- By Hanna KozlowskaHanna Kozlowska is a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously worked as a fixer, researcher and freelance contributor for the New York Times in Poland, and as the associate editor for Poland Today, an English-language magazine. Her work has also appeared in the Huffington Post and several Polish publications. She graduated from Swarthmore College where she was coeditor in chief of The Daily Gazette.
Ukrainian right-winger Oleksandr Muzychko was a larger-than-life figure who was videotaped carrying a machine gun into a government building and grabbing a prosecutor by the collar while he screamed profanities into the official’s face.
On Monday night, Muzychko’s life came to a suitably Hollywood-style end when he was killed by police in Rivne, a city in western Ukraine. The cops had tried to arrest Muzychko — also known by his nom-de-guerre, "Sashko Bily" — when he tried to evade capture by jumping through a window clad in an Oakland Raiders jacket. Muzychko fired on police and died in the ensuing shootout.
"At the moment of arrest, at shouts of "Stop! Police!", Muzychko fled, jumping through a window, and opened fire," Volodymyr Yevdokimov, Ukraine’s first deputy interior minister, said during a press conference in Kiev. The police, he said, then returned fire and killed Muzychko, a leader of the radical right-wing group Pravy Sektor, or "Right Sector."
— Russian Truth (@RussianTruth1) March 25, 2014
Prior to his death, Muzychko had featured heavily in Kremlin attempts to portray the protest movement that toppled the government of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych as a gang of fascists. Right Sector, the group he helped lead, played a key role in the protests by supplying many of the footsoldiers who battled police in the streets of Kiev. Muzychko became Moscow’s favorite thug, and the Kremlin-backed news service RT happily chronicled the Ukrainian bully’s misdeeds.
That Muzychko met his death in a violent showdown with police is a fitting death for a man who carefully cultivated a reputation for using force to settle disputes and intimidate his opponents. In February, Muzychko attempted to strong-arm a local prosecutor after hearing a murder investigation was proceeding slowly. "Shut the fuck up, you bitch! Your fucking time is over," Muzychko told the prosecutor, holding him by his tie the entire time. The episode was captured on video:
The same month, Muzychko showed up at the Rivne regional parliament brandishing a machine gun and demanding that the assembled politicians help the families of anti-government protesters killed in clashes with riot police. "Who wants to take away my machine-gun? Who wants to take away my gun? Who wants to take away my knives? I dare you!" Again, the episode was captured on video:
In death, as in life, Muzychko is proving deeply controversial. According to independent lawmaker Oleksander Doniy, the right-wing extremist was in fact assassinated. "Two vehicles cut off his car. He was dragged out and put in one of them," Dony claimed in a post on Facebook. "Then he was thrown on the ground, hands cuffed behind his back, two shots to the heart." Local media outlets, meanwhile, report that some residents of Rivne believe Muzychko was killed by a "Russian subversive group."
Earlier this month, Muzychko released a YouTube video in which he accused Ukrainian authorities of plotting to kill or capture him and hand him over to Russia, where he is wanted for allegedly killing and torturing some 20 Russian soldiers while fighting alongside Chechen rebels in the mid-1990s. "I am not afraid of death," he says in the video, warning that his "friends, brothers, patriots" would take up his cause.
Sure enough, fellow members of Pravy Sektor have already pledged to avenge their leader. "We will take revenge on [acting Interior Minister] Arsen Avakov for the death of our brother," said Roman Koval, a Pravy Sektor coordinator for the Rivne region. "The shooting of Sashko Bily is an assassination ordered by the minister."