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Credit: Ukraine/Maidan – gettyimages

The bomb

In the news hierarchy of the western media, Ukraine has been shunted down the list of priorities somewhat. It seems overwhelmingly as if, in a nod to the famous novel by Erich Maria Remarque, it’s all quiet on the eastern front. Sadly this is far from the truth, as deaths are still occurring on a daily basis, among both soldiers and civilians alike. And among journalists. On 20th July of last year Pavel Sheremet was killed when a bomb underneath his car was detonated. The 44-year-old, originally from Belarus, was on his way to work at the editorial office of Ukrayinska Pravda in the centre of Kiev.

The murder remains unsolved, and this is due, not least, to the situation that Pavel Sheremet described time and again: anarchy reigns in Ukraine. The Minsk Protocol has not brought peace to eastern Ukraine – far from it – nor has it succeeded in consolidating legal structures and democratic institutions in the country or putting it on course for economic growth.

Hence in many parts of Kiev people are afraid the situation might escalate into a military coup, and Pavel Sheremet himself warned against a possible coup d'état, most recently in an article he published three days before his death. Possibly it was only the fact that the 2016 coup in Turkey was suppressed that prevented something similar happening in Ukraine. Or perhaps simply delayed it. The situation is tense, 

and the fate of Ukraine is being steered by an unholy alliance of two poles of power: the government of Petro Poroshenko and its SBU secret service, which is overseen by the CIA, and the Russophobic radical patriots, whose paramilitary voluntary battalions were responsible for the excesses of violence on the Maidan and who, after the fall of Viktor Yanukovych, stirred up aggression against the Russian separatists in the Donets Basin.

The result is a de facto state of lawlessness.

Continually on the brink of another Maidan, if not a coup d'état, and permanently accused by the ultra-right of being too pro-Russian, no political functionary is daring to take action against the Nazi battalions, and even journalists, judges and company bosses, including those who still retain a shred of decency, give in easily or prefer to don the national colours if they want to keep their jobs or indeed their lives.

The scope of the paramilitaries’ power was revealed in one incident last summer when two high-ranking individuals, a member of the board at the state oil and gas supplier Naftogaz and the Vice President of the fertilizer manufacturer Odessa Port Plant, managed to escape what was considered to be a certain conviction for embezzlement of company funds. Yet this wasn’t due to a lack of proof or otherwise sloppy work by the anti-corruption body. Rather, it was because men in combat gear blocked the work of the court for two days, creating chaos and fear until the men were set free. “Men in combat gear are now able to paralyse the administration of justice, if not the law itself”, commented Sheremet, who was the only one to report on the case.

Particularly influential and rigorous is the so-called Azov Regiment, which comprises more than 800 fighters, is sanctioned by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Arsen Avakov, and which, since the end of last year, has even supplied the Ukrainian Chief of Police in its former commander Vadym Troyan. At the head of this ultra-national private army is Andriy Biletsky, a proven Nazi, who also sits in the parliament as an independent candidate and was presented with the Order of Valour by President Poroshenko in 2014 for his efforts in eastern Ukraine.

Last November, on the anniversary of the start of the Maidan movement, the right-wing thugs caused a peaceful commemorative event to descend into violence. Around 500 recruits of the Azov Regiment, some of them hooded, roamed through Kiev chanting slogans like “Glory to Ukraine – death to the enemies”, and tore apart a branch of the Russian Sberbank bank and a beauty salon they mistook for the office of the supposedly too pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk.

Furthermore, the Azov Regiment is also believed to have been behind various financially motivated crimes, such as the armed ambush of a money transporter close to Zaporizhia last summer. In a subsequent shoot-out with the police, two of the robbers were killed, a Latvian neo-Nazi and a Russian, who were both highly respected fighters in the Azov Regiment, and one of the two men arrested served in the battalion to the last. Biletsky hurried to the place of the incident the next night to keep his fighters calm. It looked like there would be a bloodbath.

“One word from Biletsky and an army of young men would muster in the centre of Kiev, ready to pounce on enemies of Ukraine, Russian agents and the oligarchs. They would have cried treason, saying the security forces protected the criminals in Donbass and bullied the true patriots”, wrote Pavel Sheremet. “I can well imagine how difficult this decision must have been for him.” A new Maidan, possibly even a coup d'état, was in the air. Sheremet’s final words which, far from becoming famous, were sadly heard by all too few: “We must watch Andriy Biletsky carefully.”

He is no longer able to do this himself, so the world has all the greater a duty to do it for him.

Written by Christian Seidl; team leader story, Berliner Kurier / Berliner Zeitung

  • Credit: picture alliance/dpa

    Pavel Sheremet

    Pavel Grigorievich Sheremet was known as sharp critic of the regime- not only in his home country Belarus, also in Russia and Ukraine. He was well-known and respected as a journalist around the world: The committee to protect journalists (CPJ) awarded him in 1999 for the international freedom of press. And in 2002, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) appreciated his work as well. Pavel died at the early age of 44 through a targeted attack.