The Ukrainian army has far-right Russophobic extremists who worship the controversial World War II leader Stepan Bandera. The idea appears in recent news, but it is one of the main narratives used by the Russian propaganda ever since the beginning of the Euromaidan.
NEWS: A Ukrainian soldier shot his colleague on January 2, "People's Militia of the LNR" claims, quoted by donbasstoday.ru According to the article, the two soldiers from the 80th brigade of the Ukrainian army were celebrating the birthday of Stepan Bandera, who is “revered” among the Ukrainian armed forces.
NARRATIVES: 1. Ukrainians / Ukrainian soldiers are fascists and Russophobes. 2. (indirectly) The Ukrainian army are direct descendants of Bandera's militia allied with Nazi Germany. 3. In the territory controlled by Kyiv, the Russian language is not welcome.
CONTEXT / LOCAL ETHOS: One of Moscow’s main propaganda lines, ever since the time when the Euromaidan protests broke out, is that there were fascist elements among the demonstrators. When pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych fled, attempts were made to defend the idea that a fascist coup had taken place in Kyiv, and this fascist theme was insistently resumed in the context of the war, this time with the Ukrainian combat units being accused of fascism and neo-Nazism, especially volunteer units, which were later incorporated into the National Guard of Ukraine. Kremlin-affiliated media have written extensively about war crimes and acts of torture allegedly committed by Ukrainian forces, but many of those allegations have been dismantled by the international and Ukrainian press, as well as by Kyiv authorities.
Against the background of accusations of fascism and Nazism, the name of Stepan Bandera came up, a controversial far-right Ukrainian leader, active in the interwar period, during World War II and in the early years of the Cold War. Bandera was an ultra-nationalist and his goal was the formation of a Ukrainian state, and in order to achieve that he allied with Nazi Germany, but when interests started diverging, he became an opponent and got arrested by the Gestapo. The Ukrainians’ feelings towards Bandera seem to be divided. The former leader was demonized during the Soviet period, but in independent Ukraine his rehabilitation has been attempted several times, especially after the break with Russia in 2014.
Bandera's name is used to build propaganda narratives against Ukrainian citizens that support national integrity and pro-European tendencies. For example, the "benderivtsi" stereotype is the best-known term used by the pro-Russian media in the hybrid war against Ukraine. Ukraine is at war with Russia and the Kremlin controls part of the territory of Eastern Ukraine - the Donbass and Lugansk regions, where it supports local separatist regimes.
Since 2014, thousands of Russian soldiers have been stationed in Donbass, participating in hostilities alongside local troops, according to Ukraine’s military intelligence service.
The Kremlin has also taken on the role of protector of Russian communities and the Russian language and uses it to promote the ideology of a "Russian world" ("Ruskii mir"), interventions in other countries, the Russian troops stationed abroad (see Transnistria) and to launch accusations of Russophobia (for example against the Baltic countries.)
PURPOSE: Protecting the Russian language is an ideological pillar used to justify the intervention and promote the Russian influence in the “Russian world”.
WHY THE NARRATIVES ARE FALSE: The news about the murder is completely false: StopFake.org contacted the headquarters of the joint forces operations to comment on a possible conflict between soldiers and to ask if there was any "crime" reported in the 80th brigade at the beginning of the year 2021, but the information was denied. The reports of the OSCE, which is mandated to monitor the situation at the demarcation line with the separatists, make no reference to the so-called crime. The Ukrainian army have not descended from Bandera's militias, but rather from the former Soviet army. There is no radicalization of the armed forces or a cult of Bandera inside them. There is no policy aimed to ban the Russian language.
GRAIN OF TRUTH: There are far-right elements in Ukraine, and some of them took part in the battles in Donbass against Russian forces, not as part of the army, though, but in the militias; these are, in particular, the so-called Azov battalion, which was later incorporated into the National Guard of Ukraine. Stepan Bandera has a controversial image in Ukraine; to part of the population, he is a national hero, and some politicians have taken on his rehabilitation. After 2014, the Kyiv government has made efforts to impose the Ukrainian language, and a State Language Law promoting the Ukrainian language has been criticized by the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe and some countries, especially the Russian Federation and Hungary. The law applies to all minorities, not just Russian speakers, and by no means bans minority languages; its purpose seems to be, rather, to launch a process of de-Russification, given that a large part of Ukraine's population has been strongly Russified.
OFFICIAL REACTIONS: Ukrainian army representatives strongly deny the accusations about the killing of the militant.