An armed standoff that started on Sunday between Ukrainian far-right paramilitary group Pravy Sektor and Ukrainian government forces has marked its second day after the group allegedly launched gun and grenade attack in the western Ukrainian town of Mukacheve.
Ukrainian forces have been seeking the surrender of the Pravy Sektor militia following the shootout, which resulted in the deaths of at least two members of the far-right group, left seven people injured and also resulted in two police cars being destroyed by grenade launchers.
The head of the far-right group Dmitro Yarosh posted pacifying statements on his personal Facebook page that he would promote an “objective and impartial investigation” into the armed standoff so that Ukraine can continue to exist as a “unified” state.
However, Yarosh went on to make a series of demands such as the resignation of the country’s interior minister Arsen Arakov, the arrest of MP Mikhail Lano who is critical of the group, and the resignation of the entire leadership of the regional police force.
Yarosh flew to the town of Mukacheve to discuss a truce and also engaged in direct negotiations with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko and the head of Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) on Sunday. Furthermore, Ukrainian officials told the group to either surrender or face arrest.
Ukrainian security forces allegedly delayed their planned attack on the surrounded militia on Saturday night in order to permit peaceful negotiations to take place. However, on Sunday, after tensions grew the group stated that its bases in western Ukraine had been “blockaded” by Ukrainian security forces.
According to statements from Andrei Tarasenko, a deputy leader of the far-right group, which were made to the Kiev-based Hromadske television, the fighters of the group's involved this last weekend’s incident are now in hiding “in the mountains.” Tarasenko also said that he cannot say exactly how many members of the group are in the mountains, since they have lost contact.
Another spokesperson for the group, Artem Skoropadsky, said that the fighters were camped out in a forest and did not intend to surrender. Additionally, another Pravy Sektor leader said that the group had set up a checkpoint on a main road outside Kiev to prevent Ukrainian security forces reaching the fighters.
Pravy Sektor says its men were trying to neutralise an illegally armed group loyal to Mikhail Lano, who in turn claimed that the armed standoff broke out when members if the group met with him to ask for help in setting up clinic for men injured in the country’s eastern conflict zone.
Ukrainian MP and investigative journalist Mustafa Nayyem who arrived at the scene on Saturday stated that the shootout started with a dispute over control of the contraband cigarette trade.
Mr. Nayyem spoke to local residents and stated that “all sides in the conflict” were involved in a lucrative cigarette smuggling business involving between three and five trucks passing through the region’s border crossings to Germany and Italy every week.
Pravy Sektor played an important role in the February 2014 Maidan revolution in Kiev which toppled Ukraine’s former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. The group has since fought together with government forces against pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. However, the increasing power and influence of the group has fuelled fears that it could one day challenge the authority of the state itself.
Current Ukrainian President Poroshenko has been severely criticised by Russia for his tolerance of and cooperation with Pravy Sektor. Russia frequently cites this cooperation as evidence that the post-revolutionary government in Kiev is controlled by fascists.