Ukrainian Militia Behind Brutal Romany Attacks Getting State Funds

KYIV -- Amid a recent wave of far-right attacks against minority groups, human rights activists have questioned how Ukrainian police could stand and watch the violence and destruction unfold.

But it seems they may now have an explanation: some of the groups involved receive financial support from the Ukrainian government.

C14, a group whose members have openly expressed neo-Nazi views and been involved in the recent violent attacks on Romany camps in Kyiv, and the far-right affiliated Svoboda political party, are the recipients of Youth and Sports Ministry grants for "national-patriotic education projects," according to a June 13 report by Hromadske Radio.

The report's information comes directly from a video that the Youth and Sports Ministry published itself on YouTube on June 8 that shows its officials voting unanimously to fund the organizations.

That these far-right extremist groups have been awarded grants from the Ukrainian government is likely to be of great concern to Kyiv's Western backers and leading international human rights organizations, four of which published an open letter to authorities on June 14 decrying what they called a sharp spike in political violence from these groups, who they say pose a great danger to Ukrainian democracy.

In a statement published on its website, the Youth and Sports Ministry said it does not directly finance any public groups, including far-right ones, but does finance the projects of those groups.

"Through project contests, budget funds are allocated solely to support the implementation of projects of public organizations," it said.

The ministry said that, in its consideration of projects, "the commission analyzes projects for xenophobia and discrimination, but not the activities of a specific organization that is submitting this project."

It added: "By the way, several projects that have won are aimed specifically at overcoming xenophobia."

Money For 'Patriotic Education'

Three far-right groups won a Youth and Sports Ministry competition for "national-patriotic education projects" funded with taxpayer money: the Educational Assembly, founded by C14 head Yevhen Karas; C14 Sich, founded by Volodymyr Karas, who shares the same patronymic, surname, and address as the C14 head; and Holosiyiv Hideout, whose founders include several members of the Svoboda political party.

C14's Educational Assembly and a C14 Sich children's summer camp will receive 440,000 hryvnia (about $16,900) from the ministry for three children's events. Holosiyiv Hideout will get 760,000 hryvnia (about $29,200) for four festivals.

C14 takes its name from a 14-word phrase used by white supremacists and it has openly offered to provide members for hire to work as thugs.

Reached on Facebook Messenger, Mykola Lyakhovych, the head of the Youth and Sports Ministry's Department for National-Patriotic Education who chaired the commission that approved the grants, declined to answer questions about them unless they were approved by the ministry and submitted in Ukrainian, despite him responding quickly in clear English to RFE/RL's initial message.

The ministry did not immediately provide answers to questions submitted in Ukrainian to its press service.

On Twitter, Matthew Schaff, the director of Freedom House's Ukraine office, criticized the ministry's grant-selection process.

"[It] shouldn't be too difficult to add another criteria to grant selection: not implicated in or publicly approving of violence. This is indeed an issue, also for Kyiv City Council funds which go to such groups."

Wave Of Attacks

News of the groups receiving state funding comes amid a wave of attacks, including at least four in the past six weeks.

On June 7, members of the far-right Azov National Druzhyna militia destroyed a Romany camp in Kyiv's Holosiyivskiy Park.

It followed a similar action in April, when masked C14 attackers hurled stones and sprayed gas as they chased terrified Roma -- including children -- from their makeshift settlement at Kyiv's Lysa Hora nature reserve.

In both cases, police officers stood by. Only after a public outcry did authorities say they had opened criminal proceedings into the attacks. But thus far no arrests or charges have been brought against the attackers.

Right Groups Demand Action

"Brutal attacks on [Romany] people, LGBT people, and rights activists have been on the rise in recent months in Ukraine," Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement published alongside an open letter, which the organization signed with Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International on June 14.

"The government has taken little action in response, which cannot but embolden and encourage the attackers."

The organizations' joint letter, addressed to Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko, demanded that authorities "urgently take steps to strongly condemn and effectively address attacks and intimidation by radical groups that are promoting hatred and discrimination."

The human rights groups said they had collectively documented at least two dozen violent attacks, threats, or instances of intimidation in Kyiv, Vinnytsia, Uzhgorod, Lviv, Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk and other Ukrainian cities by members of radical groups such as C14, Right Sector, Traditions and Order, and Karpatska Sich in 2018.

"It is no surprise that the number of violent attacks and threats by such groups is growing, as the inadequate response from the authorities sends a message that such acts are tolerated," the groups said.