Racketeering: How Ukrainian Nationalists Became Feudal Lords

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard




In villages the redistribution of property in favour of those from among radical and “patriotic” organizations who are shielded...

The question of the free sale of agricultural land in Ukraine has been suspended for an indefinite period of time, but over the last four years large land redistribution has taken place in the country almost imperceptibly.

Leaders of radical nationalist organisations, who in recent years have actively participated in raider infighting in villages, entered into the ranks of new feudal lords-latifundists.

Era of land raiders

At first the landowners acted as the initiators of the involvement of various “patriotic” structures, volunteer battalions, and ATO veterans for the purpose of solving land conflicts.

However, leaders of paramilitary formations soon understood that they were obtaining only the crusts of the “gold” field of agricultural raiding. It was those who ordered forceful support who ate the actual bread.

The financial sums that were involved in raider conflicts dozens-fold exceeded the sums of remunerations given to radicals for their participation in capturing agricultural enterprises and lands.

“I gave up with this topic after I accidentally became a witness of negotiations over prices. Our leadership received $100,000 from the client for the action. We were paid only kopeks – from 200 to 300 hryvnia a day, and everything that we were doing fell under several articles of the Criminal Code at once – we beat up watchmen and farmers, and broke open doors. But our leadership said that we were shielded, that nothing will happen to us. After this action searches in our apartments started, and some of us were even arrested,” said the former volunteer battalion militant Yury M.

They come out for hunting by themselves

By 2017 the tactics of “patriotic radicals” changed – groups of militants under the leadership of their leaders started independent actions on the “frontline” of land raiding.

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However, even by 2018 their actions didn’t differ in their special subtlety and complexity.

Some militants from nationalist organisations simply plundered farmers, taking away their crops that had just been harvested from the fields.

However, others had a more complex approach.

“In my organisation there are several fighters who carefully monitor the regional situation. I also have a good network of informants among farmers and villagers. Any conflict between shareholders of land and large farmers or owners of agricultural enterprises is our bread and butter. As soon as a quarrel begins, my representatives come to both parties and offer support from our side. The price of the question depends on the interests of the parties and the subject of the dispute. If hundreds or thousands of hectares of land or crops that still haven’t been harvested from fields in such a volume are at stake, then support from our side will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The party that will give more will win in the conflict. Naturally, all actions will take place under the banners of my organisation and everyone who is against it are separatists. After we enter the conflict, my work begins. Before I send my fighters to the fields, I coordinate my actions with the prosecutor of the region and the chief of police. Of course, this is not free of charge. Law enforcement officers receive kickbacks from our participation in a land or harvest conflict – from 20% to 30% of the amount of remuneration that is received by my structure. For this money police officers will just stand nearby and will then report that supposedly an inspection concerning raiders is being carried out. In 2014, we just took orders for forceful support, now we intervene in conflicts independently. Of course, it happens that some patriotic organisations – able to provide several dozens of militants – can defend the other side. It turns out that on both sides former ATO soldiers arrive as forceful support – in Ukraine there long hasn’t been other public organisations with dozens of constant fighters. So then we meet up with them. The one who wins the dispute is the one who was more ruthless, who has more people, and who has more strong support ‘from above’. Weapons can even be put to use, the opponent’s cars can even start to burn and explode. Whether my opponents served in the ATO and whether they are more patriotic than I and my guys doesn’t play a role here. It is just business. My structure almost never lost, although once I was forced to refuse a good deal – on the competitor’s side several people’s deputies and National Corpus played at once,” admitted the leader of one of the radical organisations in Odessa.

They prepare for the opening of the land market

According to him, in the last one or two years landowners often pay off radicals either with a harvest, or by transferring corporate rights to equity in agricultural enterprises, instead of with money.

“There is the same process as the one in the 90’s. Some group of bandits shielded the market, and then became its owner. And it’s the same thing here. Nationalists give forceful support for landowners in the ‘battle for the harvest’, and then become owners of their enterprises, preparing themselves for the opening of the land market. As soon as the free purchase and sale of shares is allowed, in villages the redistribution of property by means of submachine guns and grenade launchers will start. And the privatisation of the 90’s will seem like a children’s fairy tale,” said a representative of one of the agricultural holding companies.

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