Summary of Findings
Since 2016, the European Security Academy (ESA) an EU-based company that offers advanced training programs for security, law enforcement and military professionals, has provided sophisticated training geared towards combat application to elements of Ukraine’s controversial Azov Regiment, also known as the Azov Battalion, which has been integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard in Mariupol. A large group from Ukraine consisting at least partially of Azov veterans, along with likely current members of Azov movement and other far-right activists, received special-ops like training in the ESA training center in Poland. Among recipients of ESA advanced firearms and tactics training are also current activists of far-right organizations in Ukraine linked to attacks on, or harassment of Ukrainian Roma, LGBT persons and rights activists: Tradition and Order, The National Corps and The National Militia.
At least one individual who previously received sophisticated training from ESA recently provided firearms training to members of the Azov-linked “National Corps”, an ultra-nationalist organization in Ukraine recently linked to attacks on ethnic minorities and other vulnerable populations.
Although the ESA Managing Director told Bellingcat that the company would deny training to applicants who support far-right ideologies and/or have links to violent ultra-nationalist organizations, several ESA training recipients from Ukraine have documented, public connections to ultra-nationalist organizations and ideologies. In some cases, these recipients of training are currently members of ultra-nationalists organizations, and others have over the years publicly shared numerous photographs of themselves giving Nazi salutes, or have highly-visible tattoos suggesting support for white supremacist movements.
At least one recipient of ESA training in Poland, who is an active member of the ultra-nationalist group “Tradition and Order”, openly admitted online to supporting a “national-socialist” ideology. Another ESA training recipient with multiple certifications from the company has a highly visible white supremacist “Celtic Cross” tattoo which can be easily spotted in a photograph posted by the company to their Facebook page. Despite the fact that ESA said that they would not provide training to individuals linked to far-right ideologies and organizations, one individual who received sophisticated weapons training from ESA has swastikas tattooed on his head and was involved in a number of high-profile, internationally reported incidents of racist displays and attacks in Ukraine.
The ESA Managing Director told Bellingcat that the company conducted in-depth background checks of applicants, but did not specify disqualifying criteria.
This investigation starts with an introduction to the cast of characters featured in the research, followed by background information on the ESA and Azov. The latter half of the investigation details how many far-right, ultra-nationalist individuals, including some self-admitted neo-Nazis and white supremacists, took part in ESA trainings in Ukraine and Poland.
Key Figures and Groups
- Arsen Avakov is Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs since 2014 and Azov’s political patron, whose ties to Ukraine’s ultra-nationalists go back almost a decade, according to Anton Shekhovtsov, renowned researcher of the European far-right. It’s under Avakov that Azov was incorporated into the National Guard in a move that, although presented as means to defuse the ultra-nationalist battalion, led to its explosive growth and branching out into the National Corps political party and increasingly assertive National Militia street movement.
- Andriy Biletsky is the head of Azov movement and member of the Parliament of Ukraine. Biletsky’s whole life is in ultra-nationalist politics, and he cultivated Azov from a ragtag group of poorly-armed militants and soccer hooligans into a large three-pronged movement, and an aggressively expanding political and street movement with mostly unchecked ambitions. Biletsky enjoys patronage of Ukraine’s Minister of Interior Affairs Arsen Avakov and is allegedly linked to the latter for nearly a decade.
- Andrzej Bryl is the founder of 1500+employee strong Delta Security Group, which includes the European Security Academy (ESA). Bryl is a military and security expert in Poland with reportedly decades of experience, including alleged cooperation with Poland’s military. His company’s clients include various international governments. Bryl posed in a picture with a group of trainees from Ukraine, comprised at least partially of Azov veterans and activists of ultra-nationalist organizations in Ukraine.
- Bartosz Bryl is managing director of the European Security Academy. Although he insists that the company would deny training to ultra-nationalists and conducts in-depth background checks of its applicants, the company provided services to the controversial Azov Regiment and, per Bellingcat research, trained ultra-nationalists who hold leadership positions in organizations with a history of violence, individuals that openly profess support for “national-socialism” and white supremacy, and those mired in high-profile racist attacks in Ukraine.
- Sergiy Korotkih is one of Azov’s combat commanders and organizational leaders and a former citizen of Belarus with ties to neo-Nazi organizations in Russia. He was granted Ukrainian citizenship by President Petro Poroshenko in 2014. He is reportedly a close associate of Arsen Avakov as the head of the Department for the Protection of Strategic Objects of the National Police of Ukraine, a distinct police unit that apparently received ESA training in Ukraine in July 2016, although being staffed, per photographic evidence, with a number of individuals who openly and publicly support far-right, white supremacist, and ultra-nationalist ideologies.
- Nikita “Odissey” Makeev is a combat veteran of Azov, a Russian citizen, and an ESA trainee from 2016. He is a leader of GO Zirka (Civic Organization “Defense and Reconstruction of the Country”), a satellite organization of Azov’s National Corps and National Militia.
- Ihor “Maliar” is an Azov combat veteran and a prominent figure in Ukraine’s far-right scene, with a huge online following of nearly 20,000 on Instagram. He was an active participant of some of Ukraine’s iconic and more controversial moments during the Euromaidan demonstrations, as well as the perpetrator of a high-profile racist attack in 2015 that was widely reported in international media. Maliar sports clearly visible swastika tattoos on his head and was able to receive sophisticated ESA training in 2016.
- Ivan Pilipchuk is an apparent veteran of Ukraine’s war with Russia and Russia-led separatists and is currently one of the leaders of “Tradition and Order”, a violent ultra-nationalist organization connected by Human Rights Watch to attacks on Ukrainian Roma, LGBT persons, and LGBT rights activists. Pilipchuk’s online presence suggests he self-identifies as a “national-socialist”, and shows a penchant for posing – non-ironically – with Nazi salutes. He was a part of a large group from Ukraine, comprised at least partially of Azov veterans, who trained in Poland with ESA in 2017.
- Vadim Lapaev “Balak” is a veteran of Azov, and apparently an activist of the National Militia, a street branch of the Azov movement that has used violence to further its goals. His online presence suggests that he supports ultra-nationalist ideologies and there are multiple photographs of Lapaev posing with Nazi salutes, including in armed groups and with a swastika banner. In one of the photos, he is seen with a swastika necklace and a white supremacist-linked Othala rune tattooed on his chest. He was able to obtain multiple certifications from ESA in Ukraine. One of Lapaev’s white supremacist tattoos, a Celtic Cross on his left hand, is clearly seen in one of the photos publicly posted by ESA on Facebook.
- The Azov Regiment (also called the Azov Battalion or just “Azov”) is effectively an autonomous special operations detachment in the National Guard of Ukraine long mired in controversy because of its far-right ideology, along with credible accusations of human rights abuses from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Azov is a three-pronged movement with a well-trained and armed military power integrated with the Ukrainian National Guard, a growing political movement with own political party, The National Corps, and a vigilante street movement called the National Militia. ESA instructors led an intensive week-long training for Azov in Ukraine in 2016, developed a boot camp for the regiment and trained Azov veterans and activists of the movement on other occasions.
- The European Security Academy (ESA) is a large military and security training provider headquartered in Wroclaw, Poland. The Discovery Channel has described the ESA as the “world’s top security academy”, and the ESA training center near Poznan, Poland is the world’s largest outside of the United States, according to the BBC. Although ESA told Bellingcat it would deny training to members of violent ultra-nationalist organizations and neo-Nazis, the company provided training to publicly white supremacist and neo-Nazi members of the Azov Regiment and trained other members of Ukrainian ultra-nationalist organizations. Some of such trainees have visible white-supremacist tattoos, a very public online presence showing white supremacist and far-right ideologies, and were involved in high-profile racist attacks reported in international media.
- The Department for the Protection of Strategic Objects of The National Police of Ukraine (Ukrainian: ВІДДІЛ ОХОРОНИ ОБ’ЄКТІВ СТРАТЕГІЧНОГО ЗНАЧЕННЯ ПРИ ДЕПАРТАМЕНТІ ДЕРЖАВНОЇ СЛУЖБИ ОХОРОНИ ПРИ МВС УКРАЇНИ, ВООСЗДДСО) is a distinct protection police unit headed by a prominent Azov leader with links to Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs. Photographic evidence suggests that the ESA trained the unit in July 2016, and Bellingcat linked numerous participants of this training to Azov and Azov-linked violent far-right organizations, including at least one individual previously involved in a high-profile racist attack in Ukraine reported by international media.
- The National Corps is Azov’s far-right political party, founded in 2016 and headed by Andriy Biletsky. The party has fewer than 20,000 member and only two members in Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada parliament (out of 450 total MPs). The party aims, among other things, to re-establish Ukraine as a nuclear-armed state, promotes “Ukrainecentrism”, and opposes EU institutions which it describes as “Brussel’s bureaucracy”. The ESA trained prominent National Corps activists, possibly contributing to the party’s capacity for violence since at least one ESA trainee later acted as National Corps firearms instructor.
- The National Militia is Azov’s aggressively expanding street branch headed by the regiment’s former military commander. Along with the National Corps, it reportedly carried out attacks on minorities in Ukraine, and seeks to mirror law-enforcement functions to enforce “Ukrainian order”.
- GO Zirka (Civic Organization “Defense and Reconstruction of the Country”) is a satellite organization of Azov movement, headed by Sergiy Korotkih, a former commander of Azov’s military reconnaissance and current head of Department for the Protection of Strategic Objects of the National Police of Ukraine. One of GO Zirka other leaders Nikita Makeev, an Azov combat veteran and Russian citizen who received ESA training in 2016.
- “Tradition and Order” is an aggressively expanding violent ultra-nationalist organization that has reportedly carried out attacks on Ukrainian Roma, LGBT individuals, and LGBT rights activists. It provides advanced firearms and combat tactics training to members. At least one of the organization’s leaders, a self-admitted “national-socialist” with a penchant for giving Nazi salutes, attended an ESA course in Poland.
“World’s Top Security Academy” in Ukraine
The ESA is a military and security training provider headquartered in Wroclaw, Poland. Per the company’s site, it has representatives in multiple EU countries, the Middle East, Russia, Ukraine, and Brazil. The Discovery Channel has described the ESA as the “world’s top security academy”, and the ESA training center close to Poznan, Poland is the world’s largest outside of the United States, according to the BBC.
Approximately 650-700 people attended ESA courses each year, according to a 2015 article in The Warsaw Business Journal. The center serves as a major training hub for the private military and security contracting industry internationally and was mentioned in a 2015 AFP report.
According to the ESA’s site, it is part of Delta Security Group, which employs 1500+ people. Both ESA and Delta were founded by Andrzej Bryl, and Bryl family members appear to hold notable positions in both companies.
The ESA entered the Ukrainian market in early 2015. In May of that year, it conducted a Tactical Carbine Level 1 open-air seminar for 12 participants in Zhytomyr, according to the Ukrainian Gun Owners Association.
Since then, according to the ESA’s social media pages, the company has provided training in Ukraine to some of the country’s elite military and police units, and played a role in broadening expertise of previously highly-specialized units to meet challenges brought by the war with Russia and the separatists it leads in eastern Ukraine.
For instance, the “Cyklon” (ЦИКЛОН – Ukrainian) anti-terror unit of Ukraine’s Penal Enforcement trained with the ESA in December 2015 in Ukraine and April 2016 in Poland in a broad range of operations and environments. “Bulat”, the special operations unit of the Department of the State Guard of Ukraine, trained with the ESA in 2016 in Poland, per the company’s Facebook.
Ukraine’s government apparently valued ESA services highly, judging by its repeated contracting of the trainers and the recognition they gave to the ESA. The company’s social media pages proudly feature a recognition plaque issued to ESA by the Department of the State Guard of Ukraine in 2016, along with mementos presented by the Internal Security Forces of Lebanon and Special Security Force of Bangladesh.
Azov’s “Gratitude” to the ESA
Another endorsement that the ESA received in Ukraine is much more problematic. A March 2016 post on the ESA Ukraine Facebook page features a glowing endorsement from the Azov Regiment, a military formation long mired in controversy because of its far-right ideology, along with credible accusations from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) of Azov members and leaders committing and allowing serious human rights abuses.
“Fighters and commanders of special operations regiment Azov express great gratitude to instructors of European Security Academy – Ukraine for (your) help in defending Ukrainian state. Your civic stance and support of our regiment inspire us to show valor in battle. You are our rock. And your support is our victory ”, reads a commemorative plaque/certificate signed by Ihor “Cherkass” Mykhailenko, who at the time was the military commander of the Azov Regiment. Currently, “Cherkass” is the head of Azov’s street branch, the National Militia organization.
Azov: Overview of the Three-Pronged Movement
Azov was established by prominent far-right leader Andriy Biletsky in early 2014 as a volunteer battalion and was later incorporated into the National Guard of Ukraine that same year. The incorporation did little, if anything, to temper Azov’s far-right political positions and activism; rather the National Guard integration has boosted Azov.
While Azov has attempted to distance itself from neo-Nazism and white supremacy as it has grown, Biletsky has made this task difficult through his notorious past public utterances promoting antisemitism and white supremacy. Most notably, Biletsky once argued that “the historic mission of our nation [Ukraine] in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival […] A crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.” While not all members–or perhaps even not a majority–of Azov’s three-pronged movement are white supremacists or neo-Nazis, it is impossible to deny that it is rooted in these ideas from its founder.
“Rather than disband Azov, the government incorporated it into the Ukrainian National Guard overseen by the Ministry of the Interior”, U.S. Congressman Ro Khanna, a critic of Azov, said about this military organization in April 2018. In May of this year, he claimed that the “battalion has very much engaged in incidents of neo-Nazism”.
Khanna has characterized Azov as a “neo-Nazi battalion” and the Congressman is behind the 2018 Congressional ban (see Section 8129 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018) on the use of U.S. budget funds “to provide arms, training, or other assistance to the Azov Battalion”.
Azov is often described in the media as a military formation, but its leaders speak of it as a multifaceted movement. The most well-known part of Azov is its military wing, the Azov Regiment, but it also includes a political wing, the National Corps party, and a street wing, the National Militia.
The National Militia made an alarming entrance onto Ukraine’s political stage early in 2018 with a public swearing-in ceremony in Kyiv and a torchlit march. The National Militia, which is not part of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry or any official government bodies that are legally authorized to combat crime and enforce the law, publicly pledged to patrol Ukrainian cities for crime and to establish what they consider “Ukrainian order”. Members of Azov movement appear to flow between three branches with ease and all three organizations pursue the same ultra-nationalist, far-right political ideology.
Matthew Schaaf, director of Freedom House’s Ukrainian Office, has described the rise of Azov’s National Militia to public prominence and its ambitions as “scary”. The National Militia, as well as the National Corps, is growing its footprint in Ukraine, and both of these organizations conduct regular weapons and military tactics trainings for members.
The Azov movement is highly critical of Ukraine’s current government and is dis-proportionally visible in Ukraine due to the controversial and at times violent politics espoused by its political and street branches. The movement reportedly enjoys backing of Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov who, according to well-known researcher of European far-right movements Anton Shekhovtsov, played an important role in building up Azov and has utilized and boosted far-right elements in Ukraine throughout his political career.
Earlier this year, the National Corps and National Militia threatened a Ukrainian Roma community near Kyiv and later razed the abandoned campsite, streaming the event on Facebook Live. The incident has been called a pogrom by many observers, and additional attacks on Roma camps from other far-right groups followed throughout Ukraine. A 2018 OHCHR report mentions instances when members of the National Corps, along with other far-right groups, assumed the role of law enforcement, attacked women rights activists, and disrupted LGBT rights events.
National Corps and National Militia have readily used violence to advance their goals. For instance, in July 2018 National Militia and National Corps clashed with Ukraine’s police at a construction site in Kyiv’s Osokorky Neighborhood. Per National Militia’s account of the incident posted on Facebook, the organization’s activists “assumed functions of the municipal police” in order to “protect Kyiv’s residents”.
During the confrontation stones were thrown at Police by activists of 2 Azov-linked organization.
National Corps leaders at the site included Rodion Kudriashov, who is a prominent Azov Regiment combat commander, leader of violent soccer hooligans in Ukraine’s Dnipro city, and current head of National Corps’ command center. Kudriashov’s multitude of roles with the Azov movement illustrates how fluidly Azov activists flow between their various positions as military commanders and civic activists.
ESA “Promised to further assist” Azov in 2016
Although the aforementioned glowing endorsement of the ESA by the Azov commander Myhailenko did not mention specifics, a February 2016 article on Azov’s own web publication Nackor.org details a grueling, week-long training given to the Regiment’s 4th Company by ESA instructors. Per Nackor, the specific training was developed by ESA to meet the challenges faced by Azov, which integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard at the end of 2014, in the ongoing war in the Donbas.
The Nackor article elaborated: “After a week-long training Azov fighters looked extremely tired and exhausted, but also happy about the experience they had and their work with world-class specialists from ESA, who also promised to further assist Azov in conducting similar trainings, and share their expertise”.
Azov’s online publication does not mention more exercises with ESA instructors, but there is a May 2016 article on the site providing detailed information about the European Security Academy’s history and services.
Also in May 2016, the ESA Ukraine Facebook page posted about an intense three-day boot camp training developed by the company and geared towards fighters in the ATO (“Anti-Terror Operation”, the term for Ukraine’s operations in the Donbas from 2014-8. The “ATO” was reorganized as the Joint Forces Operation earlier this year). Per the post, Azov’s fighters were the “first in Ukraine” to participate in the course.
The ESA’s Facebook page carries few explicit mentions of Azov, but the regiment’s presence is obvious from a number of photographs featured prominently on the page. For instance, the cover of the ESA’s Facebook page is a photograph of the company’s founder Andrzej Bryl taking a knee in front of a memorial apparently located in Poland dedicated to Vyacheslav “Kuzmich” Galva. Galva who reportedly worked for the ESA was an Azov military instructor in its early days and was killed in the ATO in 2014.
Azov’s cooperation with an EU-based security company has not been heavily publicized before, but the more problematic issue surrounds some of the particular individuals who participated in ESA trainings. Bellingcat’s investigation has revealed that active members of far-right organizations in Ukraine with a record of violence are among the ESA’s training graduates in Ukraine and Poland. These individuals include members of National Corps, National Militia, Tradition and Order, and Defense and Reconstruction of the Country (GO Zirka), a group closely linked to the Azov movement. While not all members of these groups are outright neo-Nazis or white supremacists, a number of ESA graduates have openly professed support for “national-socialism” on social media and other public platforms either through their explicit words and gestures or their tattoos (e.g. swastikas and white supremacist symbols).
Bellingcat was able to identify specific individuals who publicly posted about their training with the ESA across multiple social media pages. In some cases, these individuals also tagged other trainees, allowing further research into the ESA trainees.
While the following material is not necessarily representative or exhaustive regarding the ESA’s policies, persons with links to far-right movements who received ESA training, or Azov’s overall membership, these individual cases do present convincing evidence of the ESA providing advanced training to openly white supremacist and neo-Nazi members of Ukrainian ultra-nationalist organizations.
Azov-Affiliated Weapons Instructor Trained with the ESA in 2016
Months after Azov’s 4th Company training with ESA instructors and Nackor’s article heralding further cooperation between two organizations, the ESA Facebook page posted an action-packed video summary of a “completed project by ESA Ukraine” — a close protection operative course. The video was also posted on YouTube by Anton Farb, an ESA instructor at the time. There are also high-resolution photographs of the participants available on the ESA Ukraine Facebook page. The ESA Facebook pages did not provide the participants’ names, but we were able to identify the group in the video with a high level of confidence along with the particular individuals.
Whether by design or not, the training in question – a sophisticated course in close protection – could eventually trickle down into Azov’s political branch, the National Corps, and its satellite organization GO Zirka (abbreviation of “Defense and Reconstruction of the Country”).
A group of individuals in the video are wearing t-shirts with a highly recognizable and macabre emblem: a hooded grim reaper skull against the backdrop of “black sun”, a symbol widely used by Azov, with the inscription “It sure is great in heaven, but I have more friends in hell”. The emblem is associated online with a particular unit of Ukraine’s National Police — the Department for the Protection of Strategic Objects. The unit used to have a dedicated page at ooso.com.ua (a reference to which was preserved at a VK page apparently related to the National Police), but it is now defunct.
There is also a dedicated page on the National Police official site, but its content disappeared after Bellingcat repeatedly sent requests for commentary to the National Police.
According to Ukrainian government records, this particular National Police unit (legal ID Code 39779699) was founded in 2015 and headed by Sergiy Korotkih, a highly controversial figure and a reported current associate of both Azov’s head Biletsky and Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs Avakov. Korotkih, previously a Belarusian citizen, was granted Ukrainian citizenship by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko personally in 2014 for his actions in defense of Ukraine, despite his widely reported ties to neo-Nazi groups in Russia.
Korotkih confirmed to Bellingcat that the unit is currently active and its staffing policies favored ATO (now JFO) veterans. The National Police, in response to Bellingcat’s request, stated that the Protection police did not use the state budget to pay for the services provided by the ESA.
Bellingcat was able to identify most of the individuals in the 2016 video as veterans of the Azov Regiment, with two particular individuals linking the ESA to the National Corps and GO Zirka.
One of these two individuals is Nikita Makeev (call sign “Odissey”). Makeev co-founded GO Zirka in 2016 together with aforementioned Sergiy Korotkih and currently heads the organization. GO Zirka, which is involved in both veteran and street politics, is a satellite of the Azov movement and is closely aligned with the National Corps and the National Militia.
Makeev is a former Azov fighter and, according to various media reports, a Russian citizen. By his own admission, Makeev traveled to Ukraine from Russia to support the Euromaidan demonstrations and eventual revolution, later joined Azov, and fought in the Donbas. Nackor reported in 2016 that Makeev was trying to obtain Ukrainian citizenship. Makeev is a close associate of National Corps Deputy Head Nazarii Kravchenko and has been seen with him at numerous rallies and events. As mentioned earlier, National Corps has heavily invested into military-like training of its members.
Makeev confirmed to Bellingcat that he had worked in the Ukrainian National Police unit in question, but was no longer employed there.
Another ESA trainee of particular interest is Ihor “Maliar” (the latter is his call sign; his last name is not publicly known).
A veteran of Azov and the ATO, and reportedly wounded in battle, Maliar is currently an activist with the National Corps and a close associate of many Azov movement leaders, including the aforementioned Nazarii Kravchenko of the National Corps and Serhiy Filimonov, the head of National Corps Kyiv chapter.
Maliar did not return requests to comment, but the National Police said in response to a request from Bellingcat that they never employed Maliar.
Maliar is a particularly public and recognizable figure, having been featured in various Azov Regiment publications and articles. He is easily identifiable because of his many tattoos, including swastikas tattooed on his skull and a massive tattoo of a grinning skull covering his entire upper body.
Maliar, still only in his twenties, is already a well-known veteran within Ukraine’s far-right and soccer hooligan scene, much like Kravchenko and Filimonov. Memorably in late 2013, Maliar, as he himself confirms in the documentary “Day of a Provocateur”, was the centerpiece of one of more controversial events of the Maidan protest and eventual revolution: an attack on defensive police formations in front of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine. During the attack, a masked Maliar used a heavy metal chain against dozens of policemen.
Videos and photos of the event are widely available. At the time the attacks, Maliar was part of a group led reportedly by Ukraine’s notorious far-right leader Dmytro Korchynsky. The attack, which included use of a hijacked bulldozer truck, was dismissed as provocative by political leaders of the protests against then-president Viktor Yanukovych.
Relevant to this investigation, however, is that in 2015, months before participating in an ESA training, Maliar was reportedly involved in a number of high-profile displays of racism during Ukrainian football matches. In May 2015, Maliar–with much longer hair, but the same “VICTORY OR VALHALLA” tattoo on his neck–was photographed by various news outlets brandishing a white supremacist Celtic Cross banner (the “Celtic Cross” is listed in Hate Symbols Database maintained by the Anti-Defamation League) as one of hundreds of football fans who invaded the post-game pitch after Ukraine’s “Dnipro” team beat Italy’s “Napoli” in the semi-final of Europa League in Kyiv. Per the BBC, “Dnipro” was later punished by UEFA for its fans’ behavior.
In October of the same year, “Maliar” was, according to an open source investigation by the Ukrainian publication Bukvy and video evidence, part of a racist attack on black soccer fans at the stadium during the Dynamo Kyiv vs Chelsea match in Kyiv. The incident was widely covered in international media.
Per the National Corps Kyiv chapter, Maliar acted as a firearms instructor for the far-right organization on a number of occasions in 2017 and 2018. This role could be boosted by the training he received from ESA. Both a December 2017 Telegram post by National Corps Kyiv and a subsequent Facebook post show Maliar instructing National Corps activists on using a pump-action shotgun.
The text of the Telegram post reads: “‘National Corps’ activists spent this Saturday morning meaningfully, they practiced shooting a pump-action shotgun. Our instructors, first and foremost, explained how to handle weapons safely and provided basic handling tips. Afterward young nationalists had an opportunity to use the weapons practically and make several dozen shots with it”. The post includes a photograph of Maliar holding a pump-action rifle in front of a group of young men.
In the photograph, Maliar is to the left of another weapons instructor self-identified on social media as “Sashko Vovk” (it is unclear if this is his actual name). Vovk, according to numerous photographs posted online, is an activist with the National Militia and National Corps.
In various images available on social networks, Vovk’s tattoos are clearly visible. Those include 14 and 88 tattooed on his shoulders, which refer to the white supremacist/Nazi “14 words” and “88” numeric hate symbols (the WP/SH with axes on his stomach likely means either “White Power Sieg Heil” or “White Power Skinhead”).
Maliar and Vovk are seen again providing hands-on firearms training to National Corps Kyiv activists in February 2018 posts on the organization’s Telegram (as well as on their Instagram).
Telegram and Instagram posts showing Maliar as a weapons instructor describe his work with Azov veterans: “‘Azov’ Regiment veterans conducted a weapons lecture for National Corps activists today. They spoke about safe handling of weapons, comparative effectiveness and application of certain ‘men’s toys’. The activists learned to assemble and disassemble ‘Hatsan’ pump-action rifle, ‘Fort 17′ traumatic gun and AKM automatic rifle’. The future belongs to us!”.
Not a Russian Propaganda Creation, but an Actual ESA Alumnus
Numerous social media posts also suggest that the ESA conducted another training for Azov fighters in the fall of 2016 (likely in October). A post in a VK group that exclusively covers military topics shows a number of photographs of an alleged “ESA training course” attended by Azov fighters. Individuals in the images are wearing ESA patches and pose in a group photo with the ESA instructor and representative in Ukraine, Semen “Sem” Rudkovsky.
Bellingcat was able to confirm that a number of individuals in the photos are in fact connected to Azov. For instance, a fighter going by nickname“Francuz” (Frenchman), a likely Azov fighter going by “Ingvar”, and others.
Of special interest is a particular participant of the fall 2016 training: Vadim Lapaev, also known as “Balak”. Lapaev has been frequently referred to in Ukrainian media as an Azov veteran.
Lapaev’s very public social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram offer an exhaustive account of his life and involvement with the ESA; for instance, he was apparently able to obtain numerous certifications from the ESA.
This is especially remarkable since Lapaev’s social media profiles present numerous photographs (including ones apparently taken in the conflict zone) of him giving Nazi salutes among groups of armed individuals, and even posing with a Nazi flag. One of the photos Lapaev posted shows him with a swastika necklace and a white supremacist-linked Othala rune tattooed on his chest.
Lapaev appears in a number of photographs posted by the ESA Ukraine Facebook page, including next to ESA instructor “Sem”.
One photo of Lapaev posted by the ESA clearly shows a white supremacist (per ADL’s Hate Symbols Database) Celtic Cross tattoo on his right hand.
Lapaev, like aforementioned Makeev and “Maliar”, is also linked to Azov movement.
Photographs of Lapaev in full spec ops gear with what appears to be a semi-automatic rifle are featured on the National Militia Instagram in a propagandist context, suggesting he is a member of the organization. One Instagram video shows a fully equipped and armed Lapaev among a group of armed National Militia fighters taking part in a sophisticated tactical drill staged for “the urban warfare scenario”.
The video post featuring Lapaev has the caption: “Limited visibility, complicated infrastructure, and presence of civilian population make urban warfare into one of the most difficult types of a firefight”. Added are the hashtags “national militia” and “national militia drills” in Ukrainian.
ESA Trained Azov Fighters and a Self-Described”National-Socialist” in Poland
On another occasion, a March 2017 ESA training that took place in Poland welcomed a large group of Ukrainian trainees, some of whom had links to Azov. Bellingcat was able to identify one member of the group as a current activist in a leadership position in the violent Ukrainian far-right organization “Tradition and Order”.
A March 2017 Facebook video posted on the ESA Ukraine page and a photo report on the same page shows a CPO (close protection operative) course in the ESA training center in Poland for a large “Ukrainian group”. While the ESA pages do not provide further detail about the “Ukrainian group”, some of the actual participants of the course subsequently took to social media to share their experience.
A photograph taken by one participant shows ESA founder Andrzej Bryl posing with the group, while another participant tagged multiple other trainees in various photographs detailing what appears to be a challenging spec ops-styled training that included fire drills, lectures, intense physical exercise, and other activities.
Numerous individuals who appear in the photographs taken during the course appear to be linked to Azov. As a matter of fact, one online commentator who reacted to a video of the ESA training posted on Instagram by a participant (an Azov veteran) remarked that it looked like “half of Azov went there”.
Some participants, for instance, “Ingvar” and “Frenchman” of the training in Poland, had previously appeared in photographs from the ESA training in Ukraine in October 2016.
Of particular interest is Ivan Pilipchuk tagged and clearly visible in multiple photographs taken during the training in Poland. Pilipchuk also noted on social media that he participated in the ESA training.
Pilipchuk appears to hold a leadership position in “Tradition and Order”, a far-right organization with a record of violence. In a recent statement, Human Right Watch connected “Tradition and Order”, along with a number of other far-right organization in Ukraine, to attacks on Ukrainian Roma, LGBT persons, and LGBT rights activists.
According to photographs posted by Pilipchuk on his social media profiles on Facebook and Instagram, he fought in the ATO, and likes to pose giving Nazi salutes.
Remarkably in one his Facebook posts, where he’s also seen giving a Nazi salute, he appears to admit to sharing what he describes as “fascist, national-socialist” ideology. The post in question is not referencing his time in the ESA center in Poland.
While some photographs from Ukrainian soldiers and Azov fighters doing Nazi or fascist gestures are meant to be sarcastic or as dark humor in response to Russian propaganda overestimating the presence and influence of neo-Nazism in Ukraine, Pilipchuk’s photograph and caption are meant earnestly, and seem to be aligned with his views expressed in other social media posts, as well as views expressed by other people identified by Bellingcat in the group .
Pilipchuk provided the following caption for the photograph in which he and other individuals wearing military fatigues are seen giving Nazi salutes :
“That’s a picture from Tactical Combat Casualty Care training. I’d like to thank our teachers for sharing knowledge. Can’t think of another opportunity to meet up for us, fascist, national-socialist, nationalist and some ‘friends’ from neighboring countries that didn’t want to pose for the photo. Much respect.”
Online presence of another individual seen in the photo with Pilipchuk (sixth on the right in the group, black T-shirt, shaved head) raising his hand in a Nazi salute supports our understanding that there is little irony involved in Pilipchuk’s identification of members of the group in the photo as “national-socialists”. The individual in question goes by “created_t0_create” on Instagram and appears to be an Azov veteran and current National Militia activist. He has posted various endorsements of neo-Nazism and white supremacy, including “power to the whites” slogans, references to the Nazi “14/88” numeric hate symbols, and so on.
For instance, in a March 20th Instagram post, he “reminisced” about Berlin:
“… voices of young national-socialists were once heard on these streets, along with barking of German Shepherds, thunderous marches shook the air, young Aryan women were praising Adolf Hitler with a Roman salute. But what’s happening now? Turks, negroes and Arabs fuck with blonde whores! Bavarian-style houses are covered in Turkish flags. All over Berlin faggots and junkies rap in German. Is this the modern world that the war was fought for? Fucking scum, kikes and blacks, have built their own heaven? Well, we the whites shall build our own white heaven!”
There’s also no doubt that “created_t0_create” is a close friend of Pilipchuk and knows Lapaev and Maliar. In one of his social media posts, “created_t0_create” also wrote that he needed to sign up for an ESA training to improve his shooting skills.
Ivan Pilipchuk is visible in recent photos from “Tradition and Order” leadership meetings as well as with “Tradition and Order” leader Bohdan Khodakovsky.
Pilipchuk is also seen in a recent hand-to-hand combat training for the “Tradition and Order” members, where he donned an ESA-branded rashguard. “Tradition and Order” actively engages in far-right street politics.
Commenting on recent attacks on groups of Ukrainian Roma, the organization’s head Bohdan Khodakovsky gleefully remarked that “Ukrainian Roma are an inalienable part of Ukrainian folklore, almost as important as pogroms”.
“Tradition and Order” conducted an “anti-ethnic crime walk” at one of Kyiv’s marketplaces in early June 2018. The organization’s activists, predominantly athletic young men, passed out leaflets instructing “foreign workers” on “proper” behavior. The organization was also active in homophobic rallies during Kyiv Pride earlier this year. On the day of Kyiv Pride, Pilipchuk posted a photograph from the location of the march and wrote that he was ready to fight.
“Tradition and Order” offers training in combat tactics, and firearms to members in various location in Ukraine. The trainings, per the organization’s statements on social media, are coordinated with the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine. The organization noted on social networks that the trainings are conducted by “prominent activists and veterans of the ATO”.
ESA Claims it Would Deny Training to Ultra-Nationalists
In an email exchange with Bellingcat, ESA Managing Director Bartosz Bryl stated that the company conducted in-depth background checks of all applicants. Bryl also confirmed that the ESA would deny training to applicants who support far-right ideologies and neo-Nazism, along with those who have a history of connections with, or are currently part, of violent ultra-nationalist organizations.
Bryl also stated that reasons to deny training to a particular applicant could vary “depending on the course content and type”.
It may be worth mentioning that an ESA representative in Ukraine, Dmitrii Novak (apparently an active-duty policeman with the National Police of Ukraine), is connected on Facebook to Vadim Lapaev (“Balak”) and some other ESA trainees. In Lapaev’s case, numerous photographs of himself giving Nazi salutes are visible to the public, not to mention his Facebook friends.
The Ukrainian National Police did not respond to Bellingcat’s request to comment whether Azov’s training with the ESA in early 2016 was paid for entirely or in part by the government but stated that no government funds were used to pay for ESA services. The latter was stated regarding the National Police unit that apparently trained with the ESA in July 2016.
Bartosz Bryl said via email that his company will not disclose information related to payments for specific trainings to third parties. However, in a 2012 interview with “Channel Russia 2”, the company’s founder Andrzej Bryl said that the ESA worked predominantly with national governments.
ESA Ukraine representative Dmitrii Novak told Bellingcat in a phone conversation that trainees paid out of their own pocket, even when they represented a state agency.