Local elections and far-right attacks

Local elections and far-right attacks

The situation at the contact line in Donbass has been relatively calm since the ceasefire was agreed on July 22, and inside Ukraine many worrying developments related to the attacks by far-right organisations have been reported. It has become especially aggravated with the approaching local elections in Ukraine. The Central Election Commission has set the start of the electoral campaign for September 5. Ukraine expects to hold local elections on October 25.

Escalation began in mid-June, on June 17, when several hundred people, reportedly supporters of neo-libertarian Shariy party gathered at the Ukrainian President’s Office to demand the rule of law. Specifically, they demanded that law enforcement prosecute alleged attacks on June 11 and 12 by far-right activists and Donbas war veterans against Shariy-aligned journalists and activists. They also demanded the conviction of Serhiy Sternenko, an Odessa far-right activist currently on trial in Kyiv for murder. The fact that participants of the rally fought back when attacked by several National Corps members in a metro station infuriated Andrii Biletskii, who made a public threat to prove to whom “the streets belonged”.

Since then the National Corps and other far-right Ukrainian groups have declared “a safari” on those who they call “pro-Russian”. Among their foes are people in the Shariy party and the Opposition Platform for Life, which is represented in Parliament. To incite National Corps activists against potential “prey” for the “safari”, they use such social media as Telegram, with the established “OpustiVatu” TG-channel, an analogue to the Mirotvotrets database which publishes the personal data of the “prey” along with the call to fight them.

This results in an overwhelming number of threats and insults hurled at the victims via social media and their telephones. Moreover, it leads to violent attacks on people.

Nikita Rozhenko, the Kharkov-based coordinator of the Shariy party, was beaten up on June 25 in Kharkov. As of August 31, Rozhenko told in a phone call that “the investigation into the attack has brought no results, the culprits have not been identified”.

Sergey Nikulin, the Zhitomir-based coordinator of the Shariy party, was beaten up a few days before the attack on Rozhenko. Unlike the Rozhenko case, one of the attackers was identified as the “Azov-regiment-affiliated” Roman Borovik. Nikulin in reported a phone call that, “It had already started on 21 June, when at around 6 pm two unidentified men approached the office and splashed paint over our windows. Then the same night, at around midnight our windows were smashed with stones. We called the police the next morning. Once the police left, Azov-linked nationalists started to gather by our office. Then the attack followed”.

Sergey Nikulin is still recuperating from the injuries reportedly inflicted on him by Roman Borovik. Initially, the police opened an inquiry under Article 125 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine qualifying the injuries as light. Only later, when Sergey underwent a new medical examination, was the case re-qualified as an assault involving moderate injuries. The police then put out a search warrant for Borovik, who went into hiding. Sergey says that “The police claimed they could not find Borovik although they told me, off the record, that they tapped the signal of Borovik’s phone and found it to be at the location of the Azov regiment base in Kiev”. Sergey states that Borovik spent up to three weeks there before returning to Zhitomir, where he didn’t even try to hide; “We all knew what cafe he is in… He was on the wanted list but the police definitely must have received an order not to bother him”.

Instead, Borovik, supported by a team of three lawyers, launched an attack on Nikulin. Sergey says, “Borovik first submitted a report on me claiming that I acted as a hooligan targeting him on the day of the assault (article 296 part 1 of the Criminal Code). There is no grain of truth in those accusations but the police have to look into it. I havenow entered a legal battle with them, submitting a counter claim on the crime of deliberately filing a false report of an offence, which is punishable under article of 383 of the Criminal Code”. Meanwhile, Nikulin received new death threats via Facebook, which he also intends to report to the police.

Both Nikita Rozhenko and Sergey Nikulin share the concern that the attacks on them are likely to be repeated. Rozhenko stated, “Nothing has changed in the structures of power. Therefore, nothing has changed in the political climate in Ukraine”. Both note that the atmosphere caused by the “safari-campaign” and the overwhelming impunity of such far-right formations as the National Corps, Azov and Sich-14 have has already made running any election campaign impossible. Nikulin claims, “People are scared to publicly call on people to vote for our candidates or distribute fliers or newspapers. I regard the campaign of intimidation by the far-right as a political tool to influence the local elections this autumn”.

On August 22 a bus with 22 members of the Patriots for Life group of the Platform for Life party was attacked by armed members of the National Corps, according to various Ukrainian media. Andrii Biletskii was openly accused of being behind the attack which left three people injured. 14 people, all members of the National Corps cell in the city of Dnipr, were apprehended by the police. The court hearings were attended by Biletskii, the leader of the far-right National Corps political party, ex-commander of Azov unit. Ukrainian media reports him as stating that those who have been charged with hooliganism for shooting at the bus should have been rewarded instead of being put on trial.

Mikhail Shpir, a resident of Kiev, has nothing to do with either the Opposition Platform for Life or the Shariy party. An IT-entrepreneur, a native of the Ivano-Frankivsk region of Ukraine, he just has his own opinions. He was targeted by the far-right because of his public opinion critical of post-Maidan Ukraine. Already the day after the first threats, Shpir’s personal information was published by “Opusti Vatu” TG-channel, and a man who the far-right took for Mikhail was beaten up in Lviv. The victim of the attack or the reasons behind it have not been identified. But Shpir has had to move to another location fearing for an attack. Furthermore, his parents living in a village in western Ukraine have been targeted as their address has been exposed as well.