Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk and Veterans Affairs Minister Oksana Koliada have defended their attendance at a concert earlier this month headlined by a neo-Nazi band, railing against the “politicization” of what they say was merely a benefit for veterans of their country’s ongoing war against Russian-backed separatists.
According to a report by the open-source intelligence investigative collective Bellingcat, the “Veterans Strong” concert held in the Ukrainian capital on October 13 was organized by Andriy Medvedko, a senior member of the far-right C14 movement, who is currently under prosecution for murder. It was headlined by Sokyra Peruna, a neo-Nazi band whose repertoire includes Holocaust denial songs such as “Six Million Words of Lies.”
Medvedko has been linked to Knights of the City, a C14-linked vigilante group involved in a number of violent incidents. C14 is an extremist spinoff of the anti-Semitic Svoboda party, whose leader, Yevhen Karas, has listed Russians, Jews and Poles as enemies. C14 denies that it is a neo-Nazi organization, though its social media accounts have heavily featured white nationalist and Nazi symbolism. Its members also were involved in a series of attacks, described by some as pogroms, against members of Ukraine’s Roma minority.
In a Facebook post, Honcharuk hit back against negative press coverage of his participation in the event, where he was photographed standing onstage along the performers, writing that “politicization here is absolutely inappropriate.”
He added that he had “nothing to do with the concert itself” and was unaware of who would be performing.
“I consider it a matter of the veterans movement, which arranged the event,” he continued. “In any case, it is not up to the prime minister to dictate to our defenders what songs to sing. At the same time, so that there are no questions: I do not share any hate-filled ideology – neither Nazism, nor fascism, nor communism.”
Western groups such as the Atlantic Council have criticized senior Ukrainian officials such as Interior Minister Arsen Avakov for their ties to violent far-right groups such as the neo-Nazi Azov movement and for their unwillingness to curb their activities. While overtly anti-Semitic parties such as Svoboda have largely been sidelined in parliament, nationalist militias and organizations have, for the most part, been allowed to grow unchecked by the government.
Honcharuk’s participation in a neo-Nazi concert came shortly after Ukraine’s recently elected Jewish President Volodymyr Zelensky met with representatives of a number of veterans organizations, including Azov.
Zelensky has clashed with members of the far-right, including the Azov-linked National Corps, over his decision to allow a troop withdrawal as part of efforts to reach a negotiated peace in the long-simmering conflict in Ukraine’s east.
“Listen, I’m the president of this state. I’m 42. I’m not some loser,” Zelensky snapped at a soldier affiliated with the group during a visit to the front-lines this weekend.
Last month, Zelensky’s government fired controversial historian Volodymyr Viatrovych, the head of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory and one of the driving forces behind Ukraine’s policy of rehabilitating World War Two-era nationalists who had collaborated with the Nazis.
Zelensky is not the only Jewish statesman to have met with Ukrainian extremists. This summer, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the head of a Ukrainian political party whose membership includes ultranationalists and neo-Nazis. Oleh Lyashko of the Ukrainian Radical Party came to Jerusalem as part of a parliamentary delegation led by Jewish lawmaker Georgii Logvynskyi. Lyashko was shown shaking Netanyahu’s hand in a video tweeted out by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Lyashko’s party includes nationalist Yuri Shukhevych, the son of Nazi collaborator Roman Shukhevych, whose troops engaged in war crimes against Jews during World War II.
JTA contributed to this report.