On one side, the government with its police and armored vehicles (and the hired thugs known as Titushki). On the other, the activists of the Euromaidan, demanding the downfall of president Yanukovych. But the story of Ukraine’s current troubles is not so simple. After all, Yanukovych won the 2010 election: half of Ukrainians voted for him. And as the large number of policemen killed in recent days implies, the Euromaidan protests have not been filled only with peaceful student demonstrators, but with very well armed young right wing paramilitary groups, as well as veterans of the Soviet Union’s Afghan war.
One of the most important groups in recent days’ fighting has been Right Sector, a Ukrainian nationalist paramilitary group headed by Dmitry Yarosh. Excerpts from a long (and relatively friendly) interview with Yarosh, whose group by some accounts singlehandedly tilted what had been relatively pacific protests into extreme violence.
In a post on the group’s social networking page today, Yarosh called the government’s announcement of early elections ‘a fraud’ and called for the banning of the Party of Regions and the Communist Party (in other words the only significant non-Ukrainian nationalist parties). The Euromaidan ‘revolution,’ Yarosh said, would continue.
Striking elements here include the hero worship of the martyred leader Bandera, the decades of training, the vague appeal to the will of the crowd in the Maidan, and the dismissal of all current political party leaders as irrelevant.
What is your personal story, and what have you done with your life?
I am leader of the all-Ukrainian organization, Stepan Bandera Trident. I have been involved in public life for the past 25 years. I’m from Dniprodzerzhyns’k, in the Dnipropetrovs’k Oblast’ (Region). I raised the first blue-and-yellow flag in April 1989 in Dniprodzerzhyns’k.
I was one of the founders of the People’s Movement of Ukraine (Rukh). I was a member of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union; in 1989 I received recommendations (to join it) from Levko Luk’ianenko and Stepan Khmara in Moscow, on the Arbat, where we picketed then for the renewal of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s activities. Since 1994, as a founder of the Stepan Bandera Trident, I have had various positions in it: first as leader of Trident’s city structure, then as leader of its oblast’ structure, then its regional one, and so on.
I was commander of the organization from 1996 to 1999, then I was chief inspector of Trident, then I became commander of the organization again, then I passed on my duties as chief commander to my successor, Andriy Stempits’kyi. I’ve actually spent a lifetime in this. I have been trained as an instructor of Ukrainian language and literature, and in 2001, I finished the Drohobych Pedagogical University in the Philological Faculty.
How did Right Sector emerge?
There was a big protest in Kyiv on November 24-25 because of the decision to cancel the Eurointegration program. In general, Trident is not an active supporter of any integration processes, but we announced that we would create Right Sector as a platform for coordinating the actions of various revolutionary-oriented groups, because to a considerable degree, from the very beginning, we were perfectly aware that we couldn’t live in the system of state structures that has existed up to now.
Right Sector fully emerged after the events of November 30, when we went out to protest on Mykhailivs’kyi Square.
It was there that we started training and getting our defenses ready. Then we were at the Maidan all the time, and we entered the Maidan’s self-defense force. Other organizations that entered Right Sector were Trident, UNA-UNSO (Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian National Self Defense), and Carpathian Sich from the Subcarpathians.
Have you conducted training before?
Yes, for 20 years. We already have a lot of generations who have been changed by it. My kids were small at one time, and now my daughter is 20 years old, and she’s spent her whole life in Trident.
Trident is an organization with narrow operations, like an order of knights. We have three specific tasks: propagandizing the ideology of Ukrainian nationalism as interpreted by Stepan Bandera; raising up Ukrainian youth in a spirit of patriotism; and national defense activity, that is, defending the honor and dignity of the Ukrainian nation in all forms by all methods and means available.
In general, Ukrainian nationalism and Banderites are not narrow-minded plebs with sadistic tendencies; these are intellectuals, people who write, who publish, who are involved not just in using force. Trident is an organization that produces certain ideas.
We are not a political party. In Trident, we’re even forbidden from taking state jobs.
Where exactly do these training sessions take place?
At camps throughout Ukraine: Dnipropetrovs’k, Dniprodzerzhyns’k, Kryvyi Rih, Pavlohrad, Nikopol’ and so on. Guys get together, and they have their plan of activities for a month, for half a year, for a year. They go through training and lessons. They conduct various events aimed at the de-communization and decolonization of Ukraine.
I think you’ve heard about events from 2011, when our mobile group blew up the head of Stalin’s bust in Zaporizhzhia; that was a rather notorious thing.
We never made PR out of it. We simply do what is for our nation’s good, for our state’s good. Those of us who can do it close down drug dealerships and help law-enforcement organs (if you can call them that, because it seems to me that the police are the most active drug dealers).
Right now, representatives of opposition parties are taking part in negotiations with the regime. What do you think, can these people take responsibility for the Maidan’s actions and give some guarantees on its behalf?
That’s the problem; the Maidan doesn’t control the negotiations process. The levels of trust opposition leaders had at the beginning and now are completely different.
We demand that not only opposition leaders be in the negotiations, but also representatives from the Maidan. At least as observers. Then you can offer some guarantees and at least articulate here, to people on the Maidan, that we have this agreement reached between the regime and the opposition, and it should be carried out.
Because otherwise, there’s the impression that they agree on one thing, and then they change something among themselves, and then the result turns out to be completely different.
Our goal now is to force the opposition to go back to negotiations with specific demands and achieve a certain compromise. But this absolutely must happen with Maidan representatives.
Those Afghan veterans or Andriy Parubiy as self-defense commander can be in the negotiating group. If they invite me, I’ll go. We see nothing awful in this. We can argue our position and compel both the regime and the opposition to make an agreement, so that there will be no bloodshed, and so that the state will take different actions. I’m ready to go negotiate for this.
Aren’t you afraid that a partisan war could grow into a civil war?
There can be no civil war. When 80% of the people do not support the regime, it will be a struggle between society, the people, and the regime. And these two things make great differences between a civil war and what we are talking about. This will be a national liberation war. But we’d rather not have one. We have a state, we have a foundation for developing nation building and state building.
But a lot of people in eastern Ukraine sincerely believe that Banderites and nationalists are gathered here, and they are really convinced that they must fight this. What should we do with these people?
According to the information I have, this is a very small percentage of people. I myself am from the Dnipropetrovs’k Oblast’, and I completely understand the situation. These are mostly people working for hire. You saw the events near the Dnipropetrovs’k Oblast’ Administration building. There, local (Party of) Regions deputy Stupak for a year and a half got scumbags together and formed fight clubs and guard structures that, together with the police, out of “conviction” defend the Oblast’ Administration.
Did you see at least one normal citizen among those defenders of the administration building who went out there voluntarily? Or in the Crimea itself, they’ve set up units of hatted Cossacks, chauvinists, who form Black Hundreds and defend the regime. But where are the masses of people? Besides that, Crimean Tatars are completely on the side of the Euromaidan. So none of this is simple.
If you’d speak with people in the East, they’d say the same thing about the Maidan: that there is a very small percentage of sincere supporters, and that the majority are hired nationalists. Both you and they have very similar rhetoric, which in the end is very unlikely to produce a compromise.
All the time there’s been this call made at the Maidan to the three opposition leaders to make a decision on a single candidate. Do you support this call?
It doesn’t seem that relevant because you more often hear calls to make decisions with Maidan leaders. The leaders of the resistance which is going on. The importance of presidential elections for people has gone down to second or third place.
During presidential elections – early or regularly scheduled ones – what will be your strategy: will you support someone, or will you run on your own?
We don’t rule out Right Sector nominating its own candidate for elections. But it’s still too early to talk about this.
So you sincerely believe that a candidate from Right Sector has a chance at winning across the country?
If you took at reality, there is always a chance for it. Right Sector became an all-Ukrainian phenomenon in a few weeks. It’s Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovs’k, Donets’k, the Crimea. On the other hand, presidential elections can bring quite a bit of attention to our ideas of revolutionary changes for the state.
So who for you is the leader of the resistance?
There is no one for now. I made an announcement that I was ready to bear responsibility for all those things that happened. This doesn’t mean that I have some presidential ambitions. I simply see that there needs to be complete coordination and control over the situation. Let politicians settle those issues for themselves. If one of them is ready to do it, then let him do it, and we will sincerely support him. But I don’t see anyone doing this.
Regarding firearms, you called on people to bring them to the Maidan. Why have you done that?
When the MVS issued an order allowing use of firearms against people, I called on people who had legally registered firearms to join us, to create a group for supporting us with firearms in case they came to the Maidan and started shooting. I think that you can only return fire, because there are no other alternatives. But that’s only if they open fire first.
Has this unit been created?
That’s a secret, sorry.
Mustafa Nayyem and Oksana Kovalenko
21 Feb 2014