Ukraine’s protesters are often painted in as sympathetic a light as possible, pro-democracy, pro-Western martyrs being crushed under the heel of a violence crackdown, with former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko serving as their high-profile leader.
But when Klitschko went to Kiev to urge an end to the clashes between protesters and police, it was the radical “Right Sector” protesters who attacked him, as screaming crowds turned a fire extinguisher on him.
Oleh Tyahnybok and other ultranationalists have been feted by Western officials like Sen. John McCain, but their rhetoric (not to mention visual cues) are decidedly Nazi-inspired, seeing the protesters as less about ties with the EU than about asserting Ukrainian independence from a “Moscow Jewish mafia” that they believe is occupying the nation.
The group’s chain-wielding, helmet-wearing protesters have made no bones about spoiling for a fight, and come to the protests looking for excuses to hijack them toward a violent crackdown they believe will start a “revolution.”
How big the Right Sector is remains unclear, with some saying they amount to only 300 or so “committed fighters” and others putting the number deep into the thousands.
The neo-fascist factions are an image problem for the rest of the protesters, couching everything in anti-semitism and appeals to the Fatherland, but in the long run it is their desire to provoke and escalate violence that is likely the bigger concern, keeping the tense situation in Ukraine unresolvable.