Nationalists from the fifth floor

The appearance of the Right Sector in  the avant-garde of the Ukrainian revolution was unexpected not only for the ordinary protesters but even for the political opposition leaders who had never shown confidence in the success of civil unrests. The three main opposition parties, Batkivshchyna (Fatherland), Udar (Punch) and Svoboda (Freedom), tried to keep the protests under control and use them for their own goals.

When peaceful protests had proven hopeless many people on Maidan began to demand real and determined actions  to reach the main aim of protesters: Yanukovych’s resignation. It was predicted that the opposition leaders would refuse to take responsibility for the violence escalation and many in the crowd searched for a new face on the stage of Maidan. Every Sunday in late December and in January more and more people on Maidan were expecting to see the leader of the mysterious Right Sector, Dmytro Yarosh, on the stage of Maidan and to hear his order: “Attack!”. What actually triggered the  violence was the outlawing of virtually any form of protest – on January 16 Yanukovych signed “dictatorship” laws against protesters and that was the last drop.

It wasn’t Yarosh but Automaidan activist Serhiy Koba who, contrary to calls from opposition politics to stay calm, had shouted from the stage: “We are ready for our final fight!”. Thousands of  passionate people moved closer to the government district and the Right Sector militants were in the first row on Hrushevsky street. They threw the first paving stones and Molotovs at the riot policemen and, finally, burnt police buses. That day protests stopped being peaceful and the Right Sector became the real leaders of the revolution.

For 43-year-old Dmytro Yarosh it was a dizzying ride to the top of the Ukrainian politics. In November, when students organized the first protests against the cancellation of Ukraine–EU trade agreement, his name was still unknown. In those days, a few nationalistic organizations united and created the Right Sector “to protect the peaceful protests and to prepare a national revolution”. The best known structure created by the Right Sector was UNA-UNSO (Ukrainian National Assambley – Ukrainian National Self  Defence). UNA-UNSO had appeared as a political party in 1990 and, during the next decade, its members took part in three military conflicts: in that of Transnistria, the Georgian-Abkhasian war and in Chechnya.

Dmytro Yarosh was a leader of a different character – “Stepan Bandera’s Tryzub”, an organization named after the leader of the Ukrainian nationalists who was assassinated by a KGB agent in 1959. Surprisingly to many, Dmytro Yarosh wasn’t born in Western Ukraine as many other leaders of the Ukrainian nationalism did. His native city, Dniprodzedzhynsk, is the  industrial center on the river Dnipro. Ironically, the home town of today’s greatest Unkrainian nationalist got its name after the founder of the USSR secret police and Lenin’s close comrade, Felix Dzerzhinsky.

The Right Sector announced the total mobilization of their members on November 30 after the student’s protest had been brutally attacked by riot police. The next day one could see young men wearing uniforms and balaclavas with iron bars in their hands. The revolution was about to break out. But they had to wait a little – week after week the opposition politicians had tried to negotiate with Yanukovych until all their attempts failed. It was time for action, for a strict response on the ever increasing violence of the police. The Right Sector stood by, ready to execute the orders of their leader.

After a week of clashes on Hrushevsky street the mysterious Dmytro Yarosh became the undisputed leader of the revolution. He gave a few interviews to the media but never talked in front of  a camera. Journalists could speak to him only after they had already passed a security screening on the fifth floor of the Trade Unions’ building where the headquarters of the Right Sector was situated. In the interviews Yarosh had shown no compromise neither to Yanukovych and his government, nor to the opposition leaders. “Ukrainian opposition needs lustration after winning the revolution. They are part of a corrupted system” – said Yarosh and the protesters supported him.

Unlike the talkers from the opposition, Yarosh gave his speech on the stage of Maidan just once. He appeared on stage on February 21 when people were full of despair and booed in response at each word said by the opposition politicians Yatsenyuk, Klitchko and Tyahnybok. Yarosh said one sentence: “We, the Right Sector are taking responsibility for every next step the Ukrainian revolution makes”. That night Yanukovych ran away from his palace. When the register of visits at the President’s residence was reviewed Dmytro Yarosh turned out to have been one of the last persons to speak to Victor Yanukovych eye to eye. Yarosh confirmed that he had visited Yanukovych the day when snipers were shooting at the people on the streets of Kyiv. “I told him that we would not retreat”.

We can’t be sure if Dmytro Yarosh made Yanukovych feel scared and run away but after that story he became the No 1 scarecrow in the Russian media. It is a usual strategy by the Russian propaganda to portray the leaders of the Ukrainian movements as bloody monsters. Their favourite weapon is the Nazi-theme. Such a massive media campaign was organized against Victor Yushchenko in 2004.

The Russian media accused him of sympathizing with UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) and than spread lies about the collaboration of  UPA with Adolf Hitler. The next Ukrainian politician chosen by Russian propagandists for anti-Ukrainian campaign was Oleh Tyahnybok , the leader of the nationalistic Svoboda party. In 2012 Svoboda won 10% of the seats in the Ukrainian parliament and that fact caused hysteria on the Russians’ behalf. Now – because of many evidences of corruption and cowardly behavior in critical moments of the revolution as well as rude attempts to ensure the victory ­– Svoboda is rapidly losing voters’ support.

So, Russia needs a new scarecrow and Dmytro Yarosh seems to be the perfect candidate. No one in the Russian media cares that Yarosh testified many times that the Right Sector was never an anti-Semitic or chauvinistic organization or that half of its members are Russian-speaking or ethnic Russians or that there were retired soldiers from the Israeli army who cooperated with the Right Sector during the revolution. There was even the statement of Kyiv’s chief Rabbi who denying the presence of anti-Semitists on Maidan. Despite all the above, the Russian court condemned the Right Sector’s leader and commited him to prison. However, Dmytro Yarosh doesn’t seem to care about it as he has announced that he is ready to run for President. His main problem for now is the reputation of a man from nowhere with a couple of white spots in his past.

Andrii Drozda (Lviv)