To begin to attempt to evaluate and grasp the issue of Ukrainian nationalism, it is necessary to learn history and reflect honestly. I would also like to preface this by stating I am evaluating Ukrainian nationalism on its own.
To prevent this from becoming too long, I will begin with the 20th century. At the end of the Russian empire and during the war, pogroms against national and ethnic minorities were commonplace. Among the regions where pogroms occurred, territories of Ukraine were frequent and particularly & especially gruesome. According to the anti-communist “Black Book of Communism”, which commonly refers to the pogroms as “rebelling peasants”, “peasant uprising”, etc, this is how the book described them in two examples of the many:
From the “Black Book of Communism”
Notably, the pogroms [Russian for “decimations”] were characterized by anti-Communist and anti-Bolshevik views. But they were also characterized by rabid nationalist views, by people who viewed “Ukraine for the Ukrainians” and wanted national & ethnic minorities such as Jews to be removed or killed. Among the prominent Ukrainian nationalists, Symon Petliura led a fight for “Ukrainian independence”, as they call it, during the war. During his rule of the Ukrainian National Republic, his troops and supporters led and conducted hundreds of bloody and violent pogroms against national & ethnic minorities killing dozens of thousands of people. It is argued by some that Petliura opposed the pogroms, citing evidence such as the “Order Issued by the Main Command of the Armies of the Ukrainian National Republic” on August 26th of 1919 where he states that he opposes the pogroms and will expel & punish pogromists, including from his troops. Despite this and whatever else he said, pogroms continued.
Realistically and logically, Petliura was afraid to punish and persecute the pogromists because to do that would’ve been to eradicate his support base. As noted previously, the nationalists who fought against the Bolsheviks and were trying to maintain or expand nationalist control over land were the same ones carrying out such pogroms. According to the Red Cross Commission, tens of thousands of Jewish people were killed during the pogroms carried out by the troops of Petliura in the winter of 1919. Petliura was eventually assassinated in revenge for his role in the pogroms and during the trial, Petliura’s role was heavily discussed. On the side of Petliura, hundreds of documents were presented to show Petliura as innocent: “See, he suppressed anti-semitism, pogromists, etc., in the military and government”. However, as it was noted then it will be noted now, that most of the documents compiled were signed not by Petliura and were signed after he fled Ukraine. One example of the “suppression” by Petliura against the elements within his troops was the execution of Ivan Semesenko. A pogrom was carried out by the Ukrainian nationalist soldiers of Petliura in the town of Proskurov (now called “Khmelnytskyi city”) where hundreds of Jewish people were murdered as well as anybody who tried to stop the pogrom.
The story went that after the pogrom, Petliura ordered an investigation and for the people to be punished accordingly. Semesenko was arrested and jailed briefly for a few months but was shortly released. After release, he organized and began to revolt against Petliura but was eventually caught. At this point, it is highly debated as to what happened, and why it happened. Generally, historians have three views: 1) he was fired and secretly released 2) he was executed, but only for his revolt against Petliura 3) he was executed for his role in the pogroms. In any event, the prosecution was unable to prove a single case to defend Petliura, to prove he ever did anything to stop the pogroms or prosecute the pogromists for the pogroms. It was even noted by Heinrich Sliozberg during the trial that the pogroms happened right in front of Petliura and provided him and his supporters with the ability to provide free food, free clothing, free money, etc., looted from the victims of pogroms. Which undeniably, it did. If you murder thousands of Jewish people in one winter and suddenly you have thousands of people’s worth of clothing, food, etc — and so it was! Suddenly thousands of Ukrainian nationalists had more clothes, more food, and more material goods that were looted. During the entire trial, the prosecution which defended Petliura was unable to provide a single example of him punishing pogromists or acting to stop them. The trial ended with Sholem Schwarzbard, who killed Petliura and whose parents were among the victims of Petliura’s pogroms in Odessa, being acquitted due to the overwhelming evidence.
Symon Petliura and the Petliurites are one manifestation of Ukrainian nationalism. As the years continued, Ukrainian nationalism continued but manifested itself in other organizations and by other leaders.
Another major manifestation of Ukrainian nationalism in the 20th century came by means of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). The OUN, by the accounts of anti-communists, fascists, liberals, etc., are considered heroes who fought for Ukrainian national liberation, much like the Petliurites and others from decades prior. Many people who participated in the pogroms of decades prior and were a part of various nationalist organizations, eventually joined the OUN.
In reality, the OUN and its leaders received funds, training, etc., from the Italian fascist government and the nazi German government. The words of the Ukrainian nationalists match the actions of the nationalists — pogroms, committing atrocities in the holocaust alongside the Germans, etc. The Ukrainian nationalists collaborated with nazi Germans, assisted the Germans in setting up concentration camps, and assisted in the mass extermination of ethnic minorities in Ukraine. The modern Ukrainian government has listed Yaroslav Stetsko, a prominent OUN leader, as a “hero”. To quote Stetsko, in 1941, “I, therefore, support destruction of the Jews and the expedience of bringing German methods of exterminating Jewry to Ukraine”. And so they did. Even though Hitler double-crossed Bandera & others, it remains a fact that they collaborated, praised fascism & Naziism, and sought a similar goal. Nobody said it was good for one’s health to collaborate with Hitler!
One of the major figures of the OUN is Stepan Bandera. Although denied by revisionists that he was a fascist, everything is consistent. Stepan Bandera’s brother went to fascist Italy in 1933 paid for by the fascist Italian government. While in Italy, he joined the “gruppi universitari fascisti” and also founded “Zavarro”, a student group for Ukrainians to become more familiar with fascism.
Nationalism as savage tribalism
Very clearly, nationalist groups affirmed a fact that is denied today by nationalists — “Ukrainians use the word nationalism in the sense of national socialism or fascism”, a quote from the Ukrainian Herald in 1938. Again, this point is affirmed many times by many different prominent leaders of the OUN. Stepan Bandera led a faction in the OUN called OUN-B. On the other hand, there was OUN-M, which was led by Andriy Melnyk. Some describe Melnyk as “moderate” and “pragmatic”, but I wouldn’t.
In a letter to Joachim von Ribbentrop, the minister of foreign affairs for nazi Germany, on May 2nd of 1938, Melnyk stated that the OUN was “ideologically akin to similar movements in Europe, especially to National Socialism in Germany and Fascism in Italy”.
Another prominent member of the OUN who wrote extensively about Ukrainian nationalism and what it means, Yevhen Onatsky stated in a letter to Iaroslav Pelenskyi on January 20th of 1930: “We sympathize with the fascist ideology and share in many points its sociopolitical program”. Continuing he says that Ukrainian nationalists shouldn’t call themselves fascists because it would “arm against us everyone and everything.”
In 1929, the OUN adopted the brochure called the “ The Decalogue of a Ukrainian Nationalist”, which was to act as a list of pillars for Ukrainian nationalists created by OUN member Stepan Lenkavsky which called for doing anything including lying, cheating, stealing, murder, anything, and everything to create a Ukrainian nation and anything is justified in pursuit of any effort to bring “strength, fame, wealth and area to the Ukrainian state”. This was based on the “Ten Commandments of the Ukrainian People’s Party” which outlined opposition to interracial or interethnic marriages and called for the establishment of an ethnostate without Romas, Poles, Russians, Jews, etc.
Mykola Konrad, another prominent Ukrainian nationalist and professor at the Theological Academy in “Nationalism and Catholicism” (1934), stated: “The law of nature demands social life between people. As a result of such coexistence common descent, community of blood, community of race, common language, common territory, customs, traditions, experiences, culture, religion, and statehood emerge … in short, a nation is formed.” In this piece, Konrad outlines the connection and relationship between Italian fascism, German Nazism, and Ukrainian nationalism. Continuing, he states regarding Dmytro Dontsov that his “nationalism attempts to cultivate a high spiritual level of uncritical thinking by awakening instincts, passion, hatred toward enemies, the most advanced rapacity, and by activating a vigorous elite that by means of violence and unscrupulous terror, with knife and blood [may accomplish its ends”]. This was meant to be a positive statement from Konrad towards Dontsov. Konrad was beatified by Pope John Paul II on June 27th of 2001.
For the context of Konrad’s praise, and to continue with the explanation of history, Ukrainian nationalist Dontsov repeatedly and often said that Ukrainian nationalists are fascists, but would also often claim that it is not fascism per se because fascism belongs to Italians, Nazism belongs to the Germans, and Ukrainian nationalism is simply the application to Ukraine. Such documentation of Dontsov’s perception can be viewed in his piece “Are We Fascists?” from 1923.
It has all been demonstrated clearly by the words and actions of the Ukrainian nationalists themselves what exactly “Ukrainian nationalism” entails. This is a small and brief summary, but an apt summary for Ukrainian nationalism. Now we can begin to examine contemporary Ukraine with this knowledge and understanding. To reiterate, fascism belongs to Italy, Nazism belongs to Germany, and Ukrainian nationalism is its application in Ukraine.
In modern-day Ukraine, not unlike other countries, people with far-right, fascist, neo-nazi, etc beliefs exist. It isn’t difficult to find images of Ukrainians with swastikas, calling for the extermination of national minorities, and so on. But then again, a small number of people or a fringe group existing within a country isn’t the extent of Ukraine’s relationship to naziism or fascism. Beyond “Azov”, beyond “Svoboda”, and beyond “Right Sector”, there are more fascists and nazis.
A common tactic among the “pro-Ukraine” crowd that is less able to engage in critical thinking is to look at the electoral politics of the Ukrainian state. In 2019, the Presidential election for the first round resulted in 1.62% of the vote for the fascist “Svoboda Party” and 5.48% for the fascist “Radical Party”. Collectively, that is only 7.1%. At first glance, that is accepted by many as a damning rebuttal of any claim that Ukraine has a fascism problem. However, this is a superficial and shallow examination. In many larger Ukrainian political parties exists people who are fascist, sympathetic to fascism, etc, and not simply supporters of a wing of a party but also politicians and party leaders.
In the election of 2020, the City Council of Kiev was elected with a majority of so-called “center”, “liberal”, etc political parties. Yet on November 4th of 2021, they renamed a street that was previously named in honor of WWII veteran Nikolai Kuznetsov who fought against the nazis. They changed the name of the street in dedication to Oles Babi, a prominent member of the OUN, an organization that collaborated with the nazis.
Members of Kyiv City Council singing «Our father is Bandera» after renaming the WWII hero Nikolay Kuznetsov street into Oles Babiy street – the Nazi collaborator, antisemite and Holocaust perpetrator. Bandera is leader of OUN that murdered tens of thousand peaceful Poles and Jew. pic.twitter.com/0FaCAqMKCC
— Eduard Dolinsky (@edolinsky) November 5, 2021
Translation: OUN nazis, ancestors of today’s Fascist groups, undressing little girls before their murder at Babi Yar, 1943.
Babi fled Ukraine in 1944 and went to nazi Germany, and then fled to the USA shortly after the end of WWII. Babi is also the author of the “March of Nationalists” anthem he wrote in 1929. This became the official anthem of the OUN and UPA in 1932. In 2017, the Ukrainian government provided a modern adaptation of the anthem under the name “March of the New Army” which is now the official anthem of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The modern Ukrainian government also adopted the “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!” as a slogan, which was an official slogan of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. “Glory to Ukraine!” became a prominent slogan even before the OUN’s existence, during the earlier 20th century from the Ukrainian nationalists during the war where they conducted pogroms against national minorities. “Glory to the Heroes!” was added by the OUN about the “glory” of the Ukrainian nationalists and pogromists of earlier decades.
As part of decommunization, this is a major characteristic. Monuments in dedication to Soviet WWII veterans, including ethnic Ukrainians, who fought against the nazis have been and are being torn down and replaced with monuments in dedication to fascists, nazi collaborators, pogromists, etc. There are thousands of streets, parks, monuments, etc that have been attributed to such people by the contemporary Ukrainian nationalists within the government. Many local and regional governments have even had parades, events, and celebrations in dedication to the OUN members and other rabid nationalist figures.
The government of Ukraine has also distributed money to fascist and neo-nazi organizations. One such example is in 2018, the government had given funds through the Ministry of Youth & Sports to the neo-nazi Січ group for “national-patriotic education projects” which amounted to approximately 17,000 USD. This group, including before 2018, was well known for being neo-nazi as it is infamous for the pogroms its members have committed against national minorities such as Roma people, murdering anti-fascist activists, etc. In March of 2018, a district in Kiev (Holosiivskyi) arranged an agreement between Січ and the local government wherein Січ would function as a security force for the city. Січ in 2019 also came into an agreement with the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) for the purpose of Січ carrying out duties that the SBU wanted to be done but cannot legally be done by the SBU, although collaboration of the two organizations before 2019 has been also well-documented. In March 2021, various Січ members were elected to the public council of the Ministry of Veteran Affairs. At various functions and events, Січ functioned as violent perpetrators where they attacked people such as during the International Women’s Day march of 2018. Rather than arresting the members of Січ, the government and police arrested their victims who were marching in the Women’s Day march.
Another common claim is that there cannot be any major or powerful organs of fascism or naziism in Ukraine because Zelensky, a Jewish person who had family who died in the Holocaust, is President. On the other hand, the U.S. had a Black President, and yeah, so that puts this claim to rest, quickly.
On March 2nd of 2022, President Zelensky appointed Maksym Marchenko as the governor of the Odessa Oblast. Marchenko is the former leader of the Aidar Battalion. The Aidar Battalion is an infamous battalion that is well-known for its looting, harassment, kidnapping, torture, rape, and murder of and against civilians in the Donbass region. There have been many international reports of such crimes being committed during the period of Marchenko’s leadership and under his direction. This is documented even amongst the western organizations and even the United Nations. The group is well-known for its fascist and neo-nazi members, as the battalion was birthed by members of the fascist “Radical Party” and consisted of foreign members including members from the fascist Swedish political party “Party of Swedes”. Zelensky appointed the ex-leader of a fascist death squad as governor of Odessa.
Trials for crimes committed by the Ukrainian nationalists are regularly stalled or simply ignored by the Ukrainian government. Most of the time the case results in impunity for Ukrainian nationalists to commit whatever crimes they’d like regardless of whether it is members of Azov, Січ, Aidar, or just Ukrainian nationalists unaffiliated with these organizations.
In this thread, I dissected the anti-Roma Pogrom by Ukrainian nationalists in Loshchynivka in 2016. In summary, an innocent Roma man was falsely accused of a murder he did not commit. Evidence, witnesses, etc are all in his favor yet the government actively continues to persecute him despite it being well-known and evident that he is innocent. Police allowed the pogrom to be conducted, the local government & others like Mikheil Saakashvili defended the pogromists and said that the Roma people should be evicted while calling them drug dealers and such, then the courts & prosecutors defended the pogromists and refused to prosecute them for the violence while instead prosecuting the innocent Roma man. In fact, in December of 2021, Judge Maria Arakelian from the Odessa District Administrative Court dismissed a lawsuit by victims of the pogrom saying that they were victims of injustice; the Judge held the position that the pogrom was an act of “direct democracy” of which the Ukrainian nationalists were entitled to. The victims of the pogroms have not received justice, Chebotar (the man falsely accused) is still being prosecuted, and those who committed the pogrom are defended & protected by the police and the state. This is simply one example of many in which contemporary Ukrainian nationalists have committed violent acts against national minorities (like Jews, Russians, Romas, etc) with the victims being prosecuted and the offenders being defended by the state.
The 2014 Trade Unions House massacre is another example of this reality. Since the massacre, there are been very little prosecution or punishment for the perpetrators of the massacre, the euromaidan-Ukrainian nationalists. Almost all of the people that died in the massacre were from the anti-maidan camp, yet almost all of the people that have been arrested, jailed, or punished by the state have been of the anti-maidan camp, who did not commit the massacre.
In 2017, the Ukrainian government decided to place Borys Steklyar, a Ukrainian-Jewish WWII veteran, on trial for the murder of OUN members, such as Nil Khasevych. The investigation was announced by the prosecutor and addressed to extreme far-right ideologue Denis Polischuk, who is one of the two suspects of murdering anti-Euromaidan activist Oles Buzina. Steklyar was a key figure in the “repression” of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, the military wing of the OUN. As noted previously, the OUN collaborated with nazi Germany and murdered hundreds of thousands of national minorities including specifically targeting Jews. Take a moment to grasp this: they placed a then 94-year-old Jewish WWII veteran on trial for killing Ukrainian nationalists who collaborated with Hitler to murder Jews & other people in the Holocaust. As stated by Eduard Dolinsky, “He was an active fighter when they destroyed Jews and Poles” and that “It’s the Ukrainian Insurgent Army that committed a war crime”.
As part of decommunization, naziism and communism were equated. The government banned the communist party. However even though the communist party was banned, Svoboda and the Radical Party continue to exist without any persecution. The 2015 decommunization law on political parties allows the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice to ban any party from participating in elections. And even now, the Ukrainian government outlawed the opposition parties that it views as “anti-Ukrainian” which consisted of the Opposition Platform for Life, Left Opposition, Union of Left Forces, Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, Socialist Party of Ukraine, etc. Which would mean that all parties remaining are “pro-Ukrainian” which means to the eyes of the Ukrainian government Svoboda, Radical Party, etc, they are on the “same side”.
The existence of fascism, Nazism, and that such sympathies are common in Ukraine shows that the fascists are more than a few powerless fringe Ukrainian groups or are limited to only a powerless sect of society, with no power or influence in the Ukrainian government, military, police, or politics. Their power literally pervades society and certainly the current regimes since the 2014 coup.
In sum, the glorification and rehabilitation of fascists and nazi collaborators by the state, the adoption of 20th-century fascist iconographies by the state, the existence of Ukrainian nationalists and fascists in the state and police and military, and the increase of attacks on national minorities (including against Jews) coupled with the simultaneous persecution of the victims & defense of the offenders by the state, re-writing the holocaust as to absolve the Ukrainian nationalists like the OUN of any wrongdoing, etc represent a legitimate and real problem in Ukraine. There are millions of Ukrainian people who reject this rabid nationalism, who reject the rehabilitation of nazi collaborators and fascists of the 20th century, who do not support depriving national minorities of their linguistic rights, who don’t view pogroms as “direct democracy”, etc. Just as there were Ukrainians who collaborated with nazi Germany, there were also millions of Ukrainians who did not collaborate with nazi Germany, and who were not fascist. And today millions of Ukrainians do not support the policies of the nationalist government. It cannot be stressed enough that there is a large portion of the Ukrainian population who has been essentially silenced and scared into submission due to the violent attacks on anti-Ukrainian nationalists, anti-euromaidan, etc people; out of fear that if they openly are anti-fascist or oppose the Ukrainian war on the people of Donbass that nationalist groups like Січ, who have done in this historically, will murder them, out of fear that Ukrainian nationalists will come to the place where they organize against them and set that building on fire, etc. Ukrainian nationalism remains today as it was in the 20th century, in the same form that Ukrainian nationalists of the 20th century declared it as being.
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