One cold night last month in a run down district of Kyiv, far from the glitz of the city centre, a group of anarchists were plotting to drop a political banner over a road bridge. I was stood waiting below. The anarchists had told me to wait there at a specific time and promised I’d see something. As I waited, I saw one of the anarchist lads I’d met the day before shuffling around in the shadows. He came up behind me and said quietly, “If any of the fascists around here approach you don’t worry, I will be just over here. I have a knife and some CS gas.”
For some reason, I laughed. This lad, Alexey, looked at me as if to say: “This isn’t a joke”. It wasn’t. The anarchist group I’d arranged to meet is ultra violent, highly illegal, and organizing attacks against the rising fascist threat in Ukraine. They call themselves “Rev Dia”, which translates to Revolutionary Action. They’d never spoken to journalists before, but decided I was all right.
As the anarchists pointed out to me a few times, the neo-fascist street militias in Ukraine march freely through the streets in uniforms. In Russia, the Kremlin uses these small but growing fascist groups as supposed evidence that the Ukraine revolution was some kind of “Nazi junta”—this is of course not true. Not even close. But the influence of the fascist groups is growing, and the Ukraine government seems to be turning a blind eye to their activity.
Last year one neo-Nazi group attacked a Roma gypsy camp. Amongst others, the masked men stabbed a ten-year-old boy and a 30-year-old woman. One Roma man was killed in the attack and seven of the Nazi attackers were arrested. Since then, fascist street groups have grown stronger, with one of the most prominent claiming to have 20,000 members. This group, known as the National Corps, is the street militia of the far-right Azov Battalion, which is now part of the Ministry of Interior.
In response to all this, Rev Dia—which formed in 2013—has begun to get more serious about organizing on the streets of Kyiv. They see it as their duty to fight back violently against the fascist movements, and the state who they say enables them.
When I arrived in Kyiv to meet the anarchists, I had no clue if I’d find them. That night I was told to wait in a walkway of the underground metro station where there was no phone signal. Eventually, a young guy appeared with his phone in his hand. He was looking at pictures of me on the screen. He held the phone up next to my face to check I was me and not some sort of police infiltrator. We parted ways and I got a text with co-ordinates of a place to meet at the next day. They said I’d be going to a forest, where the anarchists would show me their proficiency with a rifle.
Unlike many anarchist groups in Europe, Rev Dia are concerned first and foremost with class struggle and direct action. They laugh at the hypersensitive “cancel culture” currently plaguing leftist politics, and don’t care that other Ukraine leftists say they’re too violent.
“You can’t speak nicely to Nazis,” explained one of the Rev Dia members, as he loaded a magazine into a modified AKM assault rifle. His name was Mikola. He was masked in a skintight balaclava and dressed in a miss-match of urban tactical wear.
He and two other Rev Dia members had taken me miles outside of Kyiv. We ran across train tracks and walked through a snowy forest to eventually find a disused gun range in a clearing. All three of them—two men and one woman—spent hours firing at a target in the clearing as they explained their organisation to me.
They accepted that they were far outnumbered by the fascist street movement. They said they didn’t seek to turn everyone into an anarchist either, but simply wanted to show the youth that there was another option. This option didn’t include beating up minorities, but instead beating up fascists, as has been demonstrated in Rev Dia propaganda via videos of them smashing men from Nazi movements in the head with metal bars. Outwardly, they seemed very militant.
Mikola handled the rifle as if it was a part of him. I asked where he’d learned to shoot and he said he’d briefly fought against the Russian backed separatists in the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine. He didn’t want to talk about his time on the front, but when I mentioned that some might think Rev Dia is pro-Russian because they want to fight the Ukraine government, he shook his head.
“Real anarchists cannot be pro-Russian,” he said. “Russia is a totalitarian state.”