Some weeks ago I found a news article on the website of RFE/RL (Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty). It told the story of how Ukrainian police officers and law enforcement officials started a social media campaign using the hashtag #ЯБандерівець (I am a Banderite). For example on Facebook:
“I apologize, I’m also a Banderite! Glory to Ukraine! #ябандерівець” by Serhiy Knyazev (Chief of the Ukrainian National Police).
“I am Bandera and am a police officer! I serve the Ukrainian people!” by Oleksiy Biloshytskyi (First Deputy Head of the Department of Patrol Police).
“I work in the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine.This is my office. I am also a Bandera and I am proud of that! Bandera my Hero! I am categorically against the calls: “Lay, Bandera!” – this is a shame and it is unacceptable!…” by Zoryan Shkiryak (Advisor to the head of the Minister of internal Affairs).
Bit puzzled after seeing this posts, I started looking into it. The campaign was apparently caused by a protest in Kiev that took place a day before, on 10 February 2019. The protest was organised by ultra-nationalists. Soon after the protest, videos started to circulate. The videos show police officers throwing protesters to the ground. One can hear an officer even saying “On the ground, Banderite”. This one sentence caused controversy, but why?
The word “Banderite” apparently refers to Stepan Bandera. Bandera is seen by many as a hero who fought against both the Soviet occupation as the Nazi forces. The police officer in the video used the word “Banderite” however in a negative way. Many people on social media criticised him for this. To correct this, senior law enforcement officials and police officers went on a so-called “social media apology tour”, as one can see in the photos above. These posts sparked outrage as well. As others do not see Bandera as a hero, but accuse him of having carried out campaigns killing thousands of Poles and Jews.
So it turns out that one sentence, has opened up a complex matter. A protest that went too far, went online and caused a social media controversy within certain circles. In some parts of Ukraine, the word Bandera is used to describe a positive person whereas in other parts it has a rather negative connotation. That said, the campaign was not widespread and known by many Ukrainians, and can be perceived as one of the many upheavals just before the upcoming national elections in Ukraine. Still I decided to write this article, as it shows another way of how social media and protests can and are related. Social media are not only used to gather people or spread information. This campaign has shown that offline protests can continue online in unexpected ways.