A Ukrainian Neo-Nazi Group Is Organizing Violence On Facebook

Despite attempts to drive it off the platform, a violent Ukrainian far-right group with ties to American white supremacists is using Facebook to recruit new members, organize violence, and spread its far-right ideology across the world.

Although it banned the Azov movement and its leaders more than a year ago, Facebook continues to profit from ads placed by the far-right organization as recently as Monday.

Since July, Azov, which sprung up during the Russian invasion in 2014, has opened at least a dozen new Facebook pages. Alla Zasyadko, a 25-year-old member, has used one to place 82 ads on the social network, paying Facebook at least $3,726, according to the platform’s ad library. Many of the ads called for street protests against the Ukrainian government. One of the ads encourages children to sign up for a patriotic youth training course. Similar courses have included firearms training.

Zasyadko did not respond to requests for comment.

A Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, “The Azov Battalion is banned from our platforms and we remove content that represents, praises or supports them when we’re made aware of it.”

At the time this story was published, the Azov movement’s main Facebook page, listed as Ukrainian Corps — a name that resembles that of the movement’s political arm, National Corps — was still active.

Facebook has come under heavy criticism for allowing US right-wing militant organizations to organize and run ads on the platform. Some of those groups have committed violence during Black Lives Matter protests, advocated for civil war, and allegedly conspired to kidnap and kill elected political officials. Facebook said last month that it had deleted thousands of pages and groups tied to “militarized social movements.” Many of those pages and groups were taken down after BuzzFeed News brought them to Facebook’s attention.

But driving right-wing extremists from the social network has proven difficult, with many of them popping up again days or weeks after removal.

Facebook banned the Azov movement, which has many members who espouse neo-Nazi beliefs, in April 2019. The company removed several pages associated with the group, including those operated by its senior members and the various branches they lead.

But since July 16, the group has been operating the new Ukrainian Corps page. The page does not try to hide that it belongs to the Azov National Corps — it openly discusses National Corps activities and leaders, links to Azov’s websites and email, and posts photos of members in uniforms at rallies and torchlight marches.

Facebook has no reason not to know that the Azov movement is dangerous. In the wake of a series of violent attacks on Roma and LGBTQ people across Ukraine by members of the National Corps and its paramilitary street wing, the National Militia, the US State Department named Azov’s National Corps a “nationalist hate group.”

Matthew Schaaf, who leads the Ukraine office of the human rights group Freedom House and has closely observed the group, said the Azov movement’s ability to mobilize people through social media poses a threat to society.

“In the last couple of years, participants of Azov-affiliated groups have used violence against vulnerable groups in Ukrainian society and threatened public officials, with social media serving as an important tool to organize these actions and share their results,” Schaaf told BuzzFeed News. “Many of these assaults are accompanied by before-and-after propagandistic posts on social media.”

Azov began in 2014 as a volunteer military battalion that helped Ukraine defend itself against an invasion by Russia and its separatist proxy forces. The battalion’s symbol is similar to that of the Wolfsangel, the insignia widely used by the German military during World War II. Although human rights groups accused the battalion of torture and war crimes during the early months of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict, in late 2014, Ukraine’s National Guard incorporated the Azov battalion into its official fold, where it was renamed the Azov regiment.

The military unit has been a favorite bogeyman of the Kremlin, with Russian President Vladimir Putin using the group to justify his attacks against Ukraine as fighting against fascism. Although the group is not broadly popular in Ukraine, its neo-Nazi links are clear. In 2010, the battalion’s founder, Andriy Biletsky, said that Ukraine ought to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade … against Semite-led Untermenschen [subhumans].”

Biletsky could not be reached for comment.

While the regiment still looks to Biletsky for inspiration, he has moved into politics; he served as a member of the Ukrainian parliament from 2014 to 2019 but lost reelection. He now heads the National Corps political party, which has been largely unsuccessful at getting members into elected positions but is using social media to try to grow support. He is also one of the founders of the movement’s Intermarium project, which builds bridges to white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Western Europe and the US.

Although Facebook previously took down Intermarium pages, a new Intermarium page was created on Sept. 9. Run by the National Corps’ international secretary, Olena Semenyaka, it has been sharing news and information about far-right and neo-Nazi figures in Europe and promoting “cultural” events at its Kyiv office.

After a ban, Semenyaka too has reopened Facebook and Instagram accounts under a pseudonym.

Semenyaka did not respond to a request for comment.

Thanks in part to social media, the National Corps has made inroads with white nationalist groups in the US, including the California-based Rise Above Movement, whose members participated in 2017’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, but saw charges over their actions later dropped. In April 2018, RAM founder Robert Rundo visited Kyiv and took part in an Azov-organized fight club. That October, the FBI wrote that it believed Azov was involved in “training and radicalizing United States-based white supremacy organizations.”

Last month, Ukraine deported two American neo-Nazis associated with the US-based Atomwaffen Division who had attempted to set up a local branch of the group with Azov fighters to gain “combat experience.”

As Azov uses Facebook to expand beyond Ukraine’s borders, experts are growing concerned. “The use of violence and the possibility that they could muster large crowds of mostly young men ready to use violence, all of it facilitated by social media,” Schaaf said, “gives them power.”

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Hundreds of British Troops Parachute Into ‘Russia’s Backyard’ to Train With Ukrainian Military

More than 200 British paratroopers parachuted into southern Ukraine between September 15 and 16 in a move that a Ukrainian general described as being a “message for Russia.” Speaking to Sky News, Ukrainian general Yevhan Moysiuk said, “The main message for Russia is that the UK is our true and reliable partner who help us in our hardship. The UK is ready to stand up to Russian aggression with us.” The UK’s Ministry of Defence said that it had trained 18,000 members of the Armed Forces of Ukraine since 2015, adding: “Following the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia … Operation Orbital is a demonstration of the UK’s unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s independence, territorial integrity, and sovereignty.” It shared a tweet saying the troops “dropped into Russia’s backyard.” This footage shows 250 soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade landing in southern Ukraine to conduct training with Ukrainian troops. Credit: UK Ministry of Defence via Storyful

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ACT Labor candidate apologises for hammer and sickle poster that upset Ukrainian community


August 20, 2020 11:56:34

A Labor candidate for the ACT election has apologised for standing in front of a small communist poster, and said she was unaware the picture was behind her.

Key points:

  • Labor candidate Maddy Northam says a communist hammer and sickle poster has been removed from the office she campaigns in
  • Ms Northam says she is sorry to those who were offended by it, but she was unaware she had been standing near it
  • A Ukrainian organisation has likened the symbol to a swastika, saying it represents oppression

Maddy Northam, who is standing for the seat of Kurrajong, posted a photo of her campaign team on Facebook last week.

The photo showed a poster of the hammer and sickle — an emblem strongly associated with the former Soviet Union — on the wall behind her, provoking uproar in parts of the community.

The Canberra Liberals said Labor’s association with the symbol was outrageous and glorified “human torment and suffering”, while the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Associations (AFUA) likened it to the swastika.

Ms Northam told ABC Radio Canberra this morning she had received feedback from some Canberrans about how the symbol made them feel.

She said the poster had since been removed from the Community and Public Sector Union’s office wall, and she thanked those who had discussed it with her.

“I stood in front of it without realising,” she said.

“Even though it wasn’t anything to do with my campaign … I really am sorry for any offence this has caused.

“And again, thank you to those who have reached out to let me know more about what [the symbol] means to them and their families … I am grateful to those people.”

Northam: ‘I wouldn’t have stood in front of it’

After Ms Northam’s photo was shared online, many Canberrans condemned her on social media for not distancing herself from the icon.

The AFUA’s co-chairman, Stefan Romaniw, said earlier this week the hammer and sickle represented oppression, especially to those who had fled the Soviet Union.

“Anyone today who wants to glorify and stand behind the hammer and sickle, and wants to get elected in Australia, really needs to have a think about the oppression that people went through and what the symbol stands for,” he said.

However, others argued the symbol reflected the joint struggle of workers and peasants early last century for better rights.

Ms Northam, who is president of Unions ACT, said she understood the hammer and sickle’s meaning, and did not embrace communism.

“There are also other understandings of the symbol, in terms of workers coming together,” she told the ABC.

“And as I said, I’m really grateful to those who have reached out and my understanding is that the icon has now been removed.

“I certainly didn’t know it was there — if I’d known I wouldn’t have stood in front of it.”

Since the controversy erupted on Tuesday, Ms Northam said her campaign team had had more than “500 conversations with locals and it hasn’t been raised once”.

“They are more talking about how excited they are about the hospital expansion, and how much they appreciate the territory Government’s Jobs for Canberrans fund, and things like that,” she said.

The ACT Legislative Assembly election will take place on October 17.

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Ukrainian and Russian leaders confirm cease-fire in Donbass – POLITICO

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy | Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

In phone call, Zelenskiy and Putin affirm support for an expanded truce starting Monday morning in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Russian President Vladimir Putin affirmed their support on Sunday evening for an expanded cease-fire, taking hold throughout eastern Ukraine just after midnight.

The presidents confirmed their commitment to the truce in a telephone call, during which they also reiterated many of their continuing disagreements over the conflict, in which Russian-backed separatists seized control of much of the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk following the Kremlin’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine, or Donbass as the region is known, has dragged on for six years, killed more than 13,000 and, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, displaced some 1.5 million.

In their phone call on Sunday, Zelenskiy and Putin did agree on one other point: the failure so far to implement the Minsk peace plan sponsored by Germany and France.

A read-out of the call by the Ukrainian presidential administration emphasized the cease-fire was due to take hold at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

“The interlocutors welcomed the agreement on a full and comprehensive cease-fire in the Donbass,” the Ukrainian statement said. “The President of the Russian Federation supported this agreement. The leaders agreed on the urgent need to implement additional measures to support the cease-fire in Donbass. The presidents of the two countries discussed the details of cooperation in terms of de-mining, deployment of forces and means and the opening of new checkpoints on the line of contact.”

According to the Ukrainian statement, they also discussed a need to support the special monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, as well as to grant the International Committee of the Red Cross access to detainees.

But a statement issued by the Kremlin said that Putin had criticized legislation approved by the Ukrainian parliament, setting October 25 as the date for local elections to be held throughout Ukraine — but not in “Russian occupied” territories. The law set forth numerous conditions for the election process in those areas, including the removal of all illegal armed formations and military equipment.

Russia has insisted that local elections should be held in the disputed territories, while Ukraine has insisted that a provision in the Minsk agreement calling for the election to be held in “accordance with the Ukrainian legislation” means Kyiv must first be able to reassert legal authority over the region in order to organize the elections.

“Vladimir Putin characterized the resolution adopted on July 15 by the Verkhovna Rada [parliament] on holding local elections in 2020 as contrary to the Minsk agreements and threatening the prospects for a settlement,” the Kremlin statement said.

Putin insisted, as he has for years, that the Ukrainian government was responsible for the failure to implement the Minsk accord, even though Russia has refused to live up to terms of the accord, but also has continued to assert control over the Ukrainian border, to supply militants with arms and financing, and to issue Russian passports to residents of the territories.

“The President of Russia emphasized that the position, once again voiced by Volodymyr Zelenskiy during the current telephone conversation, that there is no alternative to the Minsk agreements, should be confirmed in the actual actions of the Kyiv authorities,” the Kremlin said.

The Russian statement added that “the presidents also exchanged views on the situation around the coronavirus pandemic.”

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