For several days, a video has been circulating on the Internet again with the scene of the crucifixion of a captured pro-Russian separatist, allegedly committed by the soldiers of the “Azov” Regiment, a paramilitary, extremely nationalist unit of Ukrainian volunteers. The crime was to be committed near the village of Shyrokyne in the Donetsk region. The video was first published in April 2015, but due to the current Russian aggression against Ukraine, it was given a second life online. In this article, we present our doubts about this touching material.
The first publication of the video
The video depicting the crucifixion was released for the first time on April 24, 2015. It was not done by fighters from the “Azov” regiment, but by hackers from the pro-Russian group Cyber Berkut, who explained that the video had been sent to their e-mail address. However, they did not post it online, and instead sent it directly to the Russian media. Therefore, it was not published by the Ukrainians. What is puzzling is the fact that the video opens with an introduction in which one of the masked men introduces the group of soldiers as the “Azov” battalion, and yet in September 2014 the battalion was transformed into a regiment. The man also informs that they will punish anyone who collaborates with the separatists with crucifixion. The video ends as soon as the cross is set on fire, before the flames reach the hanged man. We don’t know who he was or what happened to him afterwards. Despite assurances of the inevitable punishment for other collaborators, no other similar recording was released, but the Russian propaganda machine made sure that the video reached the widest possible audience in Russia and throughout the world.
The “Azov” regiment denies it
On the very next day, the “Azov” regiment denied having anything to do with this event and accused the Russian side of an information war against Ukraine. They also expressed their willingness to support Ukrainian and international investigations in order to clarify the matter. In the statement, representatives of the regiment also present a number of differences in the uniforms and weapons of the recorded soldiers compared to the equipment of members of the “Azov” regiment. Among other things, one of the differences was in the size of a chevron, i.e. a patch with the symbol of a regiment, on the shoulder of one of the soldiers’ uniform, which was much larger than the original symbol.
Previous alleged crucifixion
The alleged crucifixion allegedly committed by the soldiers of the “Azov” Regiment was not the first story of this type made public by the Russians. A year earlier, an interview with Galina Pyshniak aired on public television. On July 12, 2014, on Channel One of the state television, the woman said that after entering the city of Sloviansk, the Ukrainian army was to execute a three-year-old boy and his mother because her husband was fighting alongside the separatists. She claimed that the boy was crucified while his mother was tied to a tank and dragged into the central square. Although the woman claimed there were many eyewitnesses, no one has confirmed that such an event took place.
The hoax was investigated, among others, by StopFake.org. An independent Russian reporter Timur Olevskiy was in Sloviansk at the time the city was taken over by Ukrainian forces. According to his report, the residents were grateful to the soldiers of the Ukrainian army for humanitarian aid in the form of food provided. He has not confirmed any demonstrative executions.
The “Azov” Regiment and Neo-Nazism
Soldiers fighting in the “Azov” Regiment do not hide their fascist tendencies. In their emblem they have one of the SS symbols – Wolfsangel (German Wolf Hook). The first commander of the Regiment, Andriy Biletsky, wrote the following in his agenda article:
„All our nationalism is nothing – a castle in the sand – without resting on a foundation of blood, the foundation of Race. […] Accordingly, the treatment of our national organism must begin with the Racial Purification of the Nation. Only then, a healthy National Spirit will be reborn in a healthy Racial body, and with it the culture, the language and everything else. In addition to the issue of purity, we must also pay attention to the issue of the completeness of the Race. Ukrainians are part (and one of the largest and highest quality parts) of the European White Race.”
The U.S. Congress banned the sale of weapons intended for Azov due to their extremist and far-right ideology. Earlier, a Republican Max Rose persuaded 39 U.S. Congress deputies to sign a letter to the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, calling him to add the Azov regiment to the foreign terrorist organization list.
During the founding conference of the nationalist National Corps Party, Andriy Biletsky distanced himself from the neo-Nazi sympathies of some members of the Regiment, saying that it was about the “boasting” of young people, not a political position, and that there are only a few percent of supporters of the extreme-right ideology in “Azov” and this does not apply to regimental headquarters.
In the 2020 local elections, the National Corps Party won 18 councillor seats across Ukraine with only 0.04% of all votes.
There is no clear evidence that the said execution was carried out by Ukrainians from the “Azov” Regiment. Until such evidence appears, it cannot be treated as reliable and authentic material. The video was made public by Russian pro-government television and has since served as a justification for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Representatives of the “Azov” Regiment denied the information that they were the participants in these scenes and accused Russia of an information war against Ukraine.
Unfortunately, this material is also available on Polish websites and in social media, constituting a tool in the anti-Ukrainian narrative that aims to weaken the will to provide humanitarian aid to Ukrainian refugees, and is intended to justify Russian military operations in Ukraine.