In the war currently underway in Eastern Ukraine, between Ukrainian nationalists and Russian separatists, the latter are winning one of the most important battles, the battle of information.
Since the beginning of the conflict, the separatists have used the internet extensively to gather support from all around the world and to present their side of the story. However, the Ukrainian nationalists have seldom been heard, and their motives are often presented through the deforming lenses of Western or pro-Russian media. To correct this distortion, here is a long overdue presentation of the Ukrainians’ position.
In an uncensored and unfiltered interview, Olena Semenyaka, the coordinator of the Azov Reconquista project and a member of the Press Service of the Azov Regiment, gives us an overview of how things look from a Ukrainian nationalist perspective. The Azov Regiment is an international regiment recognized by the Ukrainian government that has been active since April 2014.
Rémi Tremblay: Could you introduce yourself as well as the Azov Regiment you are working in?
Olena Semenyaka: I’m a historian of philosophy, a member of the Ukrainian Traditionalist Club and a scholar of the Conservative Revolution – Ernst Jünger’s ideas in particular. But I had to delay my thesis as an activist of the Ukrainian Right, who, above all, is obliged to put her knowledge and international contacts at the service of my land and state. This has a positive side, though, because all my conclusions, both pleasant discoveries and disappointments, will be reflected in my writings.
The core of the Azov Regiment is represented by one of the oldest Ukrainian paramilitary nationalist formations, “Patriots of Ukraine” and its ideological referee “Social-National Assembly.” When the Maidan protests started, its leadership – Andriy Biletsky and Oleg Odnorozhenko – were jailed by the regime of Victor Yanukovych. However, the members of Patriots of Ukraine were among the most well-prepared street fighters, and took an active part in the clashes with the police. One of the victories of Maidan was the release of all political prisoners, including leading activists of this organization, who immediately led the passionate youth who gathered around them and formed the Black Corps – a unit of fighters in black who started a guerilla struggle against the pro-Russian separatists and occupiers, often by improvised means or using arms seized in the battle.
It should be noted that the biggest centers of the social-nationalist movement have always been situated in East Ukraine, the city of Kharkiv in particular, so it was a big surprise for the separatists when their Russian-speaking neighbors filmed the first video appeal in which they promised to expel the chauvinistic plague from their native cities at any cost, thus ruining the Kremlin’s propaganda about the “anti-Russian junta” and “rebels of Novorussia.” In May, the famous “little black men,” designed as a counterweight to Russia's anonymous “little green men,” showed their faces and became the Azov Volunteer Special Purpose Battalion of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine. Their first big victory was relief of the city of Mariupol that prevented the Russian forces from creating a land corridor to occupied Crimea. The high level of discipline, devotion, and efficiency of the battalion didn’t go unnoticed, and in autumn they were transformed into a regiment of the National Guard of Ukraine, thus expanding their personnel from 400 to 1,200 soldiers and receiving heavy weapons.
|The Azov Regiment|
The Azov Regiment continues to defend the strategic positions around Mariupol, and is much respected by its residents, especially after the city was shelled by the separatists on January 24, which resulted in 30 killed and 117 wounded. The regiment also participated in the deadly battles near Maryinka and Ilovaysk. Besides, this February it conducted the only successful offensive operation of the Ukrainian military leading up to the “truce,” and recaptured the village of Shyrokyne, which the pro-Russian forces are still trying to seize back in vain.
However, it’s wrong to perceive the Azov Regiment as a predominantly military formation. The principles of the Social-National Assembly were reinterpreted, upgraded, and adapted to the current challenges. The Civil Corps of the Azov Regiment, which may be viewed as the nucleus of a future political party, at present appears in all Ukrainian regions. Some of our supporters from Europe have already visited its main office in Kyiv, and are ready to continue their collaboration at all levels. The main ideological guideline of the movement is the concept of Reconquista, with its idea of "today Ukraine, tomorrow Rus," which means revolution in Russia to create a Ukraine-centered modern analogue of Kyivan Rus as part of a revived Europe, restoring the traditional might of Europe in all spheres of life, or, as one could say, fulfilling the last will of Dominique Venner.
Tremblay: Many things were said about the Maiden protests. What were the motivations of the nationalists who took part in the Maiden protests?
Semenyaka: The conflict between the regime of Yanukovych and the nationalists at the beginning of the Maidan protests had deep roots, such as the repression of the nationalist organization Tryzub, which later became the core of Right Sector, the fabricated case of the Vasylkivsky terrorists, the aforementioned imprisonment of Andriy Biletsky, the Azov Regiment commander, and Oleg Odnorozhenko, Doctor of Historical Sciences, heraldist, and deputy commander of the Azov Regiment on personal grounds. Other factors were the suppression of national history and culture, corruption, and the police state. These were the realities of pre-Maidan Ukraine, which forced Ukrainian nationalists to support social protest and seize the opportunity of a revolutionary overthrow of the government presented by the public demonstration of 1,000,000 Ukrainians after the special police unit Berkut had beaten rallying students. Without the determination, combat experience, devotion, and coordination of the Ukrainian nationalist forces, the Maidan would never have won.
|The masses of the Maidan.|
Semenyaka: It should be stressed that the Maidan protests were not "pro-EU" per se. Although, before the beginning of war with Russia, a big percentage of Ukrainian citizens idealized the EU as an embodiment of civilization and higher living standards, the failed EU association agreement, which was probably not even Yanukovych’s fault, was only a trigger for expressing a wider public discontent with his regime in general. Of course, ignorance and the work of the mass media and international funds, above all, are to blame for the uncritical and unconditional support for the EU that still may be found among Ukrainian citizens. But experience has had a sobering effect on them as well, The EU’s friendly relations with Putin and the Russian Federation, in spite of sanctions, its disapproval of nationalism and demands for the federalization of Ukraine, which under current conditions means nothing but separatism, the lack of real political and military aid, and more, have led to growing disillusionment with the EU.
Also, I have to add that, although Yanukovych is believed to have been a puppet of Putin, he, in no way, can be considered “anti-Western” or “anti-EU.” As in Russia’s case, the anti-Western rhetoric is only a disguise for selling out the country to the West while claiming to “raise it from the ashes.” All high-ranking Ukrainian officials, the same as the Russians, keep their funds in Western banks while their children study abroad, so confrontation with the West is just a populist fiction. The reality is with the struggle for territories, like the Ukrainian Crimea, and resources.
It was Yanukovych's regime that initiated Euro-integration, and during his rule the Berkut riot police, which tried to disperse the "pro-Western" Maidan, also protected the first gay parade held in the Ukraine that was attended by the Mayor of Munich. So, the mass pro-EU sympathies expressed during Maidan can be better interpreted as the first attempt of Ukrainians to escape from the yoke of post-communist oligarchic capitalism that flourishes both in Ukraine and Russia.
|Yanukovych and Putin: thinking about how far they can throw each other.|
Semenyaka: You may derive the answer from the simple fact that the geographic closeness of certain countries does not necessarily imply their friendly coexistence, and the neighbors of imperialist Russia know it better than anybody else. Moreover, the imperialist ambitions of modern Russia are especially dangerous, because they are often a complete inversion of the cultural and statist traditions of the original Kyivan Rus’ and its direct successor – Ukraine.
The Muscovy State, which emerged later than Kyiv, was renamed as "Russia" by Peter I only in 1721, and up until 1480 it was a tributary of the Golden Horde and adopted the absolutist Asian model of government, according to the Russian theorists of Eurasianism themselves. No wonder that among the pro-Russian separatists, who at present consist almost 100 % of Russian newcomers, one may find Chechens, Buryats, Ossetians and many other peoples of the Russian (pseudo-)Federation who fulfill the order of the anti-Russian Kremlin.
Ukraine, which for centuries had had to wage war on two fronts, made a fatal decision in the person of Ukrainian Hetman Bogdan Khmelnytsky, to accept a Russian protectorate, initially designed as a mere military alliance, at the Pereyaslav Council of 1654. That became the starting point of the Russian imperialist attack on Ukrainian sovereignty and culture, right after the successful Cossack revolt against Polish oppression. From that point, the policy of Russification and the imperialist rewriting of Ukrainian history, both in the periods of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union, walked hand-in-hand. Although Ukrainians also largely contributed to the Soviet legacy, three Holodomors (forced artificial famines) that happened in our territory by the initiative of the Bolsheviks, are not easily forgotten. No wonder many Ukrainians still perceive the question of national self-assertion as firstly a matter of independence from Russia.
Neo-Bolshevik and imperialist Russia responds with anti-Ukrainian propaganda and a historiography that denies the conservative statist traditions of our country. Instead, we are depicted as only capable of local anarchic revolts against the government. Our role as the cradle of the Slavic world is denigrated as a Western “project” invented for the sake of undermining the might of Russia. So, as far as you see, the fantasies about “doing dirty work” perfectly fit the Kremlin’s anti-Ukrainian mythology.
Besides, it’s really symptomatic that modern right-wingers have completely forgotten about the purely decorative national character of Bolshevism, and have helped one of the co-founders of the New World Order – the Russian Federation as a successor state of the USSR – to divide up the largest European country that is undergoing a national renaissance. Luckily, a lot of European countries that belong to the traditional geopolitical axis – Lithuania, Poland, Georgia, and even supposedly Russia-dependent Belarus, and several others – have been helping us to restore our territorial integrity and political sovereignty, not to mention those Russian volunteers who view Ukraine as the original Rus’ and hope to defeat the Kremlin’s Golden Horde with its help in order to release their native country.
Tremblay: How do you explain the fact that Western thinkers, who actively oppose nationalists in our countries, support Ukrainian nationalists?
Semenyaka: They support the media image of the pro-EU Ukraine and have no clue, neither about our history nor the complexity of the aspirations of all who participated in the Maidan protests, which had the potential of true national revolution, a revolution that was interrupted by the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea. Besides, none of them supports Ukraine by deeds, because the West also is not interested in a strong, independent Ukraine, As I said, it’s just a rivalry of two globalist systems, struggling for spheres of influence.
Tremblay: NATO's troops are currently involved in the region. My own country Canada has sent troops to the surrounding countries. Are NATO troops currently involved in fighting in Ukraine? And are Ukrainian nationalists equipped by NATO?
Semenyaka: Even though Canadian citizens, especially the Ukrainian diaspora, have helped us a lot with provisions and money, the reports in the Ukrainian media about the enormous amount of Western help are much exaggerated, and are rather aimed at reassuring the citizens. The US has sent some financial and even military aid, but its position in the overall conflict is, undoubtedly, passive. The Russian “preventive strike” against so-called American interference is only a disguise for its old imperialistic ambitions. Currently, some American instructors are training Ukrainian soldiers in Lviv, but it goes without saying that American aid is not having a decisive impact on the outcome of the war. The “Azov” regiment has it own foreign volunteers and instructors, so we can claim that American aid has so far changed nothing in our defensive capabilities.
Tremblay: The Eastern republic of Donbas is ethnically Russian. We believe in self-determination and ethnic recognition. On what ground do you oppose the secession of those ethnically Russian republics?
Semenyaka: This statement is incorrect: even after several waves of resettlement Donbas has a huge number of Ukrainians and pro-Ukrainian, even if ethnically Russian, citizens. After the victory of Maidan, many co-workers of the Berkut, along with pro-Russian politicians and activists, escaped to Donbas and started preparing there a counter-attack on Ukrainian statehood. A myth of the Russian Donbas is one of them. The aforementioned activity of the local “little black men,” as well as the tranquility and firm pro-Ukrainian sympathies in all supposedly Russian cities that were freed by the Ukrainian activists and soldiers last spring – Kharkiv, Odesa, Mariupol, Mykolayiv, etc. – prove that the source of violence and oppression is namely the Russian Federation, not the Ukrainian “junta.” Besides, a confession by the former leader of the “Novorussian” militia, Igor Strelkov (Girkin), about the illegal referendum in Crimea, during which Russian troops forced Crimean MPs to vote in favor of the annexation of Crimea, show that the identical referendum in Donbas, which lacked a required number of votes, was also a joke. Incidentally, at present, the Russian army controls only Crimea, the cities of Lugansk and Donetsk, and some neighboring settlements, whereas initially “Novorussia” was supposed to occupy a half of Ukraine.
Also one should not forget that, historically, the lands that later became known as “New Russia” were not given to Ukraine by Russia, but, quite the opposite, were taken away from the Ukrainian Cossacks. In all the international maps, atlases, and treaties until the year 1775, they were known as "Liberties of the Zaporozhian Lower Cossack Host."
Finally, I would like to draw your attention to the recent appeal to European nationalist organizations by the biggest Russian right-wing organization – the ethnopolitical association “Russians” headed by Dmitry Dyomushkin. In this appeal its Political Council urges right-wingers not to betray nationalist solidarity and not to support Putin. Dyomushkin, who recently was searched by the FSB for the eighth time, explained that currently the Russian government even detains nationalists who are loyal to the regime (“one has to love Putin only with permission”).
Russian nationalists also elaborate on the anti-national economic and immigrant policy of the Russian Federation, and underline that Putin’s defense of the rights of Russians in Ukraine is a cynical ploy: the annexation of Crimea and war in Donbas have much worsened the positions of Russians in these territories, and have had an extremely destructive influence both on the Ukrainian and Russian populations, without mentioning the harm done to greater Slavic unity. Thus the intuitions of those Western nationalists who feel that the Ukrainian side is right are fully justified; hopefully, this interview will help to clarify the situation for the rest as well.
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