⎯ Old Soviet UAZ Bukhanka at the ATEK compound in Kiev.

 

21.04.2015  26.04.2015

The AZOV battalion

Right wing nationalists in Ukraine.

 

The AZOV Battalion is a far-right, all-volunteer paramilitary militia affiliated with the National Guard of Ukraine. The unit has been involved in combat against separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk region. It reports to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The unit is based in Mariupol in the Azov Sea coastal region and owns a special training compound in Kiev. On a deserted former Soviet factory plant new recruits are being mobilized, prepped and trained to join their comrades in the east. After Mariupol this compound is their second most important base in Ukraine. 

The unit was initially formed as the AZOV Battalion on May 5, 2014 during the 2014 pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine. Patrons of the battalion included Oleh Lyashko, a member of the Verkhovna Rada, and billionaire Ihor Kolomoyskyi. The battalion was formed in Mariupol, where it was involved in combat against separatists, and was briefly relocated to Berdyansk. The battalion is also referred to as the 'Men in Black'.

Many AZOV members support an ultra-nationalist ideology. The official AZOV emblem is the 'Wolfsangel'. During World War II, various units of the German Nazi army used this symbol, including the SS Panzer Division ... 

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Photo (c) Hans van Rhoon

Neo Nazis

The AZOV Battalion's commander is Andriy Biletsky. Biletsky is also the head of two national-socialist political groups, Patriot of Ukraine and Social-National Assembly. In August 2014, he was awarded a military decoration, "Order For Courage", by Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, and promoted to lieutenant colonel of in the Interior Ministry's police forces.

Patriots

Initially a volunteer militia, AZOV has since been incorporated into and is armed by Ukraine’s interior ministry. A ministerial adviser, Anton Gerashchenko, was asked if the battalion had any neo-Nazi links through the Social National Assembly. "The Social-National Assembly is not a neo-Nazi organization," he said. "It is a party of Ukrainian patriots..." More than half are Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainians, and many of its recruits come from the eastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Its polished English-language social media pages and far-right ideology have attracted fighters from other locations in Europe.

 

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A selection of this series was published in VICE Magazine (2015).