AT first glance, Andrei Shkil looks and sounds like any one of the more than 5,000 candidates running for Ukraine's 450-seat parliament. Dressed in a double-breasted suit and green paisley tie, he sits in an office crowded with computers, campaign leaflets, and supporters, fielding phone calls and discussing poster designs.
Then Mr. Shkil starts describing his vision for Ukraine and the relations between Ukrainians and the millions of Russians, Hungarians, Jews, and others who share this former Soviet republic.
``We are the masters of the house,'' the handsome Ukrainian doctor says in soft tones. ``It is a hospitable house, but we are the masters. All others who live here can choose between this house and all the others from which they arrived here.''
Shkil is the leader of the Lvov branch of the Ukrainian National Assembly (UNA), the most prominent of a number of extreme nationalist groups that are building support here in the campaign for March 27 parliamentary elections.
The vote for the Supreme Rada, or parliament, is the first such poll since Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and provides an invaluable forum for these groups to air their anti-Western, anti-Semitic, and anti-Russian views. Their leaders are running for office and gaining supporters from among Ukrainian voters disillusioned by the failure of independence to bring economic reform and prosperity. Moderate nationalist parties are now deeply concerned with how to stop the threat of neofascism.
``Leaders of Ukraine, with President Leonid Kravchuk at the head, used the slogans of our national liberation movement. But when it came to economic reform, to strengthening the state, they didn't do anything,'' says Yuri Kluchkovsky, leader of the Lvov branch of Rukh, the main democratic-nationalist party. ``Partially due to this, there is a certain sympathy for ultra-right movements here in Ukraine.''
No one sees these groups gaining the level of success of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the extreme Russian nationalist whose party grabbed 25 percent of the vote last December in Russia's parliamentary polls. But their strong entrance onto the electoral scene bodes ill for the future, particularly if Ukraine's economic woes continue.
Feeding on the bad times
``Today these movements are not dominant, not even influential,'' Mr. Kluchkovsky says. ``But if the situation deteriorates it will be hard for centrist organizations to persuade people that the path of reform leads to success.'' He worries that their growth could lead to increased tensions within Ukraine, between the west and the east, where ethnic Russians fear the spread of ``Ukrainization.''
Bension Kotlik, a deputy in the Lvov Rada and leader of the Jewish community here, has observed a ``wave of political anti-Semitism'' recently, marked by demonstrations, publications, and other incidents. Officials of New Wave, an electoral block of liberal reformers here, say ultranationalist opponents attack them as a ``Judeo-Masonic group.''
But Mr. Kotlik says the racism is ``just a tool of radicals who try to garner votes,'' and that these views have received little support from the populace in the west.
The UNA and its paramilitary arm, Ukrainian National Self Defense, portray themselves as defenders of Ukraine against Russian imperialism.
But Shkil also claims to be organizing in the Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine, in the industrial east and south. Their platform bears a close resemblance to the populist rhetoric of Mr. Zhirinovsky.
``UNA will give everything to everybody,'' their posters declare. ``To the worker - a dacha, car, and apartment. To his wife - the possibility to stay at home and raise the children. To pensioners - meat every day.''
Shkil stresses the need to combat crime, fight corruption, and restore order and greatness to Ukraine. He assails the views of Viktor Pynzenyk, the reformist economist who is his leading opponent. ``He offers shock therapy,'' Shkil says, referring to the radical reform policies, ``which failed in Russia.'' Instead, the extremist proposes to raise funds by exporting weapons built in Ukraine's huge Soviet-built defense industry.
Black shirts, swastikas
At the far end of the spectrum are the black-shirted men of the Socialist Nationalist Party of Ukraine, whose emblem is a swastika-like modification of the trident, Ukraine's national symbol.
Yuri Krivoruchko, a young psychiatrist and SNPU candidate for the Rada in Lvov, quietly explains that they advocate the ``blood and soil'' views of nationalism shared by other European extremist groups. Ukrainian citizenship should be defined by a ``law of blood,'' he says, under which anyone with at least ``51 percent Ukrainian blood is a Ukrainian.''
All others, unless they can prove their families lived here at the time of the short-lived Ukrainian republic of 1918, should seek naturalization.
Moderate nationalists are clearly embarrassed by their radical counterparts because they lend credence to Russian charges of Ukrainian extremism. Rukh officials allege the presence of former KGB agents in the ranks of these groups, suggesting a Russian attempt to destabilize Ukraine.
``There is a certain percentage of rightists everywhere,'' says Rukh leader Kluchkovsky. ``The major problem is to marginalize these people.''