Published by Ozy on March 28 2019.
On Feb. 20, 2014, Igor Mikhailenko sat in the tribunal room of a small local court on the outskirts of Kharkiv, a Ukrainian city just 25 miles away from the Russian border. With two other members of a local neo-fascist group called Patriot of Ukraine, Mikhailenko stood accused of an attempted murder from 2011.
At that exact moment, 250 miles to the west, history was unfolding in the capital of Kiev: In the early morning, government riot troops opened fire on protesters who had started to walk up Institutskaya Street, a long avenue leading to the government district. By the end of the day, 48 people had been shot dead in what became the bloodiest day of the protest against President Viktor Yanukovych. As any sense of state authority unraveled in the capital, Yanukovych boarded a helicopter and ultimately fled the country. Within days, a decree of the interim government called Mikhailenko and 22 other people “political prisoners” and demanded their immediate liberation.
Five years later, Mikhailenko sits down in a Georgian restaurant in the center of Kiev not only as a free man, but also as a decorated war veteran and head of the National Militia, a controversial paramilitary group created just a year ago. In January, the National Militia hit local headlines when the Central Election Commission officially granted the group’s request to be observers for the March 31 presidential election. The race has already been one of the most unpredictable in the country’s history, with three contenders currently battling for a place in the second round: incumbent President Petro Poroshenko, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian who had never been previously involved in politics but has topped the polls for weeks now.