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27 August, 2015  ▪  Roman Malko

An Unlikely Blend

The origin and transformations of the Right Sector through the Maidan and war

Two years ago one could hardly speak of any serious influence of nationalists in Ukraine. Organizations of the kind have always been plenty here, but the system tried to sideline them or get them under control by weakening and dividing them. Nationalists themselves often played into the system’s hands by getting into petty squabbles with each other, falling for provocation and turning into someone’s puppets.

As soon as any patriotic movement with a radical ideology began gaining strength, a host of moles appeared in it, persecutions against its members started, its reputation was ruined by provocations, attempts of bribery or simply labels such as “fascists”, “Nazis”, “xenophobes”, etc. Security bureaus had departments that were responsible for such work. The most proactive members of nationalistic movements were regularly summoned to interviews with responsible agents.  

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This trend lasted through the entire period of Ukraine’s independence. Control was occasionally weakened, then strengthened again, but it never disappeared. 

Birth of the Right Sector

Initially, the Right Sector was a union of different nationalistic civil and political organizations, which stood against the dictatorship of ex-president Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions on the Maidan. Over time it transformed into a powerful military-political movement officially known as Pravyi Sektor (Right Sector) party and Dobrovolchyi Ukrayinskiy Korpus (DUK, Voluntary Ukrainian Corpse), its paramilitary wing involved in the Anti-Terrorist Operation in Eastern Ukraine.

The Right Sector stems from the first days of the student camp protest on Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the Independence Square. Its active participants and some of its leaders appeared on the first day of protests and its official name appeared a bit later. It founders were reportedly Andriy Kozyubchyk who was killed in action near Donetsk airport in August 2014, and Mykola Surzhenko, the leader of the Sumy Ukrainian National Self-Defense (UNSO) nationalist organization. They proposed to turn the nationalist wing formed sporadically from some protesters into a separate group.

Initially, the Right Sector was based by the monument of the founders of Kyiv on Independence Square. Representatives of the Tryzub organization, UNSO and Patriots of Ukraine negotiated mutual actions and on November 28 the banner of the Right Sector was seen for the first time written in spray paint on a bed sheet. It was then joined by Carpathian Sich, a Zakarpattia-based paramilitary organization. It had long cooperated with Tryzub. Bilyi Molot (White Hammer, a small nationalist group of Kyiv-based skinheads) joined at some point as well.

Why the Right Sector and who created it?

The decision to name the movement “pravyi”, or right, came from the fact that it united right-wing activists, while numerous football fans that were members of the new movement liked the word “sector”. 

Apparently, the founders of the Right Sector officially included Tryzub, UNSO and Patriots of Ukraine that eventually transformed into the Social-National Assembly; Carpathian Sich and White Hammer. The first three are the most widely known so we will take a look at their background.

Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian National Self-Defense (UNA-UNSO) was founded on November 3-4, 1990. It was involved in guarding the parliament of Lithuania during the January events in Vilnius in 1991, the “Friendship Train” to scare off separatists in early February 1992 in Odesa, Kherson and Crimea, the wars in Prydnistrovia and Abkhazia, the First Chechen War and other numerous events in Ukraine and beyond its borders. 1994 was its most active period. The second surge was during the violent clash between the police and participants of the funeral procession for St. Volodymyr, the Patriarach of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate, on Sofiyska Ploshsha in downtown Kyiv on July 18, 1995 – the day went into the history books as “Black Tuesday”. Yet another resonant act involving UNSO members happened on March 9, 2001 during the “Ukraine Without Kuchma” demonstration. It ended in a major scuffle with the police on Bankova Street. After this event several UNSO activists were arrested and convicted. The organization then went into a series of crises and splits.  

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Tryzub is a paramilitary nationalist organization founded on October 14, 1993 and was registered as a Civil Sports-Patriotic Organization. The initiative was offered by Slava Stetsko, the then leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (Revolutionaries). The organization mainly arranged scout camps of sort for the youth and took part in what it described as nation protective events. Its members had conflicts with the official authorities and were persecuted on more than one occasion. The greatest persecution of its members was in 1996-1998, when criminal proceedings were launched against it members all over Ukraine and then in 2010-2011 under the regime of Viktor Yanukovych when the members of Tryzub organized the demolition of the monument of Joseph Stalin in Zaporizhzhia.

The then government decided to exploit this to undermine the organization. An explosion of the monument was arranged and all of the organization’s leaders were arrested under the pretext. They were accused of as much as plotting a terrorist attack on Yanukovych by shooting his plane from a low-caliber rifle. Given how ridiculous the charges looked, the case was quickly stifled.  

The Patriots of Ukraine was founded in the late 1999 as a young wing of the Social-National Party of Ukraine, which later was renamed Svoboda. The predecessor to Patriots of Ukraine was Units of the Socio-Nationalist Party of Ukraine. In 2004, Patriots of Ukraine was disbanded due to internal party conflicts, but then it was revived in Kharkiv and later in Kyiv.

After that its hubs began quickly appearing in the majority of cities across Ukraine. In 2008 the organization was a co-founder of the Socio-National Assembly comprised of Patriots of Ukraine, the RiD national movement, the Ukrainian Alternative and Sich. In the summer of 2011, the organization faced a series of persecutions and arrests of many of its leaders, primarily for fabricated charges. Some were charged with organization of terrorist acts and others were suspected of assassination. They were only released from jail after the Maidan.

Further transformations

The beating of students on the night of November 30 was the first test of sorts for the Right Sector. The few activists then tried to stave off the offensive of the Berkut riot police, but it was impossible as the latter were stronger in force. On the following day, when the center of the protest moved to the Mykhailivsky Monastery and square, and the police began to move there, the future Right Sector started forming self-defense units and training them. Ostensibly, Dmytro Korchynskiy tried to join the movement with his Bratstvo (Brotherhood) organization, but cooperation failed. Apparently, Korchynskiy already then offered to dig out and prepare street cobbles but most Right Sector members refused to do that. The Right Sector admits that at the time it was not ready for this. “He proposed that which transpired within a month, but in history everything has its proper moment.”

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During the rally on Bankova St. on December 1 many Right Sector members took part and some even seized the building of the Kyiv City State Administration but vacated it later as they did not want to provoke average citizens who started to seize activists and hand them over to the police. It turned into a more or less complete structure only after it settled on the fifth floor of the Trade Unions’ Building. Many liberal-minded Maidan protesters kept trying to kick it out of there. To solve this and deal with the inflow of activists wishing to join the movement, the 23rd unit of the Maidan Self-Defense was set up officially. It included all of the Right Sector; experienced Tryzub members took on the leadership and training of the unit.

Serious clashes

On the day before Epiphany on January 18 members of the Right Sector – i.e. members of Tryzub and UNSO – were invited to a meeting with the inner circle of Vitaliy Klitschko where a plan of activization and possible march of demonstrators to the parliament was ostensibly being developed.  The plan was reportedly ready and waiting for a green light from the leadership. In the evening of January 18 Klitschko reversed the plan and informed the protesters through his representatives that the march would not happen. On January 19, someone from AutoMaidan called on the protesters to start moving towards the Verkhovna Rada. Weary of uncertainty, people started moving closer to the police cordons. The Right Sector divisions moved to their positions as well. Self-Defense units were already there, and a number of small clashes with the police broke out. Klitschko, in an attempt to calm down the crowd, got sprayed with the fire extinguisher and a series clash broke out. That one involved the Right Sector, Self-Defense and simply unknown people.

Paradoxically, the situation united people from opposite camps, including football fans of rival clubs, left and right-wing activists who normally can’t stand each other. As the Maidan evolved, the Right Sector did not try to structure or make itself into an organization. There was no time for this. Training and teamwork in action was their priority. Only after ex-president Yanukovych fled, the movement had to get become some kind of an official organization. The process was not easy given the nationalists’ traditional conflicts with each other.

Today, the Right Sector is not so much a union organized by founders as it is a structure created on the basis of Tryzub and UNSO. The movement has welcomed anyone who wanted to join it, whether members of patriotic movements or not. The Right Sector party entered politics after renaming UNSO’s political wing, the Ukrainian National Assembly. Notably, Patriot of Ukraine, Caprathian Sich or the White Hammer have no relation to it today.

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At the initial stage, the Patriot of Ukraine within the Right Sector was delegated the mission of working in Eastern Ukraine under the leadership of Andriy Biletskyi and Oleh Odnorozhenko. This scheme did not work and they went their separate ways by forming Azov battalion. Carpathian Sich also split away.

Although many UNSO members, primarily of the older generation, hold top positions in the Right Sector, a small faction of UNSO has recently split away and re-registered the organization. Cooperation with the White Hammer failed from the very beginning. The skinheads turned out to be uncontrollable and, witnesses claim, they were split off from the Right Sector right after the end of the Maidan.

Since the Maidan the structure of the Private Sector has changed considerably. Many of its members who had volunteered to fight in the East joined different battalions and units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine as negotiations on the setup of DUK with the central government dragged on. Yet, they remain members of the Right Sector.

Its leaders don’t see this as a problem. There is no obligation for the Right Sector members to fight in DUK exclusively.


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