Ukraine’s Grim Young Men in Tracksuits

Semi-authoritarian regimes frequently find that beating protestors and members of the opposition is a task best done with hired thugs; they provide a certain amount of deniability and don’t look as bad on television as uniformed policemen. The Mubarak regime was famous for its baltagiyya, young men who were temporarily let out of prison or hired for a few guineas to break up demonstrations. In Ukraine, there are the Titushkis. Here, a history of the Titushkis from Ukraine’s Gordonuatranslated by William Risch.

Titushki is a new word from Ukrainians’ lexicon that the whole world is now learning. This is the name for strong, athletic young men hired for money to cause trouble at public gatherings, who start up fights, who carry out other illegal actions. They operate under police protection or with the police taking no action at all. In fact, this is a shadow army of mercenaries that pro-regime forces have created for use against the people of Ukraine.

The Symbol of Generation “T”

Vadim Titushko, an athlete from Belaia Tserkov’, bestowed his name on Ukrainian hired provocateurs. Fame arrived for him not in the ring, but during a public gathering, “Rise Up Ukraine!,” where Titushko beat up Channel Five TV reporter Ol’ha Snytsarchuk and her husband, the photographer Vlad Sodel’. The incident happened May 18, 2013, in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) administration building on Vladimir Street in Kiev.

“About 10 people in sports clothes attacked us. We took pictures of them beating up Freedom (Svoboda) Party members and they didn’t like it at all,” said the photographer. The titushki beat them until they bled. Ol’ha Snytsarchuk’s lip and arms were badly damaged – her attackers took her phone away. Sodel’ himself, while trying to defend his wife, received slight wounds.

According to the reporter, the police did not get involved in the incident, although journalists several times tried to get law enforcement to defend them. As a result of being badly beaten, Ol’ha Snytsarchuk was taken away in an ambulance – doctors found out she had received an internal concussion (zakrytaia cherepno-mozgovaia travma).

As far as journalists were able to tell, the head of Belaia Tserkov’s Young Regionals city organization, Vasilii Boiko, had been directing the young toughs.

In a photo made by Sodel’ during the attack, a man in a black shirt can be seen intently looking after his fellow residents’ aggressive acts.

A video recording of the incident showed that the police, who had been standing in front of the group of young men who attacked, did nothing to stop the assault on the journalists.

Scenes of Vadim Titushko’s crazed look during the attack circulated throughout the Ukrainian media; journalists started using the word “titushki” as a collective term for people with personalities like his.

[…]

An Army of Titushki

How many titushki are there in Ukraine? Probably those who organized this army of bandits for their pro-regime masters. There are alarming figures being circulated in the press: 20,000 and more. These young toughs’ main task is to stir up provocations against participants of legal mass protests and meetings so that these events wind up breaking the law. State law enforcement personnel eagerly seek out opposition activists among the titushki to de-legitimize both the protests and their leaders. Titushki also often perform the role of guarding hired events.

Over November and December 2013, titushki were assembled in columns in Kiev’s Mariinskii Park. Like a real army, these “soldiers” were fed, transported, and given orders in organized fashion.

Titushki in Mariinsk Park in Kiev

Explanations of where these swarms of titushki in Ukraine come from vary somewhat. Basically, they all concur that titushki are hired members of sport clubs, often semi-legal ones, and/or members of groups from the criminal world. Some suppose that Ultras and groups of soccer fans are among titushki, and that they are among the most aggressive of them. There are rumors that it was exactly these people who could have provoked the storming of Bankovyi Street on December 1. Opposition figures have claimed that members of law enforcement structures, making themselves look like ordinary civilians, have taken part in provocations against Euromaidan participants. Regarding this, one can conclude, based on how events have developed on the Maidan, that titushki indeed are connected with the police – or at least the police don’t get in the way of their activities.

How Much Do Titushki Cost?

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Titushki thugs. Kiev. Photo: Gordonua.

Vitalii Iarema, Member of Parliament, head of the Parliamentary Investigation Commission, former head of Kiev’s GUVD (City Administraiton of Internal Affairs) (the city police organs – translator), Police Lieutenant General, was the first to estimate the approximate sum given out to titushki: “I even know the amount – they get from 200 to 500 hryvnias a day.” Former Party of Regions member Inna Boguslovskaia, citing witnesses she knew, confirmed the price range: “I have a witness. It’s my husband’s aide. He saw how these people lived in the Hotel ‘Kiev,’ and how they pay them 250 hryvnias each.” She is one of those who are convinced that groups of soccer fans are among the titushki. As the Euromaidan developed and grew strong over time, so did the number of titushki and the amount they were paid: several of these hirelings confessed on tape that they already have been receiving 300 to 500 hryvnias. For active participation – i.e., provoking conflicts and disorders – they get paid 1,000 hryvnias and up. According to rumors, the provocateurs who attacked the police on Bankovyi Street on December 1 could earn tens of thousands of hryvnias.

Titushki in the Service of Business

Titushki had been around long before 2013 and the Euromaidan. For years, they were assembled and used to deal with personal issues involving businesses. For example, they were used to support and frighten people during forceful takeovers of firms. A source from a large real estate firm told Gordonua.com that not a single takover happened without the involvement of paid titushki:

“There always was a group of men in sports clothes there to support us – older, more experienced than today’s titushki. They chased away crowds of people who weren’t pleased with what was going on, they broke down barriers, and they made use of any kind of force needed to support us.”

By the end of 2013, these scattered groups were turned into an organized army, and the situation started to resemble an attempt at taking over an entire country by force.

Titushki in the Supreme Rada

On December 3, 2013, during protests supporting Ukraine’s Eurointegration course, several groups of youths “with the typical look,” in civilian gear, were brought into Ukraine’s Supreme Rada[parliament], accompanied by police. These young men, estimated at 100 to 200 altogether, were brought in through four police barriers. When they tried to enter the parliament building, some of them had to show their identity cards. Their documents turned out to have been issued by the Crimean territorial command of Ukraine’s riot police. Arsenii Iatseniuk, leader of the Fatherland (Bat’kivshchyna) Party fraction in the Supreme Rada, claimed that Party of Regions deputies had brought into parliament two hundred young men who were supposed to provoke a fight, and he ordered them out of the building. Vladimir Rybak (Party of Regions), parliamentary speaker, claimed that he had given no orders to bring in so-called titushki, and he assured him that there were no interlopers in the building. A video has documented the police arranging titushki within the police cordon around the Supreme Rada’s walls.

An Incident in Dnepropetrovsk

The coordinator of the local Euromaidan in Dnepropetrovsk, Viktor Romanenko, during the November 26, 2013 attack on its tent city, recognized among the attack’s participants members of the Dnepropetrovsk Region’s Judo Federation, a federation headed by Party of Regions member Ivan Stupak. These were the very same athletes who attacked peaceful protests in the summer of 2013.

On the evening of November 26, the attackers severely beat up Eurointegration supporters present on the square and demolished the tents. Several demonstrators wound up in the hospital with injuries. The police had left the scene before the attack happened, and they returned after the attackers had managed to hide themselves.

Titushki versus the Euromaidan

Titushki participation in the Euromaidan has led to them becoming a “fourth” power (alongside the police, Berkut special forces, and riot police) which the regime has used to oppose and sabotage peaceful protests. Eurotitushki have been mobilized in such large numbers that independent media have unanimously referred to an “army of titushki.” Besides engaging in provocations against participants in protests supporting Eurointegration, such hired men have been involved in storming and breaking down barricades, blocking events and institutions, and other shameful actions at the beck and call of Ukraine’s law enforcement forces, which have discredited themselves.

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How to Recognize a Titushka

As a rule, they are athletes who are involved in martial arts. They are lean and well-built.kitushki221Titushko and fellow thugs. Kiev. Photo: Gordonua.

They are ready to inflict bodily harm on protestors. They appear as provocateurs who aim to provoke people against the police. During these scuffles, the police arrest protestors but not the ones who started the conflicts. To counter titushki “when in operation,” people are advised to record everything on video during the provocation, photograph it, and go to the police. Titushki fear publicity. Usually they wear hoods and hide their faces. Thus, they have to be as closely identified as possible. After the first incident with titushki involved, during the storming of Bankovyi Street on December 1, Euromaidan activists began circulating leaflets with instructions on how to recognize them and what to do if they take action against people.

[…]

The Art of Being a Titushka

The trademark clothing of titushki – sports clothes and tennis shoes. Their favorite brand – Adidas. Their typical look – athletic young men with hoods who hide their faces with handkerchiefs or scarfs during “operations.” Titushki who cannot afford Adidas clothing are usually compared to the “gopniki,” poor urban youth close to the criminal world. “Woe be to the gopnik who does not dream of becoming a titushka,” is one joke going around Ukraine. These latter youth dress more simply, with clothing lacking brands. Vadim Titushko got offended when he was called a gopnik, and not for nothing: the black Adidas costume that became the symbol of titushki is expensive and beautiful, in contrast to the cheap clothing of gopniks who have been called upon to fight the Euromaidan.

The word “titushki” has resounded throughout the world. The press in Europe makes wide use of it, moreover because “titushka” sounds as familiar to foreigners as the famous Russian word “babushka.”

Radio Liberty prepared an entire glossary of terms connected with Ukrainian realities for English speakers. It has, for instance, the word “zek” and an explanation for the phrase, “If you’re not jumping, you’re a Moskal.” Titushki have a leading place in it: “burly guys dressed in sports gear who act as agents provocateurs.”

[…]

Selling Out One’s Conscience

Broad masses of people have joined the army of titushki – hired students, paid demonstrators. They don’t beat up faces of opponents, they don’t act like hooligans (though they might get drunk), but they hold up flags with hostility, earning their 200-300 hryvnias for participating in meetings supporting Party of Regions.

A show demonstration for the regime, scheduled for December 14 and 15, which used up administrative resources, including free trips to Kyiv, where tens of thousands of paid demonstrators were shipped in, hid one of the greatest problems facing Ukraine. In a modern European country, practically led to financial default, where the population has become impoverished and has partly faced degradation, a huge slave labor market is operating, one where slaves are ready to sell themselves for kopecks to the local masters of their lives.

Lesia Mazanik. Translated by William Risch.