Today, The Globe and Mail published a short profile of the wife of a colonel in the Azov Battalion. It’s a disturbing article, and functions as outright neo-Nazi propaganda, regardless of the reporter’s intent.
As I wrote earlier this year, “In May 2014, amidst the unrest in Ukraine, the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion was formed as a civilian paramilitary group to combat Russian separatists. The organization has never been shy about its Nazi links and ideology. For example, in a 2015 interview with USA Today, a drill sergeant with the group ‘admitted he is a Nazi and said with a laugh that no more than half his comrades are fellow Nazis.’”
The Azov Battalion is undeniably a neo-Nazi group. And yet, here are a couple quotes about the group in the Globe article from Kateryna Prokopenko, the colonel’s wife:
- “It’s important to break all the myths about Azov Regiment because they are real heroes. They are not Nazis. They are just normal guys.”
- “Azov is the most motivated, most patriotic unit in Ukraine.”
If the Globe wanted to include such quotes from the wife of a colonel in a neo-Nazi group, they would, at the very minimum, need to fact check and push back on them. The article doesn’t do that. This is the only comment the writer has on the matter: “The unit has controversial links to far-right ideology but it was incorporated into the regular Ukrainian army years ago.”
There are many problems with this statement. For example, the group doesn’t merely have “links” to “far-right ideology,” but rather is an explicitly neo-Nazi group. And these links aren’t Russian propaganda, although the group features prominently in it.
The claim that neo-Nazis are bad isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, “controversial,” and depicting the “links” as such implies there’s some sort of legitimate debate about the topic. There isn’t, despite the best efforts of some.
Plus, the quote (as you can see with its inclusion of the word “but”) seemingly takes the view that the unit being incorporated into Ukraine’s National Guard means it somehow is legitimate or has abandoned being a neo-Nazi group. The more accurate perspective is that Ukrainian forces have welcomed explicit neo-Nazis (and Canada has helped train them, something else the article leaves out).
Moreover, even if we did agree with the writer’s implied assertion here — that Azov may have been a neo-Nazi group when created, but changed when it was incorporated into the National Guard — there’s still major cause for concern. That’s because the piece notes early on that Lieutenant-Colonel Denys Prokopenko joined “the unit when it formed in 2014.” This means, according to the Globe narrative, that he gave up “a job teaching English in Kyiv” to join what was then a neo-Nazi group. It also doesn’t help that the article features a recent photo of Azov relatives holding up a banner displaying a (slightly tilted) Nazi SS symbol (without explaining what the symbol is, much like how the press covered Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister, Chrystia Freeland, posing with a fascist banner back in February).
Of course, profiles can still be written about people that do despicable things. But they need to be critical, and not glorify their subjects. The Globe article fails to meet this standard. Instead of getting a critical look at Denys and his wife, here’s some of what we’re offered about them:
- Kateryna has “light blond hair and soft features”
- She was a graphic artist that “illustrated children’s books on the side”
- As a child, she “loved animals so much she refused to eat meat”
- Denys and Kateryna met over social media and “bonded over a shared love of nature and similar family backgrounds”
- The pair spends their free time going on “short hiking trips or ski holidays” (Kateryna has a faster skiing record than Denys)
At best, this is a piece of poor reporting signed off on by clueless editors. At worst, this is part of an effort by Western press to whitewash a neo-Nazi group because of its perceived value in fighting what is considered to be an enemy (something that Canada has a long history of doing).
At one point, the article pushes back on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that the invasion is intended to “de-Nazify Ukraine,” which is fine. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t armed neo-Nazis in Ukraine that have far more power than they should. There are, and Azov members are absolutely among them. It seems the Globe is trying to get you to feel bad for them as they’re defeated in combat by the Russians. I don’t. Neither should you.
Neo-Nazi whitewashing was inevitable in this conflict, yet it’s still disturbing to see it happen brazenly in Canada’s oldest and most prestigious national newspaper. I hope the Globe will apologize for publishing this article.