Understanding Ukrainian Nationalism: History, Modern Politics, and Myths

Hello, this is Konstantin Skorkin.

I have been independent journalist and researcher of Ukrainian politics, with a background in history. For about 10 years, I worked as a political journalist in Ukraine, and in recent years, I have been writing about this country for the Moscow Carnegie Center, “Meduza”, and other independent media outlets.

Having started the aggressive war, Vladimir Putin repeatedly stated that its goal was the “denazification” of Ukraine, which, supposedly, is under the control of neo-Nazi forces. These words crowned the Kremlin’s years-long information campaign against Ukraine. This campaign intensified after the victory of Euromaidan in 2014, which pro-Kremlin media call a “state coup.”

At the same time, many independent analysts, including Ukrainian ones, have repeatedly noted that the victory of the 2014 revolution did indeed lead to an increase in nationalist sentiments in Ukrainian society – and to the legitimization of far-right politicians.

The topic of Ukrainian nationalism has long been at the center of information warfare. It has its own mythology, and there are many speculations and outright lies surrounding it. Today, during a war under the slogan of “de-Nazification”, understanding this topic is particularly important in order to separate political realities from propaganda constructs.

The topic of my letter is Ukrainian nationalism. Its history, influence on modern Ukrainian politics, and myths surrounding it.


The topic of Ukrainian nationalism is large and complex. Therefore, this is a long text of over 30,000 characters.

The text consists of seven parts. The introduction briefly explains the main concepts. The first chapter tells about the roots of Ukrainian nationalism. The second describes the ties of Ukrainian nationalists with the leadership of Nazi Germany. The third is dedicated to the personality of Stepan Bandera. From the fourth, you will learn about modern Ukrainian nationalism. The fifth provides more details about the “Right Sector”* and the “Azov” battalion. Finally, the sixth is dedicated to how Russian propaganda talks about Ukrainian nationalism.

Allow about 30 minutes for reading. If you don’t have that much time, you can skip the historical chapters and start reading from the fourth one – which means going straight to modern Ukrainian nationalism. However, in this case, you will not understand the context. Another way to save reading time is to skip the paragraphs that we have marked in gray. They contain additional information that you can return to if you want to delve deeper into the subject.

The text uses open sources on history, sociology, and political science (we provide links to them). Independent researchers helped to systematize knowledge and provide them with a historical assessment. These include Anton Shekhovtsov, director of the Austrian Centre for Democratic Integrity and a specialist on European far-right movements; Vyacheslav Likhachev, a Ukrainian human rights defender, head of the Monitoring Group on the Rights of National Minorities, and a specialist on far-right movements; and Nikolay Mitrokhin, a research fellow at the Research Center for Eastern Europe at the University of Bremen.

Introduction. What is nationalism? How does it differ from Nazism and fascism?

Let’s start by analyzing the concepts. Nationalism arose in Europe at the same time as the formation of modern nations and national states – in the era of bourgeois revolutions of the 17th-18th centuries. As a result of these revolutions, the socially and religiously stratified society was replaced by a civil-secular one.

What is a nation? British sociologist Benedict Anderson considers it an “imagined community” – one that is based on mental similarity between its participants rather than on their direct communication experience. “Members of even the smallest nation will never know the majority of their fellow nationals, meet them, or even hear about them, while in the minds of each of them lives the image of their unity,” Anderson writes.

Every nation that identifies itself through a common language, culture, and traditions, strives to separate itself from others. This is called sovereignty. The pinnacle of such sovereignty is the creation of a national state. Accordingly, nationalism is a political ideology that considers the nation to be the highest form of social unity and primary for the creation of a state.

There are many typologies of nationalism, but two main ones are distinguished. These are civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism.

Civil nationalism is typical for developed democratic communities. According to it, each person has the right to voluntarily determine their affiliation with a particular nation and obtain the corresponding citizenship. Ethnic nationalism is typical for developing communities. It emphasizes the commonality of ethnic origin and “ancestral heritage”. In other words, a person is who they are born as, regardless of who they would like to be.

Thus, civil nationalism is inclusive, welcoming the expansion and cultural enrichment of the nation through those who want to identify with it. Ethnic nationalism, on the other hand, is exclusive and builds its ideology on the rejection of others.

At the same time, nationalism is not equivalent to xenophobia. However, in the modern political vocabulary, nationalist forces are usually called those that profess extreme forms of ethno-nationalism.

Russian propaganda often equates nationalism with fascism or Nazism, emphasizing extreme nationalism in neighboring countries, primarily Ukraine. But these are different concepts.

Fascism is an ideology of authoritarian militaristic ultra-nationalism. It was applied in corporatist states, where key government bodies are formed by representatives of professional corporations, strictly selected by the government. Nazism (or national socialism) is a variety of fascism implemented in Nazi Germany. This ideology is based on social Darwinism and assumes that there are higher and lower races of people.

In 1995, the Italian writer and philosopher Umberto Eco published an essay “Eternal Fascism,” in which he identified 14 signs of this ideology. Many of them can be found in modern Russia today. These include xenophobia, seeing life as a continuous war (and dissent with the authorities as collaboration with the enemy), rejection of “any nonconformist sexual habits,” obsession with conspiracy theories and the cult of the “besieged fortress” idea, elitism and contempt for the weak, and the use of “newspeak”.

Chapter One. How did Ukrainian nationalism arise?

Ukrainian nationalism emerged in the middle of the 19th century. Ukrainian historian Yaroslav Hrytsak classifies it as a nationalism of “stateless peoples” since the lands of present-day Ukraine at that time were divided between the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires.

What does “non-state people” mean? Historian and political activist of Ukraine Mikhail Hrushevsky, who developed the concept of the country’s history, considers the Kievan Rus and its successor, the Galician-Volyn principality, as the source and prototype of Ukrainian statehood. Later, these lands came under the rule of other states – Lithuania, Poland, and the Moscow Tsardom. And then – the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. That is, the people of Ukraine did not have their own state for centuries, existing as part of others. But at the same time, they strove for sovereignty.

The ideologists of the national revival at that time believed that the Ukrainian nation had lost its statehood and elite in the past. And its national spirit sleeps in the people, preserving the language and the foundations of culture.

They believed that the task of conscious intelligentsia was to “awaken the people” and become a new national elite. Similar attitudes were typical for other Slavic nations who found themselves under the rule of empires: Czechs, Slovaks, and southern Slavs. Writers and poets played a big role in such a “national revival.” For example, in Ukraine, the poet Taras Shevchenko became famous, who is considered the creator of modern Ukrainian literature, and his collection “Kobzar” is one of the foundations of the Ukrainian literary language.

Although the cradle of the nation was located on the Dnieper River, the center of political shaping of the Ukrainian national movement became Western Ukraine (at that time – Galicia or Halychyna), which was part of Austria-Hungary.

This was facilitated by the liberal political system of Austria-Hungary and opportunities for free printing (in Russia, the publication of books in the “Little Russian dialect” was finally banned in 1876). In addition, political emigrants from Ukrainian provinces of the Russian Empire flocked to Lviv.

In St. Petersburg, there was a negative attitude towards the growth of the Ukrainian national movement and it was considered as “Mazepa-ism”. This means that supporters of this movement were considered followers of Hetman Ivan Mazepa, who in Russian historical tradition was a traitor to the cause of building the Russian Empire.

In addition, the Ukrainian movement was seen as an “Austrian intrigue”, with the belief that Austrian authorities were providing political support. Therefore, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Russian guardians – particularly Mikhail Katkov, Sergei Shchegolev, and Vasily Shulgin – wrote extensively about how the Ukrainian language and the idea of a separate Ukrainian nation were allegedly artificially created (this myth later unchanged entered modern anti-Ukrainian propaganda).

The First World War led to the collapse of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. After that, the first attempts were made to create Ukrainian statehood. These were the Ukrainian People’s Republic, the Skoropadsky Hetmanate, and the West Ukrainian People’s Republic. But they were defeated by more powerful neighbors.

In 1921, the territory of present-day Ukraine was practically divided between Soviet Russia and Poland. The defeat in the war for Ukrainian independence led to the radicalization of nationalism in society. And in 1929, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) appeared. It adhered to the ideology of “integral nationalism“, a Ukrainian version of which was developed by philosopher and political activist Dmitry Doncov. Supporters of this movement believed that the interests of the ethnic community were above the interests of the individual, they were xenophobic and practiced a cult of strength.

One of the first researchers of “integral nationalism” – the 20th century historian Ivan Lysyak-Rudnytsky – believes that Ukrainian radical nationalism was more similar to authoritarian nationalist movements in Central and Southeastern Europe, rather than classic fascist movements in Italy and Germany. He refers to the Ustashe in Croatia, Glinkovtsy in Slovakia, and the Iron Guard in Romania.

In turn, historian Yaroslav Hrytsak notes that the ideology of the OUN was indeed influenced to a significant extent by fascism. Ukrainian nationalists took not only ideas from it such as belief in the nation as the highest value, the cult of war and violence, the superiority of the will over reason, and worship of a leader or a national-revolutionary party, but also symbols and rituals. However, the OUN was still not fully fascist: its members did not share the ideas of racism or the theory of a chosen nation.

Another Ukrainian historian, Georgy Kasyanov, highlights several differences between the ideology of the OUN and fascism. He points out that the main goal of Ukrainian nationalists was national liberation, not the subordination of other nations. In addition, Ukrainian nationalism emerged in a predominantly agrarian society, while the movements of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini were products of urbanized societies.

Chapter Two. How were Ukrainian nationalists linked to fascist Germany?

The most controversial stage of the development of Ukrainian nationalism was the period of World War II.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Ukrainian nationalists aligned themselves with Nazi Germany as the main enemy of the states that had divided Ukrainian lands (i.e. the USSR and Poland). They hoped that Hitler would help them create their own state, as happened in Croatia and Slovakia.

However, Germany viewed Ukrainian nationalists only as auxiliary forces. Moreover, on June 30, 1941, in Lviv, it did not support the attempt of the Banderaites (we will talk about Stepan Bandera’s personality in detail below) to proclaim Ukrainian independence. As a result, a part of the OUN even fell under repression and went underground. However, another part continued to cooperate with the fascist occupation administrations.

The most painful points of Ukrainian history during this period are the involvement of representatives of Ukrainian nationalists in the Holocaust and the organization by the OUN militants of ethnocleansing of Poles in Volyn.

In 1941, the congress of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists recognized Poles and Jews as hostile minorities on the territory of the future independent Ukrainian state. But did Ukrainian nationalists really participate in the killings of Jews – one of the most controversial and politicized questions in Ukrainian history. There is no documentary evidence of direct instructions from the leadership of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists to destroy Jews. However, the author of a critical biography of the leader of one of the factions of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, Stepan Bandera, Grzegorz Rossolinski-Lieb, believes that the organization still bears political responsibility for mass violence against Jews on Ukrainian soil. In particular, in the pogrom in Lviv in 1941, police squads formed under the auspices of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists took part.

The events on Volhynia in 1942-1944 were caused by a long-standing interethnic conflict between Poles and Ukrainians. It escalated after Volhynia was incorporated into Poland under the Riga Peace Treaty of 1921. At that time, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (or UPA, which we will also tell more about) organized ethnic cleansing of Poles. And the underground Polish military organization “Armia Krajowa” carried out retaliatory actions. As a result, between 40 and 60 thousand Poles and between 10 and 20 thousand Ukrainians were killed.

These events still complicate Ukraine’s relations with Israel and Poland, especially after Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko posthumously awarded Stepan Bandera and UPA commander Roman Shukhevych with the title of Hero of Ukraine in 2010. In addition, Yushchenko advocated for UPA fighters to be granted veteran status, but the final decision was made under President Petro Poroshenko, who held the post of Ukrainian President from 2014 to 2019. He also conducted decommunization.

Canadian historian of Ukrainian origin John-Paul Himka notes that there are two approaches to the perception of these events in Ukraine. The first is held by traditionalists, and the second by so-called supporters of Ukraine’s modernization.

Traditionalists seek to defend the reputation of the nation, the OUN and the UPA*. They deny that Ukrainians were involved in the extermination of Jews during World War II because “it is difficult for them to imagine a complex narrative that also included dark spots [in the history of Ukrainian nationalism],” writes Khimka.

*OUN – Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists; UPA – Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

At the same time, supporters of updating “want to take a risk and create a more complex narrative.” They are ready to acknowledge that Ukrainians are involved in the described tragic events.

Among the supporters of the update is Ukrainian historian Sofya Gracheva, who in the 2000s studied the role of Ukrainian nationalists in the Jewish pogroms of 1941. Another one is Ukrainian researcher Marta Havryshko. In 2021 she wrote: “Studies that present a version of history that is not quite the same as what is presented in textbooks provoke rejection and suspicion, provoke conflicts, protests from various circles. Historians who dare to take on such topics often hear accusations that they are working for the intelligence agencies of other countries or at least, without realizing it themselves, harm Ukraine’s image on the international arena.”

Chapter three. Who is Stepan Bandera and how did he become the main figure in anti-Ukrainian propaganda?

In the 1930s-1940s, several people emerged among Ukrainian nationalists, about whom there is still dispute – and whose images are actively used by Russian propaganda. Of course, the main figure here is the leader of one of the factions of the OUN, Stepan Bandera.

The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) was founded by veterans of the struggle for independence of Ukraine from 1917 to 1921, Evgeny Konovalets and Andrey Melnik. Both relied on support from Germany.

However, over time, a split arose between the top of the organization and its underground fighters in Poland. Bandera was an active participant in the OUN’s terrorist struggle against the Polish administration. For the radical wing of the organization, he seemed like the ideal leader. This wing relied on its own strength and organization of partisan warfare.

In 1940, the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) finally split: the more active faction of Bandera supporters (“Banderaites”) gradually became the symbol of the movement, and in 1942 formed their own partisan army – the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)*.

At first, supporters of the UPA* fought against the Nazis. But then, after the arrival of the Soviet army in Western Ukraine, they began to fight against the Soviet forces. Bandera himself played a somewhat symbolic role in this movement: he spent almost the entire Second World War in German prisons and camps.

In 1941, the Germans arrested Bandera for his support of the Act of Independence of Ukraine and sent him to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. There he was held in a block with improved conditions for high-ranking prisoners. Bandera was released in October 1944. The Germans tried to recruit him as a collaborator, but they could not come to an agreement with him.

In the post-war years, Bandera became the leader of anti-communist resistance in Western Ukraine. From exile, he led a fierce partisan war against Sovietization. This struggle continued until 1950, when the main forces of the UPA* were defeated. But individual groups of the organization resisted for several more years, until 1956. And in 1959 in Munich, Bandera was assassinated by KGB agent Bogdan Stashinsky.

Bandera’s figure is very mythologized in modern Ukraine. From a real person, he turned into an abstract standard of a fighter for independence. This image actually has little in common with the real leader of the OUN.

According to Ukrainian-German political analyst Andreas Umland, Ukraine was even lucky that Bandera never gained real power. “People have an idealized view of Bandera, a selective vision of Bandera’s Ukraine. If the OUN had come to power, it would have behaved similarly to the Croatian Ustasha. They, having gained power for a time, created concentration camps for Serbs,” he explains.

Positive attitude towards Bandera is more typical for Western Ukraine. And overall, society is almost evenly divided: according to a survey conducted in 2018 by the Ukrainian sociological agency “Rating”, 36% of respondents had a positive attitude towards Stepan Bandera, while 34% had a negative attitude.

Soviet propaganda and its legacy play a significant role in how Bandera is still perceived in both Ukraine and Russia. Historian from the University of Bremen, Nikolay Mitrokhin, notes in a conversation with Kit that since the 1970s, Soviet television portrayed the image of the Bandera movement as “an image of infernal evil, murderers, leaving only corpses behind.”

This image has merged with pre-war myths about the artificiality of the Ukrainian language and everything Ukrainian in general. Thus, the modern canon of Ukrainian-phobic propaganda was formed.

Chapter Four: Modern Ukrainian Nationalism – how it became established?

Modern Ukrainian radical nationalism is based on the ideas of the OUN. It began to revive after the collapse of the USSR and Ukraine’s gaining of independence.

One of the most well-known political forces of this movement was the Social-National Party that emerged in Ukraine in 1991. In 2004 it was renamed as the “Freedom” party.

The party’s ideology established the concept of “ethnocracy“. It was developed by one of the ideologists of the OUN, Mykola Sciborsky (killed in 1941). The first logo of the party resembled the Wolfsangel (“wolf’s hook”), which was used in the symbolism of the Nazi SS. As the party developed, it became less radical, and its logo became a stylized trident. For a long time, the party remained a regional project in Western Ukraine, but after its renaming in 2004, it began positioning itself as a pan-national right-wing party. The leader of “Svoboda” is Lviv politician Oleg Tyagnybok.

The “Bandera” flank of Ukrainian politics until relatively recently was also represented by the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists and the structures of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, which moved to Ukraine from abroad in the early 1990s. Both of these organizations were led from the early 1990s to the beginning of the 2000s by Yaroslava Stetsko – the widow of one of Stepan Bandera’s deputies in the OUN-UPA*. They even had their own militant wing – the “Tryzub named after Stepan Bandera“*. But in the 2000s, both the Congress and the OUN lost their political influence and popularity. And the “Tryzub” in 2014 merged with the “Right Sector”*, about which we will tell you below.

The Ukrainian National Assembly (UNA) and its militant wing, the Ukrainian National Self-Defense (UNSO), emerged in the 1990-1991s, with their headquarters located in a mansion. UNA-UNSO was oriented towards a whimsical postmodernist ideology that combined far-right and extreme-left ideas (similar to the National Bolsheviks in Russia). This ideology included not only resistance to Moscow’s neo-imperialism but also a desire to make Ukraine a new leader in the post-Soviet space. Therefore, UNA-UNSO militants actively participated in all significant conflicts of the 1990s, including in Transnistria (on the side of the separatists), in Chechnya (on the side of the Chechen separatists), and in Abkhazia (on the side of the Abkhazians).

An important figure of this movement was the nationalist publicist Dmitry Korchinsky. Later, he withdrew from the organization and began to adhere to even more exotic views – “Orthodox Jihadism” and Eurasianism (for example, Korchinsky collaborated with philosopher Alexander Dugin and pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine).

In the early 2000s, several splits occurred within the organization, causing it to lose its significance. In 2014, its remnants also merged into the “Right Sector”.

The position of nationalist political parties in post-Soviet Ukraine in the 1990s and 2000s was rather marginal. For example, there were practically no nationalists among Members of Parliament in the Verkhovna Rada. Right-wing leaders were unable to offer society an attractive vision for the future, and their ideology was fixated on the theories and practices of the 1930s-1940s. In the modern world, this looked archaic. Moreover, xenophobia and a propensity for violence did not align well with the course towards European integration that the Ukrainian authorities had proclaimed.

The situation changed after Viktor Yanukovych came to power in 2010 – his pro-Russian foreign policy and the curtailment of Ukrainianization in internal politics gave impetus to the growth of nationalism’s popularity.

It was during Yanukovych’s presidency (February 2010-February 2014) that the far-right achieved its greatest success in elections. At that time, the “Freedom” party received 10.4% of the vote and formed its own faction in the Verkhovna Rada. Democratic parties did not adhere to the policy of a moratorium on cooperation with radical nationalists, which liberal-democratic forces in the European Union follow, notes political scientist Andreas Umland (in particular, the parties of Yulia Tymoshenko’s “Fatherland” and UDAR Klitschko joined forces with “Freedom”).

The rise of interest among Ukrainians in right-wing parties contributed to the fact that during the protest actions on Maidan in 2013-2014, radical nationalists became a noticeable force.

Chapter Five. What are “Azov” and “Right Sector”? And what is their weight in Ukrainian politics?

The Euromaidan of 2014 led to the emergence of new generation nationalist forces oriented towards modern European far-right movements.

Previously apolitical football fans actively joined these forces – they became one of the driving forces of the Ukrainian revolution in the mid-tens. At the same time, an important feature of the time became the active participation of Russian-speaking youth from the southeast of the country in the movement.

Among the “born of revolution” are two key figures of the new Ukrainian nationalism (and the organizations associated with them).

  • Dmytro Yarosh and the “Right Sector“. Yarosh is a native of the Dnipropetrovsk region and an active participant in the “Bandera movement”. He was a member of the leadership of “Trident named after Bandera”. After the beginning of clashes with law enforcement on Maidan, he founded a new nationalist movement called the “Right Sector”. Soon it became a symbol of the entire ultra-right flank in Ukraine. In 2014, Yarosh was elected a member of parliament, but already in 2015, due to disagreements, he left the “Right Sector”. Currently, Yarosh is an advisor to the Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
  • Andrey Biletsky and “Azov“. The Kharkiv resident Biletsky was the leader of the far-right organization “Patriot of Ukraine” with a racist bias (and called himself the “White Leader”). One of the goals of “Patriot of Ukraine” was to fight illegal migration. At the time of the 2014 revolution, Biletsky was in prison on charges of an armed attack on a young man named Sergey Kolesnik and was granted amnesty after the victory of Euromaidan. After the start of the war in Donbass, he organized the volunteer battalion “Azov”, which played a significant role in the battles for Mariupol in 2014 and was included in the National Guard of the Ministry of Internal Affairs system. Some Ukrainian media believe that Biletsky is patronized by the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Arsen Avakov. Based on the veteran base of “Azov”, Biletsky created the “National Corps” party, and in 2014 he was elected a deputy of the Verkhovna Rada. Biletsky stopped having any relationship with “Azov” as a unit of the National Guard at the end of 2014. However, he actively used his involvement in its creation for political PR.

Ultra-right activists were indeed active participants in Euromaidan and played a role in forming volunteer battalions in Donbass. But it cannot be said that their ideology became popular in Ukraine. For example, all ultra-right associations lost parliamentary elections in 2014 and 2019 and were only able to bring those candidates to the Verkhovna Rada who won in specific majoritarian districts.

If in 2014 six representatives of “Svoboda” made it into the Ukrainian parliament, four deputies previously associated with UNA-UNSO* and Korchinsky’s “Brotherhood” party (they passed through the list of populist “Radical party” of Oleg Lyashko), as well as two far-right self-nominated candidates (Yarosh and Biletska), then in 2019 only one “Svoboda” deputy remained in the Rada. And in local elections, the right-wing succeeded only in Western Ukraine: now mayors in Ivano-Frankivsk, Khmelnitsky and Ternopil are representatives of “Svoboda”.

Ultra-right-wing groups primarily wield a certain influence in street politics. Their ability to quickly mobilize their activists, with whom the police are extremely reluctant to engage in confrontation, is essentially their main achievement since the times of the Maidan.

The far-right managed to monopolize street violence in Ukraine, pushing out their traditional opponents from the 90s and 2000s – the Communists and pro-Russian activists. In this new street environment, new political leaders emerged, such as Odessa activist Sergei Sternenko, a former member of the Right Sector. He was convicted of kidnapping a pro-Russian activist, and was also under investigation for murder in self-defense (some considered his cases politically motivated). Over time, he transformed from a nationalist into a national-liberal politician.

The attitude towards the activity of the right-wing in Ukrainian society is ambiguous: on the one hand, they are perceived as an unusual guardian of national interests, ready to defend the country at the first call. On the other hand, their activity often comes down to riots and violence. For example, there are known cases of attacks by ultra-right on Roma camps, gay parades and actions of left-wing forces, as well as their anti-Semitic and racist actions.

Therefore, a specific consensus has formed in Ukrainian society. It is customary to acknowledge the contribution of the right-wing to the defense of the country, but at the same time consider their xenophobic views unacceptable. This, in turn, also influences the nationalist environment itself: it strives for public legitimacy and therefore refuses the most odious manifestations of xenophobia and behavior. Roughly speaking, it stops “Heiling”.

Chapter six. How is Ukrainian nationalism portrayed in propaganda?

Russian propaganda automatically classified almost any politician of the country as “Ukrainian nationalists” or even “Ukrainian Nazis”. Thus, both the moderate national-liberal Petro Poroshenko and the Russian-speaking populist Vladimir Zelensky were considered “Nazis” (especially when their policies were at odds with the Kremlin’s interests).

Russian President Vladimir Putin has even called Viktor Medvedchuk – an influential pro-Russian politician and head of the party “Opposition Platform – For Life”, whom the media calls “Putin’s godfather” – a “Ukrainian nationalist.” As Ukrainian journalist Sergei Grabovsky once noted, Medvedchuk’s “nationalism” consists only in the fact that he considers Russians and Ukrainians to be different peoples, while Putin sees them as one.

Russian propaganda has always exaggerated the extent of nationalist sentiments in Ukrainian society. Yes, real cases involving far-right groups were used for this purpose. But these cases were presented as if they were something ordinary and widespread throughout the country.

Maidan was the work of the far-right, claims Russian propaganda. This can be easily refuted by simple statistics. Only a few hundred fighters of the “Right Sector”* (its leader Dmitry Yarosh estimated their numbers at 500 in February 2014) took part in those events, while the Maidan self-defense, formed from ordinary citizens, numbered several thousand (according to the Euromaidan commander Andriy Parubiy – 12 thousand people in the same February 2014). However, the argument about the participation of the far-right in the events on Maidan was such an important part of the information war for the Russian authorities that in April 2014, the number of mentions of the “Right Sector”* in Russian media was equal to the number of mentions of “United Russia”.

This technique is actively used by Russian propagandists both before and after February 24, 2022. Now, the focus is on the special police force “Azov” which is portrayed as a radical nationalist group. However, the expert on ultra-right movements Vyacheslav Likhachev notes that “the majority of ultra-right fighters left the unit by the end of 2014.” “Remnants of right-wing radicals who openly articulated their views were deliberately “purged” [to improve the image] by the new leadership of the unit in 2017,” he emphasizes.

In the conditions of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the conversation about ultraright is unproductive, according to Likhachev: “Ultrapright is an internal political problem that practically does not exist at the moment. All nationalist activity has gone to the front, while making up only 1% of the total number of fighters. It can’t even be said that any of their leaders are getting political capital in the rear at the expense of their fighters at the front. Currently, ultraright does not exist as an articulated political subject in the country.”

However, “Ukrainian fascism” remains an important tool of Russian propaganda. Moreover, it is used both for internal and external audiences.

The surveyed experts note that the topic of “ultra-right domination” in Ukraine remains perhaps the only ideological trump card for the Kremlin abroad to explain its actions towards the country. However, as Anton Shekhovtsov, an expert in European ultra-right movements, points out, since the annexation of Crimea, this trump card no longer has such an impact on the West.

Ukrainian nationalism is a complex historical phenomenon. It emerged as a desire among Ukrainians to create their own state in the conditions of the struggle for survival on the “bloody lands”, as American historian Timothy Snyder wrote. It became significantly radicalized, and therefore history remembers not only examples of its heroism, but also its crimes.

By the end of the 20th century, it seemed that Ukraine had finally embarked on the path of peaceful creation of a European state. Radical displays of nationalism on this path seemed archaic and self-defeating.

However, Russia’s neo-imperial policy in the 21st century has reinvigorated nationalist sentiments in Ukrainian society. And Kremlin propaganda has fueled hysteria surrounding Ukrainian nationalism, greatly exaggerating its influence.

Paradoxically, it was the Kremlin’s policy that largely contributed to ensuring that radical Ukrainian nationalism did not remain just a page in a history book.