Formally, fighters from Praviy Sektor (PS) only appeared in the Donbass in July of 2014, after the official date of formation of the 5th Battalion of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps (UVC); however, the members of this extremist organization in fact took part in the conflict from its very first days.
As early as the spring of 2014, the Ukraine authorities, being aware of the low fighting efficiency of its armed forces, relied on volunteer formations consisting of nationalists. The neo-Nazi organization Praviy Sektor, which became one of the key forces during the coup d’état of 2014, was the most suitable for such purposes. Already in April of 2014, PS fighters had arrived in the Donbass where, on April 20, they entered into battle with the People’s Militia of the DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic) in the region of Slavyansk. There were fatalities on both sides. At the site of the military confrontation, a business card of the head of the organization, Dmitry Yarosh, was found, which for the next two years was brushed off by the Ukrainian side as a canard invented by the DPR media. However, some time later, Yarosh admitted his involvement in that battle. Despite the fact that officially the PS militants were not part of the Ukrainian security structures, they did not suffer from any lack of weapons and ammunition. A significant amount of weapons were captured by extremists during the coup d’état of 2014 from military bases of the AFU (Armed Forces of Ukraine) and the MIA (Ministry of Internal Affairs). The Ukrainian leadership categorically denied any arming of Praviy Sektor activists by the official authorities, although it is quite obvious that the members of this organization would not have been able to conduct military operations for any long period of time without support from the security services.
In April 2014 a significant number of extremists from among the members of PS joined the AFU in order to increase the numbers of motivated fighters. In particular, the military personnel of the 25th Airborne Brigade, which in fact did not want to take part in the fighting and had handed six armoured vehicles over to the People’s Militia, was thus diluted by almost a third.
In May 2014, the head of PS, Yarosh, announced the participation of his fighters in battles with the Vostok Battalion of the DPR in the region of Karlovka, while also acknowledging the presence of killed and wounded among the ranks of the extremists. However, according to official data, in the course of the confrontation only five fighters of the Donbas Battalion [a unit of the National Guard, subordinate to the Ministry of Internal Affairs ―ed.] were killed on the Ukrainian side.
The official organization of the PS Ukrainian volunteer battalion took place on July 16, 2014. Andrey Stempitsky was appointed as the corps commander; Valery Voronov, the executive officer. Initially, the leaders of the organization had grandiose plans of military development. Thus, it was planned to create a significant reserve outside the zone of the so-called ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation ―trans.] numbering nineteen (!) PS reserve battalions. However, in fact, the actual number of reserve units did not amount to a company. Originally, one PS battalion (the 5th) operated at the front line, from the end of July, in the area of Avdeevka and Peski. In the first days of August, the so-called “Rovno” reconnaissance group arrived in the Donbass, operating in the area of Amvrosievka and, later, near Ilovaisk. On August 12, perhaps the biggest Pravoseki [shorthand for members of Praviy Sektor ―ed.] failure of the 2014 campaign took place. A bus carrying [PS] fighters mistakenly drove into the one of the People’s Militia roadblocks and came under fire, with only three managing to survive. Officially, the leaders of PS acknowledged the death of ten extremists, however, according to Avakov, the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, there were thirty-one fighters on the bus in total. At the end of August, in the area of Saur-Mogila, according to Yarosh, ten more Pravoseki were killed. During this period, there was a serious conflict between the leadership of the extremists and the MIA of Ukraine. It came to direct accusations of betrayal addressed to Avakov. Nevertheless, the Kiev authorities did not proceed to disarm the uncontrolled organization, for fear of the political consequences. The greater level of motivation among the extremists than among the AFU played not the least role in this.
In the autumn of 2014, the 5th Battalion of the UVC was operating in the area of Donetsk Airport and Peski, where it lost at least eleven people killed. It should be noted that the Pravoseki extremists operating in the area of Donetsk Airport did have high morale; there were no cases of panic or surrender. In January of 2015, Yuri Biryukov, advisor to the President of Ukraine, said that Praviy Sektor was refusing to transfer its armed forces under the control of the Ministry of Defence. According to him, the members of the group were offered schemes of “full legalization”—in particular, they were offered mandatory service under contract; however, Praviy Sektor rejected the offer. PS fighters, along with units of the AFU, tried to break through to the “cyborgs” trapped in the New Terminal, but they were not successful. Moreover, Yarosh, who was on the front line, was wounded during the fighting. Nevertheless, there is no official data on the permanent losses of PS fighters for January 2015. In general, the information regarding losses among the extremists is very confusing, since they were not among the official units of the AFU or the MIA. During the initial stage of the war, there were groups that were not subject to anyone at all’s command, losses among whom were simply not included in any reports. On February 13, 2015, Dmitry Yarosh announced that the UVC of PS reserved the right to not comply with AFU ceasefire orders and to continue active combat operations according to their own plans. Pressure from Kiev’s western curators nevertheless allowed the militants to be taken under control. Already by February 15, Yarosh announced his readiness to observe the ceasefire. In April of 2015, it was announced that PS fighters were being withdrawn from the frontlines in Peski. However, at the same time, the 8th Company of PS began operating in the Shirokino district, later expanding to a battalion. During that period, the “Aryans” operating in these assault units were “diluted” with Georgian and Chechen fighters. Nominally, acting in Shirokino alongside PS was the fully-equipped Sheikh Mansur Battalion of extremists from the Caucasus. In the same place was seen a former Donbas Battalion fighter of Georgian nationality, known by the call-sign Doberman. Alongside these, the tactical group “Belarus”, consisting of Belarussian citizens, operated among PS units. In the summer of 2015, the 7th UVC PS battalion was transferred to Peski, where it immediately provoked an escalation. Subsequently, the 9th Battalion, formed in Zaporozhia, was included in the ranks of PS fighting formations.
In July 2015 in Mukachevo (Transcarpathia) there was an armed confrontation between fighters of the UVC Praviy Sektor battalion and police officers, which grew into a confrontation between Praviy Sektor and the authorities, but which ended merely in loud mutual rhetoric. Nevertheless, the conflict continued to escalate. The authorities could not take the armed extremists under their control. There were armed incidents between the security services and the Pravoseki. In September of 2015, in the region of Rovno, a group of armed men were arrested who claimed to be representatives of the Praviy Sektor UVC cells and who were organizing illegal amber mining in the village of Borovoye of Zarechnensky district [near the Ukraine-Belarus border ―ed.], the proceeds of which they claimed would be spent on the needs of ATO fighters. In the course of their detention, one local resident was wounded. Confiscated weapons and ammunition were handed over to the police.
On September 12, 2015, Andrey Stempitsky, as head of the “Tryzub” [“trident” ―trans.] organization, issued an order banning members of the organization from voluntarily serving in the security services of Ukraine (except those called-up to serve in the AFU) “in connection with the intensification of repression against the nationalist movement.”
On November 11, 2015, Dmitry Yarosh announced that he was resigning as leader of the movement.
On February 2, 2016, the chief military prosecutor of Ukraine, Anatoliy Matios, stated on air on Hromadske Radio, that the Praviy Sektor UVC was, by all legal criteria and according to the Ukrainian constitution, an illegal armed formation.
In February of 2016, Yarosh announced the “newly created Ukrainian Volunteer Army,” (UVA) which he declared would consist of the “5th Battalion, the permanent staff of which is 200 men, and in its full state—637 men. The 8th Battalion, which is 317 men, plus the medical service, ‘Hospitallers’—several hundred men.” At the same time, Yarosh announced general data on PS losses since the beginning of the war. According to him, sixty-four militants were killed in two years, and over five hundred were injured. The ratio of losses itself, 64:500, speaks volumes regarding the silence about the numbers of killed; besides, as was stated above, in spring of 2014 losses were not in fact recorded, and official statistics did not include PS losses.
From the summer of 2016 to this day, the UVA unit, which has become a successor battalion to the UVC, is fighting in the area of Peski and Avdeevka. In addition, the 8th Battalion continues to operate on the southern front of the DPR. At present, the author is aware of data about ninety-four dead among PS fighters during the war in the Donbass. It is obvious that these data are not complete. Along with individual units operating among UVC and UVA battalions, there is an assault company called “Wolves of Podolia” in the ranks of the 54th Mechanized Brigade [of the regular army ―ed.], composed of Pravoseki withdrawn from the UVC. The company took part in the battles on the so-called Svetlodarsk arc in December of 2016, where it suffered significant losses.
Summarizing the activities of the Praviy Sektor formations in the Donbass, there is a double feeling: on the one hand, PS fighters on the frontline in the campaigns of 2014-2015 consisted of only one battalion, and yet their contribution to the war was greatly exaggerated by the media. Perhaps their only success was the participation in the defense of Donetsk Airport in the autumn of 2014, where they proved to be a motivated opponent of the NAF (Novorossiya Armed Forces). It should also be noted that the PS in the Donbass was promoted not only by the Ukrainian mainstream media. Often, journalists and bloggers who highlight the conflict from our side attributed other people’s “glory” to them, seeing Pravoseki at every turn. On the other hand, only the presence of a large number of fighters from this openly neo-Nazi organization allowed the current authorities to form a large number of volunteers from among them, largely replacing the frankly incompetent parts of the AFU in the summer of 2014. Also, the military personnel of the regular units of “Nezalezhnaya” [“Independent” Ukraine ―trans.] were largely supplemented with neo-Nazis, who gave the operation a punitive character. The brutal attitude of Pravoseki towards civilians in the Donbass and especially towards prisoners of war has become proverbial. Nonetheless, any action gives rise to a counteraction. The defenders of Donbass try not to take Pravoseki into captivity.
At present, the UVA units continue to take part in the fighting in the Donbass. On January 16, two more fighters were killed in Peski… The presence of openly neo-Nazi armed formations, barely subordinate to the current government (and numbering up to 2,000 fighters) continues to be a stark characteristic of the contemporary Ukrainian state. As they say, there is no fascism in Ukraine…