Right-Wing Thugs Are Hijacking Ukraine’s Liberal Uprising

The liberal, pro–European Union protests that first rocked Kiev have taken a darker turn, with right-wing vigilante groups rising to prominence amid violence and police crackdowns

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Darko Vojinovic / AP

A Ukrainian protester guards a barricade in Kiev, Ukraine, on Jan. 27, 2014

Not long before midnight on Sunday, a few dozen men in ski masks and camouflage surrounded the headquarters of the Ministry of Justice in the center of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, and smashed out the first floor windows with baseball bats. They made short work of the bars over the windows, prying them out of the walls with their clubs, and climbed inside. It was the third federal ministry the group had seized in a week.

Calling themselves members of Spilna Sprava, or Common Cause, the group has emerged as one of about a dozen obscure organizations competing for distinction, if not outright leadership, in the uprising against President Viktor Yanukovych. These groups range from right-wing radicals and soccer hooligans to military veterans and mobs of stick-wielding goons. And to the gall of more-established opposition figures, like the world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, they have become the revolution’s most commanding presence. Anyone with a stake in resolving Ukraine’s political crisis — including the diplomats watching fretfully from the E.U. and U.S. — will likely have to reckon with the role of these groups. But they are becoming increasingly hard to control.

Two months ago, few people in Ukraine had ever heard of Common Cause. In the vibrant patchwork of activists that make up the country’s civil society, they were a minor presence, best known for picketing against corruption, monitoring elections and rallying for human-rights and democratic change. In late November, when President Yanukovych turned away from an integration deal with the E.U., mass demonstrations broke out against him in Kiev’s Independence Square, and the activists of Common Cause joined the crowds to call for closer ties with Europe.

But the government’s attempts to clear the streets over the past two weeks have marked a dark turn for this uprising. Several protesters have been killed in clashes with police, and the revolt has become increasingly violent, erratic and unpredictable. The radicalization of Common Cause is so far the starkest example in this shift.

(MORE: Ukraine’s Opposition Leaders Shun President’s Peace Deal)

Its leader, Oleksandr Danylyuk, a clean-cut and eloquent lawyer, responded to the crackdown with a brazen strategy: seize as many government buildings as possible. “We are out to paralyze the work of this corrupt dictatorship,” he told me outside the captured ministry building just after midnight on Sunday. It was his third conquest in as many days. On Jan. 24, his fighters captured the Ministry of Agriculture — far from a dusty, bureaucratic post in a country whose grain harvests once made it the bread basket of the Soviet Union. The next day, Common Cause briefly seized the Energy Ministry, which oversees some of the most vital transport routes for Russian natural gas to Europe, but abandoned it after just a few hours.

The following night, the Justice Ministry became Danylyuk’s most symbolic trophy. Not only did it contain legal documents and sensitive case files going back years, but the woman in charge of it, Justice Minister Elena Lukash, is one of the most hated members of the cabinet. “We need justice in Ukraine, and we need peace in Ukraine,” Danylyuk said near the entryway. “And right now, unfortunately, our President is a threat for justice and for peace. That’s why there is only one way to stop the violence in Ukraine and to stop this very dangerous situation for Europe.” And what is that? “The immediate and unconditional capitulation of the state.”

That demand doesn’t leave much room for negotiations, at least not the kind that Klitschko has been trying to hash out for days. Along with two of his fellow opposition leaders, the retired boxer has had the unenviable job of restraining the more radical wings of the revolution while also trying not to seem like a sellout or a softy. At the same time, he has been in marathon talks with the government, talks predicated on the idea that he can speak on behalf of the revolution and implement any peace accord he manages to reach with the state. But on Sunday night, Klitschko was unable to stop Common Cause from taking command of the Ministry of Justice.

When he arrived after midnight, a few ministry workers were still barricaded in their offices inside the building, whose entrance was guarded by a row of masked men brandishing clubs and bats. Flanked by two bodyguards, Klitschko took in the scene with a pained expression, and after refusing to speak to the press, he uttered only one phrase — “What have you done?” — to the activists of Common Cause before walking briskly back to his Range Rover. “Clown!” one of the activists shouted after him. “Stop posing for the cameras and start building the barricades!”

(MORE: Can Vitali Klitschko, Ukraine’s Revolutionary Heavyweight, Be Its Next President?)

Among the revolutionary bands in Kiev, such slurs against Klitschko and his fellow politicians have become the norm. That includes more-militant groups like the Afgantsy, an informal network of veterans from the Soviet war in Afghanistan, who have emerged as one of the most authoritative in the uprising. Before dawn on Saturday, they helped seize another government building in Kiev, the Ukrainian House, a massive convention hall where a large detachment of government troops had been stationed. The storming of that building involved the use of Molotov cocktails and fireworks hurled inside. But thankfully, no lives were lost, as Klitschko managed to negotiate the surrender of the troops blockaded inside.

“The younger guys wanted to flood the floor with gasoline and burn [the troops] alive,” says one of the Afgantsy who participated in the siege, Oleksiy Tsibko. But after a standoff lasting hours, the protesters created a corridor to let the officers leave in peace. The building was then turned into another revolutionary bastion, complete with a canteen, sleeping rooms and a club house for the Afgantsy on the second floor. Sitting in the makeshift cafeteria in the basement, Tsibko told me that the Afgantsy are readying a lethal arsenal in case the uprising turns into a civil war. “The battle is already underway,” he says. “And if [police] fire so much as one live round into one of our guys, we have enough to respond in kind. Believe me, it won’t just be a couple of hundred who lay down dead when its over.”

It was impossible to tell how much of this was braggadocio. Tough talk and extravagant threats are part of the banter in Kiev these days. But the seizure of the Ministry of Justice on Sunday showed that such boasts among the fringe groups of the uprising are not always empty. “Common Cause just up and decided to do this, without asking anyone,” says Igor Yankiv, a member of the federal parliament for the right-wing party Svoboda (Freedom), whose activists have also been on the front lines of the revolution. “It’s a dangerous precedent. Next we’ll have marauders going around. We can’t let it come to that,” he told me.

So, on Monday afternoon, Yankiv arrived at the Ministry of Justice with a group of other revolutionary lawmakers to help convince Common Cause to stand down. After a few hours they agreed. The band of toughs who had been guarding the entrance all night was then replaced with another one — the right-wing youth group of the Svoboda party, also dressed in ski masks and fatigues, also brandishing bats and knives. By lunch time, they invited a ministry official to enter the building and survey the damage — a middle-aged woman rushed past the guards with a look of abject terror. But her presence didn’t make it much more apparent who exactly was in charge.

MORE: Violence in Ukraine: Can Russia or the West Make It Stop?

22 comments
ZhidoBandera
ZhidoBandera

Right wing thugs, ah? So what do you say now, when the regime muredered more than 100 people, you liberal degenerate scum?

ronb28135
ronb28135

Why is it that the MSM always reports revolts against left wing despots as a right wing vigilante uprising?


nikolay26is
nikolay26is

In Ukraine the corruption is bad the health minister is actually dealing drugs. The mafia decided it would be much easier if that take over the government. Svoboda, Udar and Fatherland parties want to have a new government and all corrupt officials in jail. Anybody who tells different is either Russian or an armchair intellectual. 

ifromfaraway
ifromfaraway

On the first picture with the square ( in local language - maidan ) where  the party leaders "Batkivschina" Yatsenuk,  "UDAR" Klitschko stood besides Tyahnibok legitimate political representative of the neo-fascist party "Freedom", it was clear that the struggle for European choice will result in a fascist covens .


Should be clearly understand, that seizing of the government buildings in the Kiev and regions were done by lumpen , small bazaar merchants and their kryshevateli (racketeers) led by the neo-fascist party "Freedom“.  The mobs, with their level of education and thinking, cannot not absorb even one sentence and have no clue about some European values .


Sponsors of the unrest , as the "chocolate " oligarch Poroshenko for example, who were driven from the tractor  by thugs with contemptuous shouts “Get out oily Jew” on December 1 at the first storming of the presidential administration, do not realize that the sponsors are candidates to be hung up at the first occasion . Definitely the police and special forces will not protect him from the neo-Nazis if they would come to power.


The situation is out of control of the opposition. Everywhere in the seized regional administrations  were seen  flags of the neo-fascist party “Freedom” only. The leaders of  opposition and their sponsors does not control the thugs. Actually the thugs control the party leaders of the opposition which are more couriers between the thugs and the Ukrainian government.

In the occupied areas, the situation is close to ordinary anarchy where Kiev central authority decree means nothing as during the civil war at the beginning of the last century.

No one can predict the direction of situation development, but the trend is to fascist power because Liberals open the way for them under the guise of European values , as in 1917 , they paved the way to the Bolsheviks . 

Neo-fascist militant leaders do not hide  their faces anymore.

LectorPaulusPetrusKim
LectorPaulusPetrusKim

This is why democracy sucks. The system is not at all righteous nor efficient.

Roman100
Roman100

For an assessment of the Ukrainian government's appalling actions and intentions by opposition MP Lesia Orobets, following her attendance at the last parliamentary proceedings on Jan. 28, 2014, click at the link that follows.  The text in Ukrainian is the original. The text in English is the translation.


http://www.xoxol.org/truth/truth.html


Time's extremely shallow and misleading reporting is seriously at variance with what Ms. Orobets reports here 

andreasumland
andreasumland

ON THE ARTICLE TITLE: "Right-Wing Thugs Are Hijacking Ukraine’s Liberal Uprising: The liberal, pro–European Union protests that first rocked Kiev have taken a darker turn, with right-wing vigilante groups rising to prominence amid violence and police crackdowns"


Dear Mr Shuster,


thanks for your contribution in TIME. It is well researched, but the title is misleading. 

The objects of your article, Spilna Sprava and the Afgantsy, do not belong to what is regarded as right-wing in Ukraine. Neither has a profile of being officially nationalist, ultra-nationalist or fascist. While there are such groups here, one called "Right Sector", you do not analyze them, in your text. 

In Ukraine, your investigation with its current title will be regarded as incompetent, if not slanderous or even written to serve the Kremlin's campaign to defame the EuroMaidan.

 
With regards
Andreas Umland

zenc64
zenc64

What kind of a bogus headline is that. Evidently the author doesn't realize this revolution includes many different philosophies with one goal - removing the bandits and Yanukovych. The ends justify the means, democracy needs occasional muscle to combat the neanderthals we are up against. The Gandhi approach would get us nowhere. Once the grunt work is done the elite and the intellectual youth can get working on establishing Ukraine as true Democratic European nation. 

mykry
mykry

"600 Ukrainian law enforcers (Berkut) received injuries"  ---  this is but a fraction of the protestors which received injuries; which is estimated in the thousands.  Why wasn't this mentioned?  Why wasn't it mentioned as to who started the first assaults?  It has been over two months since the protests---millions of protesters---started and the president has not listened to a word until the protests became violent.  Who is at fault?  Your assessment is wrong and your attempt to radicalize the protestors is unfortunate.   

gomezfrances1
gomezfrances1

More than 600 Ukrainian law enforcers received various injuries since the beginning of the unrest in the country, the press service of the internal troops of the Ministry of internal Affairs of the country. Almost half of them were hospitalized....Bay87.com

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

More than 600 Ukrainian law enforcers received various injuries since the beginning of the unrest in the country, the press service of the internal troops of the Ministry of internal Affairs of the country. Almost half of them were hospitalized.

jabs
jabs

@ifromfaraway  Myth #1

President Yanukovych was duly elected  and we must wait until his term is up in order to get change by electing someone new.

Answer: Perhaps he was fairly elected but as Alexander Motyl points out  Yanukovych  broke his Oath of Office to the people :

"Yanukovych systematically abused the Ukrainian people, neglected their interests, and violated the social contract between democratically elected rulers and the people who elected them, he ceased to be their “sovereign.” Once the sovereign turns against the people and acts tyrannically, he transforms himself into a usurper and the people are no longer obligated to obey him. Indeed, like the American revolutionaries, they have both the right and the obligation to defend themselves from his predations." http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/alexander-j-motyl/rethinking-euro-revolution-and-yanukovych-regime  
Most egregious is  the calculated use of goon squads (titushko) to terrorize patriotic citizens  http://tabloid.pravda.com.ua/focus/52f0cc557a956/ but an even more treacherous betrayal of the nation is the approval of allowing Putin to bring in Russian Speznats elite killer squads to liquidate Ukrainian citizens participating in the EuroMaidan: http://uainfo.org/yandex/270156-pdtverdilas-aktivna-dyalnst-v-kiyev-rosyskogo-specnazu.html http://niezalezna.pl/51030-snajperzy-z-kijowa-zidentyfikowani-do-ludzi-strzelaja-rosyjscy-najemnicyThis is an outright betrayal of the nation and a war crime!

Myth #2 : The mob wants an EARLY election!

This is NOT true. Yanukovych was elected to a 5 year term and its up this year!  He extended his term on his own to next year in order to better prepare his corrupt infrastructure to insure re-election.  Imagine if Pres Obama extended his term by one year! Would those protesting this be seen as wanting an “early” election? Yet Ukrainians are depicted this way by the ignorant press. Elections were originally to take place this year!

Myth #3 : The mob wants to change the Constitution!

The truth is that they want to restore the real Constitution that Yanukovych changed to give himself more power!  Imagine if Obama changed the US Constitution himself!

Myth #4: The Maidan protest is a Fascist plot subsidized by USA and the West.

 

Demonizing the Opposition by labeling all participants  as “enemies of the people”, fascists & anti-Semites was a frequent Communists tactic routine from the days of  the old Gulag USSR.

Answer by recommending:

 T. Snyder-Don't let Putin grab Ukraine : NYT:2014/02/04

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/02/04/opinion/dont-let-putin-grab-ukraine.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0&referrer=.......................Shekhovtsov: Pro-russian network engaged in anti Ukr propagandaFeb 03,2014 from A. Shekhovtsov's blog
http://anton-shekhovtsov.blogspot.de/2014/02/pro-russian-network-behind-anti.html

....................................Dr Vladimir Melamed: Ukrainian Jews support Ukrainehttp://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/we_care_about_ukraine1
Google search Jewish Journal & Dr Vladimir Melamed...................................................Jewish girl from Euromaidan: nationality plays no role herego to euromaidanpr.wordpress.com ............Jan.31,2014
http://euromaidanpr.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/jewish-girl-from-euromaidan-nationality-plays-no-role-here/

Myth #5 : Yanukovych’s Government has made generous Concessions –purged his cabinet-offered Prime Minister post to Klitschko & then Yatseniuk & the Opposition is just stubborn and unreasonable. 

On the surface this seems like a major concession & compromise but as Lesya Orobets explains it’s an old method entrapment strategy.  The cabinet that he purged is in power for 60 days.  This includes his Russians Prime Minister Azarov who 6 months ago was quoted as complaining that Ukrainians have become too bold and have forgot what Terror  is and that it’s time to remind them and to put them in their place.  Giving the Prime Minister post to the Opposition is an illusion and just a symbolic gesture  because the Prime Minister can be removed anytime at the whim of  the President-remember Yanukovych changed the Constitution to give himself that power.  He would keep the Opposition Prime Minister (with NO power) long enough ( while continuing  terror and arrests) and then blame him for EVERYTHING that’s wrong in the country and then dismiss him .  So naturally the Opposition says : NO DEAL!  Yet, they are depicted as  unreasonable!

neox7777
neox7777

@zenc64 You mean like in Lybia, Egypt and Syria. Your view of the situation is idealistic at best and liberal propaganda at worst. 

Gumbdy
Gumbdy

@SergeyPaustovsky Are you one of the right-wing thugs the article is talking about? You sure sound like one.