war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia imports its own citizens, drives out Crimean Tatars, other Ukrainians to claim its 'right' to Crimea

Halya Coynash
10 years on, Russia is using demography as well as indoctrination to rewrite the facts about its invasion of Crimea, with the same methods used on all illegally occupied Ukrainian territory

Meeting in honour of Taras Shevchenko on 9 March 2015 (the anniversary of the great Ukrainian poet’s birth) in occupied Simferopol, shortly before several participants were detained Photo

Meeting in honour of Taras Shevchenko on 9 March 2015 (the anniversary of the great Ukrainian poet’s birth) in occupied Simferopol, shortly before several participants were detained Photo

Human rights groups estimate that from 500-800 Russians have been deliberately brought in to occupied Crimea since Russia’s invasion and annexation in 2014.  Through such illegal transfer of its own population, as well as deliberate policy aimed at driving out and / or dispossessing Crimean Tatars and all other Ukrainians clearly identifying with Ukraine, Russia is seeking to justify its aggression and claim that Crimea “was always Russian”.   Russia has had ten years to use all illegal means at its disposal to try to destroy Ukrainian identity in occupied Crimea, however it is clear that it is resorting to exactly the same tactics in other parts of Ukraine that fell under its occupation after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

During the media marathon marking 10 years of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, Mykyta Petrovets, a lawyer from the Regional Human Rights Centre, addressed the methods that Russia is using to try to make occupied Crimea seem ‘Russian’.  These include, but are not confined to, the clear efforts to change the demographic makeup of the peninsula,

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention could not be clearer.  Russia is an occupying state, and as such is prohibited both from forcibly transferring the local population and from bringing in its own citizens.

Since 2014, Russia has been importing Russian FSB and other enforcement officers, ‘judges’, etc, and encouraging its own citizens to move to Crimea.  Petrovets explained that Moscow has created special federal programs to support such movement, and to involve Russian business in projects in occupied Crimea.  One especially cynical part of this is that people have been encouraged to bring their entire families with the aim clearly of getting such Russians to illegally settle on annexed territory.  Ukrainian human rights groups have no reason to believe the statistics that Russia puts out, and there is no independent access to information about the scale of such effective colonialization.  Hence the broad scale of the estimated 500 to 800 thousand Russians that may have been brought or enticed on to the occupied Ukrainian peninsula.

Although Ukraine does not presently allow dual citizenship, it was recognized from 2014 that Crimeans were being left with no choice but to take Russian citizenship.  Russia has used identical measures to foist its citizenship on Ukrainians in newly occupied parts of Ukraine as well, by refusing Ukrainians medical care, employment, social benefits, etc. without a Russian passport.  Other methods used include driving out or plundering those Ukrainian businesses that refuse to comply with the totally illegal demand that they ‘re-register’ their companies, banks, etc. in accordance with Russian legislation. 

Russia’s open plunder of Ukrainian state property began immediately after the invasion of Crimea.  Moscow claimed this was ‘nationalization’, but it was outright theft, with strong elements of corruption.  This was seen, for example, in the ‘sale’ of the world-renowned Massandra Winery to a subsidiary of the Rossiya Bank owned by Yury Kovalchuk, a crony of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

On 24 March 2020, Putin issued an illegal decree extending Russia’s list of ‘coastal territories’ on which ‘foreign nationals, stateless persons and foreign legal entities” cannot own land to cover around 80% of occupied Crimea, except for three regions without access to the Black Sea.  The ploy meant that the Ukrainian owners of land or property on internationally recognized Ukrainian territory were called ‘foreign nationals’ in order to deny them their right to own their own property.  This is in violation of Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which expressly prohibits the destruction or expropriation of property by occupying powers. The owners were given a year in which to either take Russian citizenship or try to sell the property, in order to avoid it being forcibly sold at a huge loss.  By April 2023, almost six thousand owners of land had been thus stripped of their rights, with that figure now even higher.

Russia used similar methods to drive out many religious faiths from occupied Crimea, since for many it was simply unacceptable to have to ‘register’ according to Russian legislation.  This is not to mention those who were forced to leave for mainland Ukraine or face religious persecution and likely terms of imprisonment.

Very many Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar activists were essentially driven out of Crimea, with the FSB making it clear that they would, otherwise, face arrest and persecution.  The same message was, of course, given by the openly fabricated charges and huge sentences against Crimean Solidarity civic journalists and activists, like Remzi Bekirov and Server Mustafayev, or by the abduction and absurd ‘trial’ and sentence of nurse, civic journalist and activist Iryna Danilovich and of Crimean Realities journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko.  Russia is also in grave violation of international law through its deportation of Crimean Tatar and other Ukrainian political prisoners to Russian prisons, often thousands of kilometres from their families and homes.

It is immensely frustrating that it took Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine for western countries to understand just how dangerous it was to allow Russia to follow Nazi Germany in invading and annexing other countries’ sovereign territory.  All of the above methods are already being applied in those other parts of Ukraine that Russia seized in 2022.  Petrovets rightly pointed out that Russia’s abduction and forced deportation of Ukrainian children dates back to 2014.  So too does its use of the education system, and other methods of indoctrination and propaganda to try to  crush Ukrainian identity on all territory that falls under its occupation and inculcate the lie that this is ‘Russian territory’ and that its population are ‘Russians.

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