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69 children and other compelling reasons for resisting any ’deal’ with Russia on Crimea
On the third anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Crimea, at least 30 Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians are imprisoned on politically motivated charges and others are facing trial for saying that Russia must leave Crimea. 69 children are growing up without fathers who have been arrested, or abducted and murdered. The above alone would be compelling reason for rejecting any deals with Russia or removal of sanctions before Crimea is returned to Ukraine. There are many others.
Thousands of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians took part in a March of Solidarity through Kyiv on February 26 as part of Day of Crimean Resistance events throughout Ukraine and abroad. Many of the participants held portraits of Crimean political prisoners held in occupied Crimea or Russia.
The march was held exactly 3 years after a huge demonstration in Simferopol foiled a Russian / pro-Russian plan to force through a change in Crimea’s status without Moscow deploying military forces. In the early morning of the very next day, Russian soldiers without insignia seized control. Russia’s attempts to deny its involvement have since increasingly turned into manipulation of facts and timing. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his people claim, for example, that the forces were needed to ensure safety at the so-called ‘referendum’ which was in fact called by the pro-Russian politicians installed at gunpoint by Russian soldiers.
The pro-Ukrainian demonstration on Feb 26, 2014 had been called by the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, or representative assembly, and it is no accident that three years on, Mejlis leaders have been exiled or imprisoned, and the Mejlis itself banned as ‘extremist’. Crimean Tatars as a people have suffered most obviously under Russian rule, however any Ukrainians expressing pro-Ukrainian views were in danger from the outset as the arrest and subsequent “Stalinist trial” of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and two other opponents of occupation demonstrated. That danger has only increased.
Nikolai Polozov, a Russian lawyer representing imprisoned Crimean Tatar leader Akhtem Chiygoz, Ilmi Umerov and others, was himself effectively abducted and says that in the present climate in Crimea there can be no sense of security. He has himself never felt the level of pressure in any part of Russia, and stresses that the local authorities would not carry out such actions against a high-profile person without, at very least, permission from Moscow.
Ilmi Umerov, who is himself facing trial for saying that Russia must be made to leave Crimea, also confirms that repressive measures and tension are escalating and new methods being added. It is no longer civic activists alone who are in danger of arrest. On Feb 21, around 10 neighbours of civic activist Marlen Mustafaev learned that he had been detained, and gathered at his home while the FSB and OMON riot police were carrying out a search. All of them were detained and jailed by an occupation court for 5 days. Mustafaev received a 11-day term of imprisonment for a social network post in July 2014 with the symbol of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization which is legal in Ukraine, but which Russia has banned without providing any adequate explanation.
39-year-old Reshat Ametov was abducted on March 3 while he stood in silent protest against Russia’s invasion outside parliament in Simferopol. His body, beaten and hideously mutilated was found on March 15. There is video footage clearly showing the armed paramilitary abductors, yet no real investigation was ever carried out. Reshat had three small children.
The Crimean Human Rights Group has documented 9 enforced disappearances – of civic activists and young Crimean Tatar men. There are several other disappearances as well, though these are less clear.
Ervin Ibragimov, a 30-year-old member of the Executive Committee of the Crimean Tatar World Congress, was abducted near his home in Bakhchysarai on May 24, 2016 and has not been seen since. The FSB initially refused to accept the report of his abduction and there has since been surveillance of Ibragimov’s parents, and no evidence of any attempts to investigate his disappearance.
Arrests and trials on fabricated charges
Mykola Shyptur, a Maidan activist has been held prisoner in Russian-occupied Crimea since March 9, 2014. There are strong grounds for assuming that Shyptur ended up in prison after his resistance forced police to react to an attempted abduction by armed paramilitaries. It is they who are believed to have been behind the enforced disappearances of pro-Ukrainian activists (details here).
It is over two and a half years since the FSB arrested them and Gennady Afanasyev (since released) on totally spurious terrorist plot charges. All four men had peacefully opposed Russia’s occupation, and the case has been condemned as “ideologically motivated terror” against dissent.
If Russia was hoping for a show trial against Akhtem Chiygoz, the highest-ranking Mejlis leader in Crimea since its head Refat Chubarov was banned from his homeland, it should have come up with something less openly lawless. Chiygoz has been in custody for over 2 years, Asanov and Degermendzhy for almost two although the charges pertain to a pre-annexation demonstration and are even in breach of Russia’s own legislation, as well as fundamental principles of jurisdiction.
Only Crimean Tatars are targeted although there were also pro-Russian demonstrators, and most of the violence in fact is seen from among their activists.
It remains unclear what the men are charged with, and all video footage is in their favour.
Revenge against the Mejlis has also included the banning of Refat Chubarov and veteran Crimean Tatar leader and former head of the Mejlis Mustafa Dzhemiliev.
Both men were convicted on absurd and unprovable charges linked with Euromaidan in Kyiv, well before annexation. The men’s allegations of torture, backed in Kostenko’s case by his broken arm and other injuries, were ignored, as were the multiple irregularities.
19 Crimean Muslims, most of them Crimean Tatar, are in custody in Russia or Crimea, charged with unproven involvement in an organization which is legal in Ukraine. Russia has provided no evidence that Hizb ut-Tahrir is ‘terrorist’ and there is no proof of any act of terrorism or violence anywhere in the world.
Four men have already been ‘convicted’. The one glimmer of hope when the court balked at sentencing Ruslan Zeitullaev to 17 years’ imprisonment for nothing was quashed at appeal level.
Emir-Usein Kuku is almost certainly imprisoned because of his human rights activities, and after an attempted abduction only turned into an FSB ‘search’ after Kuku’s cries for help attracted attention. It is likely that other men, such as Muslim Aliev, were arrested for their strong civic position, while Vadim Siruk was quite possibly targeted as an ethnic Ukrainian to warn others against converting to Islam.
All 19 prisoners
‘Crimean sabotage’ plots
In August 2016, the FSB came up with the first of two new ‘Crimean saboteur’ plots’. In the two, seemingly unrelated, ‘cases’, 10 men have so far been arrested, including two internationally respected academics: of Yevhen Panov, Andriy Zakhtei, Redvan Suleimanov and Volodymyr Prysich in August;
Two academics - Dmytro Shtyblikov and Oleksiy Bessarabov - were arrested in Sevastopol together with a retired Ukrainian military officer Volodymyr Dudka. The FSB claimed that they were “members of a sabotage – terrorist group of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s Central Intelligence Department” who were planning acts of sabotage on military and other infrastructure”. Two much younger Crimeans - Oleksiy Stohniy and Hlib Shabliy were arrested 10 days later, with this followed on Nov 24 by the arrest of Leonid Parkhomenko, a long-retired Black Sea Fleet captain.
Where the FSB’s attempts to totally deny the men access to lawyers have been thwarted, they have put other forms of pressure on the men. There is, nonetheless, unequivocal testimony from Yevhen Panov and Andriy Zakhtei regarding torture applied, with this effectively confirmed in Panov’s case by the medical documentation finally obtained after the European Court of Human Rights intervened.
Only one of the 6 men arrested in November – Volodymyr Dudka – has been able to see a lawyer of his choice and it is telling that he is the only person who has formally retracted previously given ‘confessions’.
Pro-Ukrainian activist Volodymyr Balukh has been in custody since December 2016 on preposterous charges.
Crimean Tatar leader Mejlis Deputy Ilmi Umerov and Crimean journalist Mykola Semena are facing 5-year sentences for expressing the same position on Crimea as that taken by the UN General Assembly and all democratic countries. Russia, however, is claiming that their expressions of opposition to occupation contains ‘public calls to action aimed at violating Russia’s territorial integrity’.
Russia’s youngest hostages
There are at present 69 children whose fathers have been arrested and taken away on fabricated charges. Many of them have themselves been traumatized when armed and masked men burst into their home and took their father away in handcuffs.
The children often wait in the court building, hoping to see their father if he is brought to the court for detention hearings. It is known that some children have been terrorized by FSB officers turning up and, for example, telling them that their father will face years in prison.
Crimean Tatars have reacted to the terror with acts of solidarity. The civic initiative Bizim Balalar [Our Children] provides help to the children of Crimean political prisoners and of those who were abducted or disappeared.
Unlike the repressive measures for solidarity with those being detained, there has so far been no repression against Bizim Balalar, however its founder Lilia Budzurova was targeted just days after publication of the article ‘Now these are our children’ and issued with a formal warning of “the inadmissibility of extremist activities”.
Those who suggest that Crimea should become part of a ‘deal’ in exchange for Russia supposedly agreeing to end its war against Ukraine in Donbas are proposing a moral compromise with too many victims now, and the strong likelihood that their number would continue growing.