An Austrian academic institute has revoked a fellowship to a Ukrainian postgraduate after the embarrassing discovery that she was a key figurehead in the global far-right.
The Vienna-based Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) said that the fellowship awarded to Olena Semenyaka, the head of international outreach for Ukraine’s far-right Azov movement, had been “revoked with immediate effect” after her political affiliations and accusations she has promoted her country as a hub for right-wing extremists became known.
“(IWM) clearly condemns and distances itself from the right-wing extremist statements and actions of Olena Semenyaka,” the institute’s rector Shalini Randeria said in a statement, adding that the IWM had always stood “for liberal democratic values and against all forms of totalitarian thinking.”
The institute deeply regrets this and has withdrawn Semenyaka’s fellowship with immediate effect after the facts became known.”
Semenyaka, whose academic background is in philosophy, had been made a junior visiting fellow, receiving an 1,800 Euro monthly stipend for her research project. But it’s her other role as the international face of Ukraine’s ultranationalist Azov movement, spearheading the group’s networking efforts with like-minded extremist groups internationally, that has prompted alarm.
News that she had been awarded a half-year junior visiting fellowship at the IWM – a respected, government-funded institute for advanced study in the humanities and social sciences – sparked disbelief after an academic at Canada’s University of Ottawa tweeted about the posting.
“Semenyaka can be described as the international figurehead of the Azov movement,” Mollie Saltskog, senior intelligence analyst at the Soufan Group, told VICE World News.
She said Semenyaka had travelled extensively through Europe to promote Azov and its geopolitical goals, promoted the idea of foreign nationals joining the ultranationalist group, and spoken at European conferences alongside “the most famous ideologues in the transnational white supremacy extremist movement.”
Experts who monitor the far-right say that Semenyaka’s extensively documented networking within international right-wing extremist circles are evidence of this.
Expers say that the Azov movement, with Semenyaka spearheading its charm offensive, has turned Ukraine into a key hub in transnational extreme-right networks, attracting white supremacists from across Europe and the United States.
“She has also hosted American white supremacy ideologues and organisations in Ukraine – some of whom have been indicted on violent charges here in the US,” said Saltskog.
Since first forming during the Ukraine crisis in 2014 as a volunteer militia commanded by the former leader of a neo-Nazi party, with members drawn from the hooligan scene, Azov has developed into a complex and powerful operation, with a political party, National Corps – described as a “nationalist hate group” by the US State Department – and its own vigilante force, the National Militia.
As National Corps’ international secretary, Semenyaka – who has been banned from Facebook – has been at the forefront of efforts to build bridges with other European far-right groups.
In recent years, she’s actively networked throughout Europe, giving speeches at far-right conferences organised by groups such as the Young Nationalists, the youth wing of the German neo-Nazi NPD party, and attending events with the German far-right party Der Dritte Weg and the Italian neo-fascists CasaPound.
At one event in Stockholm last year, she was scheduled to speak alongside British neo-Nazi and former British National Party official Mark Collett.
In 2018, she reportedly told RFE/RL that she had carried out some of her outreach trips alongside far-right kingpin Denis Nikitin, a high-profile Russian football hooligan and MMA fighter, who runs the white power fight promotion and lifestyle brand White Rex.
For the Austrian institute, though, the episode has left only red faces.
“The IWM is doing everything possible to investigate why their political activity in relevant right-wing extremist circles has escaped the attention of the jury responsible for the selection,” said Randeria, the institute’s rector, adding that the award process was now under review.