Ukraine Liveblog Day 21: A Crackdown on Crimean Tatars?

March 10, 2014
Billboard in Crimea says the March 16 referendum is a choice between Russia and Nazism | Photo: @cyber100ua

As Russian troops continue to swell on the Crimean peninsula, and dueling rallies were held both in support and in resistance to Russian activity there, there are new claims that Crimean Tatars may be targeted by local Crimeans before this crisis is resolved.

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see see our latest podcast.

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Below, we will be making regular updates throughout the day:

1941 GMT: The BBC reports that the former governor of Kharkiv Oblast has indeed been arrested and is being charged with inciting separatism by challenging the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Two things to remember:

1. Dobkin had previously said that he would run for President during the May 25th election.

2. Dobkin was the co-host for the “Ukrainian Front” rally in Kharkiv, which the ousted President Viktor Yanukovych reportedly visited before ultimately fleeing to Russia. The other host – Kharkiv Mayor Hennadiy Kernes, who is still mayor, and may also be facing charges of separatism.

1936 GMT: Russian convoys have been on the move today across Crimea, but it’s not clear where they are headed or what the patterns are. Here’s an interesting (and unverified) claim worth investigating:


1920 GMT: Our theme of the day is whether Crimean Tatars are being persecuted. So far, as we’ve pointed out, the evidence is light. Now, another call for calm:

Today we first of all seek to:
– guarantee the security of all inhabitants of the peninsula regardless of ethnicity or religion, because no human life is worth political ambitions, no matter what seemingly noble purposes they use;

– ensure respect for human rights, group rights of ethnic and religious communities of the Crimea;

– preserve the territorial integrity of Ukraine. This is where we look for and use only peaceful political and diplomatic options;

– maintain public order in all settlements of the Crimea in conjunction with local authorities and active members of territorial communities;

– cooperate with all political organizations and formations;

– address all influential international organizations and the leading countries of the world to ensure the non-use of armed forces in the Crimea, to prevent bloodshed and to preserve the territorial integrity of Ukraine;

– appeal to the Ukrainian authorities to take as quickly as possible actions aimed at addressing political and socioeconomic issues that gave rise to the Crimean crisis occurred.

We appeal to all the inhabitants of the Crimea – in this difficult time maintain restraint and calm, keep mutual respect and good neighborly feelings, don’t fall for provocations and prevent xenophobia and religious discord.
We are confident that multinational Crimean society is able to solve the internal contradictions independently, as well as together to repel any threat of radical and extremist nature.

Together, and without any intervention of external forces whatsoever, we are able to achieve those rights and powers for the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which we consider necessary for the prosperity of the Crimean society.

The full text of the statement can be read here.

1905 GMT: Euromaidan’s PR office is reporting that arrest warrants have been issued for the acting Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov, the speaker of the Crimean parliament Vladimir Konstantinov, and Ukrainian Rear Admiral Denys Berezovsky who defected to Crimea last week:

Tens of thousands of Russian soldiers, and hundreds of Russian armored vehicles and assault helicopters, lay between Ukraine’s law enforcement authorities and those three individuals.

1856 GMT: Russia’s stock markets rebounded slightly on Friday (they were closed today), gaining a tenth of a percent. The Russian stock market is down 11.1% since the start if the crisis in Ukraine on February 18th, most of that drop came after Russian troops moved into Crimea, but the MICEX has stabilized in the last few days.

INDEXCF Chart   MICEX Index   Bloomberg

The ruble also ticked up slightly against the US dollar today, but it is still recovering from a free-fall that started in February:

RUB to USD Exchange Rate   Bloomberg

1823 GMT: NATO jets will now patrol the borders of Ukraine, in a decision announced today. The planes will fly from Poland and Romania:

“All Awacs [Airborne Warning and Control System] reconnaissance flights will take place solely over alliance territory,” the official said.

1810 GMT: Russian troops captured a military hospital today and stormed a Ukrainian military transport base last night, but so far it’s not clear whether there are other military escalations today.

There are a lot of reports of very large Russian military convoys on the move on the Crimean peninsula, however:


1755 GMT: Voice of America interviews a Tatar in Yalta, Crimea:

But are the rights of Tatar’s being infringed? The title of today’s liveblog asks the same question, and so far there just isn’t a lot of evidence for this. For instance, despite the burning of a hotel (jump to update 1400), it’s not clear that the hotel was specifically targeted. And we’ve yet to see visual confirmation that the homes of Tatars have been marked by red Xs, so it’s unclear how prolific that activity is.

And while the Crimean Tatar TV station ATR was indeed stormed by gunmen who shut it off days ago and replaced it with Russian TV, but so were all of the other Crimean TV stations, and ATR is back on the air. The group Human Rights in Ukraine reports that while 5 Crimean TV stations have been replaced by Russian TV, and 5 others are off the air entirely, ATR, while under pressure since the start, is indeed on the air.

But those who oppose Russian rule in Crimea are clearly concerned about ATR, and the rights of Tatars in general. This is a picture from a march held in Simferopol today. Only a few dozen reportedly took part:

They marched in a column under Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar flags to the building from where ATR broadcasts and chanted “Freedom of speech!”, “Thank you, ATR!”, “Crimea is Ukraine!”


1622 GMT: Ukraine’s interim government is searching morgues, prisons, and hospitals… but 250 people are still missing, disappeared during the upheaval of the five days of Ukraine’s revolution.

So where did the people go? The New York Times reports:

In all, 661 people have been reported missing since protests began last December, according to Euromaidan S O S, a volunteer group leading efforts to find the disappeared. The fates of 272 of them remained unknown late last week.

Many people were found in prison cells or hospitals, or resurfaced on their own, said Vitaliy Selyk, a Euromaidan S O S coordinator. Some cases were caused by breakdowns in communications, including people who lost cellphones or ran out of credit on SIM cards, he said.

A few of the missing were people estranged from families and whose recent silence was by choice. Mr. Selyk said he expected that most of the remaining cases would be solved and that the missing would turn up.

But beneath that hope lies the grim concern that many Ukrainians may have disappeared after being seized by the Berkut riot police unit, by pro-Russian provocateurs or by unofficial forces that worked to keep Mr. Yanukovych in power.

And as The New York Times indicates, there are real-world examples underpinning those concerns.

1605 GMT: Mikhail Dobkin, the former governor of Kharkiv and Yanukovych ally who is under investigation for separatism, is reportedly on his way to Kiev under police escort — but it’s unclear if he is under arrest:


GordonUA is carrying unconfirmed reports that Dobkin was taken to the Central Investigation Department. Dobkin has refuted that he is under arrest.

Over the weekend, a member of the Ukrainian Rada reported an “incident” where Dobkin may have been trying to flee to Russia. That incident is unconfirmed, so it’s hard to say whether they are related.

1540 GMT: A strange press conference — Stuart Webb reports from Crimea:





1437 GMT: The Crimean parliament has voted to join with Russia, and next Sunday, the Crimean people will get to vote on a referendum on the same question. But the interim government in Kiev may be working to, at least legally, block that vote from happening:

Of course, it’s not clear what the government in Kiev could do about it, as a rather large and growing presence of Russian military soldiers are now in Crimea — and they’re digging in with the help and support of Crimean parliament.

1428 GMT: The Kyiv Post reports on renewed Russian military action across Crimea today:

Russian forces have taken over Ukraine’s main military hospital in Simferopol today and a military transport base in Bakhchysari as the Kremlin’s military operation stayed on the offensive at strategic locations in the peninsula…

Some 20-30 men in military uniforms captured the military hospital at about noon today. They carried truncheons and threatened hospital workers and some 30 patients, who are Ukrainian soldiers or veterans.

“People are really fearing for their lives,” said Evgen Pyvoval, the hospital’s director. He said the captures crammed him into a bus and kept him there for 30 minutes. “We don’t know what their demands are,” Pyvoval said.

This is in addition to the military transport base captured in Bakhchysaria, between Simferopol and Sevastopol (see previous report below).

1412 GMT: Russian troops have taken over a base in western Crimea. Interfax, quoting the naval base commander, says shots were fired and Ukrainian troops are now hostage to the Russian troops.

We’re not sure if this is the same base or not:


The commander is now free, according to Birrell.

1400 GMT: We start the liveblog with a worrying report. The New Yorker reports that the doors of some Tatars in Crimea have been marked with a red “X”:

At first, Rustem Kadyrov could barely make out the mark outside his house, in the Crimean town of Bakhchysarai, but it filled him with terror. It was an X, cut deep into the gray metal of the gate, and its significance cut even deeper, evoking a memory Kadyrov shares with all Crimean Tatars. Kadyrov, who is thirty-one, grew up hearing stories about marks on doors. In May of 1944, Stalin ordered his police to tag the houses of Crimean Tatars, the native Muslim residents of the peninsula. Within a matter of days, all of them—almost two hundred thousand people—were evicted from their homes, loaded onto trains, and sent to Central Asia, on the pretext that the community had collaborated with the Nazi occupation of Crimea…

When I walked up Chiisty Istochniki Street from the Memetovas’ house, I saw similar marks on four other houses, all of them residences of Crimean Tatars, Kadyrov said. The houses of their Russian neighbors, however, had not been touched. Similar markings have been reported in other parts of Bakhchysarai, and in some areas of the regional capital, Simferopol. Kadyrov told me that he called the police, who came out see his gate, but they refused to register a case. He was not surprised. “The police will not help us,” he said. “They told me Crimean Tatars are not a priority for them. Of course not—they are punishing us because we do not want Putin here.”

The Muslim minority has largely expressed distrust in the Russian occupiers, and many Crimean Tatar’s have held pro-Kiev rallies since the Russian troops showed up in Crimea on February 28th. A Crimean Tatar TV station was shut down by armed gunmen, and replaced with Russian TV. And though, as The New Yorker piece illustrates, Russia has sent delegations to meet with Crimean Tatars, the worries of backlash remain.

And now today there are more worrying signs. reports tgart fires have destroyed two cars and a hotel belonging to Crimean Tatatrs. The man who owns the hotel says the fire brigade took 30 minutes to reach the fire, further raising suspicion that the fire was set:

Even if the fire was accidental, and the red Xs are just pranksters in the neighborhood, and Russia is willing to protect the Tatar population, both the fears and the memory of ethnic cleansing are very real.