KIEV/WASHINGTON: When protest leaders in Ukraine helped oust a president widely seen as corrupt, they became heroes of the barricades. But as they take places in the country’s new government, some are facing uncomfortable questions about their own values and associations, not least alleged links to neo-fascist extremists.
Russia’s president Vladimir Putin claims Ukraine has fallen into the hands of far-right fascist groups, and some Western experts have also raised concerns about the influence of extremists. Yet many Ukrainians see the same groups as nationalist stalwarts and defenders of the country’s independence.
Two of the groups under most scrutiny are Svoboda, whose members hold five senior roles in Ukraine’s new government including the post of deputy prime minister, and Pravyi Sector (Right Sector), whose leader Dmytro Yarosh is now the country’s Deputy Secretary of National Security. Right Sector activists wearing black ski masks, bullet-proof vests and military fatigues still hold several buildings close to Kiev’s Independence Square. Activists on the street declined to speak to Reuters about their organisation. An individual described as their “commander” directed a reporter to two spokespeople who also declined requests for interviews. On Tuesday the group called for supporters to patrol Wikipedia. In a posting on Vkontakte, the Russian equivalent of Facebook, Right Sector wrote: “We appeal to people who can make changes to Wikipedia. In the English version (with Russian worse) Right Sector is depicted as an organisation that has a fascist and neo-Nazi views, with appropriate consequences. If you have an opportunity - correct this misunderstanding.”
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