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Russia evokes Nazi horrors to bash Ukraine

Associated Press

ZHDANIVKA, Ukraine (AP) -- Moscow calls the detention center under construction near the Russian border a "fascist concentration camp." Inside the barbed-wire fences, the reality is less ominous: It's an EU-funded project to hold asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, similar to other such detention centers across Europe.

The accusation is part of a relentless Kremlin-driven propaganda offensive that uses World War II-era terms and imagery to rail against Ukraine's fledging government. "Nazis," "fascists" and "Fritzes" are some of the terms that Russia is hurling at Ukrainian authorities who took power after the ouster of the last elected president, a reversal in political fortunes that has led to a pro-Western Ukrainian government in Kiev and a pro-Russian insurgency in the country's east.

It's an effective tactic because of the emotional weight that World War II has in Russia. The Soviet victory against Hitler is the nation's single most powerful rallying cry. In evoking the ugliest words related to Nazi Germany, the Russian media loyal to President Vladimir Putin is galvanizing support for his aggressive stance toward Ukraine, both among his countrymen and among Russian-speakers in Ukraine's east.

It's also a dangerous tactic, because the inflammatory propaganda may provoke the anti-Kiev opposition in the east.

The propaganda assault began during the monthslong pro-Western protests that ousted Ukraine's pro-Russian president in February. Russian state news media were quick to dismiss the protests as the work of Ukrainian neo-Nazis, a particularly loaded accusation because Ukrainian nationalists collaborating with the Nazis are blamed for horrific reprisal attacks during World War II. The Maidan movement did contain an ultranationalist element, known as the Right Sector, but its influence appears greatly amplified by the Russian media.

Putin has set the national tone by eagerly using the word "Nazis" to refer to the protesters in Ukraine. Speaking at his annual April call-in show, Putin warned that "neo-Nazism is on the rise" in Ukraine.

By invoking World War II imagery, the Kremlin is stirring a cauldron of emotion; millions of Russians were killed in battle or thrown into Nazi camps in a war that left no family unaffected.

"The only thing that truly unites the nation is the mythology of the Second World War and the idea of victory," said political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin. "Putin appeals to that; there's nothing else to rally around."

Arkady Mamontov, a TV journalist who led the media assault against punk band Pussy Riot, broadcast footage of the Zhdanivka detention center, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of the major eastern city of Donetsk, on his Sunday program and declared that Ukraine was constructing "fascist concentration camps" for pro-Russian activists rallying in eastern Ukrainian cities.

"There will be enough cells for everyone," Mamontov said as he walked along the barbed-wire fence, though he failed to provide any evidence of it.

On an unannounced visit to the facility, The Associated Press was given an extensive tour of the grounds, and found nothing to suggest it was not an ordinary detention center. There were rows of barracks under construction for 100 people, but no barred windows or watch-towers.

"We're not building any Auschwitz here," said Volodymyr Pashchenko, a Ukrainian official with the Turkish company building the facility. "This is not a prison. This is a center which is to provide normal accommodation to people who have fled to Europe or who have somehow ended up in Ukraine illegally."

Pashchenko said his company secured the deal in 2010 to build the immigration detention center, which is being completed under an EU-funded project.

There is a deep and dark history behind the anti-Ukrainian messages now emanating from Russia.

When Nazi troops entered Ukraine in 1941, they enlisted local Ukrainians to fight for them and against the Soviet Union. The nationalist Ukrainian brigades that were formed saw themselves as patriots fighting for independence. But while serving under the Nazis, some participated in war crimes, including extermination campaigns against Jews, Poles and fellow Ukrainians. Even after the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945, bands of Ukrainian nationalists fought on in the forests against the Soviet re-occupation of Ukraine until finally subdued or annihilated by around 1948.

Pro-Russian protesters in eastern Ukraine are drawing inspiration from the Kremlin in pushing the fascism narrative. "No to fascism" banners flutter and wartime songs blare from loudspeakers in front of occupied government headquarters in the eastern city of Donetsk. One poster inside shows President Barack Obama's face with a Hitler mustache and the distinctive blond braids of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Alarmist rumors have proliferated since Russia began calling the Ukraine leadership fascist. One popular claim is that the Kiev government has hatched a plan to "exterminate" Russian-speakers in the east. The rumors feed into Putin's argument that Moscow needs to protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine.

"They already have it all planned out," said retired coal miner Volodymyr Chernenko. "In the social networks, they say that a partisan war should be waged, and they list the names of those whose throats should be slashed and who should be blown up."

Russian news media regularly distort information to make it fit the black-and-white World War II mindset, condoning vigilante violence.

Pro-Kremlin Life News television recently showed footage of gangs wearing St. George ribbons - the symbol of the pro-Russia movement - viciously beating marchers at a peaceful Ukrainian unity rally.

Instead of condemning the brutality, the TV anchor announced: "Donetsk self-defense broke up a neo-Nazi march."

Russian officials have gradually adopted the media's World War II rhetoric.

The Russian foreign ministry quoted Mamontov's concentration camp report in a statement and went further, asking: "Is the Kiev regime going to throw discontented citizens from the country's southeast in there?"


Vasilyeva reported from Moscow. Peter Leonard contributed to this report from Donetsk, Ukraine.

Join the discussion

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rgkarasiewicz May 01 2014 at 10:28 AM

The sooner that the illegitimate American puppet regime is ousted in Ukraine, the better for the beseiged Ukranian people. Then they can be unshackled from the oppression, enslavement and exploitation perpetrated upon them by the Western imperialist taskmasters.

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Jim May 01 2014 at 11:10 AM

it is past my bedtime already i feel i am doing the president's job, good ridence forever

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vladswim May 01 2014 at 9:14 AM

The power of the glorious Soviet Union!!!

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sugarcreekchile May 01 2014 at 10:53 AM

Western Ukrainian-speakers have always been anti-Russian and chose to collaborate with the Nazis in WWII. At least 1/3 of the protestors in Kiev who overthrew the elected government were identified as neo-Nazis. Neo-Nazi's took over the Kiev city hall and posted racist banners there, along with Nazi symbols.

While Russia may be overplaying Ukraine's Nazi past, the West is going out of it's way to underplay the neo-Nazism that is present in western Ukraine. The current administration that usurped the elected government has no love for the Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east. Moves have been made to suppress the Russian language and to make holding dual Russian/Ukrainian citizenship a criminal offense.

If the detention center is being built to hold refugees and illegal aliens, why build it on the Russian border? Ukraine is a bankrupt country. What refugee would seek asylum there or illegal alien would want to go there? The Russians aren't naive about the center's ultimate purpose.

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William May 01 2014 at 10:59 AM

Why do they always talk of the Nazi's atrocities. When Stalin killed 25 million of his own people while in power. You never hear of that. Was it because he was supposed to be on the good guys side. The guy was paranoid. Just like the nutcase in North Korea. He was worse than hitler.

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1 reply
ademos1025 William May 01 2014 at 12:53 PM

I agree

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Jim May 01 2014 at 9:23 AM

sorry people but sometimes i think the ussr is right, just is

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bzh484 May 01 2014 at 10:58 AM

How much of yours and my money (US Citizens) is being used to pay for this prison?

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CAT May 01 2014 at 9:37 AM

Lots of emphasis on the "Russian Propaganda." Fact is in a state of war, all citizens as bombarded with propaganda from all parties involved in the war. You bet Ukrainian people are being bombarded with heavy Pro-West (Kiev) and Pro-East (Russia) propaganda. Fair game !

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fernandezarthr May 01 2014 at 10:53 AM

.....this Liberal Post and the Communist Russian are trying to lie to people with "Disinformation" to confuse the Uninformed, and get favorable public Opinion rating as to what is they really doing over there!!!.......Don't let the fool you!!!....

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Jim May 01 2014 at 10:52 AM

Propaganda 101. Both sides employ this tactic. The Molotov cocktail throwing anarchists in Kiev that overthrew the deeply flawed but duly elected President of Ukraine are referred to by President Obama as the 'legitimate" government of Ukraine. The first thing that they did after taking power was to outlaw the Russian language in Ukraine. The millions of Russian speaking people in east Ukraine who were deeply offended and do not wish to live under the rule of the anarchists in Kiev are referred to as "rebels" and "insurgents" by President Obama. Propaganda 101. Both sides do it.

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1 reply
ademos1025 Jim May 01 2014 at 1:00 PM

most smart, well informed people know that and agree with you Jim, but unfortunately, the truth does not matter.

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