The Ukrainian government continues to fight separatism in the occupied eastern regions of the country, but it’s Ukraine’s vigilante far-right groups that have taken this fight to streets nationwide.
One such organization that has been particularly active in recent weeks is C14. On May 4, C14 captured Rafael Lusvarghi, a Brazilian national who fought for Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine’s east, in Kyiv. They then handed him over to the Ukrainian Security Service. A court hearing that took place on May 7 ended in Lusvarghi being sentenced to 60 days in prison until his case is investigated further.
Far-right radical group C14 capture Rafael Lusvarghi, a Brazilian national who fought for Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine’s east, on May 4 in Kyiv. Photo credit: HROMADSKE
But it’s not just separatists C14 seem to be targeting with their tough justice techniques. On April 20, C14 members forcefully dismantled a Roma settlement in Kyiv. They drove out the Roma community and then proceeded to burn down their tents and possessions. This incident was met with a lot of criticism from both Ukrainian and international society.
These, along with a few other cases, have resulted in international experts, media and human right groups branding C14 as “neo-Nazi,” something the group itself vehemently deny.
Hromadske conducted its own investigation to determine whether it is correct to label C14 and other far-rightists in Ukraine as “neo-Nazi” and what the term itself actually means.
Who are C14 and what do they do?
C14 – also known as Sich – began as the youth wing of the ultra-nationalist political party Svoboda in 2010. Some people believe the number 14 in the group’s name to be a reference to the 14-word slogan coined by American white-supremacist David Lane, something that is, again, being denied by the group members. They say C14 just resembles the word Sich – the name given to the administrative centers of Cossack settlements in the 16-18th century – in Cyrillic (Січ).
C14 were one of the far-right groups active during the Euromaidan revolution of 2013-2014. They fought against ‘titushki’ or paid thugs (who worked closely with the police under the regime of Viktor Yanukovych).
Ukrainian nationalists protest against Russian aggression in Ukraine. Photo credit: EPA.com
Back then, in February 2014, C14 leader Yevhen Karas appeared on BBC’s Newsnight program where he denied being a Nazi. He stated that his main “confrontations” were with non-Ukrainian ethnic groups that controlled Ukraine’s political and economic forces. In answer to the interviewer's question on which ethnic groups specifically, Karas identified Russians, Jews, and Poles.
More recently, Karas denied being neo-Nazi in his interview with Magnolia TV program on May 3. “We don’t consider ourselves a neo-Nazi organization, we’re clearly Ukrainian nationalists,” he said.
Most of C14’s actions do seem to be directed at Russia, or those sympathetic towards Russia. In January 2018, they blockaded the entrance to Kyiv Pechersk Lavra monastery in protest of the Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate Church’s refusal to carry out burials for Ukrainian soldiers who took part in the government-controlled military operations in the Donbas. Then, in February 2018, two C14 members went on trial for the murder of Oles Buzyna, a pro-Russian journalist and a former chief editor of Segodnya newspaper. C14 activists picketed the courthouse in protest.
Supporters and activists of Ukrainian nationalists protest against Russian aggression in Ukraine. Photo credit: EPA.com
Decommunization also appears to be an issue of concern to C14. Their YouTube channel features videos of members defacing or removing Soviet symbols and monuments in various Ukrainian cities.
C14’s vigilantism seems to go unnoticed by law enforcement. The Ukrainian law does allow for civilian formations to assist local police in maintaining law and order. The Kyiv district of Holosiyiv, where the destruction of the Roma settlement took place, signed a memorandum permitting this. It’s under this same rule that the controversial nationalist paramilitary organization National Druzhyna operate. The phenomenon of this cooperation is highlighted by human rights activist Halya Coynash.
In November 2017, C14 were added to the database of Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium – or TRAC – an American resource for information on political violence of all sorts.
What do the experts say?
Researchers define a neo-Nazi organization as a community which, either openly or secretly, propagates the symbols, ideology or leaders of the Third Reich, and therefore the German-fascist regime.
Vyacheslav Likhachev, the head of the International Group for Monitoring the Rights of Ethnic Minorities, thinks that neo-nazism is a narrow term, “under which fall a small segment of far-right extremist groups, which emphasize the issue of racism, ethnic cleansing, and so on.”
According to him, there are not many Ukrainian nationalists and national radicals who directly appeal to the neo-Nazi problem field.
“At the same time, this small segment forms very easily in the regions of Ukraine. Most of these organizations exist as a subculture, in which young people come together to socialize,” Likhachev says.
Likhachev asserts that the ideologies of Svoboda, the Right Sector political party and its former leader Dmytro Yarosh, as well as the National Corps, do not contain any neo-Nazi sentiments or ideas. They are not used officially by any political party. Instead, each of these parties at a regional or youth movement level has representatives, who actively use neo-Nazi symbols and rhetoric. However, Likhachev also asserts that they will not become players in the wider political game.
Ukrainian Nationalists attend their rally to the memory of people, who paid their lives for Independence of Ukraine. Photo credit: EPA.com
Ukrainian politicians can use young neo-Nazis for their own interests, says Anton Shekhovtsov, an expert on ultra-right movements and academic in political science. He defines the political goal of neo-Nazism as "revolution resulting in the creation of a totalitarian state founded on the idea of racism."
"The neo-Nazis’ methods are usually brutal, they use more violence than other right-wing radical groups," Shekhovtsov says."In Ukraine today, neo-Nazism appears on a systemic level in small organizations, such as C14 or National Corps.”
Expert from the Institute of Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv Andreas Umland also considers these organizations examples of neo-Nazism in Ukraine.
Ukrainian nationalists rally against political fuss between Poroshenko and Saakashvili. Photo credit: EPA.com
“C14, which was previously the youth organization of the Svoboda party, could qualify as neo-Nazi,” Umland told Hromadske. “The organization that preceded the Azov Battalion – the so-called Patriot of Ukraine (Patriot Ukrainy) – was a kind of mini-party that existed up until 2014. It was covertly neo-Nazi, having certain symbols and ideas which clearly related to German Nazism.”
According to him, in order to qualify as neo-Nazi, an organization does not need to be completely similar to Nazi codes and symbols. It’s enough to have to use something similar, such as the swastika symbol. However, Umland continues, these are mostly marginal groups, as, overall, there are few explicitly neo-Nazi parties in the world.
“The exception may be the so-called Golden Dawn in Greece, which openly expresses neo-Nazi views," he said. "[On the whole,] parties usually don't advertise this.”