Ukrainian ‘C14’ Neo-Nazis openly offer to act as thugs for money
Ukraine’s far-right ‘C14’ organization is trying to entice ‘donors’ by offering to make trouble for the latter’s ‘enemies’. The advertisement on their Facebook page may not break the law, but is certainly alarming from an organization which at least one Kyiv local authority is using to help ‘keep the peace’.
The message reads: “C14 works for you. Help us keep afloat, and we will help you. For regular donors, we are opening a box for wishes. Which of your enemies would you like to make life difficult for? We’ll try to do that.” The post provides a bank account, with Serhiy Mazur cited as the person to refer to.
This is not the first time that C14 activists have themselves made it clear how inappropriate are any illusions that these are young patriots fighting ‘separatists’. It is an image that prominent C14 activists, like Yevhen Karas, publicly push, and one that has led to the organization often being treated as allies by at least some members of the police force and local authorities.
The organization was formed by activists who found the VO Svoboda party’s far-right views too moderate. They gained a lot of publicity back in 2009 for their role in obstructing controversial building and development projects in Kyiv.
They have also been seen on many occasions opposing ‘titushki’ or paid thugs (who worked closely with the police under the regime of Viktor Yanukovych).
During Euromaidan, it was largely C14 members who occupied the Kyiv City Administration building. Their reputation was somewhat tarnished by their behaviour during the last bloody days of Maidan. While other activists were coming under fire, they reportedly hid in either the Canadian or Dutch embassy.
The origin of the organization’s name is disputed, with some assuming that 14 is code language for the slogan by US Nazi David Lane (“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children”).
C14 denies that it is neo-Nazi, and asserts that its name when written looks like Sich from the Zaporizhyan Sich, the Cossack political entity from the fifteenth to eighteenth century. 14, in turn, they link with 14 October, the day traditionally linked with the beginning of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army [UPA] in 1943. This day was, rather controversially, chosen to be Defenders of Ukraine Day, following Russia’s military aggression in 2014.
Whatever the roots of the name may be, those monitoring far-right movements in Ukraine are unconvinced by denials of neo-Nazis links. Vycheslav Likhachev, for example, points out that the C14 activists who occupied the Kyiv City Administration building covered it with neo-Nazi banners and graffiti.
The organization has also attracted the attention of the international Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium [TRAC] which describes it as “a paramilitary right-wing radical group, which has close ties with the nationalist Ukrainian Party “Svoboda”.
In February 2018, almost three years after controversial pro-Russian journalist Oles Buzyna was shot dead near his home in Kyiv, two men linked with C14 - Andriy Medvedko and Denis Polishchuk - went on trial, accused of his murder. A number of members of C14 were outside the court for the preliminary hearing on February 9, together with other far-right activists. They claim that the men are innocent, and are being targeted as ‘patriots’.
Since Russia’s military aggression began in 2014, C14 activists have taken a high profile by apparently fighting ‘separatists’, though both their rationale for deciding whom to fight and their methods arouse serious doubts.
On 19 January 2018, C14 activists prevented the traditional remembrance gathering for Sevastopol journalist Anastasia Baburova and Russian lawyer Stanislav Markelov, murdered in Moscow in 2009 by neo-Nazi Russian nationalists. The claim that those honouring the two slain anti-fascists were ‘separatists’ was preposterous, and Volodymyr Chemerys, one of the organizers of the remembrance event, asserts that they were confronted not only by C14 thugs, but by Russian and Belarusian neo-Nazis.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the events that day was the total failure of the Kyiv police to react adequately to the aggressive behaviour of those opposing the remembrance gathering.
They instead detained eight people who had come to honour Baburova and Markelov. The police involved later tried to claim that there had been no detention, and that the activists had been ‘invited’ to the police station. There was no suggestion that the ‘invitation’ could have been turned down.
The detained activists reported later that they had been ‘hunted down’ by the far-right thugs after leaving the police station. A member of the Human Rights Information Centre who spoke with them believes that the thugs could have only discovered which station the activists were being held in from the police themselves.
C14 and other far-right groups often take a prominent, sometimes violent, role in opposing developers, destroying old parts of Kyiv, obstructing the release from custody of influential individuals arrested on corruption charges, etc.
Here, and with their purported campaign against ‘separatism’, they often appeal to populist demands, with this resulting in their actions not always being viewed as critically as they deserve.
In July 2017, the BBC Ukrainian Service came under criticism both in Britain and Ukraine for an article about C14 which was seen as disturbingly uncritical. The activists’ denial of any neo-Nazi links was essentially taken at face value. There was similarly little attempt to probe the men’s claim that they did not hurt the targets of their actions, but confined themselves to ‘petty hooliganism’.
The article was roundly condemned by journalist Serhiy Movchan, who wrote a damning article about C14 and the BBC’s coverage. He stated in it that if he were asked to describe C14’s activities in one word, it would be ‘terror’.
C14 had been involved, for example, in attacks on activists taking part in the annual Equality March (Kyiv Pride), rights activists, on an art exhibition and even protesters with strictly socio-economic demands.
The police and local authorities also seem too willing to unquestioningly accept the far-right activists’ anti-‘separatist’, ‘patriotic’ rhetoric. The administration of at least one district in Kyiv is known to have signed a memorandum of cooperation with the police and a civic organization («Муніципальна варта») which is headed by a member of C14.
Collaboration has long roots. Back in December 2012 under the Yanukovych regime, Yevhen Karas and his C14 mates organized an attack on rights activists and others protesting against a repressive legislative bill which proposed the same ban on so-called ‘propaganda of homosexuality’ as was passed in neighbouring Russia. It was mainly the protesters who were detained by police.
C14 has been involved in various acts of violence, and there are indeed reports that they attacked members of another local group on 13 December 2017, with two people from that group ending up hospitalized with gun wounds. It seems likely that the conflict was about establishing their power over a particular area.
The police and local authorities would do well to take heed of these far-right activists’ stated willingness to cause problems for their ‘donors’ enemies’. The paymaster may or may not be different, but this is little different from the ‘titushki’ used, in particular, though not only, by the Yanukovych regime against Maidan activists. Paid thugs need to be stopped, not endorsed by the authorities.