‘Support Azov’ vs. ‘Azov One’

Contours of a potential rift in the Azov Movement?

Ukes, Kooks & Spooks
6 min readJun 14, 2023

The Nation recently published an important article by Lev Golinkin about the western media’s scandalous whitewashing of the neo-Nazi Azov Movement in Ukraine, which now “counts two brigades: the initial one in the National Guard and the recently created one in the army.” The former is the notorious Azov Regiment* that held out for weeks in Mariupol, and the latter is the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The first Azov tour of the United States in fall 2022 was largely dedicated to promoting Support Azov, an international charity that is most closely linked to the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade. This month’s Azov tour has instead promoted Azov One, a new fundraising platform launched by the Azov Regiment in February 2023.

Clockwise from top left: Azov One, Azov Regiment, 3rd Separate Assault Brigade, and Support Azov.

Until earlier this year the Azov Regiment website encouraged people to make donations to Support Azov, acknowledging that this charity was created on the initiative of Andriy Biletsky, the founder and leader of the Azov Movement. Support Azov got started last summer in cooperation with Azov’s “Patronage Service” and its Association of Azovstal Defenders’ Families (AADF). These former partners are no longer even Instagram followers. Earlier this year, the Patronage Service and AADF jumped ship and became partners with Azov One.

“There are, in fact, cases that untrustworthy people use the name Azov for their own benefit and, to be completely honest, there are reported cases when volunteers spend collected donations on unnecessary things,” Azov One said in its inaugural Instagram post on February 23. “This is why Azov commanders initiated the creation of a single unified Azov One NGO.”

This fundraising platform calls itself “The One and Only” official Azov charity, but obviously it’s not. “Support is needed here and now!” tweeted the other one yesterday. On February 24, the anniversary of Russia’s invasion, Support Azov published a video with its coordinator, who said “we have no right to slow down until the day of our victory comes and the entire Ukrainian land is liberated. We keep working!”

Support Azov has gone from a classic volunteer organization to a reliable part of the logistics service of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine which was created by Azov veterans and now firmly holds Bakhmut. We also tried not to forget about other Azov units, such as the Special Operations Detachment Azov [AKA the ‘Azov Regiment’ in the National Guard], the special unit Kraken, the SOF Azov-Kharkiv, and others. This year, we received your donations worth more than 100 million UAH. And thanks to partnership programs with our American and European friends, military regional administrations, and the help of the entire Ukrainian volunteer community, the total assistance amounted to more than 250 million UAH.

An increasingly loud echo chamber of Azov apologists has long maintained that the Azov Regiment is “depoliticized” and totally separate from the Azov Movement and the National Corps, the political party created by veterans of the Azov Regiment. People like Oleksiy Kuzmenko and Lev Golinkin have already debunked these evidence-free narratives, but perhaps the myth-making about the Azov Regiment’s decoupling from the National Corps could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Andriy Biletsky, the leader of the National Corps and founder of the Azov Regiment, is a commander in the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade, a neo-Nazi cesspool. It has overlapping leadership with the National Corps and the “notorious street branch” of Azov, formerly called the National Militia. In 2020, the National Militia rebranded as “Centuria,” although this name was already taken by an Azov-linked “military order.” Support Azov, led by people from the National Corps, has even partnered with Centuria, which is apparently tied to “Nord Storm,” an “explicitly neo-Nazi” group that has “special forces” in the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade.

Masked Centuria members (2020), and an example of ‘Support Azov’-Centuria cooperation (2023)

Everything anti-Ukrainian will be annihilated,” once declared Ihor Mykhailenko, the leader of Centuria and former commander of the Azov Regiment who apparently co-founded the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade. Since last summer, Support Azov has established an international network of supporters to raise money for all kinds of things, but also to advance a neo-Nazi agenda. Not long before the launch of Azov One, the “International Secretary” of the National Corps said that she dedicates a “considerable part of my current activities” to Support Azov.

When the Azov Regiment rolled out its flashier, more “official” charity in February, one of its deputy commanders was in New York City to speak at the United Nations, and “happy to carry the mission of Azov One.” Illia Samoilenko, better known as “Gandalf,” is one of several figures in the Azov Regiment who was made famous by the Russian siege of Mariupol.

“This is centralized, authorized, unified and official platform,” tweeted Samoilenko, apparently now a spokesperson for Azov One. “Why is it necessary? Because resources are not unlimited. And we, with all our combat experience know how to use it rational.”

Like Azov One, Samoilenko joined Twitter in January. His first tweet piggybacked off Paul Massaro, a senior policy advisor to the U.S. Helsinki Commission. Massaro posted a (since-deleted) video of “Gandalf” signing an Azov Regiment banner for him that the Congressional advisor later displayed in his office.

Like Samoilenko, the trio of Azovites currently touring the United States went to Israel in December. In Washington, they met with Massaro, whose embrace of extreme Russophobia reached a new low the following day by rejoicing at a shark attack in Egypt just because the victim was Russian.

Like Massaro, “Gandalf” is a celebrity in the world of NAFO, the “vociferously pro-Ukraine, anti-Russia troll operation” on Twitter. Illia Samoilenko, apparently still in Israel, reached out to NAFO in January. The “69th Sniffing Brigade,” an off-shoot of NAFO, has partnered with Azov One and raised tens of thousands of dollars for them. Just today, this NAFO outfit posted an Azov One video about their joint campaign, featuring “Tork” from the Azov Regiment with straight edge tattoos on his neck.

An image posted by “Gandalf” in New York, and screenshot from Azov One video for NAFO

What other allies does Azov One have in its corner? For starters, there is “Ukrainian Signal,” a self-described “creative production” and “film club” that has partnered with USAID, the historically CIA-linked U.S. Agency for International Development, to “produce and present modern Ukrainian culture and artists worldwide through movie screenings, exhibitions, live performances, and gatherings. We aim to build a vision of new-wave Ukrainian culture artists in the world.”

According to Ukrainian Signal’s co-founder and head of fundraising, they have raised over half a million dollars since March 2022, “primarily focusing on assisting the ‘Azov’ brigade of the National Guard of Ukraine.” Since October, and “with the support of USAID,” Ukrainian Signal has organized film screenings throughout Europe, including Berlin, Paris, London, Rotterdam, Warsaw, Vienna, Dublin, Prague, Lisbon, Barcelona, Vilnius, and Amsterdam. They allegedly achieved “a complete sellout of tickets for almost all screenings.” Proceeds went to the Signal Fund, the “official partner fund” of the Azov Regiment and Azov One.

Azov representatives currently touring the United States on behalf of Azov One may have tried to poach Support Azov’s Ukrainian American partners in Chicago (Help Heroes of Ukraine) and Detroit (United Support for Ukraine). These organizations have both sponsored Azov One fundraising events in recent days. The group in Detroit makes t-shirts featuring the symbol of the Azov Regiment on them, but appears to remain committed to their partnership with Support Azov and the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade.

Back in October 2022, when its website still directed donors to Support Azov, the Azov Regiment said that the Ukrainian government covered most of its needs. Presumably, the Azov Regiment did not receive much from Support Azov, and Azov One does not support the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade. Now the “Heroes of Mariupol” want to control fundraising for the Azov Movement. Is this not going to create problems? “We Are Building a Powerful Rear,” says “The Only Official Fundraising Platform for Azov.” Meanwhile, the other insists, “Support is needed here and now!”

* Note: I’m still calling the Azov brigade in the National Guard the “Azov Regiment,” to avoid confusion with the Azov brigade in the Armed Forces.