Several clashes have erupted this week between police and far-right nationalists in Kiev. Members of the Svoboda and Right Sector parties, as well as Azov battalion militants, marched through the Ukrainian capital to Independence Square on Tuesday to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UIA).
President Petro Poroshenko announced the creation of ‘Defender of the Nation Day’ annual public holiday on Tuesday (October 14), thus dissolving the existing ‘Defender of the Motherland Day’ that usually occurs on February 23 in both Ukraine and Russia; similar holidays are held on various dates in other ex-Soviet nations.
Kiev’s decision to move the holiday to coincide with the UPA’s anniversary is a bold statement: the UIA were a Ukrainian nationalist paramilitary group whom fought alongside the Nazis against the Russian army in World War II. The group committed a number of horrific war crimes during their existence; massacring Poles and Ukrainian Jews. Members planned to win Ukraine with support from Germans and physically eliminate all non-Ukrainians; their slogan was “Ukraine only for Ukrainians”.
UIA groups fought against Soviet and Polish underground resistance organization members in 1943-44. Following the end of the war and when the Soviet rule was restored in Ukraine, the UIA organized attacks against Soviet servicemen, law-enforcement authorities, Soviet officials and others who came from the “east”.
After parliament failed to pass a bill that would formally recognise the UIA as war heroes on – who fought for Ukrainian independence during WWII – riots broke out outside the building. This was the seventh time parliament speaker Olexandr Turchynov, in violation of established procedures, put this issue to a vote -and each time the motion failed to score the required 226 votes. Following this decision, groups of masked men proceeded to throw bricks, smoke bombs and explosive devices at policemen on duty at the parliament – leading the session to be terminated.
The clashes have also been attributed to another bill that was passed on Tuesday – a law granting self-rule status to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east for three years – part of a peace deal brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. It seems ironic that these neo-nazi groups want to both celebrate those who fought for Ukraine’s independence, whilst also quelling notions of separatism in the east. What does seem to be fueling both of these issues is extreme Russophobia, which is very worrying indeed. It is unfortunate that most of western Europe has chosen to encourage this growing prejudice and cozy up with Washington, rather than admit that Russia was right.
Ukraine ‘Defender’s Day’ appeases pro-Nazi group, says Russian lawmakers
Right Sector, Azov Battalion march to commemorate the Ukrainian Insurgent Army
Right Sector nationalists protest against self-rule law for east Ukraine
At least 15 policemen injured in clashes with nationalists in Kiev