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11 March 2024

From Underdogs to Masters of Modern Warfare: The Transformation of Ukrainian Nationalist Movements

Source: Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies

Analyst at the Democratic Initiatives Foundation (DIF) in Kyiv, where he focuses on political violence, radicalization, extremism, and counter-terrorism policies. Previously, he was a security analyst at Come Back Alive, a foundation that provides support to service members in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. He has also worked as a project coordinator at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation.

Executive Director at the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation (DIF). He received a master's in Political Science from the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (2004), and he is an alumnus of the George C. Marshall European Centre for Security Studies (2007). He completed a defence management course at the UK Defence Academy of Cranfield University (2015). Between 2006 and 2020, he worked in the National Institute for Strategic Studies under the President of Ukraine. His areas of expertise include history, sociology, and international and security studies.

Professor of Comparative Politics at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, Ukraine, and the Founding Director of the UKMA School for Policy Analysis since 2002. He has also served as a Research Director at the Democratic Initiatives Foundation (DIF) since 2015. He was formerly Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Kyiv‑Mohyla Academy (1991-1993), a member of the council of ‘Maidan’ movement, and, for 15 years, a member of the Public Council under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.

Introduction

The transformation of social movements into combat forces is not a unique historical phenomenon. This process can be illustrated by the mobilization of communists during the Spanish Civil War, involving volunteer combatants, significant fundraising, and international support. Similarly, the transformation of political radical groups into regular forces is evident in the formation of the Republican Guard post the French Revolution. Even in Ukraine, a similar transformation occurred with the development of Ukrainian military units from social groups in 2014, aligning with this phenomenon.

However, the transition in 2022-2023 of the Ukrainian nationalist movement into military units is distinctively characterized by its integration into a stable and legitimate state that possesses an established military infrastructure. Moreover, Ukraine did not experience the typical revolutionary conditions that often facilitate such transformations. Instead, these units have become fully integrated and stable components of the official armed forces. Interestingly, they have become a symbol of the professionalism of the Ukrainian army, participating in crucial campaigns, including the critically important defence of Mariupol early in the war. While it's inaccurate to claim these units are the best without exception, they undoubtedly represent a significant marker of trust from both society and within military reputation circles.