MONITORING OF CONFRONTATION AND VIOLENCE ORIGINATING ON THE FAR RIGHT IN UKRAINE: 15.10.18 – 15.05.19
Confrontation and violence caused by the far-right groups: monitoring results
October 15, 2018 – May 15, 2019
Almost a year ago, after the far-right group “Tvereza zla molod” (“Sober Evil Youth”) assassinated the Roma David Pop, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov issued a statement saying that law enforcement agencies “give a lot of attention to Neo-Nazi organizations. The atmosphere in the society should be such that being a supporter of these movements is not interesting, not cool and not advantageous.” Afterwards, he proposed to ban Neo-Nazis from entering the EU. Nevertheless, such categorical declarations did not lead to any actual steps, and in March 2019 it emerged that within the framework of the murder trial, the prosecution no longer insists on trying the defendants on charges that included those of racial discrimination.
The assassination of David Pop is just one instance of far-right groups using violence on the streets of Ukraine. The attention that this case has received is undoubtedly linked to the event’s tragic consequences; however, it is gradually fading. Far-right groups’ violent and confrontational actions, on the other hand, are far from coming to a stop. Representatives of far-right organizations are also held as suspects in at least another murder case, that of Kateryna Handziuk’s assassination. In addition, there have been many cases with no casualties, as well as those where no one was found guilty and punished.
Starting from October 15, 2018, NGO “Institute Respublica”, with the assistance of Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in Ukraine, has been collecting and systematizing data on street violence and confrontations caused by far-right groups, parties, organizations and individuals supporting extreme right ideology, within the “Territory of Violence” project. The collection of data relies on monitoring the reports made by national, macro-regional, activist sites and social media. The data in question allows us to assess the scale of the problem, point out the most active agents of the far right, and determine whom they most often target as victims of their street offences.
In the six months between October 15, 2018 and May 15, 2019, the monitoring recorded 95 cases of violence/confrontation brought about by extreme right-wing groups; 39 of those constituted cases of confrontation and 56 included violence against people and damage to property. Between October 14 and October 31, 15 cases occurred (4 cases of confrontation and 11 cases with elements of violence). In November, 23 such events took place (11 cases of confrontation and 12 containing elements of violence). In December, there were 14 events of this nature (7 cases of confrontation, 7 containing elements of violence). In the first month of 2019, there were 6 such events (4 cases of confrontation, 2 cases containing elements of violence). In February, the monitoring recorded 17 events (8 cases of confrontation, 9 containing elements of violence). In March, there were 10 events (2 cases of confrontation, 8 of violent nature). In April, 2 events occurred (both of violent nature). Finally, between May 1 and 15, 8 events took place (3 confrontational, 5 violent).
As the pattern emerging over time shows, the level of far-right violence decreased after the election. In fact, the week following the election was the first interval free from violence or confrontation caused by far right groups. During the six months of monitoring, there were only five weeks when no cases of far-right violence were reported, and while there were only three “calm” weeks before the vote, two out of seven weeks after the election were violence-free. On average, there was one case of confrontation and two cases of extreme right violence reported within the six-month period.
Most cases of far-right violence and/or confrontation happened in Kyiv (38 cases), Lviv (8 cases), Kharkiv (8 cases), Dnipro (7 cases), Kherson (4 cases), Odesa (3 cases), Kryvyi Rih (3 cases) Kremenchuk (3 cases) and Zhytomyr (3 cases). In other populated areas, fewer than three cases of far-right violence and/or confrontation were recorded.
Far-right C14 and “Natsionalnyi Korpus” (“National Corps”) groups were the key players engaged in confrontational and/or violent activities. C14 was noted to have taken part in 36 documented cases, including 21 cases of violent nature (6 among them being cases of violence against people).
The “National Corps” group was involved in 19 recorded cases: 13 cases of violent nature (8 of them cases of violence against people). Other notable identifiable groups involved were “Tradytsia i poriadok” (“Tradition and Order”) (7 cases recorded, 4 of them cases of violence against people), “Nevidomyi patriot” (“The Unknown Patriot”) (5 cases, 3 of them containing elements of violence, 2 of them marked by violence against people), “Natsionalni druzhyny” (“National Militia”) (5 cases, including 3 with elements of violence, 2 containing violence against people), “Bratstvo” (“Brotherhood”) (4 cases, 3 containing elements of violence, all of them cases of violence against people), “Katekhon” (3 cases in total, all with elements of violence, and all of violence against people ), “Sokil” (“Falcon”) (3 cases, 2 with elements of violence, 1 of them of violence against people). The rest of the identified parties took part in fewer than three cases of confrontational and/or violent nature.
In less than half of the cases, far-right violence was directed against property (27 cases), and in most cases (29) violence was directed against people, resulting in injuries (at least 23 instances). During the surveyed period, violent actions of far-right groups targeted representatives and supporters of politicians and political parties (8 cases), feminist/LGBT activists (4 cases), representatives of ethnic minorities (2 cases), journalists (1 case). During the period of monitoring, far-right violence against property (not accompanied by violence against people) included attacks on companies and small businesses (7 cases), Soviet monuments (6 cases), offices of politicians and political parties (5 cases), Russian embassies (2 cases), churches (2 cases), state institutions (2 cases), art exhibitions (2 cases), Roma property (1 case) and the property of a lawyer (1 case). Within the monitoring period, confrontational street offences committed by the far right included actions directed against political parties or politicians (9 cases), businesses (5 cases), state institutions (4 cases), journalists or mass media (3 cases), art exhibitions (3 cases), feminist or LGBT activists (3 cases), religious organizations (2 cases), and medical institutions (2 cases).
Many cases of street confrontation and/or violence were directed against politicians or political parties, particularly in the context of electoral contest. On December 30, 2019 in Kremenchuk, the C14 group attacked an “Opozytsiinyi blok” (“Opposition Bloc”) office, breaking the plate and defacing the walls by writing all over them. On February 1, representatives of the “National Corps” group in Berdiansk tried to disrupt presidential candidate’s (Oleksandr Vilkul, “Opposition Bloc”) meeting with voters, dousing the candidate in brilliant green while accusing him of pro-Russian views.
As a result of the attack, the politician suffered injuries to eyes. On the same day, in the town of Mangush, Donetsk region, persons most likely belonging to “Azov” Civil Corps blocked the premises where a meeting with Vilkul was scheduled to take place. On February 7, in Cherkasy, individuals who probably were members of the “National Corps” group sawed down a billboard with Vilkul’s election campaign advertisement, and a video of the demolition process appeared on social media pages of the “National Corps” group. On February 21, in Dnipro, C14 sabotaged an election commission’s meeting, protesting against the appointment of the commission’s chairman, whom C14 accused of separatism.
On February 9, 2019 in Kyiv, far-right groups such as С14, “Tradition and Order” and “The Unknown Patriot”, joined by other activists, held protests directed against the party conference of the presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko, demanding that perpetrators of Kateryna Handziuk’s murder be brought to account. As the inspection of what protestors’ carried on them revealed masks and pepper spray canisters, the police detained and brought more than a dozen representatives of right-wing groups to the police station. The search conducted at the station also revealed knives and rubber-bullet handguns. According to police, a far-right group later approached the police station and tried to enter the premises, armed with pepper spray canisters, brass knuckles, knives and pistols. As a result, another several dozen attackers were detained. At least seven people were injured during the altercation, including three police officers. Three occurrences looking into criminal charges were opened in relation to the attack on the police station, with the addition of another case looking into the abuse of authority by a police officer. As far as is known, all members of right-wing groups were subsequently released, with four of them declared wanted as offenders.
Violence and confrontation caused by far-right groups in the context of electoral contest were focused not only on opposition candidates. On March 9, in Kyiv and Cherkasy, “National Corps” and “National Militia” groups engaged in altercations with the police, trying to disrupt meetings held by the presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko. In Cherkassy, 22 law-enforcement officers were injured in the clash. On March 16, the “National Corps” group tried to disrupt a meeting between Poroshenko and voters in Poltava. The disruption resulted in a clash, with one person harmed. On March 19, “National Corps” and “National Militia” groups started a fight at Poroshenko’s meeting with voters in Ivano-Frankivsk. One person was injured as a result of the conflict. On May 14, after the presidential election, violent confrontations took place in Kyiv, in front of the Constitutional Court, between “Svoboda” (“Freedom”) and “National Corps” groups on one side, and Poroshenko’s supporters on the other.
A series of attacks on churches that belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate were recorded, these attacks being related to the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. In some of these attacks, far-right groups took part. On November 28, 2018 in Rivne, individuals believed to be members of far-right groups painted a church over with the inscription “FSB agents”. On January 14, 2019 in Lviv, representatives of C14 painted over the gates of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate with the inscription “FSB – get out of Lviv!”. On February 15, 2019 in Kryvyi Rih, two churches of the Moscow Patriarchate were set on fire, most likely by a far-right group (“1488″ graffiti was painted on the walls).
Far-right groups also resorted to confrontation and violence during the celebrations of May 1 and 9, although the level of aggression was significantly lower in comparison with recent years. On May 1, 2019 in Kharkiv, during the Labour Day events, representatives of the “Svitanok” (“Dawn”) organization doused Pavlo Tyshchenko, leader of the “Trudova Kharkivshchyna” organization, in brilliant green. Police did not detain anyone. On May 9, 2019 in Kharkiv, members of far-right groups started a fight with people taking part in the celebration and used tear gas on them.
Apart from reacting to current sociopolitical developments, far-right groups also engaged in actions of violent and/or confrontational nature against those they traditionally victimize. Thus, attacks motivated by racial and ethnic hatred took place. Approximately on October 30, 2018 in Uzhgorod, “Karpatska Sich” (“Carpathian Sich”) and “Obiednani viinoiu” (“United by War”) organization attacked a migrant owner of a small business (a shawarma stall) because of their preexisting conflict with the individual. The right-wingers went on to justify the attack on their social media accounts with xenophobic and anti-migrant rhetoric. On October 23, 2018 in Kyiv, C14, together with police and “Kyiv Municipal Guard”, carried out an expulsion of Roma from their temporary residence near the central railway station. On March 25, in Ivano-Frankivsk, “more than a dozen unknown young people dressed in dark clothes,” probably members of far-right groups, attacked Roma people’s temporary accommodation and threw bottles containing inflammable mixture at the buildings.
Furthermore, during the six months of monitoring, far-right groups continued to commit acts of violent and confrontational nature against feminist/LGBT community. On November 18, 2018 in Kyiv, C14, “Tradition and Order”, “Right Sector”, “Brotherhood”, “National Corps”, “Carpathian Sich” and “Katekhon” attacked the march organized in remembrance of transgender people. At least five people were injured as a result, among them one journalist. On November 20, 2018 in Kharkiv “Tradition and Order” members broke into PrideHub premises to disrupt an event held by local LGBT community. On December 5, 2018 in Rivne, “Brotherhood” and “National Corps” members broke into the premises and disrupted a gender-themed event. On February 9, 2019 in Kyiv, representatives of “The Unknown Patriot” attempted to interrupt an event in which the Ukrainian Parliamentary Commissioner for Gender Equality participated. On March 8, 2019 in Kyiv, “Tradition and Order”, “Sokil”, “Brotherhood” and “Katekhon” protested against the feminist march, later attacking the participants and breaking their banners. Three assailants were detained as a result of the attack. On April 11, 2019 in Kyiv, “Brotherhood”, “Katekhon”, “The Sisterhood of St. Olga” and “Tradition and Order” tried to disrupt the International Lesbian Conference. 10 people were hurt in the attack during which the far-right groups used tear gas. On May 15, 2019 in Zaporizhia, C14 and “National Corps” attacked the participants of the LGBT community event “One Hundred Steps of Pride” with brilliant green.
Over the course of six months, the monitoring also recorded occasions when far-right groups tried to censor art, resorting, among other things, to confrontation and violence. On January 23, 2019 in Kyiv, C14 came to Kyiv Academy of Arts, demanding that Spartak Khachanov, whom they accused of insulting the Ukrainian Army and separatism, be expelled from the Academy. The student had to lock himself inside the building to avoid the confrontation; later he left the country. On February 17, 2019 in Kyiv, Yurii “Khort” Pavlenko, from “Socialist National Assembly”, slashed the portraits of Taras Shevchenko created by the Ukrainian artist Oleksandr Grekov and displayed at Taras Shevchenko metro station. Subsequently, it was reported that exhibitions showing these portraits in Lviv and Zhytomyr were canceled because of pressure and threats from the far right.
Extreme right groups also put pressure on the media and journalists. On November 21, 2018, representatives of “Freikor” in Kharkiv physically intimidated the “NewsOne” channel journalists by pushing them; “Freikor” accused them of “spreading separatism.” On December 21, 2018 in Lviv, “National Corps”, “Rozvytok hromady” (“Community Development”) and “Ukrainian Union of ATO Veterans” broke into the premises of “Zaxid.net” and disrupted the online portal’s operation; the ire of the far right groups was incensed by journalists investigating fraud related to the allocation of land to ATO veterans.
The far-right groups also pressurized the lawyer Valentin Rybin, who had previously had conflicts with C14 over his clients: Viacheslav Pivovarenko, suspected of assassinating journalist Arkadii Babchenko; Volodymyr Ruban, accused of preparing terrorist acts and high treason; and a number of other individuals named as suspects in well-publicized treason cases. On December 24, 2018 in Kyiv, the lawyer’s car was burned down, in all likelihood by the far right (C14 “celebrated” this event on their social media accounts).
Accusations of “separatism” or “pro-Russian views” were often used by far-right groups attacking business enterprises as justification of their actions. Around October 19, 2018 in Kyiv, C14 members attacked a branch of the Russian “Sberbank” bank with Molotov cocktails. On October 28, 2018 in Kyiv, “Sokil” representatives blocked a refueling station, painted it over with graffiti and insulted its clients because the business in question belongs to Viktor Medvedchuk, whom the far right accuse of a pro-Russian stance. On the night of November 28, 2018 in Lviv, two branches of the “Alfabank” bank, owned by a Russian oligarch, were set on fire, very likely by far-right groups. On December 10, 2018, in Lviv, C14 members painted over the façade of an “Alfabank” branch and broke the entrance door.
Some cases of far-right violence resulting in people being injured were not reported in the media at all, with information about them only available on the far-right social media accounts. For example, on November 6, 2018 in Kyiv, C14 “detained” an individual they accused of theft. On December 21, 2018 in Odesa, С14 beat up two teenagers captured on video “mocking” the national anthem. C14 justified their actions by stating that in the video, teenagers were “shouting phrases associated with pro-Russian views.” Around December 27, 2018 in Kryvyi Rih, C14 physically assaulted a man undergoing trial for “blasphemy” against the national flag, explaining the attack away by calling their victim a “vatnik.” Around February 10, 2019 in Kyiv, representatives of the “Autonomous National Socialist Society” organization beat up a man, accusing him of “contemptible behavior” and calling him “subhuman.”
In Ukraine, far-right parties, organizations and groups are a real threat, as in their street politics they often resort to actions that are far from peaceful and use violence. Employing the rhetoric about “pro-Russian views,” “supporting separatism” and “threat to the nation,” far-right groups relish the idleness of law enforcement agencies and put pressure (including the physical kind) on opponents and those they identify as “enemies.” Far-right violence is closely intertwined with existing sociopolitical conflicts that have continued or unfolded over the last six months in connection with presidential election, religion, and politics of memory. Outside of the mainstream conflict areas, far-right groups commit “traditional” violence against LGBT representatives and feminists, as well as ethnic minorities. Through their policy of confrontation and violence employed on the street, far-right groups violate people’s right to security, freedom of speech, conscience and opinion. Although confrontational and violent activities of the far right have undergone quite a big decline after the election, there is no guarantee that further impunity will not lead to a new surge of far-right activities, building on current and new sociopolitical clashes, exacerbating them and diminishing the possibility of a civilized dialogue in the society.
For additional information, please contact:
Volodymyr Chemerys, human rights activist, chairman of “Institute Respublica”.
More about “Institute Respublica”: inrespublica.org.ua