Half a dozen representatives of the neo-Nazi-led Azov movement in Ukraine are currently visiting the United States, taking meetings in Washington and reaching out to Ukrainian Americans. Three are veterans of the far-right Azov Regiment who held out for numerous weeks in the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.
Among them is Giorgi Kuparashvili, a co-founder of the Azov Regiment and a leader of its Yevhen Konovalets Military School, named for the founder of the fascistic Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. According to journalist Leonid Ragozin, “The school functioned outside Ukraine’s system of military education — one of many reasons to suspect that Azov was highly autonomous and never truly integrated in [the] armed forces.”
The Azov veterans were accompanied by two wives and a mother of POWs from Azovstal, including Kateryna Prokopenko, who is married to the just-freed, far-right Azov Regiment commander Denys Prokopenko. (According to the US-funded Radio Svoboda, the Georgian-born Kuparashvili mentored Prokopenko.) The three women represented the Azovstal Defenders’ Family Association, led by Kateryna Prokopenko.
The group first made an impromptu appearance at the Ukrainian American Cultural Center of New Jersey (UACCNJ) in Whippany on Saturday, September 17. The last minute event, thrown together the day before, promised to “dispel the Russian agitprop that the Azov regiment is nazi.” The UACCNJ warned Facebook followers, “WE ARE NOT RECOMMENDING THAT YOU BRING YOUNG CHILDREN,” but the audience appears to have mostly consisted of children from its Saturday school.
According to Michael Hrycak, the New Jersey Department Commander of the Ukrainian American Veterans (UAV), his organization invited Azov “to visit the United States to spread their story about holding out in Mariupol.” He claimed the delegation would be giving testimony to Congress and the United Nations. The Defense Ministry of Ukraine tweeted that they should.
Walter Kovbasniuk, the past commander of UAV Post 17 in Passaic, New Jersey, exchanged “Azov’s signature salute” with a former POW, “their fists held tight across their chests.” Leonid Ragozin has described this “making ‘from heart to the sun’ gesture” as “a crypto-fascist substitute for Sieg Heil.”
In Washington DC, the Azov delegation met with a North American leader of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and at least a few members of Congress: Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), Sen. Todd Young (R-IN), and Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL). Presumably, there was more activity that didn’t result in a tweet or online article.
On Saturday, September 24, the delegation will be speaking at a Ukrainian church in a suburb of Detroit. A digital flyer for the event contains a QR code that directs visitors to “Support Azov,” the extremist movement’s new charity project, which is managed by a far-right former member of parliament who once described Volodymyr Zelensky as a “franchise” of George Soros.
The Detroit-area event appears to have been organized by Sasha Tkachenko, who co-founded the local group “United Support for Ukraine.” The latter is an official partner of “Support Azov” according to its website, which also says, “Our volunteer community is one of the most close-knit, as AZOV is first and foremost a brotherhood of ideologically close people.” Tkachenko’s group donated four trucks to the Azov Regiment last month.
“Support Azov” has also partnered with Ukrainian American charities based in Pennsylvania and Illinois. It remains to be seen how much longer the delegation will remain in the United States. The weeklong trip may signal a decision by the neo-Nazi leadership of the Azov movement to step up its outreach efforts in the US.