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.

‘We must condemn communismʼ,— Refat Chubarov

09.07.2024    available: Українською | На русском
Denys Volokha
Interview with the leader of the Crimean Tatars.

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) met with Refat Chubarov in May 2024, when 80 years had passed since the beginning of Stalin’s deportation of indigenous Crimeans. Since then, the European Court of Human Rights has announced a devastating decision for Russia. The court recognized that the illegal occupation of Crimea, which began on February 27, 2014, is accompanied by systemic oppression of freedom and violations of human rights.

We talked with the head of the Mejlis[i] about deportation then and now, discussing why radical Islam is spoken of more than the peaceful Crimean Tatar movement and why peace in Europe will not come without the collapse of Russia.

It is evident that Crimean Tatars also died in the war, like other fighters. How significant is this loss for the Crimean Tatar people?

It is a colossal loss for us. It is also an incredible pain, especially when we bury soldiers and cannot say their last names to express condolences. Many have noticed that the call sign in our messages identifies the warrior. This means that people close to him are in occupied Crimea, and in this way, we are trying to protect them. Only during the funeral, when the prayer is read, should the imam say his name and his father’s name — these are our rules and traditions. We warn all people to hear and forget.

“As a historian, I see a cycle of constant Russian aggression and hatred against us since the 18th century.” Photo: Serhii Okunev / KHPG

In addition to the dozens of Crimean Tatars whom we have already buried here in mainland Ukraine, there are those whom we cannot find because they have gone missing. That is, their brothers could not evacuate their bodies. We know how they died and where, but there are no bodies.

It must be tough for a family not to be able to even talk openly about the fact that their relative, son, or father died in the war.

The last case was about 2.5-3 months ago. It was a well-known operation in the regions of Russia adjacent to Ukrainian territory. A soldier from Crimea died there. They died when a very powerful guided bomb fell. His brothers-in-arms found the remains, and now the mother, who came [from Crimea] to Kyiv through third countries, is undergoing DNA tests to identify and bury at least something that remains of her son. I feel very strongly about the pain that the parents endure. But that’s nothing compared to what they feel. The parents of the Crimean Tatar warriors are the generation born immediately after the expulsion: the 50s and 60s. They were born in exile, had children, chose to return to Crimea, and raised children here in Ukraine. Then, the Russians came again to kill them. And they are killing them.

© Serhii Okunev / KHPG

As a historian, when I think about such cases, I immediately see this circle — the circle of constant Russian aggression and hatred against us. And I don’t just see this; I know the numbers and the losses our people have suffered since the end of the 18th century. And that’s why today we have diasporas that are larger than the population on their land. This is all Russian politics.

Some in Ukraine say that the war with Russia has not stopped at all — it is a process that lasts 30 years, 100 years, or 300 years.

The essence is the same — destruction. It seemed that Stalin had finally succeeded in solving the task that had been set back in the days of the Russian Empire — to cleanse Crimea of ​​its Indigenous inhabitants and finally make it, as it was said back in the time of Catherine II, “Russian in the way of life and spirit.”

In the first years, they change all toponyms — all settlements, except for a few, such as Bakhchysarai and Yalta. Although there were discussions here, too, and they were not resolved. Or Dzhankoi, which was a junction station, and someone said it would be complicated to operate later. Four years after our expulsion, they changed over 1,460 names and demolished all cemeteries.

Do we need a trial for the crimes of communism?

It is necessary. Even if the specific perpetrators of those mass crimes are gone, we did not condemn communism as we did fascism. One of the reasons why the Ukrainian State had such a hard time zigzagging out of the Soviet past and was never able to accomplish it is that in our country, already based on democracy and a multi-party system, one of the most vociferous forces was the Communist Party.

I remember when, after 1998, I first came to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. When the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada read out condolences, declaring May 18 as the anniversary of the deportation of the Crimean Tatar people, Pyotr Symonenko, a former deputy and leader of the Communist faction, asked to speak. He said from the podium, I quote almost verbatim, that the Crimean Tatars should be grateful to Stalin for the deportation. If he had not done this, then the front-line soldiers returning from the war would have carried out some kind of massacre among the Crimean Tatars because they all helped the Germans.

© Serhii Okunev / KHPG

And nothing happened in that room! They didn’t let me break through to him, but no one else tried. That is, they swallowed all this, and now not only the Crimean Tatars are fascists, but in the view of Moscow and all of Russia, the entire Ukrainian nation is fascist. This demonization in the form of fascism is needed to destroy us. The freak who said this from the podium is now in Moscow, the deputy leader of the communists Zyuganov. What I mean is that everything must be done in a timely manner. Otherwise, there will be trouble, and history will repeat itself.

But is it still better late than never?

Right. We must condemn the ideology that led to the death of millions of people — the communist ideology. So that later, there would be no opportunity for anyone to trust it.

Can we say that the Crimean Tatar national movement is an example of peaceful Islam, as opposed to radical movements?

The phrase “peaceful Islam” already contains a contradiction because Islam is not violent. But to what extent those who commit terror are trying to use Islam — this, it seems to me, is another area that we should talk about.

Don’t you see a certain injustice in this: that in the world, they talk more about radicalism and not about the peaceful Crimean Tatars, who are pretty successfully promoting the idea of ​​​​freedom for their people?

Yes, I see injustice in this. But here, you need to explain everything patiently. A significant part of Ukrainian society is made up of Orthodox Christians. And Russian society, for the most part, is Orthodox. However, there is this bloody war. Therefore, it is necessary to explain somehow why this happens. Some way of demonization is needed. And here we go: “Bandera”, “fascists”. Ukrainians are being demonized to make it easier to kill them. Russia does this, although the warring people are largely fellow believers.

In the case of the Crimean Tatars, the task is more straightforward for Moscow because they are Muslim Sunnis. There are many cases in the world when they try to solve injustice by means that lead to even greater injustice: explosions and war. In Crimea, this actualization of the fight supposedly against Islamic radicalism is one of the ways to crush the Crimean Tatars as a nation and disintegrate them in their resistance. It’s one thing when they take away a person for demanding freedom of speech or assembly. Doing this is not very convenient. But when they come to a person’s home and say that this person is reading a forbidden book planted in his house (and in Russia, there is a list of prohibited books —something we never knew), it looks different to society.

When in Crimea, Crimean Tatars are detained because they are Crimean Tatars but are presented as supporters of, as they say, a “radical sect” — this is to lull the attention of Western societies.

In the West, you can often hear that people are afraid of the collapse of Russia. However, you say this is an inevitable scenario: if we defeat Russia, it must collapse as an empire.

The existence of this state within such borders is a history repeating itself. We must understand that this will be repeated in thirty or forty years and perhaps in much more terrible forms.

© Serhii Okunev / KHPG

We are now living in a war that might not have happened if the collapse of the USSR had occurred in an in-depth version — with punishments, condemnations, and the provision of freedom to the enslaved peoples of the Russian Federation. It did not happen, and we are at war.

[i] The single highest executive-representative body of the Crimean Tatars

Interview: Denys Volokha, filming and editing: Serhii Okunev.
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