Far-right politics in Ukraine

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The OUN/UPA flag, commonly used by far-right groups in Ukraine. The red represents blood and the black represents the Black Soil of Ukraine.[citation needed]

Far-right politics in Ukraine refers to the actions, organizations, and beliefs of the far-right in Ukraine.

During Ukraine's post-Soviet history, the far-right has remained on the political periphery and been largely excluded from national politics since independence in 1991.[1][2] Unlike most Eastern European countries which saw far-right groups become permanent fixtures in their countries' politics during the decline and fall of the Soviet Union, the national electoral support for far-right parties in Ukraine only rarely exceeded 3% of the popular vote.[3] Far-right parties usually enjoyed just a few wins in single-mandate districts, and no far right candidate for president has ever secured more than 5 percent of the popular vote in an election.[3] Only once in the 1994–2014 period was a radical right-wing party elected to the parliament as an independent organization within the proportional part of the voting: Svoboda in 2012.[3] Since then even at the height of nationalist sentiment during and after Russia's annexation of Crimea and the Russo-Ukrainian War far-right parties have failed to gain enough votes to attain political representation.[3]

In the 2019 Ukrainian parliamentary election the coalition of Svoboda and the other extreme-right political parties in Ukraine ― National Corps, the Governmental Initiative of Yarosh, and the Right Sector ― won only 2.15% of the vote combined and failed to pass the 5% threshold.[4][5] No far-right parties gained seats in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine's parliament), as they all failed to win any single-mandate constituency seat.[5]

The far-right is heavily represented among the pro-Russian separatists with several past or current leaders of the unrecognized break away republics of Donetsk and Luhansk linked to various neo-Nazi, white supremacists and ultra nationalists groups. The importance of the far-right on both sides of the conflict declined over time.


Schutzmannschaft with Nazi uniform and the Ukrainian Coat of arms, 1943

The far-right in Ukraine is not identical with Ukrainian nationalism which resulted in part from Ukraine being historically divided between various imperial powers.[6] Post-Soviet Ukraine is home to competing nationalisms and cultural orientations.[7]

The nationalist organizations during World War II remain controversial.[7] National attitudes about the far-right are impacted by the ambivalent role Ukraine played during Nazi occupation, with Ukrainians volunteering in SS troops and as concentration camp guards.[8]

According to a 2018 report by the NGO Freedom House far-right groups have been marginal in Ukrainian society and especially in Ukrainian politics. The report identifies three political parties in Ukraine which qualify as extremist ― Svoboda, National Corps and Right Sector. None

of the three parties obtained enough votes to gain parliamentary representation. The report argues that due to the far right's weakness in official politics, right-wing groups have sought avenues outside of politics to impose their agenda on Ukrainian society, including attempts to disrupt peaceful assemblies and use force against those with opposite political and cultural views such as left-wing, feminist, LGBT, and human rights activists. The report concludes that while such groups do not have the capabilities to challenge the state, they pose a threat to Ukrainian democracy because they reject democratic values yet actively employ all spectrum of the opportunities offered by democracy. One particular area of concern according to the report is that Ukrainian law enforcement has failed to stop far-right disruptions and such activities have gone unpunished. The report calls on Ukrainian authorities to take more effective measures.[2]


According to American scientist Stephen F. Cohen, the resurrection of Nazi ideology could be observed all around the globe, including Europe and the United States, however, the growing Ukrainian Neo-Nazi movement poses a special danger due to its well-armed and well-organized nature in a political center of the Second Cold War.[9] Cohen also mentions the Azov battalion as a manifestation of the resurgence of Ukrainian Neo-Nazism.[9]

Far-right violent extremism

Ukrainian Right Sector extremists wearing the Wolfsangel on Maidan. 2014
Ukrainian volunteer battalion members with neo-Nazi Wolfsangel symbol, 24 July 2014

Hate crimes were relatively uncommon in Ukraine compared to other Eastern European countries until 2005, but became more common between 2005 and 2008, mostly due to informal youth groups, in particular skinheads. Since 2008, there has been a more explicit response to such crimes by law enforcement and the justice system, which has led to a decrease of vio­lent right-wing offences.[10] Ukraine has seen a decrease in both the frequency and the severity of hate crimes since their high in the mid-2000s. Between 2006 and 2012, there were 295 reported violent hate crimes and 13 hate-crime-related deaths.[11] 2007 was the most violent year in terms of racially motivated crimes with 88 registered assaults with 6 fatalities. By comparison, in Russia during the same year there were a reported 625 casualties with 94 deaths attributed to far-right violence. The significant difference results in part the from the different sizes of the racist youth and skinhead scene in Ukraine and Russia. According to estimates, in 2008 Ukraine had a maximum of 2,000 organized skinheads whereas in Russia the estimates range between 20,000 and 70,000 members of skinhead groups.[12][13] The last reported death due to a hate crime occurred in 2010.[11]

Regular torchlight marches by members of the Ukrainian far-right have drawn comparisons to those in Germany after World War I and Ukrainian authorities have faced widespread criticism for their perceived inaction in the face of far-right crime. Repeated attempts by authorities to memorialize Ukrainian nationalist leaders who collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II have also drawn criticism.[14][9]

British scholar Richard Sakwa wrote in 2015 that Ukrainian National Guard units including far-right militants "often lacked discipline and treated south-east Ukraine as occupied territory, regularly committing atrocities against civilians and captured ‘terrorists’".[15]

Violence against Jews

A survey by the Pew Research Center in 2018 found that antisemitic sentiments were less prevalent in Ukraine than other Eastern and Central European countries. While 5% of Ukrainians stated that they would not like to have Jews as their fellow citizens, the figure was 14% in Russia and Hungary, 16% in Greece and 32% in Armenia.[16] In contrast, an Anti-Defamation League survey in 2019 showed 46% index score (answering 'probably true' to a majority of the antisemitic stereotypes tested) for Ukraine (up from 32% in 2015), compared to 48% for Poland or 31% for Russia.[17]

Antisemitic rhetoric used by far-right activists relatively rarely translates into violent actions.[11][18] Between 2004 and 2014, there were 112 anti-Semitic violent attacks, with a decrease over time, in Ukraine.[11] According to statistics on antisemitic vandalism collected by the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine in the first three months of 2018, extremists tried to disrupt twelve public events and attacked a variety of targets. While direct physical violence was not deployed in all twelve cases, extremist groups sought to restrict the rights and freedoms of Ukraine's citizens.[19]

Pro-Russian separatism

According to a 2016 report by Institut français des relations internationales (IFRI), Russian ethnic and imperialist nationalism has shaped the official ideology of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics,[20] the two self-proclaimed states controlled by pro-Russian separatists but internationally recognized as part of Ukraine. During the War in Donbas, far-right groups played an important role on the pro-Russian side, arguably more so than on the Ukrainian side.[20][21]

Members and former members of National Bolshevik Party, Russian National Unity (RNU), Eurasian Youth Union, and the Cossack units along with other groups actively participated in starting branches for the recruitment of the separatists.[20][22][23][24] A former member of RNU, Pavel Gubarev, was founder of the Donbas People's Militia and first "governor" of the Donetsk People's Republic.[20][25] RNU is particularly linked to the Russian Orthodox Army,[20] one of a number of separatist units described as "pro-Tsarist" and "extremist" Orthodox nationalists.[26] Neo-Nazi units such as the 'Rusich', 'Svarozhich' and 'Ratibor' battalions, use Slavic swastikas on their badges.[20] 'Rusich' is part of the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary group in Ukraine which has been linked to far-right extremism.[27][28]

Some of the most influential nationalists and far-right activists among the Russian separatists are neo-imperialists, who seek to revive the Russian Empire.[20] These included Igor 'Strelkov' Girkin, first "minister of defence" of the Donetsk People's Republic, who espouses Russian neo-imperialism and ethno-nationalism.[20] The Russian Imperial Movement, a white supremacist militant group,[27] has recruited thousands of volunteers to join the separatists.[26] Some separatists have flown the black-yellow-white Russian imperial flag,[20] such as the Sparta Battalion. In 2014, volunteers from the National Liberation Movement joined the Donetsk People's Militia bearing portraits of Tsar Nicholas II.[29]

Other Russian volunteers involved in separatist militias included members of the Eurasian Youth Union, and of banned groups such as the Slavic Union and the Movement Against Illegal Immigration.[23] Another Russian separatist paramilitary unit, the Interbrigades, is made up of activists from the National Bolshevik (Nazbol) group Other Russia.[20]

Press coverage

Despite the fact that far-right parties in Ukraine have been unpopular with the electorate and received considerably less support than far-right parties in other European countries, the Russian government and media started to label Ukraine a "fascist state" following the Orange Revolution in 2004.[1] The subject of the far right's alleged influence in Ukraine became especially politicized during the 2013–2014 Revolution of Dignity when small radical groups without political influence received disproportionate media attention not only in Russia as well as in the West. The impact of these and similar organizations on both Ukrainian politics and society has since been greatly exaggerated in Russian state media and also in some West European journalistic accounts.[3]

Media coverage has been focused largely on Svoboda party whose members stand accused of killing four national guardsmen using hand grenades during a rally outside Ukrainian parliament in August 2015.[30]

The development of the conflict ultimately led declination of far-right groups on both sides of the conflict. The political climate in Donetsk and Luhansk further pushed far-right groups into the margins.[20]

Far-right political parties

Far-right groups


  1. ^ a b Melanie Mierzejewski-Voznyak: The Radical Right in Post-Soviet Ukraine. In: The Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right (Ed. Jens Rydgren). Oxford University Press, 2018, p. 1―2, doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190274559.013.30.
  2. ^ a b Likhachev 2018, p. 1.
  3. ^ a b c d e Melanie Mierzejewski-Voznyak: The Radical Right in Post-Soviet Ukraine. In: The Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right (Ed. Jens Rydgren). Oxford University Press, 2018, p. 2, doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190274559.013.30.
  4. ^ Aram Terzyan: Towards Democratic Consolidation? Ukraine After the Revolution of Dignity. Open Political Science, 2020; 3: 183–191, p. 186. doi:0.1515/openps-2020-0015
  5. ^ a b CEC counts 100 percent of vote in Ukraine's parliamentary elections, Ukrinform (26 July 2019)
    (in Russian) Results of the extraordinary elections of the People's Deputies of Ukraine 2019, Ukrayinska Pravda (21 July 2019)
  6. ^ Melanie Mierzejewski-Voznyak: The Radical Right in Post-Soviet Ukraine. In: The Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right (Ed. Jens Rydgren). Oxford University Press, 2018, p. 12, doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190274559.013.30.
  7. ^ a b Melanie Mierzejewski-Voznyak: The Radical Right in Post-Soviet Ukraine. In: The Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right (Ed. Jens Rydgren). Oxford University Press, 2018, p. 13, doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190274559.013.30.
  8. ^ Kersten & Hankel 2013, p. 91, 92.
  9. ^ a b c Stephen F. Cohen America’s Collusion With Neo-Nazis. Neo-fascists play an important official or tolerated role in US-backed Ukraine Archived 2019-12-27 at the Wayback Machine The Nation, 2018
  10. ^ Kersten & Hankel 2013, pp. 93―94.
  11. ^ a b c d Melanie Mierzejewski-Voznyak: The Radical Right in Post-Soviet Ukraine. In: The Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right (Ed. Jens Rydgren). Oxford University Press, 2018, p. 16, doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190274559.013.30.
  12. ^ Melanie Mierzejewski-Voznyak: The Radical Right in Post-Soviet Ukraine. In: The Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right (Ed. Jens Rydgren). Oxford University Press, 2018, p. 20, doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190274559.013.30.
  13. ^ Andreas Umland & Anton Shekhovtsov (2013): "Ultraright Party Politics in Post-Soviet Ukraine and the Puzzle of the Electoral Marginalism of Ukrainian Ultranationalists in 1994–2009." Russian Politics and Law 51 (5), p. 47, doi:10.2753/RUP1061-1940510502.
  14. ^ Lev Golinkin Neo-Nazis and the Far Right Are On the March in Ukraine Archived 2019-12-10 at the Wayback Machine, The Nation, February 2019
  15. ^ Sakwa 2015, p. 159,160.
  16. ^ David Masci: Most Poles accept Jews as fellow citizens and neighbors, but a minority do not. Pew Research Center, March 28, 2018.
  17. ^ ADL Global: Index Scores by Select Demographic in Ukraine
  18. ^ Lenka Bustikov (2015): "Voting, Identity and Security Threats in Ukraine: Who Supports the Radical 'Freedom' Party?" Communist and Post-Communist Studies 48 (2), pp. 239–256, doi:10.1016/j.postcomstud.2015.06.011.
  19. ^ Likhachev 2018, p. 4.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Likhachev, Vyacheslav (July 2016). "The Far Right in the Conflict between Russia and Ukraine" (PDF). Russie.NEI.Visions in English. pp. 18–28. Retrieved 1 March 2022. The National Bolshevik Party (NBP), the Russian National Unity (RNU), the Eurasian Youth Union, newly formed armed Cossack units and other groups were active in opening branches... The involvement of "The Other Russia" ("descendants" of the outlawed NAtional Bolshevik Party) supporters in the war against Ukraine is entirely consistent with the party's activities... The first "separatist people's governor of Donetsk...had also been an RNU member... During the war in Donbass, the RNU altered the symbols on its chevrons, dispensing with the modified swastika it had always used in the past. Other Russian neo-Nazi groups were less careful, however. The round eight-pronged swastika-[[kolovrat (symbol)|]] (a neo-pagan swastika) appeared on the badges of the neo-Nazi "Rusich" and "Ratibor" [units].
  21. ^ Averre, Derek; Wolczuk, Kataryna, eds. (2018). The Ukraine Conflict: Security, Identity and Politics in the Wider Europe. Routledge. pp. 90–91. Separatist ideologues in the Donbas, such as they are, have therefore produced a strange melange since 2014. Of what Marlène Laruelle (2016) has called the 'three colours' of Russian nationalism designed for export—red (Soviet), white (Orthodox) and brown (fascist) ... there are arguably more real fascists on the rebel side than the Ukrainian side
  22. ^ Yudina, Natalia (2015-06-01). "Russian Nationalists Fight Ukrainian War". Journal on Baltic Security. Walter de Gruyter GmbH. 1 (1): 47–60. doi:10.1515/jobs-2016-0012. ISSN 2382-9230. Less known organisations are more active in sending fighters to the conflict area, such as Alexander Barkashov’s Russian National Unity, RNE (or rather a fragment thereof which somehow remained loyal to the leader)...The National Liberation Movement (NOD) led by United Russia deputy Yevgeny Fyodorov is busy forming volunteer units and transporting them to Ukraine... Other Russian volunteers spotted in Ukraine included activists of the Eurasian Youth Union (the youth branch of Alexander Dugin’s party), the Russian Imperial Movement led by Stanislav Vorobyov, and the National Democratic Party.)
  23. ^ a b Laruelle, Marlene (26 June 2014). "Is anyone in charge of Russian nationalists fighting in Ukraine?". The Washington Post. Many mercenaries are related, directly or indirectly, to the Russian National Unity (RNU) movement of Alexander Barkashov ... The RNU is supposedly closely associated to members of the self-proclaimed government of Donetsk and in particular of Dmitri Boitsov, leader of the Orthodox Donbass organization ... The volunteers come from several other Russian nationalist groups: the Eurasianist Youth inspired by the Fascist and neo-Eurasianist geopolitician Alexander Dugin; the now-banned Movement Against Illegal Immigration led by Alexander Belov; the group ‘Sputnik and Pogrom’; the national-socialist Slavic Union of Dmitri Demushkin; several small groups inspired by monarchism such as the Russian Imperial Movement{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  24. ^ Saunders, Robert (2019). Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. pp. 581–582. Russian National Unity (RNU), banned ultranationalist political party ... neo-Nazi party ... a number of RNU members joined separatist forces in the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk
  25. ^ Snyder, Timothy. Far-Right Forces are Influencing Russia's Actions in Crimea. The New Republic. 17 March 2014.
  26. ^ a b Kuzio, Taras (2015). Ukraine: Democratization, Corruption, and the New Russian Imperialism. ABC-CLIO. pp. 110–111. the Russian Orthodox Army, one of a number of separatist units fighting for the “Orthodox faith,” revival of the Tsarist Empire, and the Russkii Mir. Igor Girkin (Strelkov [Shooter]), who led the Russian capture of Slovyansk in April 2014, was an example of the Russian nationalists who have sympathies to pro-Tsarist and extremist Orthodox groups in Russia. ... the Russian Imperial Movement ... has recruited thousands of volunteers to fight with the separatists. ... separatists received support from Russian neo-Nazis such as the Russian Party of National Unity who use a modified swastika as their party symbol and Dugin's Eurasianist movement. The paramilitaries of both of these ... are fighting alongside separatists.
  27. ^ a b Townsend, Mark (20 March 2022). "Russian mercenaries in Ukraine linked to far-right extremists". The Guardian. Russian mercenaries fighting in Ukraine, including the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group, have been linked to far-right extremism ... Much of the extremist content, posted on Telegram and the Russian social media platform VKontakte (VK), relates to a far-right unit within the Wagner Group called Rusich ... One post on the messaging app Telegram, dated 15 March, shows the flag of the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), a white-supremacist paramilitary ... Another recent VK posting lists Rusich as part of a coalition of separatist groups and militias including the extreme far-right group, Russian National Unity.
  28. ^ Šmíd, Tomáš; Šmídová, Alexandra (2021-06-01). "Anti-government Non-state Armed Actors in the Conflict in Eastern Ukraine". Mezinárodní vztahy. Institute of International Relations Prague. 56 (2): 35–64. doi:10.32422/mv-cjir.1778. ISSN 2570-9429. Another group of Russian citizens who became involved in the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine were members of the so-called right-wing units of the Russian Spring. Here we mean mainly extreme-right activists... the members of Rusich around [Aleksei] Milchakov are activists of various Russian extreme-right groups... Varyag is one of the few not to hide their extreme-right orientation, as it endorses its neo-Nazi ideology quite openly...
  29. ^ Yudina, Natalia (2015). "Russian nationalists fight Ukrainian war", in: Journal on Baltic Security, Volume 1, Issue 1 (de Gruyter). pp.47–69. doi:10.1515/jobs-2016-0012.
  30. ^ Paul Funder Larsen Right-wing nationalists under investigation after last year’s sniper massacre in Kiev Jyllands-Posten, 2015


  • Kersten, Joachim; Hankel, Natalia (2013). "A comparative look at right-wing extremism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobic hate crimes in Poland, Ukraine, and Russia". Right-Wing Radicalism Today. ISBN 978-0-415-62723-8.
  • Likhachev, Vyacheslav (2018). Far-right Extremism as a Threat to Ukrainian Democracy (PDF). Nations in Transit. Freedom House.
  • Mierzejewski-Voznyak, Melanie (2018). "Nationalism (s) in a Structural-Historical Context". The Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-027456-6.
  • Sakwa, Richard (2015). "Peace and War". Frontline Ukraine. Crisis in Borderlands. London: I. B. Tauris. ISBN 978-0-85773-804-2.
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