Russia is committing a war crime by deporting Ukrainians from occupied Crimea
Ukrainians living in their own native Crimea face all kinds of restrictions and discrimination if they have not taken Russian citizenship, and can, and often do, find themselves deported from their homeland. Such deportations are a war crime, the Crimean Human Rights Group points out, and all the restrictions are in flagrant violation of international law.
The human rights monitors have scrutinized the treatment meted out to Ukrainians and others living in occupied Crimea, including people who had permanent residence in Crimea prior to annexation. In their latest report, they speak of systematic discrimination and persecution of Ukrainian citizens without Russian documents. Some of the methods are those that forced most Ukrainians with children soon after annexation to accept Russian citizenship. Russia has made it virtually impossible to get work without its citizenship, to register children in schools and to obtain health care. The Crimean Human Rights Group also found restrictions of freedom of movement and a large number of administrative prosecutions, particularly under Article 18.8 of Russia’s code of administrative offences. This punishes for something called ‘violation by a foreign national or stateless person of the rules for entering the RF or for being in the RF’, with Ukrainians treated as ‘foreign nationals’ by the aggressor state illegally occupying their land. It is the main administrative charge that Russia is using against those Ukrainians who, back in 2014, refused ‘automatic Russian citizenship’.
CHRG is aware of 1,249 court rulings regarding prosecution under Article 18.8, and knows of the results in 1080 cases. The vast majority – 677 – were against Ukrainian citizens, with it unclear how many of the other cases were foreign nationals or stateless persons who had earlier received residency from the Ukrainian authorities. The occupation regime has financially benefited from such prosecutions with well over two and a half million roubles imposed as fines. In some cases, Ukrainians had formally received ‘residency’ under Russian law, but had not made the demanded annual statement to the Russian migration service.
The most shocking result is that in 171 cases, Ukrainian citizens were not only fined, but also forced to leave Crimea. It is once again impossible to tell how many of the other 190 people who were expelled had enjoyed permanent residency rights before Russia’s annexation.
CHRG notes that the majority of such expulsions were ordered by Russian-controlled courts in certain parts of Crimea: Yalta; Alushta; Feodosia; Yevpatoria; Sudak; Sevastopol and Simferopol. One reason is likely to be deliberate Russian policy aimed at pushing those they consider ‘undesirable’ from the Southern Coast of Crimea; Simferopol and Sevastopol. Confirmation of this can be found in the use of such expulsion orders against Ukrainians seen as politically unreliable.
As reported, in 2017, Oleksandr Kovalchuk was forcibly deported from Crimea where he had been living since 2011. Although the official pretext against Kovalchuk was a breach of Russia’s migration legislation, there had been previous attempts to implicate Kovalchuk’s dog Teddy in ‘sabotage’ (details here).
In December 2019, a Russian-controlled court in Yalta ordered the deportation of journalist and blogger Yevhen Haivoronsky . The situation here was rather different as the police had previously detained Haivoronsky and removed his Russian passport. This was less than a month after the same ‘judge’, Boris Gorbov, fined him for a Facebook post critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
CHRG have learned of one other brutal case where a Ukrainian citizen S., who was living in Yalta and looking after his sick mother, was stopped by Russian police on 16 August 2019 because he didn’t have his ‘migration card’ on him. The officers used torture to force him into signing a statement that he was on bad terms with his mother and wanted to leave Crimea. On the basis of this document, ‘judge’ Nadezhda Dvirnyk from the Yalta City Court ordered his forced removal from Crimea. He was immediately sent to a deportation centre in Russia (the Rostov oblast) where he was held for two weeks, until his appeal was rejected. The ‘judge’ on that occasion ignored statements from the man’s mother and his lawyer regarding the torture his client had been subjected to. Russian-controlled ‘courts’ are also paying no heed to the fact that the people deported have close relatives in Crimea. There have even been cases where a person has been deported, despite having a spouse and children in Crimea. This is in direct violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to a family life).
This, unfortunately, is not the only way in which Russia is violating this article. Despite an unequivocal judgement from the European Court of Human Rights, Russia is continuing to imprison Crimean Tatar and other Crimean political prisoners thousands of kilometres from their families and homes. It is small wonder that very many Crimean Tatars view such persecution as Moscow’s latest deportation of their people.