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27 August, 2015  ▪  Roman Malko

Andriy Stempitsky: “The state machine is working to discredit us”

Commander of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps, a paramilitary unit of the Right Sector, speaks about risks in the Minsk accords, the pressure of Ukraine’s on the Right Sector, and things to be done to win the war

How have your relations with the government changed after the incident in Mukacheve?

There has been increasing pressure on reserve battalions. Commanders report about the morbid interest of law enforcement and security agencies in the numbers, bases, locations, lists of those fighting on the front line, etc. In Zakarpattia, both the reserve battalion and the Right Sector overall are facing huge pressure. I have heard today from Volyn Oblast: the number of call-up papers precisely coincides with the number of the Right Sector members. If five of our members reside in a certain county, five call-ups for mobilization go there. This is done intentionally. For some reason, they think that our men shun mobilization or military service. But this is not the problem, because many have been at the front for more than a year now. This is an attempt to disperse active members across military units and isolate them in this way.

Has the incident undermined your positions in Zakarpattia?

Zakarpattia is a multi-ethnic region, and not everyone there was happy with the Right Sector before. But after the events in Mukachevo the support for the Right Sector among the population has grown immensely. This is a fact. Yes, shots were fired, even mortars were used, it is a shame that it happened so far from the front line. But in that situation our men had no other way out, they were virtually being wiped out, and for some reason they did not feel like dying. They were under fire from a large calibre machine gun, one in a car was already shot dead, and they opened mortar fire in response. The shooting stopped, and they were able to retreat to the mountains. Many accuse them of opening fire in the middle of a peaceful town, with civilians and children around. This is not how it really happened. The scene was outside the town, on the bypass, and it is the police responsible for the operation, that should answer why fire was opened exactly on that spot. Our men definitely had no intention or desire to fight with the police. They were on their way to negotiate with the bandits who had threatened them and their families. Their message to us was clear: either you forget about blocking the contraband, or we will deal with you, your families included, in a totally different manner. So the guys went to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, and they hoped to handle that without shooting, but they knew perfectly well who they were dealing with and where they were going, and that those local gangsters have plenty of weapons. For some reason, this is somehow hushed up. And most interestingly, after the shooting no one was detained from the other party. Theoretically, everything should be fair. Our guys had guns, those guys had guns, too. There were searches, but not a single arrest. Which means that the other party may shoot, may carry guns, but if the Right Sector does the same, it qualifies as a terrorist attack. Like recently in Rivne Oblast, at the illegal amber mines - there were mass riots and shootings, but it is okay because the Right Sector was not involved. If we had been, the incident would have been labelled as mass terrorism.

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Do you cooperate in this case with the new governor of Zakarpattia, Hennadiy Moskal? Do you trust him?

No, we haven’t, and we don’t now. He had a negative attitude towards the Right Sector back in Luhansk Oblast, although we did not participate in hostilities there. And when he came to Zakarpattia, he immediately made a statement about 80% Right Sector members with a criminal record, calling up women to the army, and so on. It is quite obvious what his goal here is, and how he is going to handle the Right Sector in Zakarpattia.

According to the Right Sector, it has two units on the front line, while in the rear there are nearly two dozen. Why so many? What are they doing, what is their mission in the rear?

Reserve battalions are meant for the people who wish to fight as members of the Right Sector’s Ukrainian Volunteer Corps (known by the abbreviation of DUK in Ukrainian – Ed.), so that they know where they can come and enlist. Some have training bases, where you can get schooling, and not only for the front. The battalions have other missions in the rear as well, such as supply and delivery. Our men are trying to provide the fighting battalions and support those coming back from the front, so that they do not get lost in the whirlpool of life, but stay in the ranks of the organization.

Will the government attempt complete clampdown on the Right Sector?

I think this is what it has been busy doing. The only things that do change are intensity and methods. The clampdown of the Right Sector does not have necessarily to be physical: encircled, assaulted, and disarmed. It also involves discrediting.

Sometimes they are trying to throw volunteers behind the bars, sometimes they are trying to throw the book at them. No one says that our units are comprised of angels alone; of course, they are real people, and different at that. But the trend is obvious, even in case with other battalions. Take Battalion Tornado, how it was discredited and destroyed, or certain events within Aidar. The government has tested its methods, and is trying to apply those methods to us.

How are you going to counter the recently launched “deheroization” campaign? Some are now saying that you did not fight at the Donetsk Airport, or that you were never present in other locations. Is there a way to counter it?

We probably haven’t been on the Maidan either. We joked back then that a time would come when some would say that we had never been there. We hear this now. Then a time will come when they will say we never fought in this war. For example, our men resent Yuriy Biriukov’s (volunteer who was eventually appointed advisor to the President and aide to the Defense Minister mostly responsible for supplies for the military – Ed.) words the most, who said that we fled the airport. It is the army command that asked us to withdraw. And back then we said that as soon as we withdrew, the airport would be surrendered. Likewise, the same will be later said of Shyrokyne or other places from which we withdrew. Our men hate retreats by definition. And if such things happened, they happened in coordination with the Armed Forces. We always hear the same tune: you are volunteers, you must cooperate, discipline above all. And later this is used against us.

Of course, we counter it in every possible way. Our counter-intelligence on the front line is also in charge of internal security. There also is the Right Sector security service, which tries to work preventively.

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You propose to legalize the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps along the Estonian or Swiss model. At any rate, this involves legalization of weapons. Is this government prepared to let people carry firearms?

This government, just like all the predecessors, is not prepared to let people carry firearms, because an armed civilian is a free man, even if psychologically. And who needs free people here? No one, because they are not so easy to handle. Especially in the way our government does.

On the other hand, our proposed bill does not state that weapons should be handed out immediately, as the Estonian version does. In Estonia everything is put very clearly: individuals may have up to seven or nine firearms in the house, and they undergo training. At any given moment they can be mobilized, rebuff an enemy attack, or deal with other challenges. We have proposed a moderate variant of the bill: there are reserve battalions, and if a situation arises in the country and their help is needed, they become subordinated to the structure charged with handling the challenge. We do not strive to replace any of the power-wielding structures: the Armed Forces, the Ministry of the Interior, or the Security Bureau of Ukraine (SBU). They have their own objectives defined by the Constitution: the Armed Forces to repulse exterior aggression, the Ministry of Interior to deal with domestic problems, the SBU to watch over state security. Under the proposed legislation, we would like to be an auxiliary structure. If there is an anti-terrorist operation going on, the reserve battalions could be used (under the SBU supervision) to form battle units, which would be subordinate to the commander of the Anti-Terrorist Centre. There they would receive weapons and supplies, complete their objective and go back to their respective battalions. In case of external aggression, war, battle units would be formed according to the orders of the Commander-in-Chief and subsequently subordinated to the Chief of Staff.

To what extent is DUK dependent on the Right Sector Party, how far does your independence stretch? Are you interested in the party membership for all of your fighters?

The Right Sector is a nationwide movement. It arose on Maidan as a certain, unique phenomenon. It was not a political party or a military unit. It was exactly a movement, active, capable, comprising active young men and women, both organized and unorganized. Later, after the Maidan events, in the new situation a part of people crystallized who were ready to face Russia’s challenge, because then the events in Crimea and in the East began. Thus, two wings appeared, the political and the military one. Like the right and left arms. Each has its own objectives, and DUK cannot be dependent on the party, just like the party cannot depend on DUK. In brief, the Right Sector has political objectives, whereas DUK fighters have military objectives, first and foremost, fighting the occupants who invaded our country. But all of them are united by one idea: creating of a normal, strong Ukrainian state. The political party declares this in its programme, in its propaganda materials, explains this at meetings with people, while DUK fighters make their declaration on the front line.

What kind of relations do you have with the military?

We have extremely cordial, brotherly relations with the soldiers who are fighting now and who fought last year. In the trenches there is no difference between volunteers and regular army men, nor does the enemy make any difference between the former and the latter. There are joint battle missions, normal cooperation with commanders and soldiers. The problem lies elsewhere: a lot of fighters in last year’s operations are now demobbed, and new men are called up, and they got to hear how bad the Right Sector is, how it evades fighting and engages in all sorts of illegal activities – and some of those men believe this nonsense. Well, at least until they meet our guys and realize that it is not true. But the state machine is working to discredit us, even in the Armed Forces.

Volunteers are often accused of marauding. How widespread is this evil, is it present in DUK, and how do you prevent it?

It is easier for us to counter it because we have a totally different motivation level, and such things happen on a much smaller scale. For instance, if in the regular army drinking is punished by confinement in the guardhouse or otherwise, our worst punishment is banishment from the front line or even expulsion from DUK. Just the opposite: we punish someone so that they cannot fight anymore. All sorts of things happen, like drinking or unworthy conduct, and such individuals are expelled from our system. Most commanders have gained enough experience to be able to foresee each individual’s propensities, and if they do not fit the frames, such individual is dismissed. This is how we fight negative tendencies. Prevention comes first, and moreover, we do not limit ourselves to some certain methods of punishment. There are various ways to influence an individual and make them loath to commit a crime, and this is quite normal.

Your organisation is criticised for large numbers of fighters with a criminal record. Current Zakarpattia Governor Moskal mentioned 80% of such people within the Right Sector in the oblast. How large is the actual share?

Moskal went too far. 80% fighters with a criminal record is ridiculous. The Right Sector in Zakarpattia consists of several companies of young men and women. They are normal people who have been conducting extensive political activities, worked with the youth and children. This is proven by video materials, there is enough evidence on our web-sites, anywhere. All year long no comments had been made, until Moskal’s statement out of the blue.

Of course, among DUK fighters there will be people with a criminal record, and maybe among the Right Sector as well. A small percentage. But firstly, when such people enlist in DUK in order to go to the front, they go through a screening. The character of their conviction is checked. If someone was convicted for rape or some pathological theft, he has no place among us: a leopard cannot change its spots. If they were convicted for murder for profit or have any sadistic proclivity, they do not belong in DUK either. But if it was a petty offence, why should a person be deprived of the right to fight for their Fatherland? We have had too many law-abiding, crystal-clear prosecutors, police officers, security service agents, who defected to Russia en masse. They had no record, they enforced and represented the law. So in my opinion, it is not the matter of criminal record, it is the matter of personality. Many men with a record have proved to be worthy in battle and would leave many of those clean ones in the dust. By the by, I have two convictions, too.

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On political grounds?

They were classified as criminal. The main thing is to get an insight into the newcomer’s motivation. Once that is clear, it is easy to see if we belong together or not.

Russia is closely following the Right Sector and its activities. There have most probably been attempts to infiltrate FSB agents in your organisation. Have you ever unmasked any of them? Speaking of your counter-intelligence and Right Sector security service which you have mentioned above: could you share more about their activities?

I will not go into the details. Even the “Donetsk People’s Republic” agents have been revealed. Sometimes destructive individuals infiltrate, and then the security service tracks down the chain: who they are, who profits from it, and so on. Methods of their subversive activities can vary. Some are saboteurs, others spread rumours or spread panic, but we cope with that. Like I told, we have counter-intelligence which deals with battle units, and the security service which is active in the rear. Each of them screen and processes the data to see what kind of person wants to join the organisation, and what their sentiments and intentions are. Some may have material motives and want to profit exploiting the name of the Right Sector, others seek to make a petty political career at all costs, still others come here just by accident. The services work on it and recommend the commanders or political structures to expel such individuals or restrict their activities.

What do you do with prisoners? Do you torture or swap them?

We have not had that many prisoners. Torture is forbidden here. This is no place to realize one’s sadistic proclivities. Consequently, whatever PoWs we had, were exchanged.

Did you do that personally?

Yes. To establish contacts and organise exchange is not so easy, but it is doable. When we come across some fishy subjects, we hand them over to the SBU, which has to decide what to do with them further. One example is Serhiy Sazhko, mayor of Kurakhove. He has organised referendums, was engaged in pro-DPR propaganda among the population, the agencies have his video- and written testimony (which he made without any physical coercion) – all of this was handed over to the SBU. Nevertheless, he managed to become a member of parliament. This shows the efficiency of the state in fighting separatists. But this does not mean that the SBU or counter-intelligence are not doing their work: they are just dependent on the laws they enforce. They are restricted by these laws in their activities. Peacetime legislation is imperfect, and Russia has unleashed a war against us. Yet judging from what is going on in the country, one has an impression that there is no war whatsoever. Hence this imbalance. The other side does what it will, missing no opportunity to promote its evil cause, and on this side they cannot offer decent counteraction because it is illegal.

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What are your losses in this war?

Until recently, we had 35 people killed, and now that fighting has resumed that will be 39 or 40. We have several hundred wounded, taking into consideration all degrees, from light to medium to gravely injured. With those who were temporarily disabled, I think the casualties will add up to at least two hundred.

How do you help the maimed members and the families of the deceased?

We have our own medical service, Hospitallers, led by Yana Zinkevych. The service is organized everywhere where our units engage in hostilities. There are medical crews who give first aid not only to our fighters, but also to those of other voluntary battalions. Medics recover the wounded under fire, deliver them to the nearest hospitals and later, when their condition is stabilised, transport them to the Mechnikov Clinic in Dnipropetrovsk, where the wounded get specialist care. Their professionalism helped save very many lives.

The medical service also takes care of the wounded. If additional help is needed, or in case of emergency, we raise funds (again, with the help of Ukrainians who donate and transfer money), etc. If someone wants to take a family under their patronage, we help to establish direct contact, so that we do not act as an intermediary. We also look for possibilities to organise holidays for children. There are people who are willing to help. That is, we do everything we can. The reserve battalions, too, are charged with taking care of the families of the deceased and wounded. Because oblivion is the worst that can happen to their children and families.

You demands include cancellation of the Minsk accords and a war till victory is won. Is the Ukrainian army capable of fighting successfully and win back the occupied territories of Donbas and Crimea?

Yes, we insist on the abolishment of the Minsk accords, because what are they, as a matter of fact? Firstly, a simple question: who is negotiating with the terrorists? Medvedchuk, Kuchma, and other ‘statesmen.’ Who actually authorised them to negotiate? Did the Verkhovna Rada or President do? Secondly, the very idea of negotiating with terrorists seems somewhat wrong. No country ever conducts any talks with terrorists. Moreover, the fulfilment of the Minsk accords could be considered criminal offense just a couple of years later. That is, those officers and soldiers who withhold reprisal fire today, while they are being shot at, might find themselves in the dock a couple of years later. Will they be telling about the Minsk accords then? What accords are these, who was the negotiator, and so on, and so forth?

Besides, the Russian army is said to be more powerful than that of Ukraine. That’s true, they certainly have a lot more guns and vehicles, and there is no lack of cannon fodder either. But then there are several aspects to consider. Firstly, Ukrainians wage a defensive war, they defend their land while Russians are occupiers and, of course, both parties have different motivation. It is easier to die for your own family and Fatherland than for some obscure goals, invading a strange country. Secondly, the tactics of warfare. If the enemy prevails in force, different tactics should be employed. This is clear. We cannot compete with them according to the books dating back to 1942, engaging in trench warfare and building some defence barriers and squandering millions to no avail. Modern war is dynamic, mobile, just as those barriers are. What we have now resembles the First World War, when opponents sat in trenches for years banging cannonballs at each other. This is nothing but mindless waste of money which should actually be used to develop drones and other new technologies.

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How could this stalemate be broken?

Pressure on the government can change everything. We have witnessed it in 2013: no matter what the pessimists say, it turns out that the people can do a lot. But we have a problem: there is potential, but no mechanism to implement it. The parties have carved up the society. Each is trying to win over the electorate, and there is no powerful unity of all Ukrainians to solve all problems at one fell swoop. Divide and rule.

BIO

Andriy Stempitsky is the commander in chief of the Stepan Bandera Nationwide Organisation Tryzub (Trident), deputy leader of the Right Sector, commandant of DUK. Born in Lviv Oblast, Stempitsky studied to become a pilot/navigator at the Higher Air Force School in Kharkiv. He is an active member of the national liberation movement, member of the Stepan Bandera NO Tryzub since 1995. In 1996 Stempitsky was convicted (for a five-year term) for participation in an attempt to seize a military airfield. He has been acting commander in chief of Tryzub after October 2010, becoming commander in chief in October 2012


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