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Ukraine's Nationalists Continue Protest at Parliament

  • Daniel Schearf

Ukraine's interim president, Oleksandr Turchynov, has condemned the ultra-nationalist Right Sector after it protested outside parliament, saying the group is bent on "destabilization."

Nationalist groups have fueled Russian propaganda claims that Nazis and fascists are in control in Kyiv, an excuse Moscow used to annex Crimea. Many Ukrainians want to see them off the streets and quickly integrated into mainstream institutions.

Ukrainian nationalists protested outside parliament Friday waiting for a vote to remove Interior Minister Arsen Avakov from his post. One radical group, Right Sector, blames the minister for the shooting death of one of its more militant leaders this week in western Ukraine.

'Self-defense forces'

Dressed in military fatigues, some wore flak jackets and carried clubs, riot shields and even hatchets.

Ukraine's “self-defense forces,” formed during recent anti-government protests, lined up at the main entrance to prevent provocation.

The night before, enraged nationalists marched to the parliament demanding Avakov's immediate resignation. Some in the crowd tried to break into the building before parliamentarians calmed them down, promising a vote on whether he should keep his job.

On Friday, the vote was cancelled and an investigation promised, but radicals in the crowd reacted remarkably calmly.

Right Sector East political head Kiva Ilya said they only want justice.

“Our task is to maintain calm and not to make the Russian government see the situation in Ukraine as out of control," he said. "The 'Right Sector' is on the side of law in all our actions.”

Myriad concerns

But many here disagree, and worry the ultra-nationalist groups could become violent if they are not soon integrated into Ukraine's defense forces and politics.

This would play into the hands of the Kremlin, warned Vasil Korus, a Ukrainian Orthodox Priest who was talking to protesters.

“Yesterday we were praying that all of this will not give any advantage to Putin," he said. "Because we know, and we understand, that if they act aggressively this will be an advantage for Putin.”

Radical nationalists were on the front lines of clashes with riot police that ended with Ukraine's Moscow-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych, fleeing to Russia.

Over 100 people, mainly civilians, died in the fighting.

Hard-core nationalists are still camped out in Kyiv's central square because they do not quite trust Ukraine's interim government.

Ukrainian parliamentarian Inna Bogoslovska said the feeling is mutual.

“The 'Right Sector' has a huge responsibility. Because if they want to become a political party, and this is the right thing to do, the first thing is make sure there is nothing that can be used to pull their strings," she said. "They have be sure nobody can influence them and that there are no provocateurs and criminals.”

Armed, volatile

Nationalists, including Right Sector members, are already joining Ukraine's military and a National Guard that formed just last week.

In a recent interview with VOA, however, Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh, who also is a presidential candidate, said they have no intention of disarming.

"Regarding the arms, let's not forget the dangers that the Ukrainian people are now facing," he said. "That is, outside aggression as well as a completely unreformed ministry of internal affairs that has already distinguished itself with kidnappings and terror campaigns against its own people."

Recent polls show the radical groups have very little public support, but some worry that, come election time, they may demand more for their sacrifices.

Ukraine's revolutionary fighters could become a dangerous liability.

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