Updated: Mar 23, 2022
Five years ago, Ukraine’s Maidan uprising ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, to the cheers and support of the West.
Members of SS Galician Divison reburied in Lviv
Today, increasing reports of far-right violence, ultranationalism, and erosion of basic freedoms are giving the lie to the West’s initial euphoria. There are neo-Nazi pogroms against the Roma, rampant attacks on feminists and LGBT groups, book bans, and state-sponsored glorification of Nazi collaborators.
"They wanted to kill us’: masked neo-fascists strike fear into Ukraine’s Roma” - The Guardian, August 27, 2018.
Ukraine’s far right has resisted carrying out outright attacks on Jews; other vulnerable groups haven’t been so lucky.
Last spring, a lethal wave of anti-Roma pogroms swept through Ukraine, with at least six attacks in two months. Footage from the pogroms evokes the 1930s: Armed thugs attack women and children while razing their camps. At least one man was killed, while others, including a child, were stabbed.
Young Ukrainians wearing the dreaded SS uniform with swastikas clearly visible on their helmets as they carried the caskets of members of this Nazi unit
Two gangs behind the attacks—C14 and the National Druzhina—felt comfortable enough to proudly post pogrom videos on social media. That’s not surprising, considering that the National Druzhina is part of Azov, while the neo-Nazi C14 receives government funding for “educational” programs. Last October, C14 leader Serhiy Bondar was welcomed at America House Kyiv, a center run by the US government.
Appeals from international organizations and the US embassy fell on deaf ears: Months after the United Nations demanded Kiev end “systematic persecution” of the Roma, a human-rights group reported C14 were allegedly intimidating Roma in a joint patrol with the Kiev police.
LGBT and women’s-Right groups
"It’s even worse than before’: How the ‘Revolution of Dignity’ Failed LGBT Ukrainians” - RFE, November 21, 2018.
In 2016, after pressure from the US Congress, the Kiev government began providing security for the annual Kiev Pride parade. However, this increasingly looks like a Potemkin affair: two hours of protection, with widespread attacks on LGBT individuals and gatherings during the rest of the year. Nationalist groups have targeted LGBT meetings with impunity, going so far as to shut down an event hosted by Amnesty International as well as assault a Western journalist at a transgender rights rally. Women’s-rights marches have also been targeted, including brazen attacks in March.
Attacks on press
“The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a Ukrainian law enforcement raid at the Kiev offices of Media Holding Vesti…more than a dozen masked officers ripped open doors with crowbars, seized property, and fired tear gas in the offices” - The Committee to Protect Journalists, February 9, 2018.
In May 2016, Myrotvorets, an ultranationalist website with links to the government, published the personal data of thousands of journalists who had obtained accreditation from Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine. Myrotvorets labeled the journalists “terrorist collaborators.”
A government-tied website declaring open season on journalists would be dangerous anywhere, but it is especially so in Ukraine, which has a disturbing track record of journalist assassinations. This includes Oles Buzina, gunned down in 2015, and Pavel Sheremet, assassinated by car bomb a year later.
The Myrotvorets doxing was denounced by Western reporters, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and ambassadors from the G7 nations. In response, Kiev officials, including Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, praised the site: “This is your choice to cooperate with occupying forces,” Avakov told journalists, while posting “I Support Myrotvorets” on Facebook. Myrotvorets remains operational today.
Last fall brought another attack on the media, this time using the courts. The Prosecutor General’s office was granted a warrant to seize records of RFE anti-corruption reporter Natalie Sedletska. An RFE spokeswoman warned that Kiev’s actions created “a chilling atmosphere for journalists,” while parliament deputy Mustafa Nayyem called it “an example of creeping dictatorship.”
“[Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk] also made a personal appeal to Russian-speaking Ukrainians, pledging to support…a special status to the Russian language” - US Secretary of State John Kerry, April 24, 2014
Ukraine is extraordinarily multilingual: In addition to the millions of Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainians, there are areas where Hungarian, Romanian, and other tongues are prevalent. These languages were protected by a 2012 regional-language law.
The post-Maidan government alarmed Russian-speaking Ukrainians by attempting to annul that law. The US State Department and Secretary of State John Kerry sought to assuage fears in 2014 by pledging that Kiev would protect the status of Russian. Those promises came to naught.
A 2017 law mandated that secondary education be conducted strictly in Ukrainian, which infuriated Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece. Several regions passed legislation banning the use of Russian in public life. Quotas enforce Ukrainian usage on TV and radio. (This would be akin to Washington forcing Spanish-language media to broadcast mostly in English.)
And in February 2018, Ukraine’s supreme court struck down the 2012 regional language law—the one Kerry promised eastern Ukrainians would stay in effect.
Currently, Kiev is preparing to pass a draconian law that would mandate the use of Ukrainian in most aspects of public life. It’s another example of Kiev alienating millions of its own citizens, while claiming to embrace Western values.
The price of willful blindness
These examples are only a tiny fraction of Ukraine’s slide toward intolerance, but they should be enough to point out the obvious: Washington’s decision to ignore the proliferation of armed neo-Nazi groups in a highly unstable nation only led to them gaining more power.
This easily predictable outcome is in marked contrast to Washington’s enthusiasm over the “Revolution of Dignity.” “Nationalism is exactly what Ukraine needs,” proclaimed a New Republic article by historian Anne Applebaum, whose celebration of nationalism came out right around the time that Ukraine green-lighted the formation of white-supremacist paramilitaries. A mere four months after Applebaum’s essay, Newsweek ran an article titled “Ukrainian nationalist volunteers committing ‘ISIS-style’ war crimes.”
In essay after essay, DC foreign-policy heads have denied or celebrated the influence of Ukraine’s far right. (Curiously, the same analysts vociferously denounce rising nationalism in Hungary, Poland, and Italy as highly dangerous.) Perhaps think-tankers deluded themselves into thinking Kiev’s far-right phase would tucker itself out. More likely, they simply embraced DC’s go-to strategy of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” Either way, the ramifications stretch far beyond Ukraine.
America’s backing of the Maidan uprising, along with the billions DC sinks into post-Maidan Kiev, make it clear: Starting February 2014, Ukraine became Washington’s latest democracy-spreading project. What we permit in Ukraine sends a green light to others.
By tolerating neo-Nazi gangs and battalions, state-led Holocaust distortion, and attacks on LGBT and the Roma, the United States is telling the rest of Europe: “We’re fine with this.” The implications—especially at a time of a global far-right revival—are profoundly disturbing.
Neo-Nazis and the Far Right are on the march in Ukraine Pt.1 HERE