In June this year, Donbas battalion veterans—under the command of Semenchenko together with veterans from OUN and Aidar battalion—went to reinforce a group of farmers in the village of Berezhynka over an apparent land dispute. The farmers claimed that they were up against members of the political party ‘People’s Front,’ Minister of Internal Affairs Avakov and others in the dispute. Shortly after the arrival of Donbas reinforcements, the national guard and other special units of the MIA showed up and detained everyone involved.
This would not have been the first time that the national guard has been called in to dismantle such displays. In fact, such frictions between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and volunteer groups have slowly been intensifying. This has confirmed the reservations of many who joined the NGU upon its re-establishment in 2014—a gendarmerie could be used against their interests, just as the Berkut had been used before.
Regardless of opinion on volunteer battalions in Ukraine, they represent a legitimacy dilemma for the Ukrainian government. Volunteers are currently more trusted by the Ukrainian people than the agencies which are supposed to govern them. Such groups are also in competition with the government for the monopoly of legitimate violence to some degree are. All signs are showing that Avakov and the Ukrainian security establishment intends to deal with this issue. However, this might be too little too late in a society that has grown disillusioned with the promises and expectations of Maidan.
Michael J. Sheldon is a recent graduate of Malmö University with a BA in Peace and Conflict Studies. Through his academic pursuits and private initiatives, Michael has conducted analysis on the conflict in eastern Ukraine since 2014, specializing in rebel forces.