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article imageFar-right paramilitary vows protest defiance in Ukraine

Dario Thuburn, Olga Nebbaeva (AFP).
By Dario Thuburn, Olga Nebbaeva (AFP)     Feb 6, 2014 in World

Even as Ukraine's main opposition leaders meet with the authorities to try to resolve their long-running standoff, one influential and unrepentant voice stands out -- that of far-right paramilitary leader Dmytro Yarosh.

"The revolution will win in Ukraine!" the shaven-headed 42-year-old told AFP in a rare interview at his field headquarters -- an entire floor in an occupied trade union building on Independence Square in central Kiev.

Yarosh's masked and helmeted followers -- some armed with guns, others wielding baseball bats -- patrol the barricades around the protest tent camp and were in the frontlines of clashes with riot police, throwing Molotov cocktails.

"We got things moving, we breathed life into the revolution," said Yarosh, himself a former Red Army soldier who claims he is no fascist but a nationalist defending Ukraine against foreign domination -- whether from the EU or Russia.

Getting to Yarosh is no easy task as he is jealously guarded by the 500 mostly young members of his group Pravy Sektor (Right Sector), who sleep in the corridors of the base next to their improvised gear like a ragtag army.

"The government is collapsing and is weak. We can push it to the end," said Yarosh, who had a bullet-proof vest slung on the chair in his office and a thin camping mattress on the floor.

As a walkie-talkie next to him crackled, Yarosh said that Pravy Sektor was observing a "truce" but if riot police attack "they will get Molotovs and cobblestones in return".

He said that his group does not have its own arsenal but that he had authorised a "secret" number of individual members with weapons permits to create "an armed protection unit".

Yarosh said his followers -- who seized the agriculture, energy and justice ministries but then gave them up after pressure from other opposition leaders -- could also resume their "blockades" of official government buildings.

These kinds of warnings show up differences within opposition ranks and cast doubt on whether the most radical militants will be willing to end their protest even if opposition leaders manage to strike a deal with Yanukovych.

Asked if he is concerned about being put in prison, Yarosh strikes a defiant tone.

"In a revolution, it's funny even to think about something like that. Once it's all over, we'll see who puts who in prison," he snarled.

For all the fighting talk, Yarosh is also keen to see a political future for his paramilitaries -- who have won support and respect in Ukraine for their role in the protests even from people who do not share their far-right views.

"If the revolution achieves its aim, we can talk about the creation of a new political movement with its own niche," he said.

It is not hard to see what that niche would be.

Unlike many protesters, who see greater integration with Europe as an ideal, Yarosh said Brussels was a "monster" responsible for a "gay dictatorship and liberal totalitarianism" that imposes "anti-Christian and anti-national rules".

Yarosh said he has been an activist in the Ukrainian nationalist cause for more than 20 years and is the leader of a hardline nationalist group Trizub (Trident), many of whose members are now activists in Pravy Sektor.

He says his group is the "successor" of the controversial Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) who battled Poles, Soviet and Nazi forces in western Ukraine during and after World War II.

The UPA is hated in Poland for its campaign of slaughter against Polish civilians in the Volhynia region in 1943 and then in Galicia in 1944, now condemned as ethnic cleansing.

The rebels on occasion collaborated with occupying Nazi forces as well as fighting them and -- most controversially -- some of its members served in the Galicia branch of the SS.

Asked how he felt about Jews, Yarosh said that he was not an anti-Semite but considered as "enemies" any "ethnic minority that prevents us from being masters in our own land".

Even though the UPA slogan "Glory to the Heroes!" rings out frequently on Independence Square, Yarosh's views are completely different from those of mainstream opposition leaders.

While Yarosh does not overtly condemn them, it seems that their on-and-off negotiations with President Viktor Yanukovych are grating.

"I don't want to criticise them or they'll get offended and start crying," he said.

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