The Stuff of Legend

You’ve probably heard the term “Kraken” used somewhere over the years. In Scandinavian folklore, a Kraken is a hyper-aggressive man-eating sea monster capable of dragging sailors from their ships to their doom. In modern-day Ukraine, their Kraken forces are no less scary, killing Russians by the score and taking back once-occupied sections of their homeland.

Beware the Kraken, a small unit making big problems for the Russians. Their unit symbol mimics the mythical monster. Image Credit:

The Kraken unit is becoming the stuff of legend, one of Ukraine’s better-known volunteer forces. Azov battalion veterans founded the organization on the day Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine. For those not in the know, the Special Operations Detachment “Azov” (aka the Azov Regiment and formerly the Azov Battalion) is a unit of the Ukrainian National Guard, established in Mariupol in the coastal region of the Sea of Azov. They were formed as a paramilitary unit to fight pro-Russian forces in the Donbas War. In the past, they have been criticized for their ultra-nationalist ideology which has been compared to German Nazism.  In terms of Russian propaganda, the Azov is the boogie-men hiding under the beds of every child in Russia, but in truth, Azov is a fringe political movement in Ukraine garnering about 2% of the vote in the last national election and winning holding no seats in Ukraine unicameral parliament, the Verkhovna Rada.  Today, they are battle-hardened troops, holding out for months under the Azovstal Steelworks while the Russians tried to bomb them into submission.

The Kraken is commanded by twenty-six-year-old Konstantin V. Nemichev, a political and military figure in Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv. He aspired for political office even before graduating from college and launched a failed campaign to become Kharkiv’s mayor last year. Much of his political base comprises the region’s rowdy young soccer fans, and many of these young men serve in the military under his command.

Konstantin Nemichev, Chief of Staff of Kraken Special Forces. Images from Twitter via @Anabel_Villeroy

Now that so many fighters of the Azov Battalion have been killed or incapacitated, the Kraken are slowly taking the place of their nation’s best-known band of volunteers. This is not without controversy, as some fighters from both groups have been accused of being drawn from ultranationalist groups, an allegation most Krakens brush off as propaganda. Their commanders acknowledge there may be a few far-right soldiers among their ranks, but claim the appeal of their unit to new recruits is that they fight hard and fight often.