromadske TV, for instance, invited Biletsky, Mosychuk and Kryvoruchko to its studio as the commanders of the Azov battalion. In one episode, a journalist of Hromadske went so far as to show a video in which Mosychuk was humiliating a captured separatist. The journalist failed to provide even moderate criticism of Mosychuk’s actions – in what way was he any different from the Russian state journalists who questioned, detained and abused Ukrainian security officers?

In another episode, Roman Skrypin, a journalist for Hromadske, evidently unwillingly asked Biletsky, who was wearing a black paramilitary polo with a chevron saying ‘Black Corps’ – a clear reference to Das Schwarze Korps, the official newspaper of the SS – about the claims that the SNA was a neo-Nazi movement. When Biletsky, for obvious reasons, decided not to give a direct answer, Skrypin disavowed his question.

Ukrainska Pravda, LB, The Insider and other influential Ukrainian media outlets have regularly published comments from and interviews with the SNA leaders, as well as sympathetic coverage of their actions. Novoye Vremya, a new media project of Vitaliy Sych, former editor of the popular magazine Korrespondent, has even named Biletsky among the 10 people ‘who are taking a stand for Ukraine’s independence in Donbas.’ It may be worth remembering that Sych declared Svoboda’s Oleh Tyahnybok ‘the person of the year 2012.’

How different, then, are they all from the media in Putin’s Russia that serve as a platform for disseminating the illiberal and intolerant views of Russian ultranationalists such as Aleksandr DuginAleksandr Prokhanov and many others? Ukrainian humanistic and liberal voices are few. In Ukraine, they are often slammed as ‘pacifists,’ although neither humanism nor liberalism equals pacifism. In Russia, liberal journalists are condemned as the ‘fifth column.’

Conflict as a test of Ukrainian democracy

Russia’s proxy war against Ukraine now serves as a perfect excuse for legitimising the fringe Ukrainian neo-Nazis as ‘defenders of the Ukrainian motherland.’ Those who are involved in this process – especially the Ministry of Internal Affairs that arm them and Ukrainian mainstream media that uncritically take their ‘patriotism’ at face value – fail to understand that neo-Nazis pose a real threat to Ukrainian society.

The Constitution of Ukraine unequivocally states that ‘Ukraine is the sovereign and independent, democratic, social, legal state’ (Article 1). For some Ukrainians, the Russian threat to their country’s sovereignty and independence has obscured the rationale of being sovereign and independent – that is to secure the democratic, social and legal state. Furthermore, the Constitution unambiguously recognises, ‘the human being, his or her life and health, honour and dignity, inviolability and security’ as the highest social value. At the same time, the main duty of the state is ‘to affirm and ensure human rights and freedoms’ (Article 3).

It is absurd to assume that the neo-Nazis who ‘are taking a stand for Ukraine’s independence’ are doing this in the name of Ukraine’s highest social values or to reinforce the main duty of the state as stipulated by the Constitution. Rather, they are arming themselves, learning how to fight and kill, as well as recruiting new members. Their ‘ideal Ukraine’ is not only different, but is the direct opposite of a democratic, social and legal state. To ignore these values, to override them for the sake of sovereignty and independence, is to move closer psychologically in the direction of Putin’s russkiy mir without even acknowledging it. Ukraine’s rapprochement with the EU should mean something different, because EU member states have partially sacrificed their sovereignty and independence at the altar of supranational democracy, more secure social order and the stronger rule of law.

In the beginning of July, Mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko used the conflict in Eastern Ukraine as an excuse for discarding what should be the fundamental values of the democratic Ukrainian state. On 5 July, the Ukrainian LGBT community was going to hold a March of Equality in Kyiv, under the slogan ‘Ukraine is united and we are part of it,’ but Klitschko called for its cancellation on the grounds that ‘when military operations are taking place and many people are dying,’ it would not be ‘appropriate to hold entertainments.’ Klitschko seems completely to misunderstand the meaning of democracy: the March of Equality is not an ‘entertainment’ but a means of drawing attention to the fact that the state should ‘affirm and ensure human rights and freedoms’ of all its citizens.

What will Klitschko do when the neo-Nazi gang from the Azov battalion returns to Kyiv to fight against various ‘Untermenschen’?

The March of Equality has been cancelled but the reasons for cancelling it are most disturbing: the police told the organising committee that ‘they could not secure the safety of participants in the face of expected far-right counter-demonstrators.’ What will Klitschko do when the neo-Nazi gang from the Azov battalion – officially armed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs – returns to Kyiv to fight against various Untermenschen? The failure to protect the participants of the March of Equality from Ukrainian right-wing extremists in Kyiv is no different from the failure to protect East Ukrainian civilians from (pro-)Russia separatists, because ‘all people are free and equal in their dignity and rights’, while ‘human rights and freedoms are inalienable and inviolable’ (Article 21).

Giving in to bullies only makes them stronger; retreating from any enemy of democracy – be they militants of intolerant and isolationist russkiy mir or Ukrainian neo-Nazis – is to open up even more space for injustice, and cede even more territory to anti-European forces. Every time Ukraine’s authorities infringe the rights of its citizens, Putin gives a welcoming smile.


Originally published on Open Democracy