Ukrainian Azov Battalion

Ukrainian Azov Battalion

Azov Battalion is Ukrainian military unit, with formal designation of Special Operations Detachment Azov. Unit is a regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard that is part of Ministry of Internal Affairs. It is therefore neither a paramilitary unit nor independent of the state. It originally formed as a volunteer militia on 5 May 2014 during the Odessa clashes. The regiment saw its first combat experience recapturing Mariupol from pro-Russian separatists forces in June 2014. Since 12 November 2014., it is part of the Ukrainian National Guard.

Central base of the unit is in the proximity of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. The unit is fighting in the Eastern Ukraine, and a significant portion of its soldiers are refugees from the Eastern Ukraine and speak Russian language. Many had been expelled from their homes by separatists which had taken the East of the Ukraine. One of former commanders of the unit, Andriy Biletsky, had been connected to right-wing movements. Symbol of the unit is Wolfsangel, German heraldic charge inspired by wolf traps. It became a symbol of liberty and independence after its adoption as an emblem of a peasant revolt in the 15th century against the oppression of the German princes and their mercenaries. During World War II it was used by various German units, including four Wehrmacht infantry divisions (19th, 33rd, 206th, 256th), one Wehrmacht Panzer division (19th), three Waffen SS divisions (2nd Panzer, 4th Polizei Panzergrenadier, 34th Volunteer Grenadier), and several others.

Azov Battalion is a highly mobile maneuver unit for special tasks. Organized as a regiment, it often acts alongside other Ukrainian Army units within tactical battle groups. Independent actions are also carried out by smaller special tasks groups from within the Battalion. The Battalion is highly disciplined force with clear command structure. This allows initiative by lower ranking commanders and soldiers in both training and combat. The unit is one of the best and most combat-ready units of the Ukrainian Army.

Units members come from 22 countries and are of various backgrounds. More than half of unit’s members speak Russian and come from the Eastern Ukraine, including cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. This and ideological charge makes them highly motivated and very effective in combat.


Azov Battalion has its origins in the Patriots of Ukraine organization from Harkiv. This organization helped defend governmental buildings from a violent takeover by pro-Russian separatists and “volunteers” from Russia. The group then formed a volunteer guard named the Black Corps and placed itself at disposition of Ukrainian Ministry of Interior with aim of serving as a basis for unit based on wider area of Harkiv. As the Ukrainian regular army had been weakened and plundered by the previous pro-Kremlin regime, the state needed anyone who would be willing to fight, and the unit was accepted. Its founder was Andrij Biletski, a historian from Harkiv.

As the danger of escalation of conflict around Harkiv had subsided, during April 2014. the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior made a decision to have members of the unit transferred to the area of Mariupol and to form a battalion of the Ministry of Interior which would be permanently located in the area of Mariupol. Along the way, the unit took the city of Berdyansk from the separatists, and in this city 80 km from Mariupol forms its first base and begins accepting volunteers as well as undertaking missions. It also receives the name after the Azov sea.

After the conquest of Mariupol in 2014. the unit moves to the city and in autumn of 2014. it becomes a part of the Ukrainian National Guard. In autumn of 2014., the unit is upgraded from a battalion to a regiment due to a significant number of volunteers.


Special Tasks Patrol Police

The Azov Battalion originated from a group of ultras of FC Metalist Kharkiv named “Sect 82”. During late February 2014., with separatist movement active in Kharkiv, Sect 82 occupied the regional administration building in Kharkiv and served as a local self defense force. Soon after, a company of the Special Tasks Patrol Police called “Eastern Corps” was formed on the basis of “Sect 82”.

On 13 April 2014., Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov issued a decree authoritizing creation of a new paramilitary force up to 12 000 people. The Azov Battalion was formed on 5 May 2014. in Berdiansk as a unit of Special Tasks Patrol Police. Many recruits were members of the political party Patriot of Ukraine. The battalion received training near Kyiv by instructors with experience in the Georgian Armed Forces. The battalion was involved in combat in Mariupol, and between May and June 2014. it played an important role in liberation of Mariupol from pro-Russian combatants. Then it was briefly relocated to Berdiansk.

In June 2014., Anton Herashchenko (an advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs) said that it was planned that the Azov Battalion would have a strength of 400 people, and the salary for volunteers would be 4 300 hryvnia ($360) per month. Contract soldiers were paid 1 505 hryvnia per month.

On 11 August 2014., the Azov Battalion, backed by Ukrainian paratroopers, captured Marinka from pro-Russian rebels and entered the suburbs at Donetsk, clashing with Donetsk People’s Republic fighters. In early September 2014., the Azov battalion was engaged in the Second Battle of Mariupol.

National Guard

In September 2014., the Azov Battalion was expanded from a battalion to a regiment and enrolled into the National Guard of Ukraine. Unit’s political leadership left to form the National Corps political party, thus depoliticizing the Battalion. Battalion also started receiving increasing supplies of heavy arms, as well as funding from the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine and other sources. In November 2014., the Battalion was official incorporated into the National Guard of Ukraine. In February 2015., Azov Battalion conducted one of successful offensive operations in the war as it retook several villages in the vicinity of Mariupol to secure the city from artillery bombardments.

During late March 2015., Azov battalion continued to prepare to war in spite of the second ceasefire agreement (Minsk II). On 15 June 2015., US government blocked any aid to the battalion due to its alleged neo-Nazi background. The amendment was removed in November 2015. under pressure from Pentagon. In August 2015., Ukrainian government pulled all volunteer units, including the Azov battalion, off the front lines around Mariupol and replaced them with regular military units.

From 2015. onwards, Azov has organized summer camps where children and teenagers receive combat training as well as vital lessons on Ukrainian nationalism. On 27 April 2016., 300 troops and light armor from the regiment were assigned to Odessa Oblast to safeguard public order after Oblast Governor Mikheil Saakashvili wrote in social media about a rash of pro-Russian “titushki” attacks on civilians.

In October 2019, members of the US House of Representatives from the Democratic Party requested that the Azov Battalion and two other far-right groups be classified as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US State Department, citing recent acts of right-wing violence such as the Christchurch mosque shootings earlier that year. The request spurred protests by Azov’s supporters in Ukraine.

In early 2022., Azov Battalion carried out a long defense of Mariupol. During it, they killed multiple Russian generals and destroyed numerous armored vehicles.


First commander of the unit was Andriy Biletsky, who received command in the summer of 2014. In the August 2014., he received a medal for bravery. During its early days, Azov was a special police company of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Biletsky was promoted to a lieutenant colonel within Ministry’s police force. After Biletsky was elected into the Ukrainian parliament in the 2014 Ukrainian parliamentary election he left the battalion in October 2016.

Six months after having been founded, the unit numbered 300 soldiers who receive wage of 360 USD. During 2015., number of soldiers grew to 1800 and the unit had to be upgraded to a brigade. The battalion was nicknamed “Men in Black” or “Black Corps” as a counter to Russia’s “Little Green Men” due to their use of all-black fatigues.

Current status

In 2015., Ukraine decided to turn all volunteer battalions into regular units. Territorial Defence Battalions associated with armed forces were incorporated into the Ukrainian Armed Forces, while the Special Tasks Patrol Police units of the interior ministry were incorporated into the National Guard.

In January 2015., Azov Battalion was officially upgraded to a regiment and received its definitive shape. A mobilization center and a training facility were established in Kyiv, with personnel undergoing extensive screening process. Recruits are then assigned to units – be it combat or support units – where they undertake intensive combat drills training.

Azov is a modern, highly mobile maneuver army unit capable of long-term independent operations. Since 2015., it is structured as a regiment and is officially called a “Special Operations Detachment”. Its combat duties are focused on reconnaissance, counter-reconnaissance, EOD, interdiction and special weapons operations. During operations, it often cooperates with other units of Ukrainian army, usually as a tactical part of battle groups under sector command. Small groups of special forces from the battalion undertake different tasks.

Regiment is organized into:

  • Regimental HQ
  • 1st Commando Battalio
  • 2nd Commando Battalion (in formation stage)
  • 5th Tank Battalion
  • Field Artillery Battery
  • Reconnaissance Company
  • Security Company
  • Engineer Company
  • Maintenance Company
  • Logistic Company
  • Signal Platoon
  • CBRN-defense Platoon
  • 4th (Training) Battalion
    • Regimental Depot Kyiv
    • Regimental Depot Mariupol
    • Regimental Depot Berdiansk

Foreign membership

Azov Battalion has also attracted foreign membership. These include people from the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Greece, Scandinavia, Spain, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Russia. The group has used Facebook to try and recruit right-leaning individuals from across Europe. About 20 Croatians had joined the unit in January 2015.

Media treatment

Unit has been often accused of Nazism by the Russian as well as the left-leaning media. This is an extension of the approach were Russia is attempting to discredit the Ukrainian government by calling it fascist. Azov battalion however really is using Nazi-connected symbols and regalia, and many members have Nazi associated tatoos and symbols. It is also true that the Battalion has welcomed neo-Nazis within its ranks. Serhiy Korotkykh, an ex-commander of one of the units in the Battalion, previously was a member of neo-Nazi organizations in Belarus and Russia.

Such accusations however should be taken with more than a pinch of salt. During the Homeland War, HOS (Hrvatske Obrambene Snage – Croatian Defense Forces) had also been accused of Nazism due to using Ustashi symbols and imagery. However, HOS proved to be the most effective as well as the “cleanest” (in terms of war crimes) military organization of the war. Therefore, either HOS were not ideological Nazis, or else an ideologically Nazi unit was significantly less prone to war crimes than regular units of Croatia, and orders of magnitude less prone to war crimes than so-called “antifascists” fighting against them. I will write on HOS in the future, but the lesson here is that labels should not be given much weight. Symbols of extremist ideologies will often be used during the war even by people who do not believe in them, and using such does not automatically make a unit or people using them evil. At any rate, everything not far-Left is considered Nazism today, so such accusations should not hold much weight.

Therefore, there is no weight to assumptions that Azov Battalion is a neo-Nazi unit. Some members of the unit definitely are, but this has no relation to battalion as a whole. In fact, the battalion – much like the rest of Ukrainian military – has no selection by ideological criteria. And this is a good thing, because if it allowed only Progressive Leftists to join – as Western media apparently wants – it would have nobody willing to fight on the front lines. It is natural that any volunteers will come from the right side of the political spectrum. But the Battalion itself is ideologically neutral. Ihor Lutsenko, former member of the Battalion, testified that he has met people of various ideological outlooks and that political views are a private matter for every member. Thus it is unavoidable that some of foreign volunteers had been members of right-wing organizations that had called for violence, but hardly a cause to indict a battalion as a whole. Battalion has not made calls for violence on its own, despite its links to some radical organizations. And even those links are very slim.

The battalion did and does have close relationship with the National Corps political party, led by former Azov commander Andriy Biletskyi. International Secretary of the National Corps Olena Semeniaka stated that they oppose both Russia and the West which “demand to turn Ukraine into an object of international relations and processes [instead of an active subject]. These demands come from both East and West, and we intend to counter them.”. But this is an undeniable fact, and is hardly an extremist view.

Fact is that Ukraine is a victim. It is stuck between the West and its own installed pro-Western government, and Russia in the East. Neither side wishes it well, and in fact both wish for its destruction. Calling Azov Battalion an “ultranationalist militia” should be seen in this light. In reality, the Battalion is a regular regiment of the National Guard of Ukraine. But the battalion wishes for Ukrainian sovereignty, and is thus undesireable to West and Russia both.

And just like Croatian HOS, the so-called “Neo-Nazi” symbols that are used by the Battalion are in fact not Nazi symbols, and are much older than Nazism. The Black Sun symbol used by the Battalion, while in usage in Nazi Germany, is much older than it. It and similar symbols had existed since antiquity, and can be seen on historical buildings and archeological sites, even in national embroidery patterns, and are popular in folk culture and modern pagan cults. And since both Leftists and foreign imperialists always want to destroy nation’s past and culture, it was inevitable such symbols would be given unfavorable connotations.

This can be seen with the Azov Battalion itself. Russians had portrayed Ukrainian military volunteers in general as far-right since 2014. In fact, Ukraine itself had been portrayed as an essentially Nazi state, financing anti-Semitism and glorifying Nazi collaborators (even if it had, fact is that USSR gave any Nazi collaborators more than enough excuse). And Western Leftists have followed the suit, labeling the Azov Battalion a Nazi unit because it fights for national independence – a concept that Left hates with passion (Croatian Index is but one example of such media). Yet Russia had kept lying about not planning to invade up until the last moment – while completely understandable, it does show that Russian officials are not about to endanger their interests for sake of truth.

6 thoughts on “Ukrainian Azov Battalion

  1. Remind me of idiotic rednecks. They’ll serve their use by the West to demonize and combat Russia and then they’ll get discarded like white Americans in the United States.


    1. Exactly. As I have written somewhere else, I respect people who defend their country – but this doesn’t change the fact that Ukraine is being used, and no matter how the war ends, Ukraine will lose.


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