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Ukraine's Democracy Problem

Letter From Kiev's 217th Electoral District

A woman casts a ballot at a polling station during a parliamentary election in the eastern Ukrainian town of Slaviansk, October 26, 2014. Vasily Fedosenko / Courtesy Reuters

A militant nationalist and a crook walk into a bar. It might sound like the beginning of a clichéd joke, but in Ukraine’s parliamentary elections, the characters are all too real, and the “bar” is Electoral District 217 in the country’s capital, Kiev. In last weekend’s early parliamentary election, Andriy Biletsky, a commander of the ultranationalist volunteer battalion, Azov, ran against Vadym Stolar, a former member of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych’s now defunct Party of Regions. 

Biletsky sees himself, first and foremost, as a soldier and militant. A long-time member of various far-right ultranationalists in Ukraine, including the now internationally known Right Sector, he gained public attention for his role as commander of Azov during the brigade’s military campaign against Russian forces in Ukraine’s war-torn southeast. Azov’s volunteer fighters reportedly trained locals in the strategic port city of Mariupol to fend off a major

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