The anti-terrorist operation began in Ukraine in April 2014. Armed Forces of Ukraine, a country that in previous ten years followed the path of demilitarization, were not ready for a conflict of this magnitude. Then the ‘volunteer battalions’ came to the aid of the army, organizations of Ukrainians, which were not so military bearing, as with desire to protect their country. Battalion, and then regiment ‘Azov’ is one of the most famous of them, unfortunately, not only for military exploits, but also ambiguous accusations in Nazism, both within the country and outside. Stepan Baida, who now holds the post of speaker of the battalion, was at the forefront of the organization and spent a year in a war zone. We asked him to tell us how regiment ‘Azov’ was created, who made up the core of it and how it differs from other volunteer battalions.
Stepan, please tell us about how the organization was created, who were the people who have started at some point to act under the banner of ‘Azov’?
It all started with the organization ‘Patriot of Ukraine’. It is important to realize that most people in the organization were from the eastern regions of Ukraine. Kharkiv, the inhabitants of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In western Ukraine, we had the cells too, but it was clubs mostly, the core of the organization is still the people from the east of the country. This probably played a crucial role - the events at home. After the Maidan, in the east we faced a wave of pro-Russian speeches and captures of regional administrations. In general, all those things that have resulted in the establishment of the DPR and the LPR. Our goal was not to let the enemy into our house.
When you speak about the enemy, who do you mean?
Russians and their allies inside the country. It has been in Kharkiv such a famous organization – ‘OPLOT’ (Non-Governmental Organization, founded in 2010, officially fighting sports club that specializes in MMA (mix martial arts). During the revolution, the organization has been active in Kharkiv ‘Antimaidan’, its leader has repeatedly called for the former president Viktor Yanukovych to use ‘harsher’ methods in the fight against Maidan). It was clearly pro-Russian organizations, of those, you know, who support the ‘Russian world’, that Ukraine is Russia, the fraternal peoples, speculate on the topic of veterans. It is important to understand that they were still under the specific business sharpened, Zhilin (Eugene, leader of the organization) was repeatedly accused in having links with Kernes. That is, when it was necessary to solve a question, they could ride the right amount of soldiers, even they had a chain of stores, fueling illegal and even legal company.
Yes exactly. During the protests and Kharkiv, when was the capture of regional administration (in April 2014, the Kharkiv regional organization of the pro-Russian activists took over the building and put up a flag of Russia), they took a very active part. Then, without any hiding, the bus arrived from Russia, right on the Russian numbers: Rostov-on-Don, Kaliningrad. They interacted with the locals of the ‘OPLOT’, tied the ribbons and went to the rally. Then we started open clashes with them, we seized the building of their club, and they - regional administration. All night long been fighting, but in the morning we still had to retreat to Poltava.
And then the battalion ‘Azov’ was created?
No, there was a transitional period, the so-called ‘Black Corpus’. We also called it ‘Reinforcement troops’. The Ministry of Internal Affairs has allocated us this building where we are now. We started our training. In the future, we made forays into Kharkiv and participated in the crackdown of pro-Russian rallies - the result you can see for yourself, hotbeds of separatism were repaid and Kharkiv remained a peaceful town, as now the city can be peaceful, of course. We were volunteer units, in the truest sense of the word (what is called militia in English).
From this moment, the story of ‘Azov’ starts?
Yes, we have performed well for us then went Avakov and we began to take shape once. Prior to that, according to the documents we were registered as a territorial defense battalion ‘Slobozhanshchyna’ (historical area in the east of Ukraine, which included partially Kharkiv and Luhansk regions), then they called us ‘Azov’, during one day we passed medical commission, and they sent us to Mariupol for a day. Since that, we have not come out.
What makes the volunteer battalion, how it differs from regular troops?
Technically, we were a battalion of patrolling police. Not formally, it was volunteer battalion, which had a kind of structure and hierarchy and organization not bound by the formalities that are inherent in law enforcement and Armed Forces of Ukraine. Once a truce and returned to the old military bureaucracy - all stalled again. We were the most deprived of bureaucracy, because then the social demand was for decisive action.
Of course, it could look unserious, but there were other advantages: it was conscious, it was sincere. All these formal military things, we have all these things to come, but not because ‘as necessary’, but because we went through a lot and because we have seen a life.
Is there a conflict between the army and volunteer battalions?
Conflict? Of course not. There may be a conflict between the so-called ‘court volunteers’ and real ones. But by the fighters there are no conflicts - there are real fraternal and military relations. We regularly participate in joint operations with Armed Forces of Ukraine or National Guard. We have gone with them literally into the fire, which differences may be here?
So, the battalion became the regiment. Other volunteer battalions that have joined Ministry of Internal Affairs, or like Pravyi Sektor, is an opposition. Why are your batallion so successful?
Probably, we have built a military force, not a gang of robbers, not a chieftain group, but namely military force. The key of our success is discipline and hierarchy. We are different from Pravyi Sektor. They have two good things, and the second follows from the first: they have a good brand, and this powerful brand provides a lot of good people. But they have never had an organization. Therefore, under the brand ‘Right Sector’ in addition to good deeds, many held some dark and bad. That is, they are not very systematic approach, unlike us. And about the creation of the regiment, then played a huge role in Mariupol defense and our previous fights. We have proved effective, and we started to come to an end places in the state, at the time we had 200-250 units of personnel. Mariupol started after the truce, and we began the transformation into the regiment.
What can you say about the armistice?
The ceasefire is not respected at all; now it is certainly calmer, but sometimes it is as hot as in the last year. Now General Staff ordered to withdraw our troops from front-line line. We tolerate ceasefire as a tactical moment. We are not in favor of war, but for the sake of winning the war, not for the war at any cost. But the form in which a truce is happening now is of course a big threat. At the moment the truce is a concession to the enemy. I do not make concessions, and deflections under pressure of the same enemy, and under pressure from our Western ‘friends’. That truce, which is happening now - this is not the way to success and not even the way to reach peace.
Armistice lasts for more than six months, so what the regiment is doing?
Since then, we have finally formed as a regiment, if at the time of the armistice staff was 200-250 people, now we have almost 2.000 people. We have infantry, mechanized division with tanks, we have a mortar and howitzer battery division. Like a team. Indeed I would say that is already in the process of transition to a brigade. Because we are almost over the limit, but we continue to recruit people.
Such a large staff, the construction of new tanks, such things require a major investment. Where are you taking money?
Now we are provided by ... well, by the National Guard under part. But mostly we provide ourselves. Well, let's say, volunteer help.
There is one topic, which I just could not omit. Your regiment is repeatedly mentioned in the context of ‘Nazism’. How do you feel about that?
We can not be called Nazis. Yes, our past is the ‘Social-National Assembly’, we do not refuse from it and do not hesitate. This is one of the periods of our development. But the social-nationalism to the National Socialist Party of Germany does not have any relationship. In the social sense, it isn’t, because this regiment, which is located in the Greek or Tatar village and guards their territory, and there is no pogroms. All this is primarily the result of a powerful propaganda machine of Russia. I know that this is not only from Russia but also from some people in the west. Well, for example, our symbols - like a Wolfsangel, but nothing that he is on the arms of European cities? All this is speculation.
Then you could clarify one point in the program of your organization declared Natiocratia, literally translated from Latin, it can be as "the power of the nation." What nation do you mean, political or is it ethnic?
There can be no nation but ethnic. We have, thank God, a nation in political terms, it corresponds to the nation in ethnic terms. Are we going to measure the skull - no, we will not. The first right of a citizen is not measured by the blood, but by the efficiency of the society. All the rest is not so important.