Some 3,000 radicals have gathered in front of the presidential office on Saturday to mark the birthday of Sergey Sternenko, the former head of the Odessa branch of the Right Sector, an association of radical anti-Russia Ukrainian Neo-Nazi organizations. The ultranationalists used the occasion to demand his release.
In late February, Sternenko was sentenced to seven years and three months in prison for the kidnapping of a district council MP, Sergey Shcherbich, in 2015. The man himself denies the charge and his backers see him as a victim of “political persecution.” Sternenko is also accused of premeditated murder after killing a man in a street fight in 2018. He is yet to be tried on this charge.
The crowd that gathered in front of the presidential office pelted it with flares and smoke pellets they were burning as well as broke its windows and sprayed walls with paint. The rioters were also chanting slogans like ‘Freedom to Sternenko!’ and demanded Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky resign. At some point, they managed to set the plaque reading ‘The President of Ukraine’ on fire.
Police forces were deployed to the scene. However, the officers did not prevent the crowd from vandalizing the building and did not arrest any of the rioters. Later, Ukraine’s deputy interior minister, Anton Geraschenko explained that the police did not want to give the protesters a reason to claim the officers “quelled a peaceful protest.” He also described the rioters’ actions as a “provocation” against the law enforcement.
Sternenko’s supporters also staged another protest right after the far-right leader was handed down his sentence by a Ukrainian court in late February. At that time, the protest in central Kiev ended up in clashes with police that saw 27 officers injured.
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