KIEV – “If you are looking for Nazis you have come to the wrong place, journalist.” Entering one of the Azov Regiment bases is a delicate matter, for many reasons. And if the entrance is punctuated by Russian mortars that rain down near this abandoned factory converted into a dormitory and training camp, it is a little more so. “In fact it is not the safest place to stay in Kiev at the moment …”, says with a half smile Dmytro Kuharchuck, 31, commander of the second battalion in the capital.
Donbass veteran, former politician, he is one of the three highest in rank: he deals with operations at the north-west front (Irpin, Bucha, Hostomel), manages the recruitment and confers directly with the leader, Andrij Biletsky, who in 2014 formed the Regiment bringing together groups of Ukrainian ultranationalists and Maidan activists. Dmytro is not the kind of fighter you expect to find in Azov. He measures the answers, reads Kant and argues not only with the bazooka.
Has the Ukrainian government officially recognized Azov?
“The regiment that is defending Mariupol is included in the National Guard. In Kiev we are still framed in Territorial Defense, even though we fight on the north front. The Defense Ministry has promised to give us the status of the Armed Forces battalion. We will have more powerful weapons for it. kill the Russians “.
How many are you?
“In Kiev we have two battalions, I can’t say where. In Mariupol there is a regiment of more than 1,500 men. Unfortunately for some of them it will be the last battle, the Russians are carrying out a genocide in Mariupol. Azov will remain there. until the end”.
Will the Russians launch a massive offensive on Kiev with aviation?
“If they do, they will lose. They have already tried and we have pushed them back. They are firing missiles at the city to crush the government at the negotiating table, but they are unable to surround Kiev.”
Azov is accused by humanitarian organizations and many countries of being a group of extremists who disrespect human rights and commit crimes. How do you explain it?
“There is a reason. Azov always said that Ukraine had to prepare for the great war against Russia, because sooner or later it would attack us. Our politicians, however, did not believe us, our position was inconvenient for them. . That’s why we have been given the image of Nazi extremists “.
Your symbol refers to that ideology. And there are photos of the conflict in the Donbass where some of your people are waving the swastika.
“People like that are also found in the police, the National Guard and various social groups. We had a small percentage of them, now not anymore.”
How can you be sure?
“We subject the recruits to long interviews. Nazism is very far from me. Our official position, like Azov, is another: we are Ukrainian nationalists.”
How do you join the Regiment?
“You show up here, you are subjected to a series of questions and if you have certain skills we will catch you.”
What kind of skill?
“We are looking for people with military experience, who know how to dig trenches, cut wood, operate excavators. We have training camps in secret places and facilities in Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Nikolaev, Sumy.”
How is the training?
“Before there were physical tests to overcome, after February 24 we no longer have time to choose only the highly qualified subjects. We are however able to select the most motivated, who come to us because we offer discipline and brotherhood”.
Give us an example.
“We build relationships that are not based only on the military track record but also on universal moral principles. I read Kant and spread his teachings in Azov. I have to say that the kids appreciate.”
Why Kant in particular?
(He quotes from memory) “Two things fill the soul with ever new and growing admiration and veneration: the starry sky above me, and the moral law within me”.
Do you only accept Ukrainians?
“We also have Russians, Belarusians, Georgians, Croats, Americans, English, French. In Mariupol, in 2014, we had an Italian. None of us are paid, we are volunteers”.
Who gives you the weapons?
“The territorial defense of Kiev, hence the mayor Klytschko”.
How many Russians do you have with you?
“I don’t know exactly. Years ago there were 50 in Mariupol. They are not fighting only for Ukraine, but for the broader concept of freedom: Russia is the denial of freedom, Ukraine, on the other hand, is its synonym”. .