Smoke rises above an old terminal (L) and an administrative building of the Sergey Prokofiev International Airport after the recent shelling during fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, November 9, 2014..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The newly appointed police chief for the Ukrainian province in which Kiev is located came under fire on Monday after it was alleged that he had past ties with a neo-Nazi organization.
Vadim Troyan was appointed to head the Kiev Oblast regional police on October 31 by Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who feted him on Facebook as a respected commander whose like would form “the basis of a new national police force.”
Prior to his appointment he was deputy commander of the volunteer Azov Battalion, which has been engaged in combat operations against pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east. Kiev, while within the district, is an independent jurisdiction.
Troyan, 35, who was involved in the liberation of Mariupol and was awarded Ukraine’s Order of Bogdan Khmelnitsky, is one of many military men climbing the ladder of political and economic success in a country eager to reward those it perceives as heroes in its war against what is widely seen as Russian aggression. Kiev and the West blame Moscow for funding and equipping the rebels, a charge the Kremlin denies.
The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) has objected to Troyan’s appointment, describing him as a leading member of the Patriot of Ukraine organization, which some have described as neo-Nazi. Patriot of Ukraine is linked with the Social-National Assembly of Ukraine and has displayed symbols reminiscent of those used by the Nazis on its banners and other materials.
Troyan, who ran for parliament on the ticket of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front, is described on that party’s website as a member of the organization.
KHPG says Patriot of Ukraine espouses “xenophobic and neo-Nazi ideas” and engages in violence. It based its opposition to Troyan’s appointment on allegations by anti-Semitism researcher Viacheslav Likhachev, who is connected to the local Jewish community.
Both KHPG and Likhachev have admitted that there is no specific evidence pointing to anti-Semitic views on the part of Troyan, but both believe his links to the group make his holding such a sensitive position worrisome.
Likhachev said a friend in the Interior Ministry had told him the senior militia figure’s appointment was due to his successes in the east.
The researcher admitted that while “we don’t know about his personal views... there is the fact that Patriot of Ukraine is neo-Nazi and also anti-Semitic.”
Neither the Interior Ministry, nor the Ukrainian Embassy in Tel Aviv replied to written requests for comment. Asked about Troyan, a spokesman for the Ukraine Crisis Media Center stated that he had “no information about him.”
The Azov Battalion itself has come under fire over allegations of anti-Semitism, with members shown on German television wearing Nazi symbols on their helmets. In an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian, battalion leader Andriy Biletsky said he would not turn away volunteers for holding Nazi views.
Troyan’s selection is “very worrying” and “sends the worst possible message about the intentions of the new Ukrainian government,” said Efraim Zuroff, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office.
“If they are appointing people like this to positions of such importance and power is a very dangerous signal to the Jewish community of the Ukraine,” Zuroff said. “This is a very strange way of convincing the justifiably concerned Jewish world that there is no intention to encourage fascist sympathies or neo-Nazi activities.”
The Nazi-hunter pointed to the prominence of many Jewish figures in the new Ukrainian government as proof that there were “obviously conflicting forces in Ukraine,” adding that “if the Ukrainian government wants to exhibit the kind of leadership that will lead it to membership in the EU and the establishment of a respectable democracy, this is not the way to do it.”
According to Tzvi Arieli, an Israeli who organized a Jewish self-defense force in Kiev, Ukrainians support figures such as Troyan not for their views, but because of their actions on behalf of the country.
“The fact is, Ukrainians don’t care about their past and their views,” Arieli said.
A significant amount of Jews in Ukraine have expressed similar opinions, explaining they do not feel threatened by anti-Semitism as much as by the general vicissitudes of war.
In addition, many of Ukraine’s leaders have spoken out against anti-Semitism, with plenty making personal pledges to Jewish leaders, such as American- born Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Bleich said officials from the president on down had assured him of the safety of the Jewish community, adding that he is planning on calling them on their statements.
“In our opinion, this guy should not be anywhere near law enforcement,” Bleich stated, referring to Troyan.
The chief rabbi called on President Petro Poroshenko to call the interior minister “to order on this.”
He demanded that “if the interior minister continues to appoint people of questionable repute and ideologies tainted with fascism and right-wing extremism, the interior minister should be replaced.”