Officials
at the center did not respond to requests for comment on the matter by phone
or email before this article was published. And the moderator, journalist Nolan Peterson, could not be reached.

Until about
noon on Feb. 5, Skillt was listed as the first speaker at a lecture and panel
discussion about post-traumatic stress, which was scheduled for Feb. 18 on America
House Kyiv’s website
.

Skillt
became famous as a foreign fighter in Ukraine, but also because of his neo-Nazi
views. He previously told the BBC in July, 2014 that
he wanted to see the “survival of white power” and that he believes races
shouldn’t mix.

“After
World War II, the victors wrote their history. They decided that it’s always a
bad thing to say I am white and I am proud,” he told the BBC.

He later
retracted his views in an interview with the Daily Signal, the media outlet of
the conservative Heritage Foundation, in
August
:

“When I got
to Ukraine 17 months ago, I was a real bastard. I had stereotypes against Jews,
blacks, Arabs. But I’ve fought with them, and now they are like brothers.”

The
American House panel discussion will be led by Nolan Peterson, a Ukraine-based U.S.
journalist and a former U.S. Air Force special operations pilot.

Other
speakers will include: Viktor Kovalenko, a Ukrainian journalist and army
veteran of the battle for Debaltseve; Roman Torgivitsky, founder of Wounded
Warrior Ukraine; Yvona Kostyna, project manager of Sector V, a mental health
rehabilitation program for returning veterans; and Nataliia Grytsun, the deputy
director of the Department for Social and Professional Adaptation and
Psychological Rehabilitation.

Skillt’s
invitation to speak sparked a flurry of criticism from journalists in Ukraine.

“America
House in Kyiv, which is a U.S. culture center funded by American tax dollars,
is hosting a panel talk on PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Well that’s
great, because it’s a significant issue in Ukraine. But they’ve invited Mikael
Skillt, a Swedish Azov Battalion leader associated with far-right, neo Nazi
views, to speak in the panel. In what scenario is this OK?” American journalist
Sabra Ayres wrote on Facebook. Ayres has covered Ukraine extensively over the
period of its EuroMaidan Revolution and war.

America
House defended its decision, tweeting in response to criticism: “America House
is a platform for discussion, dialogue and events location where everyone can
voice opinion.”

To which
the Financial Times correspondent Max Seddon replied: “Even if you’re in a
group (that) says it is part of ‘the struggle of White Peoples against the
Semite-led untermenschen.’”

Also known
as the Swedish Sniper, Skillt arrived in Ukraine on Feb. 28, 2014 to be part of
the revolution, which by then had finished. Instead, he quickly joined the
controversial Azov Battalion, which has been known to parade with the Wolfangel
banner, often associated with neo-Nazis groups. Azov spokespeople deny the
battalion has a Nazi ideology.

Skillt is
an experienced soldier with seven years in the Swedish army and the National
Guard, and told the BBC that there was a bounty of $7,000 on head – a considerable
amount of money in Ukraine.

But the
root of the criticism lies more in the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior,
responsible for creating the battalion, and the wider Ukrainian authorities’
general unwillingness to address any concerns regarding neo-Nazi elements
within their ranks.

Extremist
beliefs are held by only a minority of Ukrainian soldiers and volunteer
fighters, despite the prominence given to this minority by many media
organizations, especially at the beginning of the conflict.
The
authorities so far have failed to convey this, to introduce any educational programs to tackle these views or to expel those
who hold them.

Since the initial publication of this article , America House responded with the following comment: “To keep the focus of the event squarely on giving soldiers the peace of mind to seek help and civilians a better understanding of what their friends and loved ones are going through when they return home from war, Mr. Skillt has decided not to participate on the panel.”

Kyiv Post staff
writer Isobel Koshiw can be reached at [email protected]

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