Foreigners join far-right militias in Ukraine’s fight against rebels

Fears that nationalist Azov Battalion and others could ultimately turn on new rulers

Thu, Jul 17, 2014, 01:01

Like the two men alongside him, Mikola from Stockholm and a man from Canada who uses the nickname “Lemko”, Severin is against immigration, multiculturalism, globalisation and the rampant capitalism and liberalism he sees ruining the modern world.

The three men share a faith in the strength of ethnically pure nations, living according to their traditions.

Lemko, who hails from Canada’s large Ukrainian diaspora, said he believed in a “Ukraine for the Ukrainian people” and saw the western social model as just as great a threat to the country’s future as the antipathy of the Kremlin. “I lived in western Europe for 11 years, so I know,” said Lemko, who is in his 30s. “Ukraine has two enemies – Russia and the EU.”

Disillusioned by a western world that they regard as feckless, decadent and enslaved by high finance, the men saw an inspiring sense of purpose, patriotism and self-sacrifice in the tent camp on Kiev’s Independence Square, where the revolution played out last winter.

First combat

Severin saw his first combat action on June 13th, when the Azov Battalion fought separatist militants in the nearby port city of Mariupol.

“On the way there, I thought this would be a special day. But it was harsh, and after experiencing that no one would say war was beautiful. Mortars went off close by and two of my comrades were injured. But I was proud to serve.”

Lemko has no plans to return to Canada and Severin says he could be here for “two months or years”, while Mikola hopes to return to Sweden in the near future to continue his psychology studies.

“I’m here to deal with the separatists,” Mikola said. “After that, let’s see.”

The foreigners, like the local members of Azov, are derisive of Ukraine’s billionaire president, Petro Poroshenko, the pro-EU government in Kiev and western states that have been deeply reluctant to take a tough stand against Russia.

“A split is a definite possibility,” Lemko said of fears that the various units fighting the rebels today will one day clash over political differences, and over who exactly controls these increasingly large and well-armed paramilitary battalions.

What is clear is that Azov’s extreme nationalism does not have widespread support in Ukraine: three far-right candidates mustered barely 10 per cent of votes between them in May’s presidential election, even during a deep national crisis.

Desire to defend

Vasyl Arbuzov, an adviser to Donetsk governor Sergei Taruta, said Ukraine’s nationalists were bound far less by ideology than by a desire to defend the country.

“These aren’t the kind of guys I hang out with on the weekend but, at the moment, they are the kind of guys we need because they are willing to fight,” he said.

Inside their seaside base, Kalashnikovs on their laps, three of Azov’s foreigners said they were ready for anything.

“How much talking can you do?” said Lemko.

“Whatever it takes – there’s no turning back now.”

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