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Not value your sympathy: The story of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov battalion

Much lower than the heroic defenders they’re made out to be, the extremist regiment’s many crimes are properly documented

Ukrainian propaganda has elevated the Azov Battalion’s protracted however in the end doomed last stand, in Mariupol, to heroic proportions. Adding additional pathos to this sentimental story have been the determined requires assist from the commanders of the items entrapped within the bowels of the Azovstal manufacturing facility and the photogenic younger wives of the besieged fighters pleading with Pope Francis on the Vatican.

Yet, an observant eye might additionally marvel in regards to the abundance of Nazi tattoos adorning the battalion’s POWs. The fighters of the Donetsk militia even got here up with a joke about capturing “large numbers of pirates and electricians” in reference to the quite a few people with the cranium and crossbones and SS bolts – the broadly recognizable Totenkopf and Schutzstaffel symbols – emblazoned on their pores and skin.

Western media has been bending over backwards attempting to clarify how folks lined in Nazi tattoos aren’t neo-Nazis. However, it seems that sporting symbols associated to Adolf Hitler’s odious Third Reich just isn’t even near being the worst of the crimes dedicated by the Azov.

The battalion’s historical past pre-dates the present battle in Ukraine. Between 2005 and 2010, the governor of the Kharkov Region, the main industrial hub of northeastern Ukraine, was Arsen Avakov. During Avakov’s tenure in workplace, nationalist Andrey Biletsky, often called the White Ruler, turned very lively within the space. The two have been shut acquaintances throughout Biletsky’s college years. In 2005, he based an ultranationalist group, The Patriot of Ukraine, which principally consisted of aggressive soccer followers and low-level criminals of the road fighter selection.

According to media experiences, the motion didn’t hassle doing a lot that was patriotic however most well-liked involving itself in varied semi-legal and shadowy actions. Biletsky ended up doing a little jail time, although not for political causes, however relatively for plain and easy hooliganism.

After the 2014 Western-backed Maidan coup in Kiev, Biletsky was let out as a ‘political’ prisoner of the fallen Viktor Yanukovich authorities. He used his connection to Avakov, who by then had turn into Ukraine’s new minister of the inside, to arrange a territorial protection battalion to battle within the east of the nation. This turned often called the Azov.

In Eastern Ukraine, the protests of locals within the Donetsk and Lugansk areas towards the Maidan motion escalated to an armed riot, and Biletsky’s newly fashioned battalion was tasked with suppressing it.

Unlike many different territorial protection volunteer items, the Azov had a really distinct ideological taste from the very begin. It was a far-right group that welcomed all kinds of neo-Nazis starting from delicate to radical ones. The Azov fighters have been recognized for his or her obsession with pagan rituals and have been thought-about freaks by common army items.

That, nevertheless, was what made the battalion match for the duty. Being fanatics, these folks didn’t draw back from killing. Before the Donbass militia was established, the Azov carried out killings of plenty of pro-Russian activists.

These acts of particular person terror had a philosophy behind them. “It will suffice to kill about fifty ‘vatniks’ {a pejorative term used for those with pro-Russian sympathies} in every town to put a stop to all this,” as one of many fighters with the battalion put it. On June 13, 2014, Azov put this motto into observe by defeating, as half of a bigger fight group, a small unit of the Donbass folks’s militia in Mariupol. The Azov Battalion was in a position to put ahead fairly a number of combat-ready troopers and several other gun vehicles, whereas the militia in Mariupol was weak and poorly armed. Five insurgents have been killed. The Azov and Ukrainian safety providers didn’t hesitate to open hearth on native civilians within the Mariupol standoff. There is a video displaying the Ukrainians wounding and killing a number of unarmed folks by gunfire. One of the victims is ‘armed’ with a plastic chair.

However, as a result of it was not a part of the military – not less than formally – the Azov Battalion hardly ever engaged in precise fight operations. In the summer season of 2014, a small group of its fighters attacked the city of Ilovaisk, and within the winter of 2015 they launched an assault on Shirokino, a village situated on the Azov Sea coast, the place they interacted with officers from the Ukrainian Army who later recounted that the battalion had left the impression of an undisciplined unit, one which was laborious to take care of.

So, till 2022, Azov had no critical fight report of which it might boast. However, being stalwart followers of Ukrainian nationalist ideology, fighters of the Azov – which was by then remodeled right into a regiment – later performed a big position within the battle with Russia. Meanwhile, a full-fledged nationalist motion that includes an array of numerous teams of nationalists had sprung up round Azov. Biletsky ended up ultimately stepping down as commander and labored to combine the regiment into Ukraine’s National Guard, whereas protecting the ideological slant of the unit. This ended up being confirmed by the big variety of Nazi symbols and paraphernalia discovered on the captured fighters and within the regiment’s barracks seized throughout fight.

The proof of the Azov’s true nature, nevertheless, is way more seen within the experiences by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to not point out the crime information. Right from the beginning, Azov was usually discovered within the midst of a few of the darkest and grimmest occasions and information tales in Ukraine, due to its unofficial particular standing and the standing of ‘vatniks’ who have been de facto outlawed in Ukraine.

Initially, the unit attracted folks of obscure and doubtful backgrounds. For instance, it was on this battalion that the killers of pro-Russian activists Aleksey Sharov and Artyom Zhudov served. The two males have been shot lifeless in avenue clashes in Kharkov on March 14, 2014 – even earlier than the armed battle broke out within the Donbass. Their killers have been by no means recognized – we don’t know their names, however we all know that the activists have been shot from the workplace of The Patriot of Ukraine, whereas they have been standing proper in entrance of it.

The UN experiences mentioned that in May 2014, after a brief skirmish, a civilian named Vladimir Lobach was murdered near the town of Poltava by Azov Battalion fighters. His killers threatened the cops who arrived on the crime scene after which merely fled. In June of that yr, Azov troopers in Mariupol kidnapped a neighborhood newspaper editor and journalist named Sergey Dolgov, who sympathized with the thought of federalizing Ukraine. Nothing is understood about this man’s whereabouts as much as today.

Arguably Azov’s most twisted crime, as reported by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, was the gang rape of a mentally ailing man by about 10 members of the battalion in 2014. The sufferer was hospitalized with extreme bodily and psychological trauma. The incident wasn’t investigated, and the perpetrators have been by no means delivered to justice.

The Azov Battalion has a protracted report of crimes and offenses of all types, from harassment of homosexuals and circumstances of looting in a warfare zone, to torture and homicide. According to the testimonies of victims, the most typical situation normally concerned a random individual being kidnapped and brought to a location belonging to the regiment. There, the sufferer can be tortured and compelled to confess to being a member of an rebel group. After that, the individual can be handed over to the SBU, Ukraine’s safety service. Moreover, based on victims’ experiences, SBU officers have been usually current on the torture classes.

For instance, in May 2017 in Mariupol, Azov fighters used torture and threats to drive a lady to signal an interrogation protocol they’d written about her alleged involvement in an rebel cell. The confession was filmed on digicam, and the girl was forcibly stripped bare. Later, she was handed over to the SBU. In one other case, a person reported having been subjected to electrical shock torture, with wires connected to his genitals.

In the Zaporozhye Region, Azov fighters kidnapped a lady, had her arms and ft sure with cable ties, kicked her, hit her with rifle shares, shoved needles beneath her fingernails and threatened to rape her. A person detained in late January 2015 reported being tortured by oxygen deprivation and electrical shocks. After a whole week of this ordeal, he was handed over to the SBU and ‘formally’ arrested. The UN has revealed information of quite a few related incidents, but it surely’s protected to say these information quantity to solely a portion of what truly happened.

This peculiar connection between the neo-Nazis and the SBU is way from a coincidence. Thanks to the Azov Battalion, the Ukrainian safety providers discovered the proper method of proving to their authorities that they’d been profitable in coping with the pro-Russian ‘rebel cells’ in Mariupol and Eastern Ukraine – even when such organizations weren’t truly there.

Most of the actual insurgents and their sympathizers had fled to the territories held by the rebels, or not less than saved their mouths shut about their allegiances. Yet, one way or the other, the nationalist regiment was at all times in a position to seize the correct variety of ‘traitors’, in order that their efficiency, on paper, regarded good.

Even as the majority of the Azov Battalion’s forces have been defeated and have surrendered in Mariupol, a big group of nationalists stays at giant. For instance, the Kraken unit, which was fashioned in Kharkov, serves as a particular forces unit beneath the Azov Battalion. In current months, the fighters of this newly fashioned regiment have already gained infamy for taking pictures Russian prisoners of warfare of their legs and filming it on digicam.

In quick, the Azov Battalion is, regardless of all of the Western and Ukrainian efforts to painting them as heroic defenders of freedom, probably the most odious group to have operated in the nation since 2014.

The statements, views and opinions expressed on this column are solely these of the writer and don’t essentially signify these of RT.

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