Tuesday 1 March 2022

The History and Legacy of Ukrainian Xenophobia

The Ukrainian Flag with OUN Stripes (Credit: Lord David1996/Deviant Art)

One aspect of the Russia-Ukraine Crisis which has not been dwelled upon by the Western mainstream media has been the abuse and hostility shown by Ukrainian police and border guards towards black Africans and other non-whites including Indians who have sought to be evacuated from the country. Although Ukraine has a small black and non-white population, the question of extremist racial sentiment among the former nations of the Eastern Bloc has been periodically scrutinised. Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that part of the rationale for his intervention was to effect the “deNazification” of the Ukrainian state.  It is therefore important to recapitulate on the history of xenophobia in Ukraine which has been a central component of its expression of national identity. 

The country known as Ukraine has a terrible legacy of xenophobia including Jew hatred which led to anti-Jewish pogroms in the 1920s during the era of Symon Petliura and in the 1940s during the era of Stephan Bandera and the Organisation of Ukranian Nationalists (OUN).

It should not be forgotten that detachments of the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police aided the German Einsatzgruppe formations which perpetrated the anti-Jewish massacres at Babi Yar.

Ukranians formed a large proportion (the majority by most estimates) of the Nazi concentration camp guards known as "Trawniki men".

Today in Ukraine large crowds gather at neo-Nazi parades honouring the Ukrainians who fought for the Third Reich in the Waffen-SS Galician unit, as well as for the Nictengall and Roland Divisions which were under the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence).

It is no surprise therefore that one arm of the Ukrainian armed forces, the Azov Battalion, is an explicitly neo-Nazi group. The founder of the battalion, Andriy Biletsky, once stated that “(Ukraine’s) historic mission at this critical juncture is to lead the final march of the white race towards its survival. This is a march against sub-humans who are led by the Semite race.”

The US-sponsored coup d'etat of February 2014 relied on ultranationalist and neo-Nazi militias including Pravy Sektor and Spilna Sprava. The far right Svoboda Party was co-opted  into the anti-Russian opposition by the foreign backers of Maidan. Svoboda  members were seen at rallies wearing T-shirts bearing slogans such as "Bash the Kikes". But all appeared to be forgiven when almost overnight the leader of Svoboda, Oleh Tyahnybok, who had once spoken about  liberating Ukraine from what he described as the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia” told the Israeli ambassador that the party was "no longer anti-Semitic".

It does not sound particularly convincing but the likes of the late Senator John McCain and Victoria Nuland, the Jewish State Department official, had no problems meeting and greeting him.

And using him.

But while the "new" Ukraine can boast of two Jewish leaders of state, President Volodymyr Zelensky and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, the undercurrent of ferocious anti-Jewish sentiment prevails. Previous recent Ukrainian political leaders including Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk,  President Petro Poroshenko, and Yulia Tymoshenko are claimed by many sources to have downplayed their Jewish origins.

The presence of persons of Jewish origin in business, politics and other spheres have formed the basis of occasional public outbursts such as that of Nadiya Savchenko, a national war hero, who in 2017 stated: “I have nothing against Jews. I do not like ‘kikes.’” She also said that Jews possess “80 percent of the power when they only account for 2 percent of the population.”

In a nation with such a torrid history of ethnic mass murders (including ethnic Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia) and one in which the Holodomor (mass starvation of Ukranians in the 1930s) is seen as the handiwork of Jewish Bolsheviks led by Lazar Kaganovich, the legacy of anti-Russian and anti-Jewish sentiment provides a powerful backdrop to the naked racism on display against non-whites.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2022).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

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