The Death of Ukrainian Nationalism and the Birth of Neo-Nazism

Ukrainian nationalism has traditionally played a significant role in the public and political processes of modern Ukraine. Following the coup d’etat of February 2014, it came to represent one of the most powerful political forces commanding the state and its mighty repressive apparatus.

In his publications and interviews over the past two years, the author of these lines has consciously rejected the conventional formula “Ukrainian nationalism.” Instead, it is proposed that a more accurate term be used, namely, that of “Ukrainian neo-Nazism.” The symbolic date of death of Ukrainian “nationalism” (if it indeed existed until that time at all) was May 2nd, 2014 when the House of Trade Unions in Odessa was burned down. Applying the term “nationalists” to the Ukrainian disciples of Hitler and the SS means a moral compromise with absolute evil and an incorrect system of categorizing ideological and political phenomena. Nevertheless, given that a large part of this article chronologically relates to the period before the Euromaidan and Odessa, we will use this established terminology even though it is not entirely correct even for the preceding period. The reader himself will see how the fabric of neo-Nazism shows through the thin (and sometimes subtle) shell of “Ukrainian nationalism.”

The history of Ukrainian nationalism is the history of the confrontation between the Ukrainian nationalism of Greater (Dnieper) Ukraine and that of Galicia[1], a contradiction which began long before the First World War and developed into, firstly, political opposition between the Ukrainian People’s Republic and the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic in 1918-1920 and, secondly, the dispute between the Petlyurites and Banderites that ended with the victory of Galician nationalism in post-Soviet Ukraine. The sparsely populated and mainly agrarian regions of Galicia were given a disproportionately high percentage of representation in the higher organs of “independent” Ukraine’s government. This was true under both the first president, Leonid Kravchuk, and the period of the “Orange” Yushchenko-Timoshenko clique[2]. Galicia came to possess a virtual monopoly over ideology and became the center for the emergence of the majority of “old” parties and organizations of the nationalist bent and remains (along with Volyn) the main electoral base of Ukrainian nationalism.

Was this victory final? Is it irreversible in nature? I asked this question back in 2010 when I wrote the first version of this article and inquired as to the hypothesis of this struggle resuming in new political and socio-cultural conditions.

The problem of clarifying a definition for Ukrainian nationalism lies in the complexity and contradictions of the concept of the Ukrainian nation itself. Without digressing into too deep of a discussion, let us pay attention in passing to the transitional, transitory character of this phenomenon which is noteworthy. Not only has a political Ukrainian nation not developed, but neither has an ethno-cultural one. Following the events of February 2014, a new trend made itself known in the form of the fragmentation of former Ukrainian society even given its already “transitional” state. The paradox is that Ukrainian nationalism exists, but a Ukrainian nation does not. Figuratively speaking, the second is created by the hands of the first. The process of artificially constructing a Ukrainian nation is ongoing and the main problem is posed by the civilizational, socio-cultural, and psychological mosaic of the Ukrainian state. The task of “Ukrainianizing” Novorossiya into a junior partner of the government has been taken up by Ukrainian nationalism, but attempts to accomplish this task while remaining within the framework of “old” Galician nationalism have ended in complete failure. However, a new generation and form of Ukrainian nationalism has come to replace the former, but more on this later.

Thus, Ukrainian nationalism is a complex, eclectic ideological and political phenomenon which has set before itself the task of constructing a Ukrainian nation as a political or ethno-cultural community. There is no unanimity to be found in nationalist circles on this issue.

Ukrainian nationalism (as is the case with any other nationalism) is capable of assuming rather fanciful forms and forming complex and unusual symbioses and even ideological chimeras. Ukrainian nationalism has repeatedly shown its complex forms of mimicry. For example, in the late 1910’s until the early 1920’s, when socialism came into fashion across Europe and the planet, an undeniable interest in ideological and political experimenting on the field of socialism (both the Marxist and non-Marxist bents) was characteristic of Ukrainian nationalists from Dnieper Ukraine (the Petlyurites) in contrast to the more conservative representatives of nationalism from then Austro-Hungarian Galicia. This revealed itself in the period of Soviet Ukraine as well. At one time, a portion of Ukrainian nationalists recognized that the Communist Party of Ukraine had begun a nationalist revanche in Ukraine, or more specifically its wing which professed ideas of a kind of national communism and later borrowed some ideas from the nationalist emigration [3]. Today, however, this pluralism is not fashionable in Ukraine and is even dangerous insofar as Stepan Bandera, the head of one OUN faction, a political murderer, and ultimately political failure, is considered to be the one and only founder of Ukrainian statehood.

We propose to consider modern Ukrainian nationalism through the prism of criteria divided into “old nationalists” and “new right” from the point of view of ideological, organizational, and tactical differences concerning the civilizational and socio-cultural zoning of Ukraine.

The organizational-tactical aspect

The “old nationalists” are represented by two groups of parties – parliamentary and direct action ones. The parliamentary type includes:

-The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (R) – (the Banderite or “revolutionary” wing) and the party founded on its basis for entering parliament

-The Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists (once part of the electoral bloc Our Ukraine)

-The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (M) – the Melnik faction

-The All-Ukrainian Organization Svoboda whose program is founded on the principle of “national democracy”, i.e., democracy only for Ukrainians

The parties and organizations of the direct action type include:

-The Ukrainian National Assembly political party (after the departure of its charismatic leader Korchinsky) which has a militarized wing called Ukrainian National Self-Defense. Currently, the UNA-UNSO is fragmented into a number of organizations and has long lacked the force it boasted in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

-The Stepan Bandera Trizub public organization which was a more radical nationalist force in the 1990’s and early 2000’s founded on the initiative of the OUN(R) (the “Banderite” or “revolutionary” faction). It is from none other than Trizub that came the infinitely intellectually dull and backwards Dmitry Yarosh, who is in fact a Jew, and his Right Sector organization whose intellectual development ceased at the level of the 1940’s. For the mass of Ukrainian neo-Nazis, Yarosh represents an impostor and another nominee of the Jewish oligarch Igor Kolomoysky.

-The Social Nationalist Party of Ukraine, out of which emerged the All-Ukrainian Organization Svoboda (whose leader is Oleg Tyagnibok), the Youth Nationalist Congress, a number of other organizations, as well as the Kharkov Patriot of Ukraine organization with its political wing, the Social National Assembly. The Kharkov nationalists, whom we will discuss later, represent in both generational and ideological terms the new version of Ukrainian nationalism. They in fact most decisively of all broke with the old Galician stench of Ukrainian nationalism and gave birth to modern Ukrainian neo-Nazism.

The Ukrainian “new right” is represented by the following structures:

-Dmitry Korchinsky’s organizations, i.e., UNA-UNSO from the 1990’s and “Brotherhood” from the 2000’s.

-Patriot of Ukraine, the Social National Assembly, and numerous other Pan-East-Slavic nationalist groups such as Resistance (an organization operating in both Russia and Ukraine) and the “white racist” White Hammer organization and others.

The geographical (civilizational) aspect of Ukrainian nationalism also deserves special consideration. As the well-known Ukrainian expert Viktor Pirozhenko noted, “processes forming an ultra-nationalist ideology and corresponding organizations took place in the Russian-speaking South-East with the formation of independent Ukraine and in line with the government’s planting of Ukrainian nationalism.” As a result, “a number of ultra-nationalist groups in Ukraine have a clear specificity in comparison to the revived, old Galician nationalist organizations or the modern ones still exclusively based in the soil of the Galician historical tradition – the OUN, Stepan Bandera Trizub, etc.”[4]

The most interesting example is that of Patriot of Ukraine, a public organization established in Kharkov in 2005. The genesis of this organization dates back to the Social-Nationalist Party of Ukraine, the most radical nationalist organization of the 1990’s. The Social-Nationalist Party’s structure included a youth paramilitary wing, Patriot of Ukraine, whose name and logo were adopted by Kharkov and Donetsk nationalists. Kharkov, as the first capital of Soviet Ukraine, has always had a special status and today claims the title of one of the centers of Ukrainian nationalism. Special literature in the Russian language was produced for Patriot of Ukraine and the organization’s working language is Russian.

It is characteristic, as emphasized in another document, that “among the regional branches of the organizations included in the Social National Assembly, only one is in the West, in the Ivano-Frankivsk region, while the rest are concentrated in the center of Ukraine (mainly in the Kiev region) and in the South East (Kharkov, Donetsk, Odessa).”

Before President Viktor Yanukovych’s ascent to power, the most dynamic force of Ukrainian nationalism was Patriot of Ukraine. It was Patriot of Ukraine that particularly marked the tendency towards shifting the center of nationalism to the East of Ukraine. When the influx of young people into the parties and organizations of the “old nationalists” almost ceased, the “new right” and their hit squad, Patriot of Ukraine, mobilized into their ranks young people mainly from the South-East of Ukraine.

The “new right” organized a number of fairly high-profile actions (the Brotherhood campaign, “Everyone out!” and “We got it!”). The loudest of their most recent demonstrations was the Congress of the Radical Russian Opposition held on October 2nd, 2009 in Kiev whose star participant was the political refugee from Russia, Petr Khomyakov. The organizers of the congress were the Ukrainian “new right”, including Dmitry Korchinsky’s Brotherhood and the Kiev branch of Patriot of Ukraine.

In ideological terms, the Ukrainian “new right” essentially differs from the “old nationalists.” This difference between “new” and “old” right emerged already in the early 1990’s when the ideological heirs of the Dnieper nationalists from the old UNA-UNSO (mainly people from Kiev, like Korchinsky himself, and natives of Ukraine’s central regions) announced their own vision of an ideology of Ukrainian nationalism. As we will see, this was in fact an attempt at reincarnating the undeservedly forgotten and defamed Ukrainian national-communism.

In the early and mid 190’s, the UNA-UNSO set the ambitious goal of creating a heroic Ukrainian nation with them claiming the role of the nation-forming “ferment.” The old nationalists’ outdated and narrow genetic qualification of Ukrainians was rejected. This found expression in the differences between Trizub (the direct ideological her to the Banderite OUN) and the UNA-UNSO, the two main fighting units of Ukrainian nationalism in the 1990’s, in their approach to determining “Ukrainianess.” Trizub recruited only Ukrainians into their ranks, while the UNA-UNSO stated that anyone “here”, i.e., in the UNA-UNSO, is a Ukrainian. This universalism (expressed also in the essentially imperial program of the old UNA) and voluntarism were key principles of the UNA-UNSO’s ideology in the 1990’s.

Patriot of Ukraine represented a movement that consistently developed a rather racist and pan-Eastern-Slavic ethnic line (with a strong admixture of paganism) instead of an ethnic Ukrainian one. “The nation,” the organization’s programmatic document asserts, “has the right to improve its own health by affirming racial, eugenic, and econo-logical legislation.”[6] Patriot of Ukraine is famous for its beyond harsh polemic with the old nationalists (the “idiots from Trizub” as Patriot of Ukraine’s website calls them) and openly demonstrating their contempt for ideological retrogradation and, simultaneously, liberalism (!) manifested in particular in attempts to present the national idea and national movement as democratic, tolerant, and international.

These organizations (especially the UNA-UNSO during the Korchinsky period) constituted a radical break with the intellectual tradition of the OUN. Although all nationalists recognized the merits of the OUN (in particular, the ideology of Patriot of Ukraine was founded on the ‘ceremonious nationalism’ of Mykola Stsiborsky), these organizations departed from the narrow ethnic definition of “Ukrainianess”, meanwhile taking such principles as activism, revolutionism, totalitarianism, anti-liberalism, and anti-individualism from the “classics.” As we can see, all of these principles are characteristic of the intellectual trend of the conservative revolution and the ideology of European fascism.

Patriot of Ukraine put forth its own alternative to a democratic political regime, “natiocracy,” i.e., the ideological project developed in the 1930’s by one of the ideologists of the OUN, Stsiborsky, the basic principles of which are national solidarity (over class and anti-party), authoritarianism (the personal responsibility of leaders of all levels for their actions), qualitative social hierarchy and discipline, social control, self-organization, and self-government.[7]

The “new right’s” idea of natiocracy was opposed to the “national democracy” of the old nationalists and the more traditional ideological works of the nationalist parties of Galician origin. Anti-Semitism and Russophobia are important in the ideology of the “extreme right,” although their extent and character vary widely. The leader of anti-Semitic and Russophobic sentiments was the SNPU (in the 1990’s) and Svoboda, which was founded on the former’s basis and whose leader, Tyagnibok, has stated that the government in Ukraine belongs to “Jews and Moskals.” These sentiments are less expressed in Trizub and the old UNA-UNSO, especially in the eastern Ukrainian regions. This is more of an anti-Russian than a Russophobic organization, i.e., it is against Russia as a state, but not against Russians. It is thus no wonder that no small number of Russian neo-Nazis, who never disagreed with their Ukrainian like-minded allies, are fighting in the ranks of Azov, which emerged on the basis of Patriot of Ukraine.

Indeed, Russophobic sentiments are absent in the program of Patriot of Ukraine. The fixed idea of the old nationalists that all failures in state-building in Ukraine are to be blamed on the external enemy (“imperial Moscow,” the “Moskals,” and Jews) is foreign to this organization’s ideology. In PU’s program, it is the New World Order that “claims” the image of the main enemy, whose ideological basis is liberalism and cultural foundations are globalization and multiculturalism. Here we can see a convergence between Patriot of Ukraine and the European “new right.” Indeed, a wide range of typical characteristics of the “new right” in Europe can be applied to Patriot of Ukraine, such as the interest in the pre-Christian past of the country (for the European New Right, the epoch of antiquity and Germanic barbarism, and for PU, the ancient Russian “native faith,” rodnoverie), revolutionary anti-liberalism and anti-individualism, a critique of the consumer civilization of Europe (including Ukraine), and, perhaps mainly, the transfer of the center of gravity from the political to the cultural sphere.

The ideology of the Ukrainian “new right” boasts a more promising historical vision than the old nationalists, and paints a profoundly pessimistic picture of the world in hellish colors. It is by no means an accident that the phenomenon of the new right arose and gained ground in the industrial regions of Europe, just as Kharkov is the industrial center of Ukraine. The new right phenomenon especially contrasts with traditional Ukrainian nationalism. It appears only obvious that the Galician and Bukovina village nationalists, the genesis of whose ideology can be traced back to farmhouse psychology and the historical experience of living in the extreme corner of the Austrian Empire as a backward national minority, would create an entirely different picture of the world than the nationalists from large European urban centers.

The Galician mentality was formed in the conditions of small spaces, and the Galician variant of Ukrainian nationalism based on such does not exhibit any developed spatial thinking (and, as a consequence, no wide expansionist plans). The old generation’s ideology fell into an intellectual trap. The project of an ‘independent, united Ukraine from the Xiang to the Don” is imperial, and in these hypothetical borders Ukraine is an imperial entity including territories with different historical destinies, civilizational characteristics, and geopolitical aspirations.

A number of parties and organizations of the old nationalists adhered to radical or extremist political goals in their programs and acted for the construction of a national state, so-called “united Ukraine”, implying the return of “Ukrainian” lands belonging to Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. This means an extension of territorial claims against almost all the states bordering Ukraine. As a rule, in the ideology of these parties, the nation is understood as ethnic, and not a civic community. In other words, the point is the Ukrainianization of the non-Ukrainian population of Ukraine.

This imperialism of the old nationalists, however, turns into mere provincialism in comparison to the programs of the new right. The program of Patriot of Ukraine and a number of other parties (the early UNA-UNSO and Brotherhood) contain very bold imperial motives. The apotheosis of imperial feelings and those of belonging to a larger world, the vision of grandiose changes, and the cultivation of the desert (in the spirit of Andrey Platonov) could not but be alien to the particularistic and parochial sentiments of Galicians. Hence the often repeated paraphrases of Korchinsky from Kiev: “Till Eulenspiegel” and “The ashes of the USSR are beating in our hearts!” In the 1997 program of the Ukrainian National Assembly and the political rhetoric of the UNA-UNSO in the 1990’s, a significant place is occupied by claims that Ukraine should replace the role of the former USSR: “The empire had great potential and there was much of value in Bolshevism. Overall, this was supposed to be our empire.”[8] This essentially sensational statement expresses the UNA-UNSO’s call for Ukraine to adopt an imperial role as the successor of the USSR insofar as Russia exits the historical arena. This passage, which is impossible to imagine coming from a traditional Galician nationalist, is evidence not so much of the difference in geopolitical approaches as much as it speaks to the dissimilarity in mentality between the nationalists from former Austrian Ruthenia, and those from Russian Malorossiya.

Patriot of Ukraine’s program was more restrained in its assessments of the Soviet past and Bolshevism. However, it goes much further in defining the future. It presupposes the creation of a bloc of countries, a Central-European confederation, under the auspices of Ukraine and the subsequent accession to this bloc of the states of Western Europe (following the victory of national revolutions there). Following the realization of this task, the “inclusion of the Russian state, organized on national principles, in the European Confederation” is not excluded. “This guarantees Ukrainian-European domination over the expanses of Eurasia.”[9] Russia, with its national components, is thus relegated to the “honorable” role of a junior partner of Ukraine. Thus, it is presupposed that the center of Eastern-Slavic statehood will return to Malorossiya, the historical land of Rus.

The earlier UNA-UNSO and especially Patriot of Ukraine are therefore Eastern-Ukrainian projects of Ukrainian nationalism. The reaction of Dniepr Ukraine, historical Malorossiya, to the ideological and political dominance of Galicia and the Galician diaspora that monopolized the Ukrainian idea is crystallized in this developed form. The imperial genes of the nationalists from Eastern Ukraine who grew up in the large spaces inherited from the Russian Empire and USSR and their imperial pathos are alien and incomprehensible to the Galician nationalists with their hamlet thinking. To use the terminology of Carl Jung, Galician nationalism is introverted, while Eastern Ukrainian nationalism is extroverted, directed outwards towards the unification of large spaces. The nationalism of Galicia is retrospective, while the Eastern Ukrainians’ nationalism is forward-facing. In fact, it is in the organizations of the Eastern Ukrainian version of Ukrainian nationalism that the Ukrainian nation is formulated as the Nation of Heroes. This comes more from a romantic understanding of Bolshevism and especially from the Narodniki and SR’s ideas of revolutionary militants than from the purely conservative nationalism of Galicia.

The new right (correctly) accuses the old nationalists of lacking updated party programs and being conformist, particularly for recognizing the principles of democracy (albeit in the form of “national democracy”) and refusing the ideas of social nationalism. A portion of the new right, unlike the old nationalists, consistently espouses racist principles.

But the single most dangerous development for the old nationalists as a result of competition and their intellectual poverty was that the influx of radical youth ceased, instead going to Patriot of Ukraine for romantic ideals. As early as 2010, I concluded that the future of Ukrainian nationalist belongs to Patriot of Ukraine and other organizations of the new trend. The positions of Ukrainian nationalism will grow by virtue of the influx of Russian youth from Eastern Ukraine into their ranks.

Now, 6 years later, much has been revealed and many issues have disappeared. The author could not have foreseen that the “normal” process of the development of Ukrainian nationalism would by stopped and even reversed by the government of Ukraine or, more specifically, by who they considered to be the pro-Russian president, Yanukovych. According to some insider sources, Yanukovych decided to play a political game reminiscent of Yeltsin’s pre-election strategy in 1996 when he put the “horrible” communist Zyuganov against himself in order to attract the support of the West and part of Russian society. For internal and external purposes, Yanukovych allegedly planned to elevate the Svoboda party which, although ideologically wretched, was very active and ambitious in political terms. Many organizations of the new right and, first and foremost, the leaders of Patriot of Ukraine were “cleaned out” for Svoboda, just like how the Party of Regions “purged” activists from Ukraine’s Russian movement and monopolized the representation of the interests of the Russian South-East. Therefore, the competition between “new” and “old” nationalists ended not by the course of evolution, but in a revolutionary way. I’ll repeat: I could not have foreseen this. Yet the trend noted by me 6 years ago seems to be generally true today.

The bloody events in Kiev, Odessa, and then in Donbass led to the emergence of a whole range of new neo-Nazi formations. The most militant of them consist of people from the Eastern, Russian-cultured regions of Ukraine, historical Novorossiya. The most famous, but not the only example is the Azov battalion, whose founder is the leader of Patriot of Ukraine, Andrey Biletsky. Unlike the “imposter and Jew” Dmitry Yarosh, the authority of Biletsky, known as the “White Master,” is very high among numerous Ukrainian neo-Nazis. Even in the ranks of Right Sector, whose leader was until recently Yarosh, representatives from the Russian-cultured regions of Ukraine are predominant.

It is a paradox, but the most militant neo-Nazis most fiercely fighting against Russian Novorossiya for a neo-Nazi Ukraine speak Russian and many have Russian passports. They are not Ukrainians from Galicia or Rusyns from Transcarpathia. It cannot but be admitted that the fighting spirit is strong on both sides of the trenches in Donbass. Russians are fighting Russians, but one side killed the Russians in themselves to become Ukrainians, and then neo-Nazis.

[1] Galicia (Eastern Galicia), formerly Chervona or Galician Rus, is a separate socio-cultural region including Lvov, Ivano-Frankvisk, and part of the Ternopol regions of modern Ukraine. Since the 13th century, Galician Rus was part of Hungary, Poland, and then Austria-Hungary. The unofficial capital of Galicia is considered to be Lvov, which is often called the “Piedmont of Ukrainian nationalism.”

[2] Попов Э.А. Региональные элиты Украины в контексте украинской государственности: не допустить войны всех против всех // Опубликовано на сайте 25.08.2009

[3] Савин Л.В. Национально-политическая идентификация в Украине и формы репрезентации власти // Современные политические процессы на Украине. Южнороссийское обозрение. Вып. 53. Под редакцией И.П. Добаева, Э.А. Попова. Ростов н/Д: Издательство СКНЦ ВШ ЮФУ, 2009. С. 108.

[4] В. Пироженко. Неонацистский интернационал на службе Ющенко // Русское единство – Опубликовано 30 октября 2009 г.

[5] Украинский ультранационализм: идеология и ударные отряды // Одна Родина –

[6] ПРАВО NАЦIЇ. Проект программы ВГО «Патриот Украины» //

[7] «Украинский социальный национализм»: сборник идеологических работ и программных документов — Украина, г. Харьков: «Библиотека Организации „Патриот Украины“», 2007 г.

[8] Программа УНА // (архив).

[9] ПРАВО NАЦIЇ. Проект программы ВГО «Патриот Украины»

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