Halya Coynash Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
Xenophobic statements just issued by members of the Azov Regiment can only compound mounting concern over reported collaboration between police and Azov Civic Corps activists in the Kyiv oblast. They are especially chilling in the light of plans announced by Ilya Kiva, the newly appointed head of the police anti-drugs department to work with Azov fighters to “clean up the streets”.
Anti-Crimean Tatar Islamophobia
Lviv in Western Ukraine was one of the first cities to welcome Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians forced to flee their homes after Russia’s invasion in February 2014.
In a text entitled ‘The Beginning of Islamic expansion in Lviv’ on the Azov Regiment’s ‘Official site’, Azov claims that around 2 thousand Crimean Tatars who now live in Lviv « are engaged in active propaganda of their religious views ». The “latest trend”, according to the Azov activists, is to lobby for the building of a mosque. They point out that the Islamic Cultural Centre opened in June 2015 has a mosque “since any place for worship is called a mosque”. The authors then go on to claim that “the applications of the Muslims to infringe the unique Lviv architectural ensemble to build an Islamic temple, alien in its symbolism, is nothing other than a test of the tolerance of co-citizens living in Lviv”. This, they assert, for Lviv “as a centre of Christian faiths” is “offensive”.
The 15 Minutes site spoke with Natalya Veshkina from the Azov Press Service who confirmed their opposition. Asked how that is to be reconciled with Azov’s participation in the Crimea Blockade (initiated by Crimean Tatar leaders), Veshkina had the following to say : “We are in support of Crimea being Ukrainian, and not Tatar. We are not there to support the Tatars”.
Ethnic profiling in the Kyiv oblast
The Diversity Initiative and other civic activists have demanded a response from the Head of the National Police to a video which appears to indicate highly questionable collaboration between at least one police officer and Azov activists.
The video posted on Jan 25 (here also) claims to be “a raid to uncover illegal individuals” in Bila Tskerkva [Kyiv oblast]. It calls this a joint project between the Kyiv Oblast National Police and the Azov Civic Corps to identify foreign nationals infringing legislation on being in Ukraine.
Both people who face such intrusions are black. Since the people carrying out this ‘action’ have no better explanation than that they ‘are checking’ that people are not breaking the law, there is every reason to assume that the two young men were targeted because of the colour of their skin.
In their open letter, the rights activists ask Khatia Dekanoidze, Head of the National Police to confirm or refute the reported collaboration. If this has taken place, she is asked to provide the normative documents justifying such actions. The Diversity Initiative condemns actions which reek of ethnic profiling and demands that a proper check is carried out into the legality of the manner in which Azov members got into the homes of young black foreign nationals.
The authors call on the Head of the National Police to publicly condemn such behaviour, hold those responsible to answer and ensure that it does not happen again.
“Fighting for the purity of the Ukrainian nation” or against drug dealers?
Ilya Kiva’s patriotism may not be in question, but his views in the past have aroused concern. The former Donetsk high-ranking police office was until November last year the deputy head of the Kherson Regional Police. In November he became head of the police department on fighting drug-related crimes.
In an interview just given to Hromadske.tv, Kiva spoke, among other things, about plans to collaborate with the Azov Regiment, which he describes as a regiment “fighting for the purity of the Ukrainian nation”. These are, he says, “quite patriotic, honest, strong people” and he has discussed with Andriy Biletsky, Azov’s leader and since 2014, MP, the formation of groups which will be involved in “cleaning the streets of drug dealers”.
Kiva then goes on to say that they “will use any means to destroy drug criminals” and much more that gives grounds for concern. He does not for the moment give specific details about the role he envisages for Azov fighters, and it is to be hoped that we never need to find out.
The Azov Battalion began as a volunteer formation in May 2014, but was in late 2014 brought within the National Guard, and in 2015 became a regiment. From the outset it aroused considerable attention, including abroad, due to the pronounced neo-Nazi views of its leaders and at least some of its members. When men are defending and dying for their country, however, you don’t start quibbling about their opinions.
Real concern arose at the parliamentary elections in October 2014, with a number of leaders of volunteer battalions, including Andriy Biletsky and Ihor Mosiychuk from Azov standing for election. After months of war against fighters either from Russia or heavily armed by Moscow, any person seen as a military hero was effectively guaranteed a seat in parliament. This was the case with both Mosiychuk and Biletsky. Mosiychuk’s parliamentary career has been filled with scandal, and he is in fact currently facing criminal charges. Biletsky has taken a much lower profile, and was recently on record trying to deny – with zero credibility – that he had once called for a crusade by the white race against Semitic subhumans.
Given the alleged collaboration in Bila Tskerkva, it is perhaps of relevance that Vadim Troyan, Deputy Commander of Azov and, like Biletsky, a former member of the neo-Nazi ‘Patriot of Ukraine’, was appointed Head of the Kyiv Regional Police in November 2014.
As well as questionable activities during the Crimea Blockade, Azov activists have been accused of involvement in a racist attack on football fans during the Champions League football match in Kyiv on October 20 and it was their aggression and threats that prevented a remembrance gathering on Jan 19 for slain anti-fascist lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova.
The same hesitation over simplistic labels for the Azov Regiment or any Azov activists remains. It is not at all clear even how many people share the views of the Regiment’s leaders. On the other hand, Ukraine’s police have a long way to go in gaining lost public confidence. Ukraine is a multicultural, multi-faith country and the police have no place cooperating with any activists who choose to forget this.