The Rise of
The Right

Ukraine's bloody conflict against pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country has led to thousands of deaths - but it faces a new fight against the rapid rise of far right groups.

BAFTA-winning filmmaker Ross Kemp saw first-hand how militias, made up of football hooligans and current and former soldiers, are now fighting on the front line. Just a few years ago they were on the fringes of society – shunned for their violent behaviour and xenophobic beliefs, but since the 2014 Maidan revolution - and the subsequent fighting against pro-Russian groups - their popularity has grown.

During filming for series four of Extreme World, Kemp met a group of Dynamo Kiev "ultras" who took part in last year's uprising, and now fight on the front line in the east of Ukraine.

"Our future is a war – a war with Russia."

"Before the Maidan, people's attitudes to the ultras was mixed," one senior member of the "Terror Family" says. "Everyone thought us to be just hooligans who have fights with others and cause disturbances. But after the Maidan people opened their eyes; they understood that the ultras are actually patriotic young people who are ready to fight - not only on the Maidan, but also at the war for our land."

But the ideology of these groups goes beyond fighting pro-Russian separatists. These men - seen now by many as heroes - are fighting for the Azov Battalion in Mariupol, Maryinka and Iloviask.

The unit was set up in May 2014 to take on the growing threat from Russia and has since become a magnet for nationalists and far right activists.

"To become an Azov fighter you have to be a proper white man”.

Azov Battalion fighter

Senior members of the battalion have now been given influential positions within Petro Poroshenko’s government. Its commander, Andriy Biletsky, is believed to be in charge of two neo-Nazi political groups, and has been elected to serve in Ukraine’s parliament while the battalion itself has been integrated into the country’s National Guard.

Differences between Ukraine’s far right groups have been put aside as the fighting continues, though one fighter – a teacher and psychologist – told Kemp that to become an Azov fighter you had to be “a proper white man. You can be nationalist, you can be fascist or national socialist. It’s not the main thing."

"Our future is a war – a war with Russia.”

A ceasefire has been agreed between Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists since September.

Despite this, the fighting - described by NATO as the biggest threat to European security since the Second World War - continues, and more than a dozen people a day are killed on Ukraine’s front line. On Tuesday 13 January, at least 12 people were killed in a rocket attack as a bus passed through a checkpoint near the town of Volnovakha.

With sporadic fighting continuing during the fragile ceasefire, those who live in eastern Ukraine have no choice but to support the far right militias - many groups are being begged to stay and offer their protection, as an attack is believed to be imminent.

The violence spread throughout Eastern Ukraine following the annexation of Crimea.

The violence spread throughout Eastern Ukraine following the annexation of Crimea.

For the new series of Extreme World, Kemp met members of the Azov Battalion near Mariupol - which just months before had been seized by pro-Russian separatists. The country’s second largest sea port, the city is 10 miles from the front line, and its industry is vital to Ukraine's economy.

The commander of the civil defence for Mariupol is responsible for coordinating the protection of the city from the separatist forces who are based just 15km outside of the city limits.

"They are nationalists, that’s what they call themselves, but they are patriots first and foremost," she says of the militias.

"So we ask them 'please don’t leave the city. We will help you. We need you, because we want to live in Ukraine.' Having them here is crucial for us."

An Azov commander agrees, saying the militias are here to stay.

"When the Ukranian army was destroyed near Iloviask, Azov were the ones who held Mariupol. Now we are part of Mariupol. You can’t imagine one without the other."

And there is no shortage of new recruits – applications from members of far right groups around the country are piling up.

"Ukranians love Azov," he adds. "They are proud of Azov. People step aside and look up to you as a hero."

Azov are hoping to turn this rising tide of political sympathy into real political power – and this has already started to happen.

And while discontent with the current government grows – the influence of the far right only increases.

In October 2014 members of Azov and other similar organisations marched in their thousands through the streets of the capital Kiev. The Azov brigade marched with heavy metal music blaring out, shouting slogans, urging people to follow them.

"The shorthand for this demonstration is ‘we are here’," says Kemp. "They really are now a force to be reckoned with."

There seems to be little effort from the government to put a stop to the rise of the far right.

As the march gathered momentum – estimates put the crowd numbers at around 10,000, and as Kemp said, there were very few police on the streets. "What I've been told is this - they are simply too scared to stop this march."

Kemp visited Maidan Square where he witnessed a makeshift memorial to more than 100 civilians who were killed during the uprising.

"Any organisation that offers hope, a sense of patriotism and national pride - and also has members that are prepared to lay down their lives for this country - will have people rallying to its cause.

"But I can't help thinking the majority of people who laid down their lives in this square didn't do it to help the rise of the far right."

What is becoming more worrying is the increasing number of marches across the continent against what some see as the Islamisation of Europe.

The controversial anti-Islamic Pegida movement in Germany is proof that anti-immigrant xenophobia is on the rise; the movement has used slogans such as "Lugenpresse" that were regularly used by Hitler’s Nazi Party.

Following the Paris terror attacks, a fresh wave of far right sentiment has been spreading across Europe including Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Ukraine is not alone.