war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Neo-Nazi Azov fighter granted Ukrainian citizenship linked with police and far-right vigilantes

Halya Coynash
Ukraine’s Interior Minister and other top officials were swift to distance themselves from the far-right vigilantes who held a frightening oath-giving ceremony on Jan 28. Both this and the public outcry were cheering. The same cannot be said for information linking yet another person holding a police post with the far-right groups behind these so-called ‘natsionalni druzhyny’.

Ukraine’s Interior Minister and other top officials were swift to distance themselves from the far-right vigilantes who held a frightening oath-giving ceremony in the centre of Kyiv on January 28.  Both the public outcry and the clearly articulated lack of official approval were cheering.  The same cannot be said for information linking yet another person holding a police post with the far-right groups behind these so-called ‘natsionalni druzhyny’.

These groups – the National Corps political party, the Azov Civic Corps and the NGO ‘Zirka’ [‘Defence and Reconstruction of the Country’] are closely associated with veterans of the Azov Regiment, formed in early 2014 as a volunteer battalion, and then from November 2014, merged into the Ukrainian National Guard. 

The leader of National Corps is Andriy Biletsky, the former Azov Commander and, since October 2014, an MP in Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada.  He was one of several people elected at that time because of the role he had played defending Ukraine, however public attention to his highly chequered past and neo-Nazi views resulted in him being forced to stand for election as an independent candidate.  The concerns expressed about the ‘Druzhyny’ being used as ‘titushki’ or hired thugs are not without justification.  Biletsky’s ‘Patriot of Ukraine’ paramilitary outfit was notorious both for the xenophobic attacks on foreign students and migrants in Kharkiv and for providing, various types of criminal services.  

The appointment of Vadim Troyan, his deputy in Azov, to the post of head of the Kyiv Regional Police in late 2014 (as well as his later appointment as First Deputy Head of the National Police] was met with dismayed bemusement specifically because Troyan had also, albeit briefly, been a member of ‘Patriot of Ukraine’.

There is nothing to suggest that Troyan had any involvement in the formation of the Druzhyny, however another Azov veteran, working as head of the police department on guarding sites of strategic importance is registered as a founding member of the above-mentioned Zirka civic organization.  Nor is this the only startling detail about Sergei Korotkykh, who was very publicly granted Ukrainian citizenship by President Petro Poroshenko on 5 December, 2014. 

Korotkykh had been with the Azov Battalion from its formation and the commander of its reconnaissance unit, and was thanked by the President “for his courageous, dedicated service”. 

It has been notoriously difficult for many Russians who have demonstrated their support for Ukraine on Maidan or during battle in Donbas to gain permanent residency or citizenship in Ukraine, and one Georgian, who helped train fighters, was recently and very controversially, forcibly removed from the country.

Korotkykh had very directly risked his life for Ukraine, but the publicity around his citizenship did lead to some disturbing revelations about his life both in Belarus and in Russia.  It was not just his neo-Nazi connections, but also his suspected involvement in violent attacks and his strange ability to avoid imprisonment

Korotkykh [known as ‘Malyuta’] was born in Russia in 1974, but his family soon moved to Belarus. 

After military service, he spent two years training to work for the Belarusian KGB [its real name], but was thrown out over involvement in a radical organization.  He was a member of the Belarusian faction of the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity Party [RNE] from 1999 to 2001, during which time he took part in an attack on certain prominent opposition activists.  In a later interview, he rather unconvincingly tried to present this as a normal conflict between one ‘subculture’ and another.  Asked what else RNE did in Belarus, he mentioned that, as well as a militarized wing and a political section, they also “earned money”, including through a protection racket.

At some stage after this, he moved to Russia where he became one of the leaders of the National-Socialist Society, which Novaya Gazeta calls one of Russia’s largely far-right organizations. 

He is seemingly still wanted for his believed role in setting off a bomb on Manezh Square in the centre of Moscow in 2012. 

Korotkykh had returned to Belarus before attempts to arrest him, and was there involved in an attack, together with the neo-Nazi former skinhead Maxim Martsinkevich [Tesak] on three local anti-fascists.  Korotkykh is reported to have inflicted several knife wounds on at least one of the activists.  Both he and Tesak were detained, yet a local Belarusian journalist noted shortly afterwards that none of the press had even mentioned Korotkykh, and Tesak was also released within 10 days, and the case terminated, supposedly for lack of a prosecutable crime. They pointed out that this was at a time when dissidents could expect to be jailed for supposedly using bad language or disobeying a police officer. This incident, as well as success in escaping arrest over the Moscow explosion, have led the opposition media in Belarus to accuse Korotkykh of collaborating with the Belarusian and Russian security services.    

None of this was at all secret, and an original report by the Ukrainian UNIAN news agency about Korotkykh getting Ukrainian citizenship mentioned his past.  Those details soon afterwards disappeared from the text still available.  There were plenty of negative reports in the Belarusian and Russian media to which Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, then Ukraine’s SBU [Security Service] head, responded by asserting that Ukraine’s counter-intelligence had found nothing in Korotkykh’s background to prevent him getting citizenship.  Novaya Gazeta reported that Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov had promised to carry out an additional check, while implying that the stories were still more of the same state-sponsored Russian propaganda about Ukraine. 

It is hard to imagine that a real check was carried out, since a great deal of information predating Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and Korotkykh’s involvement in Azov can be easily found. 

It is not known how Korotkykh came to be the National Police’s head of security for sites of strategic importance, but, given his military background, that is perhaps less startling than another detail of his recent biography. 

As a public official, Korotkykh is obliged to submit electronic income declarations.  Belarusian Partisan scrutinized his 2015 declaration and found his wealth (one and a half flats, a private plane and ability to lend somebody half a million UAH) to be incommensurate with his official earnings.

It is his ‘civic organization’ that, together with the National Corps, seems behind the ‘natsionalni druzhyny’ which claimed they would patrol Kyiv streets to “establish Ukrainian order”. 

One of the many concerns aroused from the elaborate ceremony on January 28 was where the money was coming from for 600 men all in identical (and not cheap) uniform.   National Corps has said that they get financial support from ‘business’.  What kind of ‘business’ is not specified.

There are numerous other issues with the appearance of such well-trained paramilitary formations, especially ones linked with a party and organizations who have previously demonstrated xenophobic and homophobic views, as well as general intolerance towards anybody holding different views. 

Oleksandr Banchuk from the Centre for Political and Legal Reform calls the emergence of paramilitary units linked with a political party “a very dangerous practice’ once used by the Bolsheviks. He stresses that such formations should have status affirmed by the police and local authorities.  Without this, they can be viewed as illegal militarized formations.

Several dozen people attended a protest in the centre of Kyiv on 4 February entitled “We’ll do without natsdruzhyny”.  One of those present was Olha Skrypnyk, the Head of the Crimean Human Rights Group, who has been living in Kyiv since being driven from her home by the Russian soldiers and so-called ‘self-defence’ paramilitaries who seized control in Crimea.  She stresses that she has nothing against the young men who have formed the unit.  “They are also a part of our Ukrainian society and we need to live together in one country, seek dialogue, albeit not easy dialogue”. 

She is, however, against the cultivation of violence and against those “who manipulate these guys for dodgy money, using them to achieve their aims, which are very far from peace, respect for people and Ukraine’s development”. 

She is particularly concerned because she has seen this before – the emergence of so-called ‘self-defence units’ in Crimea in February 2014.

“They were dressed exactly the same way – black or grey camouflage gear and masked faces.  They also naively believed that they know for sure who is bad, and that they are definitely on the right side.  Among those in Yalta and Alushta were my acquaintances, and people from my milieu.  They argued that they simply want to protect me from the ‘enemies’.  Yet then, in March 2014, they were told that I and my colleagues are such ‘enemies’.  Those guys, together with the green little men [Russian soldiers without insignia] and ‘Night Wolves’ were already attacking our rallies, and then simply attacking us.  And then they stood nearby, with masked faces, as Russian military intelligence officers told my husband what they’d do to me if I remained in Yalta after 16 March 2014”.


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