Under the Wolfsangel: The uncomfortably truthful reality about extreme ideas in Ukrainian politics
There is no doubt about the Nazi impact on modern-day Ukrainian politics; it is palpable and is being deliberately disregarded by the country’s Western backers.
After all, even a cursory examination of documents pertaining to the establishment of the Ukrainian state would suggest that it was quite European and democratic in nature. This is precisely why many people dismissed Vladimir Putin’s remarks about neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine as mere rhetoric and propaganda. While the reality is more convoluted, it cannot be characterised as “Ukrainian president is Jewish, and hence all claims are incorrect,” as some have suggested.
Identify your heroes, and I will identify your nemesis (or vice versa).
Among the historical figures who have reappeared as heroes in post-Maidan Ukraine is Stepan Bandera, a militant wing commander and ideologist of the far-right Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists who rose to prominence as a result of the Orange Revolution (OUN). Today, streets are named after him, people chant songs in his honour, and people carry his photo around with them.
Stepan Bandera was born on January 1, 1909, in Galicia, which was at the time a part of Austria-Hungary. He was prosecuted on terrorism accusations in Poland on a number of different times. The punishment was converted to life imprisonment when he was found guilty in 1934 and condemned to death the following year. The German invasion of Poland resulted in his release from prison in 1939, after which he completed his term.
Bandera spent his formative years establishing himself as a leader in nationalist groups. The Ukrainian Military Organization invited him to join them in 1928, and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists invited him to join them in 1929, where he swiftly rose in the ranks and acquired power. In February 1940, he played a key role in the division of the organisation into two groups, which he oversaw. During this time, Bandera rose to prominence as the head of the more extreme OUN-B, while more moderate members sided with Andriy Melnyk’s OUN-M.
During World War II, both sides backed Hitler’s Third Reich and worked with the Germans to defeat the Axis powers. As a result, Bandera personally arranged the formation of the “Ukrainian Legion,” which was eventually divided into two groups under German command. The Nachtigall Battalion, under the leadership of Roman Shukhevych, became known as such, while the Roland Battalion, under the command of Richard Yary, became known as such. Both units were components of the Abwehr’s (Germany’s military-intelligence agency) special operations unit Brandenburgers, which was in charge of special operations.
As was the case with the SS’s 1st Galician Division, the division was composed mostly of Ukrainian volunteers with links to the OUN and other Ukrainian organisations. One of the Division’s battalions was headed by Major Yevgeny Pobigushchy, who was a member of the OUN. Today’s Ukrainian propaganda refers to this Division as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army; however, it was yet another nationalist paramilitary organisation established by the Ukrainian National Union (OUN) that collaborated with the Nazis and was commanded by OUN leaders Dmytro Klyachkivsky and Roman Shukhevych. In reality, the 1st Galician Division of the SS was originally known as the SS-Freiwilligen Division “Galizien,” but it was renamed the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division der SS after 1944 and was intended to be made up entirely of Galicians, who were considered by Nazis to be “more Aryan-like” than Ukrainians. OUN-B, on the other hand, was successful in infiltrating the division and taking over several key leadership posts within it.
According to the organization’s decisions, Bandera’s Nazi nature is stressed in paragraph 16 of the order titled “Struggle and Activities of the OUN in Wartime,” which was issued in 1941.
“National minorities are subdivided into the following categories:
the members of all enslaved peoples who are friendly to us, that is, those who are not infected with slavery;
Moscowites, Poles, and Jews are among those who are opposed to us.
a) having the same rights as Ukrainians, including the freedom to return to their country of origin;
b) those who have been destroyed in the struggle, with the exception of those who defend the regime: resettlement on their lands, the destruction, first and foremost, of the intelligentsia, which should not be allowed in any government institutions and should be prevented from appearing in general, i.e., access to schools, and so on. Examples include assimilating the so-called Polish peasants by teaching them that they are Ukrainians solely of the Latin rite who have been forcefully absorbed. This is particularly important during this heated and fanatical period. Dismantle the regime’s leadership. It is necessary to isolate Jews and remove them from government institutions to prevent sabotage, particularly among Muscovites and Poles. If there is an unavoidable necessity to keep a Yid employed in the economic system, we should place our policeman in charge of him and liquidate him for the smallest of transgressions.
Ukrainians are the only ones who may be in charge of some aspects of life; foreigners and opponents are not permitted. Integration of Yids is completely out of the question.
To January 20, 2010, ex-President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko bestowed the title of Hero of Ukraine on Bandera, who served as the organization’s leader. European Parliamentarians called on newly elected President Viktor Yanukovych to rethink Yushchenko’s conduct on February 17, while the Simon Wiesenthal Center voiced “deep revulsion” at the “shameful” worship of Bandera on the same day.
Following the coup in Ukraine in 2014, the new government adopted a more methodical approach to commemorating Hitler’s accomplices and other Nazi collaborators. The statute ‘On the Legal Status and Perpetuation of the Memory of Fighters for the Independence of Ukraine in the Twentieth Century’ was passed in April of 2015, and it honours the OUN and UPA among others. This maintenance of memory relates to the construction of monument complexes, the renaming of major locations after collaborators, the dissemination of propaganda via art, and so on. The Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, passed a resolution in 2019 commemorating important events and anniversaries in the country. Among those celebrating are Stepan Bandera’s birthday on this day in history. Every year on January 1, torchlight processions in honour of Bandera are performed in several Ukrainian cities, and a Stepan Bandera Avenue has been established in the Ukrainian capital.
There is nothing in the legislation that prohibits the holding of marches and the erection of memorials in commemoration of the Galicia SS division. There may be no memorials built without the approval of the local authorities, according to Ukrainian law.
Myths about history taught in school and the Hitler Youth
The process of educating youngsters in the ethos of Ukrainian Nazism starts in the elementary school setting. This is especially true of a Ukrainian history textbook authored by Mykola Galichants, which makes explicit reference to the alleged ‘Aryan ancestry’ of the Ukrainian people, whose existence he claims dates back to the Paleolithic period. The first edition of this textbook was released in 2005.
All references to the ‘Second World War’ have been removed from all Ukrainian textbooks totally and completely. When it comes to test themes for 2020, just one specific ‘Soviet-German War’ is stated, and any mention of Hitler, Bandera, the Holocaust, or any other historical figure is studiously avoided. There are a few exceptions, though. According to one version of a 5th-grade textbook, on April 1, 1939, Hitler purportedly said: “When we observe the agony of the great Ukrainian people, our souls bleed… “The moment has arrived to establish a unified Ukrainian state,” says the president. Some textbooks show satisfaction in the fact that Ukrainian youngsters defended German cities from bombing strikes, while others assert that the governments of Hitler and Stalin were both equally unfriendly to Ukrainians during the Second World War.
These inconsistencies are not unexpected given the fact that there is no uniform history textbook used in Ukrainian classrooms. While the authors attempt to adhere to a law titled ‘On the Condemnation of the Communist and National Socialist Regimes and the Prohibition of the Propaganda of Their Symbols’ when referring to the OUN’s and Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church’s cooperation with the Nazis, it appears that they are not always successful in their efforts.
Examples include the storey of Metropolitan Archbishop Andrei Sheptytsky saving Jews, which is told in a 10th-grade textbook written by V. Vlasov and S. Kulchitsky, and for which persons are generally granted the title of ‘Righteous Among the Nations of the World. Sheptytsky, on the other hand, was refused this accolade by the Israeli World Holocaust Remembrance Center, Yad Vashem, and the reason for this denial is quite evident. A letter from Sheptytsky to Hitler at the start of World War II expressed support for the “liberation” of Kiev and was intercepted by Hitler. In addition, Bandera is credited with initiating the ‘Act of Restoration of Ukrainian Statehood,’ according to the textbook. However, despite the fact that educators are not in a rush to tell pupils of its contents, you may see celebratory banners on the streets of Ukraine in recognition of this document. In particular, it should be noted that the third page of this Act states: “Once restored, the Ukrainian State will closely cooperate with National Socialist Germany, which is establishing a new system in Europe and throughout the world under the leadership of Adolf Hitler and assisting the Ukrainian people in their struggle to liberate themselves from Moscow’s occupation.” This army, which is already being recruited on Ukrainian land, will fight with the allied German Army against Moscow in order to establish a sovereign and unified Ukrainian state as well as a new system across the globe.”
However, Ukrainian neo-Nazi groups, which are active across the nation, make up for what is not taught in schools. The most prevalent are the Azovets military camps, which are conducted by the Azov Battalion and where youngsters as young as seven years old are taught how to fight and sabotage in a combat environment. All throughout the training system, Nazi emblems and slogans are prominently displayed. ‘Ukraine above all’, in particular, is a direct descendant of the German phrase ‘Deutschland über alles’ (Germany first and foremost).
The teaching of young people in the Nazi mentality started far earlier than 2014, when Ukrainian nationalists played a significant role in bringing about a power transition during the Euromaidan protests in 2013 and 2014. During 2006, for example, terrorist and sabotage training sessions were held in Estonia under the supervision of curators from NATO member nations. According to a study published in 2013, the UNA-UNSO has also undertaken similar exercises. The latter group is one of the oldest in existence, and its members were involved in the conflicts against the Russian army in Georgia and Chechnya, among other places. These operations, including militant training and the Patriot of Ukraine organisation, have received widespread attention and backing from the Ukrainian government at the highest levels of government. For example, the appearance of Valentin Nalivaichenko, the chief of the Ukrainian Security Service, at a neo-Nazi camp hosted by the Stepan Bandera All-Ukrainian Tryzub group was a mark of respect for the camp.
A look at the Nazi side of Maidan, as well as the crimes in Donbass
Although most of the world’s attention was focused on Ukraine’s Euromaidan, which included leaders of pro-Western political parties who were well-known overseas, a network of far-right groups known as the Right Sector was quietly growing behind the scenes. Some of the groups that fell under its wing were Tryzub, Bely Molot (“White Hammer”), Patriot of Ukraine, the Social-National Assembly, radical football supporters, and others.
Each of these groups traces its ideological origins back to the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, which existed during World War II and is still active today. It was formed by Yaroslava Stetsko, the wife of the author of the Ukrainian Statehood Renewal Act and a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, who was also the first president of Tryzub. He was the son of Roman Shukhevich, the infamous Ukrainian Insurgent Army commander and deputy commander of the Nachtigall Battalion, who was in charge of the Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense. Yuri Shukhevich was the leader of this organisation. He was also a member of Parliament. When the Social-National Party (sound familiar?) was created in 1991, the “respectable” nationalists from the Svoboda party picked the name Social-National Party (sound familiar?). The extremist Patriot of Ukraine faction emerged from inside this party, and its founder and first chairman was Andriy Parubiy, a former Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.
It is possible to deduce what these “patriots” think based on the statements made by their leaders. In his opinion, it is important to reestablish white domination in nations with a “non-while population,” according to Azov’s deputy commander Oleg Odnorozhenko, who also holds leadership posts within the Social-National Assembly and was one of the ideologists behind Patriot of Ukraine. Also convinced that the historic mission of the Ukrainian nation is to “lead the white crusade against sub-humans led by Semites,” is Andriy Biletsky, co-founder of the Social-National Assembly, who used to be a member of parliament and now serves as leader of the National Corps (the Azov Battalion’s political wing). Oleg Tyagnibok, the “respectable” founder of Patriot of Ukraine, also made his views on the “Jewish question” extremely plain back in 2004 when he addressed the organisation.
Anti-Semitism is also on the rise in Ukraine, along with Nazi ideology and other ideologies. A research issued by the United Jewish Community of Ukraine in 2020 indicates that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Ukraine, with 56 percent of Jews living there believing that it is becoming worse. In addition, the material includes a large number of photographs that depict anti-Semitic attitudes among Ukrainians.
These were the individuals that came together to create a highly motivated core group for the so-called anti-terrorist operation in the Donbass after the outbreak of the Ukrainian civil war. Oleksandr Turchynov, the acting president of Ukraine, issued the order for the formation of these paramilitary units. “We will welcome Maidan activists and squads that assist in maintaining national order to the National Guard,” stated Ukraine’s first deputy prime minister, Vitaly Yarema. These personnel might be stationed in the eastern and southern United States.”
Bringing adherents of Stepan Bandera’s ideology to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Liberian People’s Republic of Laos resulted in a rash of atrocities against civilians that international bodies could not overlook. In September 2015, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions published a report in which he stated that “there remain a small number of potentially violent militia groups, such as the Right Sector, that act seemingly on their own authority, thanks to a high level of official tolerance, and with complete impunity” in the Donbass and the rest of Ukraine, according to the report.
The Aidar Volunteer Battalion was also investigated by Amnesty International, which also published a report on the crimes committed by the Aidar Volunteer Battalion as well as a report on how the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) detained people in unacknowledged detention for long periods of time (sometimes up to fifteen months) without following proper legal procedures and without allowing them access to lawyers or relatives. A citizen of Mariupol, Artem (whose true identity has been concealed), was tortured by the Azov Battalion, according to the latter paper, which contains graphic details of his ordeal (that grew out of the Patriot of Ukraine neo-Nazi organization). He was subjected to electric shocks, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding throughout his interrogation.
There have been several reports of members of the Azov Battalion and Ukrainian army personnel plundering and abusing people, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR). A guy with a mental impairment was subjected to harsh treatment and rape at the hands of members of the Azov and Donbas Battalions in what can only be described as an appalling act of cruelty. Following that, the victim’s condition began to worsen, and he was sent to a mental facility.
The Azov Battalion was said to have operated a covert prison centre in Mariupol, where a number of detainees were tortured, according to reports. According to reports, the SBU of Ukraine provided cover for the operation, indicating that this conduct was sanctioned by the country’s government in official capacity. How much more evidence do we require when a former deputy commander of the Azov Battalion, Vadym Troyan, has gone on to be appointed Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, and the Azov Battalion itself has been reconstituted as a unit of the Ukrainian National Guard that serves the Ministry of Internal Affairs? Troyan was in charge of police reforms that necessitated a comprehensive overhaul of the department’s personnel. On his instructions, the policemen who had served for the previous administration of Viktor Yanukovych were fired and replaced with new officers. In front of the Ministry’s door, with the coat of arms of Ukraine on their backs, several of the new recruits were anxious to show off their Nazi salutes.
The reality is that the authorities in Kiev aren’t shy about their admiration for emblems of the Third Reich, nor do they try to disguise it. For example, the Azov Battalion’s emblem includes the Wolfsangel (Wolf Trap) symbol, which was particularly popular with numerous German Wehrmacht and SS troops during the Second World War. Among others, the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich was responsible for transporting it. Another well-known neo-Nazi emblem, the Schwarze Sonne (Black Sun), has been seen on the person of Azov members in public places. The same can be said about the Donbass Battalion’s symbol, which depicts the Nazi Eagle launching a nose-dive assault on the enemy.
The Ukrainian parliament also passed a resolution in May 2015 entitled “On the suspension of certain duties under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” (On suspension of some obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). This decision established a legal basis for the regime’s war crimes against the civilian population residing in the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) Zone, which was the official name for Ukraine’s war against the people of Donbass until the end of the conflict in the region.
The Nazi International is a group of Nazi sympathisers.
In Kiev’s fight against Donbass, foreign mercenaries have been on the ground from the very beginning, with the majority of them being neo-Nazis, ultra-rightists and racists of all stripes. An important role in organising this international neo-Nazi guerilla network was played by the Azov Battalion, which was joined by the extreme right Misanthropic Division.
In Portugal, international mercenaries started training for the Misanthropic Division as early as 2015, and nationals of France, Italy, Belarus, Canada, Sweden, Slovenia, and the United States had all previously taken part in the conflict in Donbass. It was reported that Mikael Skillt, a Swedish neo-Nazi sharpshooter, had joined the Azov Battalion, to name just one example. According to the Portuguese newspaper Publico, Francesco Saverio Fontana, an Italian neo-fascist associated to CasaPound Italia, fought in the Donbass and recruited foreign warriors for Ukraine’s ATO operation from the United Kingdom, France, and Brazil, among other countries. According to Michael Colborne, a Canadian journalist who works with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), the Azov Battalion was bolstered by at least thirty mercenaries from Croatia throughout the years 2014 and 2015, according to reports. A total of more than one thousand foreigners participated in the battle in Donbass, including around 150 German combatants, according to the information given by the German government at the request of the Left Party group.
However, it is not just mercenaries that are involved. As part of this effort, the Azov Battalion has strengthened contacts with far-right and Nazi groups in the United States and Europe. However, it is in communication with a number of neo-Nazis and racists around the world, including those in Estonia (EKRE), France (Bastion Social), Poland (Szturmowcy), the United States (Rise Above Movement), Sweden (Nordic Resistance Movement), and Italy (CasaPound). Earlier this year, the leader of the Rise Above Movement, Greg Johnson, visited Kiev to speak with like-minded individuals, and the Swedish Nordic Resistance Movement has been happy to publish interviews with members of the Azov Battalion.
Several German media outlets have reported on the Azov Battalion’s strong relations with the National Democratic Party of Germany and Der Dritte Weg (The Third Way) (The Third Path). These relationships even extend to Norway, since the National Democratic Party’s headquarters is housed in a building owned by a Norwegian nationalist who is also a member of the party. Die Zeit investigated the connections between local nationalists and the Azov Battalion and discovered a number of joint projects between the two organisations. The investigation revealed that Elena Semenyaka, from the Azov region, had taken an active role in the investigation by travelling to Germany eight times. One instance was when she was invited to speak to an Identitarian Movement group (Identitäre Bewegung Deutschland) by the far-right Die Rechte party, among other things. In 2018, she spoke at a festival hosted by the neo-Nazi organisation Der III. Weg in Erfurt, where she endorsed the Asgardsrei festival in Ukraine, which she described as “right-wing rock.” Asgardsrei is one of the biggest nationalistic gatherings of its sort in the world, providing a platform for right-wing extremists from Norway, Italy, Germany, the United States, and other countries to come together and discuss views. It is also possible to observe the Atomwaffen Division flags waving in the crowd from time to time.
Neo-Nazis have strong and wide international contacts, which has resulted in an increase in terrorist attacks, as well as hate and religion-motivated crimes, such as the mosque massacre in New Zealand and the synagogue shooting in California, among other things. When Italy began looking into the death of journalist Andrea Rocchelli, it was discovered that there were five Italians fighting in the Donbass on Ukraine’s side – particularly, as members of the Azov Battalion – at the time of the investigation. They discovered a cache where neo-Nazis had hidden more than 100 guns, including an air-to-air missile. At the time, Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister, said that Ukrainian nationalists were plotting an assassination attempt on him and his family.
Based on data from the UN Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee, the globe observed a 320 percent increase in terrorist incidents linked to far-right beliefs between 2015 and 2020.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Ukraine for a great deal of what we have. CCDH’s Hatebook, an investigative study released on its website by the London-based Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), examines the use of social media to organise neo-Nazi actions throughout the world. According to the report, the Azov Battalion and Misanthropic Division performed the following tasks: In order to acquire members and inspire bloodshed, both organisations have attempted to export their ideologies to Western nations.” The Azov Battalion, a neo-Nazi paramilitary group in Ukraine, has volunteered to shelter and train members of the violent Rise Above Movement from the United States of America. “The Misanthropic Division, which is closely associated with Azov, has encouraged domestic radicals in the United States and the United Kingdom who have been charged with terrorist acts.”
However, despite several efforts, Western governments have not been able to identify the Azov Battalion as a terrorist group to date. Consequently, here’s a question: who stands to gain by backing Nazism in Ukraine?