Ukraine claims that it destroyed a Russian military ship in an occupied port the Russians in the context of the war that is sweeping the country. But Moscow reacted to the tragedy by denying its responsibility: it stated that the Azov Battalion -also known as the Azov Regiment-, the main presence of the Ukrainian army in Mariupol, was the one that destroyed the theater, without offering evidence or explanations. “The Russians already lie, [diciendo] that the headquarters of the Azov Regiment was there. But they themselves know perfectly well that there were only civilians,” Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of Ukraine’s Donetsk regional administration, said on Facebook last week. Russia had already charged at the Azov Battalion days earlier, when Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrvov said that the bombed-out Maternal Hospital in Mariupol was “occupied by militants from the Azov Battalion and other radicals”, again without offering evidence. Soldiers from the Azov Battalion pray in Kharkiv, on March 11, 2022, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Credit: SERGEY BOBOK/AFP via Getty Images) But what exactly is the Azov Battalion, and why does Russia, which claims it invaded Ukraine in part to “denazify,” often mention them? The Azov Battalion began as a volunteer militia linked to far-right ideologies before joining a National Guard unit in 2014, in the context of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the subsequent civil war between Ukrainian forces anas and rebels raised in Donbas with the support of Russia, in which they fight in favor of Kyiv. According to the Stanford University Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), the Azov Battalion “promotes Ukrainian nationalism and neo-Nazism through its paramilitary organization National Militia and its political wing National Corps.” , led by the group’s founder, Andriy Biletsky. Veterans of the Azov Battalion, who participated in the war with Russian-backed separatists, during the “No Surrender” rally in Kyiv in 2020. (Credit: by SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images) While the research group Journalist Bellingcat noted in 2020 that “individuals in the Azov movement are openly hostile to democracy, but friends of Nazism and admirers of far-right terrorists.” And the Soufan Center remarked in 2019 that “the Azov Battalion emerges as a critical node in the transnational violent far-right movement.” In fact, the group has been caught recruiting in France and, it is believed, in Brazil. On its website, the Azov Battalion rejects any political links and maintains that the unit was created in 2014 “to fight against Russian terrorism”, and that it is part of the structure of the National Guard, subordinate to the government and the Constitution of Ukraine. The first congress of the new “National Corps” political party, created from members of the Azov Battalion, in Kyiv on October 14, 2016. (Credit: GENYA SAVILOV/AFP via Getty Images) The Azov Battalion was created as a militia in March 2014, according to CISAC, and gained notoriety in June of that year when he participated in the recovery of the city of Mariúpol, then in the hands of rebels. Now, in the war unleashed by Russia on February 24, they fight once again in Mariupol –on the shores of the Sea of Azov–, this time resisting the Russian attack. Its extremist ideology has led to Facebook routinely banning content praising the group. However, since the beginning of the war this ban was lifted by Meta, Facebook’s parent company. Joe Osborne, a spokesman for Meta, said earlier that the company was “for the time being making a small exception to praise the Azov Battalion strictly in the context of defending Ukraine, or in its role as part of the Ukrainian National Guard.” . With information from Andrew Carey, Olga Voitovych, Tim Lister, Lev Golinkin, Timothy Fadek, Reuters, and Rishi Iyengar.