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How to Mainstream Neo-Nazis: A Lesson from Ukraine’s New Government

October 21, 2019

By Bellingcat Anti-Equality Monitoring

On October 13, photographs started circulating across social media showing a man resembling Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk on stage at the “Veterans Strong” concert event in Kyiv. This was, however, no ordinary concert — it was organized by a far-right figure accused of murder, and headlined by a neo-Nazi band. 

An image published on social media on 13 October 2019, showing Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk (middle) on stage at the “Veterans Strong” concert organized by C14 member and accused murderer Andriy Medvedko. This event was headlined by neo-Nazi band Sokyra Peruna, whose swastika-like logo can be seen behind Prime Minister Honcharuk.

As later posts throughout the evening would show, including the prime minister’s own post on Facebook the next day, the politician did indeed attend and take the stage at an event organized by Ukrainian far-right groups. The Prime Minister wasn’t the only cabinet member from Ukraine’s new government to be there — the Minister of Veteran Affairs, Oksana Koliada, joined Prime Minister Honcharuk at the concert, and even promoted the event in a Facebook post (archive) the day before it took place.

A Facebook post from Ukraine’s Minister for Veterans Affairs, Oksana Koliada, of her and Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk at the far-right “Veterans Strong” concert on 13 October 2019.

In the week following the event, Honcharuk has defended his appearance at the “Veterans Strong” concert, and has not issued an apology or expressed regret. In his Facebook post, Honcharuk complained about “some media outlets putting forth ambiguous theses” and that “politicization” of the event was “absolutely inappropriate.” He added that he didn’t support any “hateful ideologies, whether Nazism, fascism or communism.” In further comments at a cabinet briefing, Honcharuk added that “many people” are trying to “split [our] society.” “They can make any of you into a Nazi fascist,” he said.

The episode is a further example of how Ukraine’s far-right continues to be normalized by top leaders in the country. Not only are Ukraine’s top ministers attending events organized by far-right figures, they have also had a literal seat at the table with Zelenskyy discussing his plans for de-escalating the war in eastern Ukraine. Simultaneously, far-right organizations across Ukraine have taken the lead in organizing “No capitulation!” protests against Zelenskyy’s soon-to-be-launched talks with Russia, thus wielding an out sized level of influence in Ukrainian society despite the fact that Ukrainian far-right organizations lack any popular or electoral support.

Who Were The Organizers?

The driving force behind the “Veterans Strong” party was Andriy Medvedko, a leading member of the neo-Nazi C14 organization . Medvedko leads the “Union of Veterans of the War With Russia” (Спілка ветеранів війни з Росією), a group affiliated with C14. 

Medvedko is one of two men charged with the murder of pro-Russian reporter Oles Buzyna in 2015. The trial started almost two years ago and legal proceedings continue to be under pressure and scrutiny from far-right groups,

As we revealed in our previous investigation in July 2019, Medvedko has been linked to an informal C14-linked vigilante group, “Knights of the City” (Лицарі Міста), reportedly involved with incidents of violence aimed at those it deems to be “addicts or alcoholics.”

An undated photo of Andriy Medvedko — who organized of the “Veterans Strong” concerts on October 13, 2019 — giving a Nazi salute.

As discussed in our investigation of C14 , the organization hosted a football tournament in 2011 “for white children only” that included the white supremacist “14 words” slogan at the bottom of the post, which is also an element of the name of the organization itself. According to Vyacheslav Likhachev, a researcher of the far-right, this post was written by Medvedko himself.

“Youth Football Cup: For White Children Only,” reads a post, reportedly written by Andriy Medvedko, from a social media page for C14’s “Youth Football Cup” in 2011. The neo-Nazi ‘14 words,’ in English, are written underneath the post.

Medvedko’s role in organizing the October 13 event was acknowledged by multiple individuals on social media. C14 leader Yevhen Karas acknowledged Medvedko’s role in a Telegram post, while also noting that Prime Minister Honcharuk was in attendance. C14 seemed pleasantly surprised to have Honcharuk there: “The Prime Minister has come to the veterans party,” C14’s Serhiy Bondar posted on Facebook with the ‘scream’ emoji. 

In a now-deleted reply to a Facebook post, Medvedko made his appreciation of the headliners, Sokyra Peruna (“Perun’s Axe”), clear. In a response to a video of the band’s performance, Medvedko posted “88”, neo-Nazi code for “Heil Hitler.” This comment was made after Medvedko posted a photo of Ukraine’s Prime Minister in attendance.

A now-deleted Facebook comment from Andriy Medvedko praising Sokyra Peruna’s performance at the “Veterans Strong” event with “88,” neo-Nazi code for “Heil Hitler.

Who Was Playing At The Event?

The headlining band at the event was Sokyra Peruna, led by Arseniy Bilodub (born Klimachev), a man with a long history with Ukraine’s neo-Nazi scene. While two other bands played at the event — Komu Vnyz, a band that has played alongside Sokyra Peruna in the past, and FRAM, a mainstream band — it was clear well beforehand that Sokyra Peruna was the main event, as even the event’s Facebook page features Bilodub.

An advert for the “Veterans Strong” event featuring Sokyra Peruna’s Arseniy Bilodub.

Bilodub has been a fixture of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi scene since the 1990s. Along with fronting Sokyra Peruna, Bilodub runs the neo-Nazi fashion label Svastone, whose clothes are a common sight at any far-right gathering in Ukraine. The clothing sold by Svastone does not pretend to be anything other than white supremacist, as seen in the “White Baby — The Future of Our Race” shirt below (with a dual brass knuckles – pacifier graphic), selling for $9.

Earlier this year, Bilodub organized the “Fortress Europe” concert in Kyiv, a concert that featured multiple neo-Nazi bands including American band Blue Eyed Devils, whose former guitar player murdered six people in a 2012 hate crime. 

In his Facebook post the day after the event, PM Honcharuk said he had never heard of Sokyra Peruna and didn’t know who would be playing at the event. Moreover, he added that it wasn’t in his position as prime minister “to dictate to our veterans what songs they should sing.”

Looking at what Sokyra Peruna has released over the years, there’s no shortage of songs from the band’s back catalogue that Honcharuk would probably prefer them not to sing. One of the songs is “Six Million Words of Lies,” a song that exhorts listeners to deny the Holocaust and adds that “the time of reckoning, a holy war is coming.” Another song is called “ZOGland” — a reference to the “Zionist Occupation Government”, an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory — in which Bilodub laments that people have forgotten the “14 Words,” a notorious neo-Nazi slogan that, as mentioned above, concert organizer Andriy Medvedko is familiar with as well.  

“Who is guilty, who sold Ukraine? / Jews are walking in the streets / writing laws / ruling the state,” Bilodub sings in “ZOGland.” This line becomes particularly offensive line when considering how Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish.

Other lines sung by Sokyra Peruna’s Bilodub are no less objectionable: “Forest and fields where Aryans lived / now are Jewish, we can’t that forgive (sic)” and “you act like a n*, you dress like a monkey / you’ll eat bananas and climb palm trees / are you a white person? it’s a disgrace / the race war will begin with you.”

It should therefore come as little surprise that Nazi salutes are a common sight at Sokyra Peruna concerts.

At a September concert in central Kyiv, Sokyra Peruna fans give Nazi salutes to Sokyra Peruna front-man Arseniy Bilodub on stage (Instagram)

All Part Of A Trend

The appearances by Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk and fellow cabinet minister Oksana Koliada at an event organized and headlined by known far-right figures are not isolated incidents. As Ukraine’s war with Russian and Russian-led forces enters its sixth year, Ukraine’s far-right continues to hijack the understandably emotionally-charged issue of veterans fighting in eastern Ukraine to spread their own intolerant rhetoric.

Another example of this trend was on display in early October at a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, when members of the far-right (including C14 leader Yevhen Karas) were invited to offer their perspective on the war in eastern Ukraine. Azov was also present, being the largest far-right group in Ukraine that also has a regiment in Ukraine’s National Guard.

“Yesterday I met with veterans,” Zelenskyy said in early October, “National Corps [the Azov movement’s political party], Azov, everyone else.” A photo from the meeting shows multiple far-right figures in attendance, including C14’s Yevhen Karas and Dmytro Shatrovskyi, head of the Azov-linked “Veterans Brotherhood.”  

A photo from an October meeting between veterans and Volodymyr Zelenskyy which featured multiple representatives of far-right groups.

Meeting with veterans of the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine is, of course, not only legitimate, but necessary for President Zelenskyy. This is especially true when considering the controversy over the so-called “Steinmeier formula.” However, why does Zelenskyy meet with multiple representatives of far-right groups — and, moreover, speak of them simply as “veterans,” discounting the vast majority of Ukraine’s veterans who have no involvement in extremist organizations? Why are there multiple members of far-right groups, including people who are openly neo-Nazi, on Ukraine’s Ministry of Veterans Affairs public oversight council? Despite the fact that these far-right organizations have negligible popular support and virtually nonexistent electoral power, they are over-represented among veterans’ rights groups, including in meetings directly with Ukraine’s President. As the veterans’ concert shows, these issues are symptoms of a much larger problem relating to the far-right’s exploitation of veterans’ issues as they continue to have success mainstreaming themselves in Ukrainian politics and society.

Bellingcat Anti-Equality Monitoring

Ongoing monitoring and investigative effort into anti-equality (anti-LGBT, choice, feminist, etc.) and far-right movements in Ukraine, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan. This project is collaboratively operated by Oleksiy Kuzmenko and Michael Colborne (Ukraine), Narine Khachatryan (Armenia), and Aiganysh Aidarbekova (Kyrgyzstan). You can also follow us on Telegram at t.me/bellingcatmonitoring

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28 Comments

  1. Eugene the Ukrainian

    Bellingcat. If you strive to be objective, use the objective headlines. As if the previous government did not dally with C14 and others.

    Right wing movements were introduced to the Ukrainian mainstream political scene by venerable mr. Poroshenko and his merry gang.

    Reply
    • Mokum

      They were already there longtime before Poroshenko. So why do you want to.put this in the shoes of Poroshenko? Zelensky told that he will not make the same mistakes as the presidents as before him. To bad for Zelensky that he make much more mistakes than the presidents before him. But ok, they voted for a clown and the onlyone who is laughing is Putin.

      Reply
      • Eugene the Ukrainian

        Yes, you are right indeed, right wing scene has a long history in Ukraine indeed, but they were pariahs before Yuschenko, who started stirring the pot.

        However, it was Poroshenko, Avakov, Turchinov who raised them to power and shielded from trouble.

        I did not vote for Ze, and neither for Poroshenko or Yanukovich. I think our selection of candidates reflects the maturity of society, which regretfully is democracy’s hallmark. Alas.

        Reply
        • Kovpak

          Pariahs before Yushchenko? That’s total bullshit. The far-right did just as well if not better under Yanukovych. Svoboda reached its peak under him, which is no surprise since it was found that Party of Regions was funding them.

          Reply
  2. Yuri the Slav

    Bellingcat. If you strive to be objective, use the objective headlines. As if the previous government did not dally with C14 and the U.S.

    Right wing movements were introduced to the Ukrainian mainstream political scene by venerable mr. Poroshenko and under the blind eyes of U.S lawmakers.

    FACT

    Reply
    • Mr.Bushkin

      To me it rather looks like ignition and instrumentatization of a civil war by Ukrainian nationalists as their original long term self-legitimation plan since 2011: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpPvYtYkuXg

      Even in the West, some individuals understand the value of learnung languages of relevance. As for US, Ukrainian nationalists aren’t their problem, while nobody can protect you from your own stupidity anyway.

      Reply
      • Mr. Bushkin

        Hey look everyone, now we Russian trolls are just copying and pasting tired content pretending we are “Ukrainian” and “Slavs,” so just disregard anything I post because it is irrelevant propaganda nonsense. Thanks!

        Reply
  3. Mr. Bushkin

    You are expected to disappear and stop posting on this site because your Russian disinformation is not welcome here.

    Reply
  4. M

    1.Neo Nazis – they are in every civilized European country (unfortunately ), in those much more developed than Ukraine too.
    2. They are not in mainstream in any European country (the title is exaggerated)
    3. What a poor comedian is supposed to do (Voldymyr Z) – another victim abandoned by Donald T. ? he has to deal with the poverty and clutter that is in Ukraine and face the separatist movements in the east – he behaves like any genuine politician – he judges who to please and who to sell for profit

    Reply
    • Feanor

      Well he could start by disarming right wing paramilitary groups and excluding them from government structures. He could continue by making it clear that extremist viewpoints will not be tolerated within his administration. And he could finish up by cutting all funding to right wing extremists and their immediate affiliates.

      Reply
      • Roman

        Why??? What are problems with right wing while people are killed by Russians. The problem is artificial neither Ukraine nor UE union society have not problems with Ukrainian “Neo-Nazy mainstream”. Moreover there is present president and government have not anything common wit Ukrainian nationalists. Zelensky is Jew and many Ukrainian “nazies” voted for him. Can you imagine that UK, Germany, France would have voted for Jew as a President or PM. They would’ve sooner killed themselves.

        Reply
        • concerned citizen

          Are you mentally retarded Roman? The UK had a very famous Jewish Prime Minister in the 19th Century, Benjamin Disraeli.

          Reply
  5. Mr. Bushkingay

    You are expected to disappear and stop posting on this site because your Polack disinformation is not welcome here абре́к.

    Reply
    • M

      Minion, make some effort and work on more creative nicknames. 🙂
      Here you have some hints: Servant, Unqualified, Fugitive from a psychiatric ward, Impotent, Frustrated descendant of grandfather from Wermacht and so on.

      Impersonating other members of the discussion on this site is lame even for you.
      Hugs and kisses

      Reply
        • M

          Work on YOUR nicknames😉 so you do not have to steal or impersonate. PS ☺ M is a tribute to Bond movies 😚 kindest regards Minion Gerhard.

          Reply
          • Gerhard

            It is not I impersonating anyone or stealing names. And I am not Servus, or Wladimir, or any of these personas. I am a former intelligence officer who is tired of Russian interference in Western affairs, and their omnipresent paid lackeys. But most of all I am ashamed of Western intelligence services’ feeble response to many of these provocations, and while there’s no bigger Bellingcat fan on Earth, I am disappointed that its research and articles garner more attention, coordination with NYT and other major media organisations, and concrete results than any discernible and effective response from Western military, diplomatic, or intelligence organizations. When we let Russia control the narrative you end up with the mess the world is in now.

            Russia under Putin is basically the Joker watching the world burn and cackling all the way to oblivion with his like-minded totalitarian oligarchs in Iran, North Korea, China, Belarus, the Philippines, Indonesia, or wherever the harsh light of scrutiny is a threat to the establishment.

            I don’t care where you or anyone come from..if you support or are an apologist for Putin, Russian influence on sovereign democratic elections, disruptive Russian foreign policy, knee-jerk anti-Americanism or anti-Westernism, anti-democratic principles, anti-free speech, anti-free exchange of ideas, irrationally protectionist in economic policy, or value strength and authority over the rule of law, then you are part of the problem, and we do not welcome your influence in our Western way of life.

          • Mequalsmaggot

            “Work on YOUR nickname “M” 😉 so you do not have to steal or impersonate from Bond you impersonator. PS ☺ M is a tribute to mediocre 😚”, sniff .. sniff

          • MisGerhardtheFragile

            It is not I impersonating anyone or stealing names says M. And I am not Servus, or Wladimir, or any of these personas. I am M a former intelligence officer who is tired of Russian interference in Western affairs, and their omnipresent paid lackeys. But most of all I am M who ashamed of Western intelligence services’ feeble response to many of these provocations, and while there’s no bigger Bellingcat fan on Earth that M, I am disappointed that its research and articles garner more attention for M. Co-ordination with NYT and other major media organisations, and concrete results than any discernible and effective response from Western military, diplomatic, or intelligence organizations. When we, M, let Russia control the narrative you end up with M, thats stands for mess the paranoid fragile M world is in now,

            Russia under Putin is basically the Joker watching the M world burn and cackling all the way to M’s oblivion with his like-minded totalitarian oligarchs in Iran, North Korea, China, Belarus, the Philippines, Indonesia, or wherever the harsh light of scrutiny is a threat to M’s establishment.

            I, M, don’t care where you or anyone come from..sniff…sniff if you support or are an apologist for Putin, Russian influence on sovereign M democratic elections, disruptive Russian foreign M policy, knee-jerk anti-M ericanism or anti-M esternism, anti-demonicratic M principles, anti-free M speech, anti-M free exchange of ideas, irrationally M protectionist in M economic policy, or value no strength M and M authority over the rule of M law, then you are part of the M problem, and I, M, do not welcome your influence in our M way of life.

            P.S M is a tribute to mediocre

  6. Sergey

    All above pure propaganda, the concert for Ukrainian veterans that’s all.
    We are in Ukraine absolutely don’t care abt. neo nazi, gay’s, Muslims, Catholic e.t.c
    We want same as all of you : destroy corruptions, kick off all politicians to the island middle of nowhere.
    Stop writing fake news , you are lucky bcs. you are from development countries and you have enough time for the discussions abt. ecology, nazi, gay’s e.t.c
    I would see if you manage to survive in Ukraine for one week.
    Wish you all good luck. Peace)

    Reply

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