The controversial Azov Battalion defending Mariupol | WORLD | DW

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A short video shows the screen of a military vehicle believed to belong to a Ukrainian passing through a village-like location near Mariupol. One of the side streets, a tank marked with the letter “Z”, which is the symbol of the Russian army of Ukraine, appears on the screen. After that, several gunshots and a vehicle presumed to be a Russian tank burned.

This video was posted on the social media platform Telegram by “Azov Battalion” earlier this week. The group also issued a statement claiming to have destroyed three Russian armored vehicles, four tanks, and a “many infantry” in one day. The “Azov” fighter immediately shared a photo of a uniformed corpse, identifying it as belonging to a Russian general. It is very difficult to confirm the accuracy of all these claims.

The infamous “Azov Battalion” is one of the prominent groups in the defense of the city of Mariupol. The city, along with the capital Kyiv and the country’s second largest city, Kharkov, is one of Russia’s brutal war centers. People living in Mariupol, with a population of 500,000, have been heavily bombarded under Russian siege since early March. There is no electricity and water distribution in the city. Food stocks are declining.

Russian-speaking Ukrainian nationalist

The headquarters of “Azov” is in Mariupol. The “Azov Battalion”, which is part of the National Guard, is a unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine. Well-trained fighter units are also a very controversial group because their members are nationalists and far-right. Russia also cites the existence of an alliance as one of the reasons for the war with Ukraine.

Mariupol is one of the most damaged cities in the Ukrainian war.

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“Azov” was established in 2014 in Berdyans’k as a volunteer battalion to support Ukrainian troops against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Some of the battalion fighters were members of a small but active far-right organization, formerly known as the “right wing.” At the core of the organization in question was composed of people living in eastern Ukraine, who spoke Russian and advocated the unification of the people of eastern Slav, namely Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians. Some of them were hooligans of various soccer teams, while others were radicals of the nationalist world.

“These were groups that could be described as Germany’s free” camerad shafts “(far-right student groups formed at the university during Hitler’s time), Andreas Umland of the Center for Eastern European Studies in Stockholm told Deutsche Welle. rice field.

However, “Azov” is a controversial formation due to the name “Wolfs Angel” that he used from the beginning. “Wolf’s Angel has a far-right implication, which is a pagan symbol used by the SS army,” Umland said, adding that the Ukrainian people do not recognize this symbol as a sign of fascism. The “Azov Battalion” also claims that this Nazi-era symbol is actually composed of the letters “N” and “I” and stands for “Nationale Idea”.

Military and political organizations

Andriy Bileskiy, 42, the founder and leader of “Azov”, graduated from the Faculty of History of the University of Kharkiv and has been active in the far right circle for many years. In the summer of 2014, Azov, whose power was limited at the time, also contributed to the recapture of Mariupol from pro-Russian separatists. Azov, who became a battalion in the fall of the same year, had about 1,000 fighters, cannons and tanks, according to media sources before the start of the Ukrainian War. The Ukrainian government at the time also decided in 2014 to integrate this super-nationalist group into the national structure.

From 2015 to 2016, a movement called the political sector of “Azov” was formed. Bileskiy, who left the battalion’s command, set up a party called the “National Army” with former combatants, but this party was not very successful in the elections. Bileskiy, who was directly elected to the Ukrainian Parliament at the time, remained outside the Parliament in the 2019 elections. According to his own statement, Andriy Bilezkiy has been actively involved in the conflict on the Kyiv front since the day Russia attacked Ukraine.

A Russian tank was shot down in Brovary near Kyiv, Ukraine.

A Russian tank was shot down in Brovary near Kyiv, Ukraine.

“Azov Battalion”

In 2019, the United States (USA) Congress attempted to classify “Azov Battalion” as a “terrorist organization” with no results. The organization is known to have been in contact with far-right groups in other countries for years. In response to a related question on the left, one of the opposition parties in the Bundestag, the federal government said “Azov” was also in contact with the German group.

According to Andreas Umland, Russian propaganda is one of the reasons why the “Azov Battalion” became a myth. He said many charges were made against volunteer fighters during the 2014 war in eastern Ukraine, and that members of “Azov” were one of those accused of theft and misconduct. increase.

“Under normal circumstances, far-right extremism is seen as a dangerous thing that can cause war,” Umland said, emphasizing that in Ukraine the trend is in the opposite direction. According to Umland, the war in Ukraine led to the rise of far-right groups and their transformation into political movements. Meanwhile, Umland, who believes the impact of these groups on Ukrainian society is exaggerated, states that for the majority of Ukrainians, the “Azov” militants are fighters that protect their country from very powerful enemies. increase.

Goncharenko in Rome

© Deutsche Welle English

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