By Theo Russell
On paper, the current Ukrainian government under prime minister Volodymyr Groysman has cleaned up its image, with two far-right, anti-semitic parties, Svoboda and the Radical Party, no longer in the coalition.
But the far right and neo-Nazi militias have been given official recognition. In 2015 84 of these battalions became part of the National Guard, the Patrol Service of Police, or under Ministry of Defence control. The interior minister, Arsen Avakov, has close ties with the Azov, Aidar and Tornado battalions.
These militias continue to run amok across Ukraine, mounting racist, anti-semitic, anti-communist and homophobic attacks, threatening and intimidating judges, and frequently kidnapping defendants when they are released by the courts.
Persecution of journalists
In May, the anonymous Mirotvorets (Peacemaker) website published 4,000 names and contact details of journalists including the New York Times, Reuters and BBC, who covered the shooting down of MH17 in July 2014. They were labelled “accomplices in terrorism” for receiving press accreditation from the Donetsk People’s Republic.
‘Peacemaker’ received support at the highest levels in Kiev for this action. One of Avakov’s top advisers, Anton Gerashchenko, said the list was published as part of the “information war” with Russia, and anyone who questioned it was a ‘separatist’, now a crime in Ukraine.
An advisor to the head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) then announced the journalists were being investigated as potential spies.
In March, the British government funded a ‘Peace-building school’ run by the Maidan Monitoring Information Centre, linked to the same “Peacemaker” website. The event, “Stepan Bandera: Myths and Reality”, sought to sanitise the image of the World War 2 Nazi collaborator.
A speaker from Ukraine’s Committee of State Ideology told the school “we should do our part to refute the myths - Soviet myths - about the fighters for the independence of Ukraine”.
Bandera was a follower of Mykola Mikhnovs’kyi, who called for a Ukraine “free of Russians, Poles, Magyars, Romanians, and Jews”, and Dmytro Dontsov, who translated the writings of Hitler and Mussolini into Ukrainian.
He led the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), which in 1939 called the German army “the army of allies”, and 1941 set up a Ukrainian Waffen-SS division, the Nachtigall Battalion. The OUN played a leading part in anti-Jewish pogroms, patrolled Jewish ghettoes, and assisted in deporting two million people to Germany.
In 1943 the OUN(B) killed 100,000 Ukrainian Poles. Between 5 and 7 million Ukrainians, including 1.5 million Jews, died under the Nazi occupation. Under the April 2015 law on ‘honouring the memory of fighters for Ukraine's independence’, it is now a crime to denigrate Bandera, the OUN or OUN(B).
UN and International Red Cross barred
Last May, the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) cancelled a visit to Ukraine after being refused access to sites where the secret police (SSU) is believed to run secret prisons. The SPT’s chair Sir Malcolm Evans spoke of " numerous and serious allegations that people have been detained, and torture or ill-treatment may have occurred" at these sites.
In February, the Union of Political Emigrants and Political Prisoners of Ukraine gave evidence of the prisons to the International Red Cross which also requested access, but it too was refused by the SSU.
Silencing of the opposition
Under the May 2015 ‘de-communisation law’ the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) has been banned. The main annual holiday now marks the foundation of the OUN(B), and in 2014 the SSU was re-organised on the lines of Bandera’s fascist movement. It cannot be denied that fascist ideology is now firmly embedded in the Ukrainian state.
There are now 4,000 people charged with "separatism", a criminal offence. Many supported referendums and protests in 2014 calling for separate status for cities in the east and south such, or have simply criticised the "Anti-Terrorist Operation" in the east in which 9,000 people have died.
In May, when a court in Odessa released taxi driver Evgeni Mefedov, accused of joining a protest, it was stormed by Right Sector fascists who searched cars, (including police cars) leaving the court. The judges were terrorised into making a new charge - threatening to kill one of the fascists - and Mefedov was thrown back into prison.
In April, the senior editor of a TV station near Odessa, Elena Glishchinskaya-Romanova, was raided at 5:30am and arrested by the SSU’s "Alfa" anti-terrorist unit searching for “agitation and propaganda material”. She and her children were held at gunpoint.
Using ‘evidence’ such as materials from the Party of Regions (led by the overthrown President Victor Yanukovych) and history books, she was accused “threatening the territorial integrity of Ukraine” and jailed for two months, since then extended several times, but eventually released after an international campaign.
Assassinations, kidnappings and disappearances
In April 2015 the well-known journalist Oles Buzina was murdered, but when two neo-Nazi suspects were arrested, a huge far-right rally demanded their release. At the main suspect’s trial, the judge was threatened, her office torched, and he was freed.
In April, Andrei Sokolov, a member of the socialist Borotba (Struggle) movement , was seized by four unidentified men and driven away after being released by a court. Since then he has disappeared.
After visiting the Donbas in 2014, he drove into an AFU checkpoint and was charged with "aiding a terrorist organization". After ‘proof’ of his guilt was obtained under duress, he agreed a deal to in exchange for pleading guilty, only to be kidnapped on his release.
On July 13 Mikhail Kononovich, a parliamentary candidate the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU), was attacked by neo-Nazis armed with pipes and chains.
In June, Alla Alexandrovska, 67 year-old head of the Kharkov CPU and member of the national parliament four times, was arrested and charged with separatism, 'posing a threat to a state security' and 'terrorism'. She worked with Sloboda, an organization with very moderate demands within Ukraine’s current laws. After falling ill in detention, she attended court connected to an IV tube.
As the "separatist" movement has faded away, Alexandrovska’s arrest marks a new crackdown on the ‘legal’ opposition, including the left of the Opposition Bloc, the Union of Left Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party.
UK, EU and NATO cosy up to Ukraine
The UK, European Union and NATO are forging ahead with developing ties with Ukraine, on the basis that it is “defending its territorial integrity”. A 100-strong UK military team has trained 2,000 Ukrainian troops; some may have members of the far right battalions now part of the Ukrainian army.
In March an EU-Ukraine Association Agreement was signed, and in June the EU Commission said Ukraine had met “all benchmark requirements” for a visa-free regime with the EU.
NATO has offered “Association Partnership” status to Georgia and Ukraine, already members of its ‘Partnership for Peace’ programme, at its Warsaw summit, and 1,800 NATO troops took part in the Rapid Trident military exercise in Ukraine in June.
The next stage of dictatorship
Artyom Buzila, a journalist for legal media outlets now in exile after being 11 months’ detention for ‘separatism’, recently outlined the next stage of dictatorship in Ukraine.
“The regime is tottering: millions of people are suffering from the economic situation and price hikes, and many are tired of the police state. However, the valiant SBU keeps locking up freethinking citizens in its dungeons.
“Ending the legal opposition has become the next task of the SBU (and the Kiev regime as a whole) after finishing with the radical ‘separatists’ and while the remains of the Russian Spring were forced underground.
“Arrests, harassment – anything is possible. And meanwhile, the repression continues with no end in sight. Who will be next?”