The first month of 2021 has brought various reports indicating the continuation of the long-term trend of radical far-right nationalists of Ukraine trying to expand their sphere of influence, not only in Ukraine but also abroad.
On January 10 Azov regiment issued an official statement in retaliation to the recent articles with Western mainstream media on regiments neo-Nazi character and role in the international radical far-right movement by providing them with the ground to get combat experience.
Among other points the leaders of this neo-Nazi military formation reminded Western journalists that Azov regiment is a structural unit of the National Guard of Ukraine, subordinate to the Interior Ministry and in special occasions to the General Headquarters.
This fact contradicts the picture given in the articles, although published with good intention, as Azov acting on its own in strengthening international far-right lobby. Therefore e.g. in the recent articles published by The Time or The Harper, no matter how strong and accurate they are, journalists still find it hard to call on Ukraine as a state to stop harbouring and shielding neo-Nazi from all over the world.
How does it reflect on common people
Several people from Ukraine have shared their experiences of what it means to be targeted by far-right groups.
Galina, a veterinarian from Mariupol
Two different people sent us letters asking to draw attention to Galina’s situation.
On Friday January 22, Galina suddenly staged a protest. She published a Facebook post promising a 50% discount to any client who prefers to speak Russian. Every even day of a week.
When contacted Galina told that she had had to remove the post as she ”got tired to delete threats”. Her offer is still valid. She insists that in the medical sphere, both human and veterinarian, it is a must to use the terminology they learnt at medical schools. Galina told that she has received rather hysterical threats on phone as well as to her personal inbox.
She explained that her decision was not spontaneous but rather provoked by statements and oral attacks by local members of the Force of the People political party who are present at the local council. Their verbal attacks on Russian-speaking residents of Mariupol motivated her to start acting.
Galina herself treats Ukrainian as her other native language. She also has high education as a translator from Ukrainian to Russian. She insists that the attacks on people speaking Russian in Ukraine should be regarded as a breach of law and common sense.
When this article was in the writing, the information came of the assault at Galina’s veterinary clinic. Its outside walls were vandalized with threatening messages warning Galina and her colleagues “to be aware of consequences”. In the next few days we heard that Galina’s clients receiving threats too. All the threats have been taken to the attention of law-enforcement of Mariupol and the UN Human Rights Monitoring mission.
TikTok and Taisia Malaman
A young girl from Kiev, Taisia Malaman, popular in TikTok and Instagram, is now being hunted by far-right activists.
In one of her TikTok videos Taisia is asked which out of two suggested countries she would like to visit? The set of duets went: France or Germany, Germany or Italy, Austria or The Emirates, Kazakhstan or Moldova. Then she was asked, Russia or Ukraine… Not what she likes more but what she would like to visit. Taisia responded Russia to last question, because she lives in Ukraine and would like to visit Russia.
Then someone submitted a manipulated shorter verson video in social media to orchestrate orchestrate hate campaign present as a proof of Taisia’s ‘betrayal’. What matters now is that Taisia is among ohters receiving death threats initiated by someone who claims to be an officer in the Ukrainian army headquarters.
Taisia has been asking for help, also from international missions present in Ukraine. Meanwhile she has gone into hiding and her family has also been threatened.
At the time of the release of the article, Taisia Malaman still finds her situation dangerous. Her family, including her father and the stepmother, are being threatened as well. They tell they have to stay in hiding.
Ruslan Kotsaba and his re-trial
On 22 January Ruslan Kotsaba, a Ukrainian journalist and a conscientious objector recognised by Amnesty International as the first political prisoner of the post-Maidan Ukraine, as well as his lawyer Tatiana Montyan, were attacked by a large group of far-right radicals. It happened in the city of Kolomyia where the re-trial session in the case against Kotsaba was held that day.
Ruslan Kotsaba told strana.ua, “Police wasn’t reacting to the far-right mob shouting death threats and attacking us by discharging a fire-extinguisher at us. They were also throwing eggs. After the court trial the far-right mob was even bigger than before it”.
This time Ruslan Kotsaba expressed gratitude towards police force who organised their protection. “It was my 76-year-old mother who was driving the car. She was attacked too as the mob tried to puncture the tyres. We managed to escape as the police pushed the mob back”.
Irina Mashkevich, one of the owners of At Mashkevich’s restaurant in Odessa
Irina Mashkevich has turned to the prosecutor’s office of Odessa with regard to lack of response from the police on the reports of numerous death threats and arson they are receiving from far-right circles, including notoriously known Sergey Sternenko and Demyan Ganul.
The threats started to flow in both as comments and phone calls after the restaurant had published a Facebook advert written in Hebrew and self-made language which sounded like Ukrainian. That occurred on January 16 when the authorities made Ukrainian obligatory for the service industry.
Irina Mashkevich tells, “Being Jewish by origin and a native of Odessa, my native language is Hebrew and my language of communication is Russian. I have quite a good command of oral Ukrainian, it being part of my identity. But I would not be able to keep accountancy or business-related written communication. Besides, the At Mashkevich’s restaurant is a small but pretty successful enterprise which is run by three people, my husband, a citizen of Israel with profound experience of a master chef, and a young girl who helps us in the kitchen”.
Irina tells that the only goal she pursued while publishing her ad was “to sell 10 kg of super quality Georgian khinkali” (khinkali is a traditional dumpling characteristic of Northern Georgia). The attacks in social media on the restaurant and the Mashkevich family have been explicit in language and absolutely horrific, starting from the restaurant being set on fire and referring to Holocaust as “a sample to follow”. Facebook admins have not reacted to any of the accounts from which the Mashkevich family has been receiving threats has.
There are two children in the Mashkevich family, one is a toddler and the other is a teenager who is severly disabled, due to the spinal muscular atrophy. Irina tells, “While the elder child is shocked with the atmosphere of hatred which, unfortunately, is not a secret as she being unable to walk remains an Internet user, the little one is my special concern as we take him to the Jewish kindergarten. Because of the threats we receive, I have had to take the child to the kindergarten in a taxi, not the specially designated children’s bus. The address of both the restaurant and our flat is not a secret for far-right. I have had to take measures to keep the children safe”.
Irina and her husband have had to temporarily close the restaurant down which has led to far-right rejoicing over ‘their victory’.
On January 19, the police of Kiev did not let to hold the annual rally to protest the far-right groups in the anniversary of assasination of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova in 2009 in Moscow. Ukrainian media reports that at least 15 people were detained. Police applied force although the participants didn’t offer any resistance. Some media report that the police personnel responded to complaints that the right to peaceful assembly is in the Constitution, “No constitution is binding when there is quarantine”.
An attempt to hold a vigil in a different location was also stopped by the police, a well-known social activist Volodymyr Chemeris is reported as saying to Zmina.info portal. Chemeris also stated that the police was telling him that they were acting on precise orders from their superiors as well as the Cabinet of ministers.