This essay will consider the above question first by considering the concept of genocide and then the actions of the Ukrainian Government in relation to the Donbass and Crimea: “anti-terror” operations, shelling of civilians, use of torture, propaganda, linguistic, educational and religious rights, water supplies, etc. It will conclude that it is indeed fair, or proper, to call Ukrainian policy, from 2014 to today, ‘genocide’ in terms of the United Nations Genocide Convention’s definition of the concept.
Homicide, suicide, regicide, patricide—all these words include the root -cide, which comes via French from the Latin cidium—the act of killing, and caedere, to kill, slay. In each of the above four cases, an individual is killed; there is the complete death of an individual. One might well think that genocide therefore ought to mean the complete killing or death of an ethnic group (the stem geno- comes from the Greek genos—race, kind, nation, a people) through massacre, mass murder, so that a particular ethnic group of people is exterminated and no longer exists.
However, the man who invented the term genocide in 1944—the Polish-born, Jewish-American jurist, Raphael Lemkin—added his own qualification to the use of the root -cide:
Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aimed at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. [Emphasis added]
So, for Lemkin, the point about ‘genocide’ is not so much that it denotes the actual total destruction or ‘death’ of an ethnic group but that it denotes a plan that is aimed at the destruction of the target group; this can therefore include various acts of non-homicidal oppression.
Before Lemkin, the English language already had terms to describe the mass murder of large numbers of an ethnic group, terms that did not go so far as total annihilation, namely: mass murder, race murder, mass killing, mass slaughter. Yet Winston Churchill called the mass killings of Soviet troops and civilians by the Nazis in Operation Barbarossa during World War II “a crime without a name”. There was no single term in English to denote the total eradication, or the planned and attempted total eradication, of a single people—not a juridical term, at any rate; a term that would correspond at ethnic scale to the murder or attempted murder of an individual person.
But Lemkin was a jurist. He had been appalled that after the First World War, no specific international law existed to prosecute the Ottoman Turkish leaders responsible for the planning, organisation and killing of between 600,000 and 1½ million Armenians during that war. However, the Armenian massacres and deportations, terrible though they were, did not result in the total disappearance, the death of the Armenians as a people: they did not disappear but managed to establish their own republic after the war (1918–1920), until the USSR subsumed them in 1922; and then, almost 70 years later, in 1991, the Armenian people re-established the independent Republic of Armenia, which still exists.
While the fate of the Armenians had moved Raphael Lemkin to think about a new crime of ethnic mass murder, in inventing the term ‘genocide’ and in initiating the UN Genocide Convention in 1948, he clearly had in mind the persecution by the Nazis of his own people, the Jews. Like the Armenians in World War I, the Jews were not all eradicated by the crimes perpetrated against them by the Nazis before and during World War II; on the contrary, their power and influence steadily grew in the West after 1945, not least as a result of what they had suffered at the hands of the Nazis.
Like the Armenians, the Jews too came to establish their own state, Israel, in 1948; the same year as the adoption by the UN of the Genocide Convention. Lemkin was therefore largely successful in getting the UN to adopt the crime of ‘genocide’, but it did so with a five-part definition, which was more specific than the definition Lemkin had proposed to the UN in 1945. The Convention’s Article II omitted the word ‘conspiracy’ that featured three times in Lemkin’s definition, and it defined genocide as:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Article III declares that:
The following acts shall be punishable:
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide.
The important point to note here is those five words “in whole or in part” in Article II. With them, the scope of the concept ‘genocide’ was greatly widened from simply killing “in whole”—killing an entire ethnic group (i.e. total annihilation, eradication)—to destroying only a part of the whole, and furthermore, it was widened to include acts that did not in themselves constitute killing but were acts of oppression that were deemed to aim at the eradication of a people.
Indeed, Gregory H. Stanton, President of the NGO Genocide Watch, has written: “Genocidal acts need not kill or cause the death of members of a group”. In the five-part UN definition of genocide above, criteria (a) and (b) did not specify how many people were to be regarded as a ‘part’ of a people, tribe, nation or religious group, and this has been a contentious issue ever since. How many were the qualifying “members of the group”: 2, 20, 200, 200,000, or 2 million?
Furthermore, criteria (b), (d) and (e) did not relate directly to killing (-cide) as, for example, do such words as homicide, suicide, regicide, patricide, parricide and infanticide. The actual meaning of one of the two constituent parts of the whole concept of ‘genocide’ was therefore changed. This meant that all those conditions could be included in ‘genocide’ and that prosecutions could be brought for all the crimes (including those which did not involve killing and murder) of the Nazis against the Jews.
‘Bodily or mental harm to members of the group’, for example, could be used to prosecute those who had confiscated Jewish homes and property, because having one’s home taken from one might obviously result in mental or even physical harm. But this was not killing. Neither was criterion (e) above. “Complicity in genocide” could mean simply observing, watching, and not preventing acts of genocide, as well as taking part oneself in killing, for example, by acting under orders.
Arriving at a definition in the context
These observations about the change in the nature of one of the two constituent parts of the concept ‘genocide’ relate very directly to the subject of this essay. If, by the term ‘genocide’, we mean what the term ought logically to mean, namely, the total annihilation of the subject(s) (i.e. the people, race, nation, tribe, religious group), then clearly, it is not fair, right or proper to call the Ukrainian policy in the Donbass ‘genocidal’, since the forces under the control of the government in Kyiv have not been going about killing all Russian-speaking Ukrainians and/or all Eastern Orthodox Ukrainians as a matter of course or policy. Nor can policy documents or statements from Ukrainian government representatives be identified that clearly call for such total eradication.
If, on the other hand, we proceed strictly in accordance with the UN definition with its five qualifications, then an argument can certainly be made that it is fair or proper to call Ukrainian policy one of genocide, because the UN Convention includes the killing of only a part of the group, and the size of that ‘part’ is not specified.
Indeed, by that definition, any war or conflict between peoples could be described as ‘genocidal’, since part of the people are being murdered and oppressed. From this viewpoint, Russian policy in this conflict could therefore also be called ‘genocidal’, because the planning of the military campaign that began in February 2022 obviously would have included the readiness and therefore the intention to kill ‘parts’ of the Ukrainian people (Ukrainian troops) in order to achieve the objectives of the ‘special military operation’.
But the Russians are not the subject of this essay, because even before the Russian ‘special military operation’ began on 24 February 2022, there were, and have been since, frequent accusations from the Russian side, from President Putin downwards, that Ukrainian policy has been ‘genocidal’ since 2014; and these accusations have either been ignored or scornfully dismissed by Western mainstream media, scholars and governments while the same media and the Ukrainian Government have accused the Russians of wishing to eliminate the state of Ukraine and/or the Ukrainian nation.
Moreover, the UN’s five-part definition of genocide includes actions against a people that do not include killing but are ‘only’ measures of oppression—causing mental harm, e.g. depriving a people of language and cultural or religious rights, or of the conditions conducive to life etc. By these criteria also, Ukrainian government actions could be said to constitute ‘genocide’ against ethnic Russians in Ukraine, Russian speakers, or members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP).
The second part of the UN Convention’s definition of genocide refers to “mental harm to members of the group” and the third part speaks of “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about” the physical destruction of the group “in whole or in part” (emphasis added). Jews who were alert in Germany after Hitler’s accession to power in January 1933 could see the writing on the wall. Very soon after the Ermächtigungsgesetz (Enabling Act) on 23 March 1933, legislation was passed which began to restrict Jews’ civil rights.
A gradual process of ‘othering’ the Jewish community, which obviously constituted ‘mental harm’ and “conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”, thus began which culminated in the mass killings during the war. Today, Jews regard this whole process which began in 1933 as HaShoah (the catastrophe) and it is also known, especially by non-Jews, as ‘the Holocaust’, a genocide. "Genocide is a difficult crime to prove. Parties have to bring a lot to the table," notes Melanie O'Brien, President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars.
“Genocidal intent” is an especially contentious issue. According to the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and the International Court of Justice, in the absence of a confession, or a stated documentary evidence of intent,
genocidal intent can be proven with circumstantial evidence, especially ‘the scale of atrocities committed, their general nature, in a region or a country, or furthermore, the fact of deliberately and systematically targeting victims on account of their membership of a particular group, while excluding the members of other groups’. [Emphasis added]
This factor of circumstantial evidence will be especially important in the case of Ukrainian policy in the Donbass.
The pretext for secession: the decade bookended by revolutions, 2004–2014
The reason why the peoples of the Crimea and the Donbass opted for separation from Ukraine in 2014 was because, like the Jews, they too could see the writing on the wall. In the decade 2004–2014, they had seen, either with their own eyes or in Ukrainian and Russian media, the steady growth of Ukrainian ultranationalist forces that were full of chauvinist pride and hatred and were fanatically opposed to both Russia and the large Russian-speaking minority in eastern and southern Ukraine, as well as to Poles, Jews, and Romani.
They could see the many torchlit marches, the growing attacks on members of minorities on the streets, the burgeoning number of ultranationalist political groupings (Svoboda, C14, Social-National Assembly, Patriot of Ukraine, Right Sector, Azov Battalion) and various youth groups, youth camps and events organised by these factions, as well as the lauding and hero worship of the man who had been the ultranationalist Ukrainian leader of the genocidal terror group OUN-B (Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists—Bandera) in the 1930s and 40s, Stepan Bandera (1909–1959).
Bandera was subsequently elevated to almost cult status and eventually to the official accolade of ‘Hero of Ukraine’, formally bestowed on him posthumously by President Yushchenko in 2010: an act condemned by the European Parliament, the Russian Federation, Poland and various Jewish groups. In 1942, Bandera and two other OUN-B leaders wrote a manifesto, Ukrainian National Revolution, that called for the annihilation of so-called ethnic enemies. OUN-B leaflets read:
Exterminate the Poles, Jews, and communists without mercy. Do not pity the enemies of the Ukrainian National Revolution!
OUN-B’s military wing, the pro-Nazi Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), had massacred around 100,000 Poles, Jews, Romani and Czechs in the 1940s, but in the years since 2004, dozens of Ukrainian streets, plaques, squares, statues and buildings have been named after Bandera.
Following the Western-backed “Orange Revolution” in 2004 that brought Viktor Yushchenko to power as President, these violent and intimidating ultranationalist forces steadily grew. “Yushchenko and his Our Ukraine bloc bolstered the neo-Nazi Social-National Assembly and other Far-Right groups by supporting an explicitly nationalist view of Ukrainian history”, noted Volodymyr Ishchenko in a 2011 article in Debatte: Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe.
In a 2011 march organized by Svoboda (which had started out as the Social-National Assembly) to celebrate the World War II-era Waffen-SS Galicia Division (which was formed mostly of Ukrainians), participants shouted, “One race, one nation, one Fatherland.”
By February 2014, the situation had deteriorated to the point where such groups were able to transform the initially peaceful Maidan protests (November 2013–February 2014) into a violent revolutionary scene of chaos and mayhem, the ferocity of which Europe had not seen for many decades.
The most violent of these groups (Right Sector; C14—Svoboda’s youth wing; Patriot of Ukraine; White Hammer), although still relatively small in numbers, were able at the Maidan Square in Kyiv to prevent the implementation of the agreement that had been signed (21 February 2014) between the democratically-elected President Yanukovych and the leaders of opposition parties—an agreement mediated by representatives from France and Germany—and to threaten violence against the President’s own residence if he did not immediately step down.
Consortium News notes:
As The New York Times reported, the neo-Nazi group, Right Sector, had the key role in the violent ouster of Yanukovych [at Maidan on 22 February 2014]. The role of neo-fascist groups in the uprising and its influence on Ukrainian society was well reported by mainstream media outlets at the time. The BBC, the NYT, the Daily Telegraph and CNN all reported on Right Sector, C14 and other extremists’ role in the overthrow of Yanukovych.
Even in the Western mainstream media, then, let alone in Russian media which Russian speakers in Ukraine were watching, the key role of the violent ultranationalists in the Maidan coup was recognised.
In response to the ultranationalist pressure outside on the Maidan, the agreement of 21 February was then ignored inside the Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada), which forced through a vote that dismissed President Yanukovych and enabled a new government to be created, with moderate nationalists Oleksandr Turchynov as acting president and former banker Arseniy Yatsenyuk as Prime Minister.
Yatsenyuk was the man desired for the post by Victoria Nuland of the State Department, as revealed in her infamous, hacked telephone conversation with US ambassador in Kyiv, Geoffrey Pyatt, on 28 January 2014. Yatsenyuk himself described his new administration as a ‘kamikaze government’; not exactly a phrase to inspire confidence.
The new government included five members of the extreme Right, more than any other European country at the time: three from the Svoboda (Freedom) party, one of whom was the Minister of Defence and served as one of three Deputy Prime Ministers, another of whom was Prosecutor-General, and the third of whom was the head of the National Defence and Security Council.
That third man was Andriy Parubiy, a great admirer of Stepan Bandera and co-founder of Svoboda’s previous incarnation, the neo-Nazi Social-National Party (1995), with its SS logo, the Wolfsangel. Parubiy’s deputy on the National Defence and Security Council in 2014 was the leader of the Right Sector, Dmytro Yarosh, also a self-styled “follower of Stepan Bandera”.
These two ultranationalists, Parubiy and Yarosh, were now in charge of Ukraine’s defences! Parubiy would become Chairman (Speaker) of the Ukrainian Parliament in 2016. In November 2014, Ukraine’s chief rabbi, Yaakov Bleich, condemned the multi-millionaire Interior Minister Arsen Avakov’s appointment of Azov Battalion deputy commander Vadym Troyan as police chief of Kyiv Oblast (2014–2021) and said, as reported by the Jerusalem Post on 12 November 2014, that:
If the interior minister continues to appoint people of questionable repute and ideologies tainted with fascism and right-wing extremism, the interior minister should be replaced.
On the day after the coup (23 February), the new regime immediately sought to repeal the 2012 Law on the Principles of the State Language Policy, a repeal that would have led to discrimination against the use of the Russian language in Ukraine. Oleksandr Turchnyov, acting president after the coup, did not sign this repeal, so the matter remained in limbo until the 2012 law, which had made life easier for speakers of Russian and other languages in Ukraine, was finally declared unconstitutional on 28 February 2018.
A new law on language policy was then passed in April 2019, during the Poroshenko presidency; it clearly discriminated against speakers of Russian and other non-EU languages, for which it was duly criticised by the leading Europe-wide body of constitutional experts, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. The new law in 2019, passed by 278 votes to 38, came into force under the new President, Volodymyr Zelensky. It made the use of Ukrainian compulsory (totally or within quotas) in more than thirty spheres of public life, including:
- public administration;
- the electoral process;
- economic and social life;
- health and care institutions; and
- the activities of political parties.
The law did not regulate private communication.
Some exemptions were provided for the official languages of the European Union and for minority languages, with the exclusion of Russian, Belarusian and Yiddish. This was reported by the Venice Commission; see especially paras. 69–77 on pp. 16 and 17.
In March 2019, the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology had published its findings that:
28.1% of Ukrainians spoke mostly or only Russian with their families, including 15.8% who exclusively spoke Russian. That compared with 46% who spoke mostly or only Ukrainian with their families, and 24.9% who spoke the two languages in equal proportion.
During the 2019 presidential election campaign, Zelensky, whose political funder and backer, the billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky, also funded the ultranationalist Azov and Aidar battalions, was asked about Bandera. He replied:
Many Ukrainians consider Bandera a hero, and that is cool.
After the Russian incursion and the siege of Mariupol, Azov’s main command centre, Fox News asked Zelensky about Azov and he replied:
They are what they are. They were defending our country.
Zelensky has banned eleven political parties, none of them ultranationalist.
At a press conference in January 2023, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov alleged that although the Ukrainian constitution guarantees rights for Russians, President Zelensky had declared in 2021 (on 5 August, on the Dom TV channel) that “if someone [in Ukraine] identifies as a Russian in terms of culture, language or traditions, they should clear out and move to Russia.” What Zelensky had actually said was that it would be a “big mistake” for Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens to stay in the Donbass, since:
it will never be Russian territory. Just never. It doesn't matter how long it will be occupied, do you understand? It's like the wall that was in Germany. In any case, people, history will seize the moment—and the wall will fall. Therefore, I believe that if you love Russia and have been on the territory of Ukraine all your life and have felt that this is Russia, then you must understand that for the sake of your children and grandchildren, you need to go and look for a place in Russia. This is the right thing to do.
In effect, he was calling for the ethnic cleansing of Russians from the Donbass. Such statements would surely have caused mental stress and harm to ethnic Russians in the Donbass.
The war in the Donbass, 2014–2022
A regime that in 2014 contained leaders who harked back to the pro-Nazi sentiments of the genocidal terrorist and ultranationalist Providnyk (Heaven-Sent Leader) Stepan Bandera, and which was upheld by fanatical movements which did the same, now proceeded to make war against its own citizens.
Instead of making sincere and persistent efforts to send civil and political representatives to try to reason with those in the Crimea and the Donbass who were opposed to what had happened at the Maidan coup and afterwards, the new regime designated those calling for more autonomy within Ukraine or for separation from Ukraine as ‘terrorists’, and declared an ‘Anti-Terrorist Operation’ against them—a misnomer just as incongruous as Putin’s term ‘special military operation’—and sent regular Ukrainian army troops against them.
When it became clear that the troops were unwilling to fire on the citizens, the Turchynov-Yatsenyuk regime sent so-called ‘volunteer battalions’ of far-right extremists (Azov, Aidar, Right Sector, C14, et al.), to fight and repress them. It was clear that the regime did not want a peaceful resolution of the problem with those it regarded as citizens of Ukraine.
It was not long before these ultranationalist volunteer battalions (dobrobats) were committing war crimes, torture and killing unarmed civilians. Only four months after US pro-globalist correspondent and supposed world expert on communism Anne Applebaum wrote an article (12 May 2014) entitled Nationalism Is Exactly What Ukraine Needs, in which she attempted to cover ugly Ukrainian ultranationalism—contriving not to mention Stepan Bandera once—with virtuous Ukrainian nationalism, Newsweek ran an article entitled Ukrainian nationalist volunteers committing ‘ISIS-style’ war crimes.
The gruesome massacre by ultranationalists of about 50 anti-Kyiv regime demonstrators in the Trade Union building in Odessa on 2 May 2014, where people were burned alive and fell to their deaths escaping the fire and were bludgeoned to death if they survived the fall, was an important factor in hardening attitudes and in prompting many more in the Donbass to take up arms against the regime and become active separatists, as they realised the uncompromising depth of the hatred of Donbass Russians on the part of Kyiv regime supporters.
This was especially the case in western Ukraine, where hatred of Russians and Russian speakers is especially strong in cities like Lviv—where ultranationalism, repressed during Ukraine’s Soviet era, festered under the surface since the years of Bandera and OUN, gradually re-emerged in the 1990s, and mushroomed in the 2000s.
In 2014, the Russians and the separatists were soon being called “Moskals” (a derogatory term for ‘Muscovites’), “pigs”, “orcs” (from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings) and other dehumanising terms by Kyiv regime forces. In turn, pro-Kyiv forces were regularly called “fascists”, “Nazis” and “Banderites” by their opponents.
There is widespread agreement that the worst violence in the Donbass before 2022 occurred in 2014 and 2015. The Office of the (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR):
estimates that between mid-April 2014 and 31 May 2016, at least 9,404 people, of which up to 2,000 are civilians, have been killed as a result of the conflict. The vast majority of civilian casualties, recorded on the territories controlled by the Government of Ukraine and on those controlled by armed groups, were caused by the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas, in violation of the international humanitarian law principle of distinction. [Emphasis added]
The OHCHR further estimates:
the total number of conflict-related casualties in Ukraine from 14 April 2014 to 31 December 2021 to be 51,000–54,000: 14,200–14,400 killed (at least 3,404 civilians, estimated 4,400 Ukrainian forces, and estimated 6,500 members of armed groups), and 37-39,000 injured (7,000–9,000 civilians, 13,800–14,200 Ukrainian forces and 15,800–16,200 members of armed groups). [Emphasis added]
These figures include “deaths resulting from imprudent handling of ammunition or weapons, road incidents, diseases, killings and suicides while on service in the conflict zone.”
The 3,404 civilians killed and the 7,000 to 9,000 injured (quite apart from those suffering far-reaching psychological injuries, not included in such figures) would not have been killed and injured if the Ukrainian Government had not opted in 2014 to see its own citizens in the Donbass as ‘terrorists’ and to wage war against them, beginning with the use of fanatical ultranationalist volunteer battalions, headed by the likes of Azov, Aidar, and Right Sector, and also the Special Tasks Patrol Police created by Interior Minister Arsen Avakov in April 2014.
These were not the actions of a government which wanted peace and reconciliation, but of one which sought to wage war, not for the sake of its own citizens but for the sake of its own state borders and for its concept of what Ukraine ought to be within those borders.
The pro-Kyiv writer Taras Kuzio has written:
The very high number of combatant casualties [in 2014] reflects the viciousness and intensity of a relatively short war; in contrast, 600 soldiers and police officers were killed in Northern Ireland over a three-decade terrorist conflict. This is clearly not a terrorist conflict (despite Kiev’s name given to its operations as ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation]) but an insurgency; that is a conflict lying between a full-scale war and terrorism.
The insurgency was due to the Ukrainian Government’s unwillingness to listen to the concerns of the people of the Donbass, whom it was so quick to label ‘terrorists’. (We should perhaps also recall that 2014 was the year in which ISIS burst upon the world’s attention in the Middle East.) Many of the Ukrainian regular soldiers, who in numerous cases were native Russian speakers themselves, did not wish to kill their fellow Russian-speaking citizens.
This left the regime dependent on the fanatical ultranationalist battalions in the summer of 2014. The “viciousness and intensity” of the fighting in 2014 was presaged by the viciousness and intensity of the Maidan coup in February 2014, and that was due to the violent lead given by the extreme nationalist and neo-Nazi groups which had grown over the previous 14 years. Writing in The Grayzone website (4 March 2022), Alexander Rubinstein and Max Blumenthal cite Yevhen Karas, the leader of one of those groups, C14, who said in a speech in public on 5 February 2022:
LGBT and foreign embassies say there were not many Nazis at Maidan, maybe at most ten per cent of real ideological ones, [but] If it were not for those eight percent [of neo-Nazis], the effectiveness [of the Maidan coup] would have dropped by 90 per cent. The 2014 Maidan “Revolution of Dignity” would have been a “gay parade” if not for the instrumental role of neo-Nazis.
The authors note:
[Karas] went on to say that the West armed Ukrainian ultranationalists because ‘we have fun killing.’ He also fantasized about the balkanization of Russia, declaring that it should be broken up into “five different” countries.
In a review of the book Volunteer Battalions: Story of a Heroic Deed of Battalions That Saved Ukraine, Ilmari Käihkö writes:
The subversive ideology of separatism was considered a disease that would spread among the generally apolitical population if left unchecked […] The head of the presidential administration during the interim presidency [Turchynov] describes the volunteers as a stopgap measure, which bought time for the state to ‘set the wheels of the rusty mechanism of the Ukraine’s Armed Forces […] in motion.’
In fact, the main feat of the volunteers was likely the way they dragged the unwilling state into the conflict. By escalating the situation, they effectively influenced government aims, and hence its strategy […] the government had criminalized its opponents as terrorists, if not expelled them from the national body altogether: ‘if faced with armed resistance of Russian saboteurs, we had to liquidate the threat as negotiations with the terrorists were impossible and unacceptable.’
This effectively made violence the only available means in a war that, because of its internationalized and political nature, could not be won through violence alone. This became apparent after the government lost its gamble with the  summer offensive. In many ways, it is a miracle that Ukraine survived at all, a feat that the book attributes to the men and women of the volunteer battalions. [Emphasis added]
But through this ‘miraculous feat’ of the ultranationalist volunteer battalions, backed by the ultranationalists in the Kyiv coup regime itself (the three Svoboda members of the government plus Dmytro Yarosh of Right Sector), the nature of the conflict became ever more vicious and cruel; war crimes and human rights offences multiplied.
Vasily Prozorov, head of the UkrLeaks Investigation Centre and a former SBU officer himself, has investigated and documented numerous cases of torture, rape, extra-judicial killings, robberies, and looting by Ukrainian forces since the conflict began, as described by UkrLeaks here, here and here.
He also gives documentary evidence of how the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) provided Interim President Turchnyov with the rationale for aggressive actions against the dissidents in the Donbass on 29 April, well before those actions began:
In April 2014, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) draw [sic] up a set of proposals to solve the conflict in the Eastern Ukraine signed by the then president of SBU Valentin Nalivaichenko. The documents were addressed to the acting president of Ukraine Alexander Turchinov.
He cites and shows a passage in one of these documents in which the SBU:
clearly and unequivocally stressed the readiness and need of killing civilians by the armed forces, irrespective of their gender and age,
although they toned down the language somewhat.
He cites another passage in which the Ukrainian security personnel were told to
publicly deny talks with the separatist groups which undermine the sovereignty of the State. To completely ignore their ‘demands’, move them out of legal framework and qualify them as ‘outlawed’. In the public discourse to avoid the terms of ‘volunteers, ‘militiamen’, ‘separatists’ or ‘rebels’ and replace them with ‘collaborators’ and criminals, who are subject to either imprisonment, or physical destruction.
Prozorov points out that:
whatever […] you call people, they do not stop being citizens of Ukraine. Let me remind you that the document dates back to 29 April, 2014 [i.e. prior to active military operations—note by Terry Boardman]. Even then the leadership of Ukraine were preparing only for a force [sic] solution to the conflict.
In other words, they were not contemplating any other solution.
Prozorov notes the SBU’s ‘biblical’ focus in their recommendation to—in their words—
introduce in the Ukrainian propaganda an image of Russia as a threat to the whole civilized world and present the Ukrainian resistance as a holly [sic] war against the world’s evil and the kingdom of Armageddon (It is desirable to attract the most influential figures of the church to bring this thesis to public awareness).
Presidents Poroshenko and Zelensky have certainly done this in many of their statements.
Vasily Prozorov tweeted on 5 July 2022, referring to the oblast of Volhynia by its early-1940s Polish name, that:
[The] Ukrainian government has just commissioned stamps of Roman Szuchewycz, who was the main commander of UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) during the genocide in Wołyn.
These were not the first stamps commemorating this Ukrainian mass murderer. A stamp doing the same was issued in 2007:
UPA was the military wing of OUN-B, at the head of which was Stepan Bandera, the hero of so many of Ukrainian ultranationalists. The UPA was responsible for killing around 100,000 Poles 1941–43 and assisted the Nazis in arresting, persecuting and killing Jews. The new Shukhevych stamps joined those already in circulation that commemorated Stepan Bandera:
What does it mean when a modern state puts mass murderers on its stamps and when its leaders describe them as “heroes” and “cool”?
The North Crimean Canal
A further major attack in 2014 by the Kyiv regime on the livelihoods and the “conditions of life” (the term used in the UN Genocide Convention criterion) not only of Russian speakers, but also of other minorities (Crimean Tatars, Armenians, Greeks, Bulgarians, Karaites and Jews) came when, soon after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in February-March 2014, Ukraine dammed the North Crimean Canal, which had provided the inhabitants of the Crimean Peninsula with 85% of their water, 72% of which went to agriculture, 10% to industry, and the remaining 18% for drinking and other public uses.
While pretending to care for the interests of all the Crimean population, the Ukrainian President’s permanent representative in Crimea, Anton Korynevych, said in 2020:
The resumption of water supply to the peninsula is possible only after the de-occupation of Crimea, and this is a significant lever of pressure on the occupier country.
This grossly irresponsible action by the Kyiv regime threatened the most fundamental of all conditions of life—water—of all the people of Crimea. Russia’s construction and opening of the Kerch Bridge in 2018 ameliorated the situation somewhat, but not enough. In March 2022, Russian forces were able to blow up the dam and render the canal useable again, restoring its water to the people of Crimea.
The actions of Poroshenko
Other attacks on the conditions of life of Russian speakers occurred in the Donbass during the Ukrainian presidency of Petro Poroshenko (2014–2019). Not only did Ukrainian shelling of civilians in the Donbass greatly increase under Poroshenko, he facilitated billions of dollars of US aid for the Ukrainian military and failed to implement the terms of the Minsk II Agreement (12 February 2015), which included provisions for a greater degree of autonomy for the people of the Luansk and Donetsk oblasts while maintaining the pre-2014 state borders of Ukraine in the Donbass.
Not a single provision of the Minsk deal had been entirely implemented. Poroshenko converted the Anti-Terrorist Operation of 2014 into a “Joint Forces Operation” in April 2018, thus recognising the integration of the by then battle-hardened ultranationalist volunteer battalions into the Ukrainian regular armed forces and maintaining that the war was no longer a campaign against ‘militants’ and ‘terrorists’ but against Russia itself. Accordingly, the Ukrainian General Staff therefore took over overall command of these battalions from the SBU and the Interior Ministry.
This represented a dangerous escalation of the conflict by Poroshenko, who in 2014 had first “compared the armed pro-Russian rebels to Somali pirates” whose “goal is to turn Donbass into a Somalia where they would rule with the power of machine guns,” as noted by The Guardian on 26 May 2014.
Poroshenko is on record as saying that he signed the Minsk II Agreement only to gain time to strengthen Ukraine’s military for the struggle against Russia. He therefore considerably and knowingly worsened the conditions of life for his own citizens in the Donbass. Ukraine had achieved everything it had set out to achieve, he said of the peace deal in interviews with German TV channel Deutsche Welle and with Radio Free Europe–Radio Liberty:
Our goal was to, first, stop the threat, or at least to delay the war—to secure eight years to restore economic growth and create powerful armed forces.
Ukrainian billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky, widely regarded as Zelensky’s patron, is cited in an interview in 2019 as saying that Kyiv had not implemented and would not implement Minsk II:
The very signing of these agreements […] was a tactical ploy—the Ukrainian army was suffering brutal defeats from the [separatist] militias [in 2014/15], and Poroshenko needed to avoid a final defeat. There is a clause that control of the border [would be] transferred after changes to the constitution, i.e., never. Poroshenko would not have it, nor Zelensky, nor anyone else, because it is impossible to find three hundred votes [from Ukrainian parliamentarians in the Rada—note by Terry Boardman] for constitutional changes, federalization, constitution of individual republics, other nonsense. Because if this were done, the Ukrainian state would cease to exist.
This is the nub of the whole issue which has led to genocide in the Donbass: the problematic nature not just of the Ukrainian state, but of any modern state: must it be a unitary state —one people, one language, one culture, one religion. This is something which Ukrainian ultranationalists demand and which denies autonomy to minorities. Or, if a state contains and tolerates minorities, can it find a way to become a pluralist entity in which politics, culture and economy can be kept separate from each other while yet interrelated, much like the three systems of the human body: the nervous system, the circulatory system and the metabolic system?
As long as states like Ukraine go on trying to copy the nineteenth-century western European unitary model of the nation state, a model in which all three systems are entangled, there will only be endless conflict as majorities, with the aid of oligarchical economic actors such as Kolomoysky and Poroshenko, seek to force minorities to bend to their will.
For example, under Poroshenko, popular Russian-language social media websites such as Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki were banned. The 2012 law on language policy (Law on Principles of State Language Policy, the so-called Kivalov-Kolesnichenko Law), which had strengthened the rights of those who spoke minority languages and which was thus opposed by nationalists, was declared unconstitutional and was repealed.
A new law on education was signed by President Poroshenko on 25 September 2017, according to which “the Ukrainian language is the language of education at all levels except for one or more subjects that are allowed to be taught in two or more languages, namely English or one of the other official languages of the European Union” (i.e. not Russian).
Poroshenko’s legacy in religion and culture
Ukraine is home to one-third of all Russian Orthodox churches: in April 2018, the Moscow Patriarchate had 12,300 parishes in Ukraine and the Kyiv Patriarchate (founded in 1992) 5,100 parishes.
Poroshenko encouraged and welcomed the split between the Kyiv Patriarchate’s churches and those of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), which thus divided the Eastern Orthodox community and further contributed to the deterioration of the conditions of life of Russian speakers and mental harm in their communities. Under Poroshenko’s presidency and that of Zelensky, increasing pressure has been put on the UOC-MP.
In November–December 2018, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) carried out raids across Ukraine against UOC-MP churches and priests, and such raids have continued sporadically since then.
In May 2022, Poroshenko said:
We should introduce sanctions against the Russian Orthodox Church as a terrorist organisation.
The Committee on Humanitarian and Information Policy at the Ukrainian Parliament is currently supporting a ban on religious organisations affiliated with Russia, including the UOC-MP. President Zelensky said in December 2022 that such a ban may be necessary to secure “Ukraine’s spiritual independence” from Russia, a phrase also used by Poroshenko in 2018.
In 2022, Zelensky said:
We will never allow anyone to build an empire inside the Ukrainian soul.
He evidently sees “the Ukrainian soul” as something collective and monolithic, for which he has to assume responsibility. Religious pluralism would therefore seem to be under threat in Ukraine for reasons of ‘national security’. Ukrainian parliamentarian Yaroslav Zheleznyak said that a ban “would help to purge the Russian world from Ukraine”.
This kind of nationalist paranoia was perhaps first seen in the French Revolution, when war and the threat of foreign invasion drove the revolutionaries into ever more extreme emotions and ideology that eventually culminated in genocidal manifestations of terror such as the massacres at Lyon and in the Vendée in 1793–94.
Ukraine’s national police force was led from its formation in 2015 (under Poroshenko) by the Minister of the Interior, Arsen Avakov, the only minister from the Poroshenko administration to continue serving in Zelensky’s government in 2019 (until he resigned in 2021). Avakov had well-known ties to the ultranationalist Azov Battalion. He criticised attempts by the US Congress to designate the group as a terrorist organization. As the World Socialist Web Site described the situation in 2020:
Under Avakov’s leadership, Ukraine’s far-right groups have been given free rein to carry out a range of targeted political assassinations and attacks on ethnic minorities. The culprits are rarely arrested or, if arrested, are punished with minimal sentences. Meanwhile, the groups with which they are affiliated, such as the Azov Battalion and the neo-Nazi C14, are allowed to continue their operations. They maintain close ties with representatives of the Ukrainian government.
The actions of Zelensky
Russian speakers in Ukraine and the Donbass soon enough had no reason to think their situation would be any better under Zelensky than it was under Turchnyov and Poroshenko. Elected on a promise to end the conflict in the Donbass, and despite having been outspoken in his pre-political career about being a native speaker of Russian who felt marginalised by Ukrainian government policies, Zelensky did no such thing; on the contrary, he provocatively escalated the situation to the point where Russia felt it had no alternative but to move into Ukraine in February 2022, with all the consequences this has had for the people of Ukraine and the Donbass.
He has continually compromised with the ultranationalists. For example, in December 2021, Zelensky—who, as a Jew, is not popular in ultranationalist circles—presented a Hero of Ukraine award to Dmytro Kotsyubaylo, a leader of the Right Sector, in a ceremony on the floor of Ukraine’s parliament chamber. The New York Times noted:
Known as ‘Da Vinci’, Kotsyubaylo keeps a pet wolf in his frontline base, and likes to joke to visiting reporters that his fighters ‘feed it the bones of Russian-speaking children.’
Zelensky’s patron, the Jewish oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, has since 2014 funded ultranationalist brigades such as Azov, Aidar, Dnipro–1, Dnipro–2 and Donbass, many of whose members are no friends to Jews. Andriy Biletsky, the leader of Azov, is known for having stated in 2010 that Ukraine’s national purpose is to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade […] against Semite-led Untermenschen [subhumans]”.
In January 2018, Azov started a street patrol unit called National Druzhyna, aiming to “restore order” in Kyiv, but the unit engaged in pogroms against the Roma community and attacked LGBTQ people. Ukraine was the only country in the world in 2014 to have so many extreme ultranationalists in its cabinet. A correspondent for the US-based magazine, The Nation, wrote in 2019 that “Ukraine is the world’s only nation to have a neo-Nazi formation in its armed forces.”
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a report in which it:
accused Azov in 2016 of violating international humanitarian law. The report detailed incidents over a period from November 2015-February 2016 where Azov had embedded their weapons and forces in used civilian buildings, and displaced residents after looting civilian properties. The report also accused the battalion of raping and torturing detainees in the Donbas region.
Shelling of the Donbass since February 2022
We can see from the below maps by the special monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe that Ukraine considerably increased its ceasefire violations in the days before the Russian invasion on 24 February 2022.
Ukrainian shelling of territories of the Luhansk People's Republic and the Donetsk People's Republic, including territories far from the front lines, has continued unabated since the beginning of the conflict in February 2022—as reported, for example, by Eva Bartlett in June 2022 at mronline.org:
Such an unprecedented—in terms of power, density and duration of fire—raid on the DPR capital was not recorded during the entire period of the armed conflict [since 2014]. In two hours, almost 300 MLRS rockets and artillery shells were fired.
At least five civilians, including one child, were killed. It should be reiterated that Ukrainian forces have since 2014 been shelling cities that they considered to be in Ukraine and civilians whom their government ostensibly considered to be citizens of Ukraine. Donbass-Insider reported in November that on 27 November 2022,
the Ukrainian army massively shelled Donetsk, Makeevka and Gorlovka, killing three civilians and wounding seven others, and damaging more than 20 homes, kindergartens and other civilian infrastructure. […] The Ukrainian army fired these rockets into densely populated areas of the capital of the DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic), where there are no military bases, positions or weapons.
Such shelling and rocket attacks on towns and cities behind the front lines in the DPR and LPR have continued since the open conflict with the Russian state began on 24 February 2022. From that day until 12 February 2023, OHCHR recorded 10,167 casualties (4,189 killed and 5,978 injured) in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and 7,946 casualties (3,679 killed and 4,267 injured) on Ukrainian Government-controlled territory. It reports:
OHCHR believes that the actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration.
The numbers killed in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict since 2014 so far have not been as large as even the smallest of the cases of genocide recognised as such in recent decades (e.g. Indonesia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Rwanda, East Timor, Bosnia).
Nevertheless, on the basis of all the information adduced in this article:
- given the action of the Kyiv coup regime in 2014 in resorting to warfare in dealing with Russian dissidents in the Donbass;
- given the extreme ultranationalist, even neo-Nazi and anti-Russian, views of leading figures in the Ukrainian Government and of many of those fighting on the Ukrainian side since 2014—notably, the former ‘volunteer battalions’ (now ‘integrated’ into the Armed Forces of Ukraine);
- given the discriminatory actions of the Ukrainian Government with regard to education, language, access to media, religious expression and water resources;
- and given the negative effect of those actions on the physical and mental wellbeing of the Russian people in the regions affected in the fighting,
the conclusion must be that it is indeed fair and proper to call the Ukrainian policy in the Donbass ‘genocide’.
For, in the terms stipulated by the UN Genocide Convention, not only have the Russian majority in the Donbass been killed ‘in part’, and are still being killed, but “serious bodily or mental harm” has been done to them, and “conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of them in part have been inflicted upon them”.
Russians in the Donbass can surely see the direction of travel that would have been theirs if they had opted to remain within the Ukrainian state, just as Jews in Germany in the early 1930s were able to perceive that the restrictions placed upon them immediately by the Nazis in 1933 would eventually lead to the crime which did not yet at that time have a name—genocide.