The Ukrainian public budgets and the far right: how C14 has been winning government grants since 2017

Біосугестивна терапія. Грант для С14

Political life in Ukraine is roiling, and the street has long become its integral part. Since 2014, members of far-right organizations — “activists”, as the Ukrainian media tend to call them — have become key actors in street politics. Nearly every day the media inform us about  “activists” preventing something, blocking or fighting someone, and the police arresting the “activists”—illegally, of course—so that other “activists” demand their immediate release and investigation into attacks on them. Of course, such civil engagement requires a lot of time from these concerned citizens, which is incompatible with working nine to five. And therefore, it requires financial support. But where could the principled fighters against Western liberalism and “grant-eating” organizations get such support? This is where the government comes to the rescue.

In June 2018, Hromadske Radio revealed that two nationalist organizations were allocated over a million hryvnias (37,000 euros) in state funds.  The grants were awarded for projects run by Holosiyivska Kryyivka NGO (760,000 UAH, or 23,400 EUR), connected to Ukraine’s largest nationalist party, Svoboda; and C14 (440,000 UAH, or 13,500 EUR),  one of the most notorious far-right groups in the country. The report came  a month and a half after C14 had organized a Roma pogrom  on Lysa Hora hill in Kyiv, so public uproar was inevitable. Nevertheless, the grant was not withdrawn. As the head of the grant commision Mykola Lyakhovych explained at the time, officials had taken into consideration only the content of the projects, and not the activities or ideologies of the organizations awarded.  

Mykola Lyakhovych, Head of the Department of National-Patriotic Education at the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine. Photo credit: Ukrinform.

Another thing that was not made clear at that time was the real scale of government funding to the far-right. In 2019, Bellingcat published a story about the 845,000 UAH (26,000 EUR) in state funds awarded to far-right organizations, but this investigation did not provoke the same public reaction as before. And in January 2020, the grants given to C14 in 2019 and 2020 became a subject of two vlogs by the popular blogger Anatoliy Shariy (1, 2). Since the Ukrainian media usually label him as “pro-Russian,” the revelations were only shared among his supporters, ignored by his opponents. Meanwhile, various state bodies continued to fund C14 and its affiliates, with the total sum of awards reaching six-figure amounts.

Successful fundraisers

Counting how much money from the state or city budgets has been spent on activities of radical nationalist organizations really is not easy. The lists of awardees of grant programs are scattered across web pages of ministries and local authorities. They feature multiple organizations with far-right backgrounds. We chose to focus on the most well-known right-wing radical group, C14.

We can learn about the sources of C14’s funding from their leader’s interview. According to Yevhen Karas, there are three such sources: donations from supporters; donations from companies; and support from ATO veterans that are now businessmen, whose names or company names Yevhen is not prepared to disclose to avoid possible repressions against the benefactors. Frankly, these three sources seem to converge into just one source—private transfers which are impossible to trace. But sometimes, the head of C14 also mentions the fourth way of filling the organization’s budget: “We win many government and non-government competitions.” And when he says “many,” Karas really means it.

Let’s clarify who these “we” are. The group’s members try not to use their main brand, C14, for such delicate matters as grants. The applications are submitted by C14’s satellites, founded by the same people—NGOs such as the Union of Veterans of the War with Russia, Education Assembly, Ukrainian Military Honor, National Center for Human Rights Advocacy. Sometimes they also ask for money for the parent organization SICH-C14. And if one ministry does not give them money, they can ask another one for it. In addition to the national government programs, there are also city ones. So, in order to provide Kyiv residents with the services of C14 “activists,” Kyiv Union of Veterans of the War with Russia has been founded in addition to the nationwide Union.

The logos of C14 and its affiliated projects

2018. Legal awareness, board games, mental health assistance

So what are the useful things that the nationalists do? In 2018, the Ministry of Youth and Sports supported four projects by C14-affiliated organizations. Three of the grants, for a total of 440,000 UAH (13,000 EUR), were received by the Education Assembly. Using these funds, people connected to the organization, which regularly engages in illegal activities, were supposed to teach young people about legal awareness as a guarantee of national security, explain to them the importance of national-patriotic upbringing, and create a board game based on the novel Kholodnyi Yar. What they managed to come up with was essentially Monopoly.

100,000 UAH (3,100 EUR) was received from the Ministry directly by NGO SICH-C14 to organize the Hawk 2018 All-Ukrainian Camp. The camp aimed to “increase the number of young people prepared to fulfill their duty to defend the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” and to provide “experience of survival in the wilderness and navigation, teach the basics of discipline, subordination, strategy, tactics, etc.”

But this is not all that C14’s affiliates could expect in 2018. The State Service for the Affairs of Veterans and ATO Participants gave 767,386 UAH (23,600 EUR) for the Veteran Support Service project, submitted by the Union of Veterans of the War with Russia. Meanwhile, the Kyiv City State Administration, as a part of the Civil Perspective: Transparent Government and Active Community project, supported the Union with another 197,400 UAH (6,100 EUR) for the Veteran’s New Profession project. The Education Assembly got 198,700 UAH (6,100 EUR) from the city.

Hawk 2018 All-Ukrainian Сamp. Photo.

2019. Kayaking, Skrypin, Babchenko

2019 also proved productive for C14. In addition to 13 attacks and confrontations recorded by the Marker monitoring group in 2019, the organization’s affiliates managed to receive a substantial amount of public money. For instance, the Ministry of Veteran Affairs gave 897,680 UAH (27,600 EUR) to the Union of Veterans of the War with Russia. With this money, it was planned to organize 4 seminars for 160 ATO veterans as a part of the Guardians of Veteran Rights project. Meanwhile, the Union basically inherited another project from their colleagues from SICH-C14—the Hawk camp. The Ministry of Youth and Sports gave it 90,000 UAH (2,800 EUR) for the camp. Ministry officials probably decided that the Union would manage the camp better than its last year’s organizers, while also asking 10,000 UAH (300 EUR) less for it.

In addition to the Union of Veterans of the War with Russia, there is a local Kyiv version of it, the Kyiv Union of Veterans of the War with Russia. It is incredibly successful in implementing projects funded by the Kyiv City Administration and Kyiv Regional Administration. For its Veteran’s Health project, the Kyiv Union received 177,400 UAH (5,500 EUR) in 2018 and 124,090 UAH (3,800 EUR) in 2019. Using this money, C14 members were supposed to organize free-of-charge kayak and SUP board trips for ATO and UFO participants. Another 80,000 UAH (2,500 EUR) was received by the organization in 2019 for its Young Defender camp.

A SUP board trip. Photo credit: Facebook page of the Union of Veterans of the War with Russia

The Education Assembly was supported by the Ministry of Youth and Sports with 442,664 UAH (13,600 EUR) in 2019. As a part of its Resilience League project, such prominent journalists as Arkadiy Babchenko and Roman Skrypin, InformNapalm’s spokesman Mykhailo Makaruk, or the military columnist Oleksiy Arestovych were supposed to teach the participants how to think critically. And for 272,664 UAH (8,400 EUR), the “educators” intended to develop a “computer game as a means to recognize the achievements of the Ukrainian nation.” Unfortunately, we have not managed to play the game or even to find out if anyone has ever completed it and actually recognized the achievements of the Ukrainian nation. Reports on project implementation have not been published on the Ministry website, and the Assembly’s website also, for some reason, keeps silent about its contribution to the Ukrainian gamedev.

C14 “human rights advocates” also engage in human rights advocacy funded from the budget via another organization, the National Center for Human Rights Advocacy, led by one of the key suspects in the murder of the writer and journalist Oles Buzyna, Denys Polishchuk. The Ministry of Youth and Sports agreed that national-patriotic education was the foundation of civil liberties, and gave 135,000 UAH (4,100 EUR) to fund a project with a corresponding name. At the same time, the development of citizens’ legal awareness was supported by the Kyiv City Administration with 197,660 UAH (6,100 EUR), and by the Kyiv Regional Administration’s Department of Youth Policies with 83,000 UAH (2,500 EUR).

2020. Fundraising, development center, Proud of Ukrainians

It’s 2020 now; the demonstratively patriotic Poroshenko has been succeeded by Zelensky in the President’s office, and the country is supposedly experiencing a “revanche of pro-Russian forces.” But this does not prevent the bureaucratic system from working in its usual mode and continuing to give money to the far-right. According to Bellingcat’s information, since Oksana Koliada took the office of the head of the Ministry of Veterans in August 2019, the situation has even become worse. The investigators claimed that the Ministry has basically been “captured” by the far-right.

So it is not surprising that in 2020, various C14 affiliates received 1,310,000 UAH (40,400 EUR) from the Ministry of Veterans only. This year, the Education Assembly will use 350,000 UAH (10,800 EUR) to teach media literacy, public campaigning and fundraising to veterans. There is no reason to doubt the Assembly’s exceptional competence in the latter field. But it is not entirely clear why this project is categorized as “athletic rehabilitation measures” in the papers. 600,000 UAH (18,500 EUR) from the Ministry will be received by the Union of Veterans of the War with Russia to build a “Center for Veteran Development.” And 360,000 UAH (11,000 EUR was allocated to the Ukrainian Military Honor, led by Andriy Medvedko, for its Life after War project.

Traditionally, the Ministry of Youth and Sports has also spared no cost to support C14. The Education Assembly’s two projects have received almost 300,000 UAH (9,200 EUR) from the Ministry. As a part of one of these projects, the grantee is supposed to conduct a nationwide Proud of Ukrainians event for 120,000 UAH (3,700 EUR).

A little over 80,000 UAH (2,500 EUR) each was received by the National Center for Human Rights Advocacy and by the Kyiv Union from the Kyiv Regional Adminstration’s Department of Youth Policies and National-Patriotic Education in 2020. Meanwhile, the Kyiv City Administration will continue to support the Veteran’s Health project: 182,610 UAH (5,600 EUR) have been given to the Kyiv Union for organizing kayak and SUP board trips.

Of course, each of these individual funding amounts may not seem so high. However, if we keep in mind that all of these projects are carried out by the same people, the total amount will not seem insignificant after all. Between 2018 and 2020, C14-affiliated entities have received over 6 million hryvnias (185,000 euros) from the government.

We also cannot rule out that C14 funding is not limited to the sources listed above. For instance, in 2017, the Education Assembly was supported with 183,505 UAH (5,600 EUR) by the Department of Education in the Holosiyivsky District of Kyiv, which has a long-standing good relationship with C14. So the final amount may prove to be much higher.

Funding for projects of organizations affiliated with C14, by year and donor

Glitches in the work

It would be unfair to claim that public money simply flows from the state or city’s accounts to the nationalists’ credit cards. Because the latter do actually attempt to implement projects within government programs, upon completion of which they, of course, report to the grantors. But if we take into account the high activity of C14 affiliates in the struggle for state or communal money, the list of implementers, limited to just a few people, and the extraordinary broadness of their skills—from psychological rehabilitation to board game development—it is not surprising that there are some glitches in this work. And the organizations’ reports are not as impressive as their applications.

In 2018, the Union of Veterans of the War with Russia, led by Andriy Medvedko, successfully implemented the Veteran Support Service project. The application claimed that the government had managed to provide mental health support to only 42% of veterans, so the Union’s members undertook to help with this genuinely important and delicate matter. On top of that, they intended to use national developments to do it. The nationalists decided to treat PTSD and socialize veterans using a local mental health invention, bio-suggestive therapy; this was even covered by the Ukrainian BBC service and by Channel 5, controlled by ex-President Poroshenko.

Bio-suggestive therapy, also referred to as “silence treatment” in publications, has been developed by the “psychologist” Oleksandr Strazhny. As his own book claims, “It [the method] involves a combination of verbal and non-verbal suggestion in the state of light trance. The ‘bio’ prefix means that not only suggestion, but also other factors are used during a therapy session: communicating metainformation to the patient (client) via a certain tone of voice; a therapist’s hand contact with the client; in the case of group therapy, induction of the client by group members, etc.” Everyone can learn about Oleksandr Strazhny’s bio-suggestive method. Therapy sessions have been posted on YouTube. Absolutely free of charge.

The Union’s project was supposed to involve 4 workshops with 50 participants in each, including 25 veterans and 25 psychologists. But the Channel 5 video only shows a few people, mostly members of C14 themselves. It is their heads that are touched by the psychologist Andriy Poltavtsev, who, apparently, cures their PTSD developed after another “correctional event,” as they call their street attacks. Other photo or video reports from the events hardly feature even a half of the announced number of participants. At one of the workshops, a therapist touched the heads of no more than 15 women present in the room. However, this did not prevent the Union from reporting successful completion of the project, and did not prevent the government from accepting this report, according to which the project was attended by 100 veterans and 100 therapists.

A workshop within the Veteran Support Service project. Photo credit: Facebook page of the Union of Veterans of the War with Russia.

A similar story repeats with the next Union project, the Guardians of Veteran Rights. The 4 announced seminars in different cities across the country were supposed to be attended by 40 people each. But the photos usually feature 15 to 20 attendants. Sometimes this is mentioned in intermediate event reports, but the “guardians of rights” soon forget about the fact that the rooms were not full. And then we see a nice round number, “40,” which transforms into 60 attendants in the final report on project implementation. The plan has been achieved and overachieved!

The story of the Veteran’s Health project is equally interesting. You might think that giving people who have been through war an opportunity to kayak and surf on SUP boards is a great idea. But if you looked into the project funding application for 2020, you could learn some rather strange things. The application provides a list of 20 people who regularly use the program. And it includes some very familiar names. 10 out of the 20 people are members of C14 and affiliated organizations. A few more are activists of projects close to C14. On the other hand, there are no violations here, because most C14 members are also veterans, formally. So taking money from the city to organize free trips for yourself and your friends, and get some money for it on top, actually seems like a good business plan.

The plan gets even better when money for the services provided also stays in the extended far-right family. The circle of contractors in the projects of C14-affiliated organizations is limited to a very small number of entrepreneurs. And probably the most notable one here is Yevheniya Nera, who provided catering services, supplied stationery and manufactured printed products for the Union of Veterans of the War with Russia, National Center for Human Rights Advocacy and Education Assembly for a total of about 300,000 UAH (9,200 EUR). These products are featured in many reports as an indicator of successful project implementation. The lucky tender winner herself, meanwhile, has been closely connected to C14 for many years, which is easy to verify if you just visit her Facebook page, Yevheniya Haray. And her sister, Onysia Kolesnykova (Haray), has directly participated in attacks on demonstrations for LGBT rights and on members of a left-wing student union.

It is also worth looking into the report on the Young Defender camp, organized by the Kyiv Union of Veterans of the War with Russia. It seems like the Kyiv Regional State Adminstration’s Department of Youth Policies and National-Patriotic Education expected 40 participants. But this is the case when you actually feel like you should be happy about the discrepancy between the numbers and the photos. Because the fewer boys and girls with dummy Kalashnikovs wearing T-shirts by the far-right brand SvaStone are running around in forests, the better.

The Young Defender camp. Photo credit: Facebook page of the Union of Veterans of the War with Russia.

What should we add?

6 million hryvnias of funding for even one far-right organization involved in street violence should already be a worrying sign. But the problem runs deeper. Because C14 is far from being the only, or even the biggest, recipient of public funds. Every year, dozens of far-right organizations with varying degrees of radicalism apply for and receive hundreds of thousands of hryvnias to work with veterans or youth. They include the aforementioned Svoboda party, which, using its Holosiyivska Kryivka and Freedom Hawk brands, receives several million annually to organize its festivals. And the youth work projects from organizations in the Azov Movement network. Even projects such as the Ukrainian Girl’s School by the Ukrainian Student organization, whose members have participated in the disruption of an event against violence and sexism in the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, also apply for grants. However, the Ministry refused to support this project.

Why has this been happening? The problem might lie in the official sphere. Where decisions are made. Because just like in the Ministry of Veterans, Bellingcat has also revealed a powerful right-wing lobby in the Ministry of Youth and Sports, embodied by Mykola Lyakhovych, the Head of the Department of National-Patriotic Education, a former member of UNA–UNSO and a veteran of the Azov Battalion. One of the key criteria for providing support to projects, according to Lyakhovych himself, are “Ukrainian values,” whatever that means.

The problem may also be more systemic, not limited to certain personalities. Because even if officials are replaced, it would not change the concept of national-patriotic education according to which they act. And even though, as indicated in a report by the human rights organization Insight, the state Strategy and Concept of National-Patriotic Education do not include discriminatory norms and even declare “humanism, democracy and tolerance,” they do reiterate the claim about a lack of “spiritual-moral values.” Therefore, a long queue of nationalists, traditionalists and the far-right, prepared to overcome this spiritual-moral decay with resolute propaganda of “healthy” conservative values, line up to get grants. Could this be why we are seeing an increase in street violence committed by teenagers whose heads are filled with the ideals of national greatness?

Finally, it is important to understand that national or local government grants are only one of the sources of funding for far-right organizations. Often, they are not even the main source. Paramilitary structures founded on the basis of C14, the Municipal Watch and Municipal Guard, use city budget funds to patrol Kyiv, participate in the seizing of cinemas, or patrol railway stations where, under the guise of “fighting ethnic crime,” they promote xenophobic views. In 2019 only, the capital’s budget allocated 21 million hryvnias to fund the Municipal Watch. Other far-right groups have founded their own security firms, getting gigs in construction site security or in the opposite field—raiding. And one of the most prominent Azov members, Serhiy Korotkykh, who has a KGB background and is a happy owner of a private jet, was the head of the Department of Security for Objects of Strategic Significance at the Department of State Service of Security Guards under the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs between 2015 and 2017. So the government remains one of the important sources of funding for far-right organizations, whose true scale is yet to be revealed.