Fireworks, smoke-bombs in Kiev as far-right marches on national holiday

Activists hold smoke flares as they take part in a rally held by far-right radical groups, including All-Ukrainian Union Svoboda (Freedom), to mark Defender of Ukraine Day, in Kiev, Ukraine, October 14, 2016. © Valentyn Ogirenko
Fireworks lit the streets of Kiev as thousands of Ukrainian ultranationalists including from the Azov Battalion, Right Sector and the far-right party Svoboda, marched through Kiev to mark Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) day, itself on a national holiday.

At least 3,000 people walked in unison through the streets of Kiev on Friday, holding torches, beating drums and chanting nationalist slogans, according to media reports. Although the date, October 14, is a national holiday – Defender of Ukraine Day – the march was notable for the large contingent of Ukrainian nationalists glorifying a collaborationist past.

At about 3:00pm local time around hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Shevchenko Park, where they listened to speeches about guerrilla fighters from UPA. The UPA, led by Stepan Bandera, collaborated with the Nazis during WWII in an attempt to form an ethnically pure and independent Ukrainian state, massacring thousands of Russians, Poles and Jews. There were also prayers for the Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers killed in the conflict in Donbass.

At around 4:30pm the activists, who had grown in number, left the park and marched through a pre-agreed route through the city. Present at the march was Svoboda politician Oleg Tyagnibok as well as Theodor Dyachun, an elderly veteran of the UPA guerilla war. Shouts of “glory to Ukraine, glory to the heroes!” and “Bandera, our hero!” could be heard.

The march was generally trouble-free, although police had to take a few individuals aside. According to RIA Novosti, officers had to take one activist aside who did not want to present his documents, but no arrests were made. Fireworks and smoke bombs were also lit.

Activists take part in a rally held by the Ukrainian national guard "Azov" regiment and the far-right radical group Right Sector, to mark Defender of Ukraine Day, in Kiev, Ukraine, October 14, 2016. © Gleb Garanich

Many of the demonstrators waved the black-and-red flag of the UPA, as well as the blue-and-yellow flag of Ukraine. The swastika-like flag of the far-right Azov Battalion. Azov Battalion is a volunteer militia active in the east Ukraine conflict, and has been accused of violence and numerous human rights abuses.

Although October 14 was originally a date celebrated by Ukrainian Cossacks, it was also chosen by the UPA as the date to begin their insurgency in 1942. In 2014, President Petro Poroshenko decreed the day a national holiday in Ukraine.

Activists shout slogans as they take part in a rally held by far-right radical groups, including All-Ukrainian Union Svoboda (Freedom), to mark Defender of Ukraine Day, in Kiev, Ukraine, October 14, 2016. © Valentyn Ogirenko