There is “quiet” genocide of the Ukrainian population in the annexed Crimea. The Kremlin and its puppets are consistently eliminating education in the Ukrainian language, banning nongovernmental organizations, and instilling a myth that Ukrainians and Russians are “the same nation.”
“IT IS FORBIDDEN TO BE UKRAINIAN”
Oppressing the Crimean Ukrainians, the Russian authorities are violating the norms of international law, several conventions and resolutions of international organizations, as well as their own laws. The Kremlin believes that the very fact of the existence of a separate Ukrainian nation undermines the security of the current Cheka-style regime.
The Day managed to communicate with some Crimean Ukrainians – those who left the peninsula after the annexation and those who stayed behind, for various reasons, on the occupied territory. Experts point out that the oppression of Ukrainians on the peninsula is part of the campaign of intimidation, coercion, and disinformation. With the peninsula’s occupational “authorities” being actively involved in this process, the Kremlin and Russian special services remain the main oppressors. The first thing the authorities began to do after the annexation was remove Ukrainian symbols. The Ukrainian national flag, emblem, and anthem, road signs and adverts in Ukrainian are strictly prohibited in Crimea.
A public demonstration of Ukrainian identity is in fact a criminal offense in Crimea. The story of the Crimean Volodymyr Balukh is a glaring example of the arbitrary behavior of Russian special services. He is only “guilty” of being a Ukrainian who dared to publicly declare his nationality. As far back as the fall of 2013 he hung a flag of Ukraine over his house. After the “referendum” he refused to remove it, saying that he does not recognize the peninsula’s “inclusion” into Russia. The FSB has fabricated a criminal case against him, accusing him of illegally keeping ammunition. He was thrown into a pretrial cell and told that he was facing a 5-year prison sentence. In December this year a “court” revised his pretrial treatment and put him under house arrest. But Russian law-enforcers instituted new criminal proceedings against Balukh under a different criminal code clause. They allege that this man beat up a jailer, although Balukh’s lawyer says that he (Balukh) is in fact the injured person because jail superintendent Valery Tkachenko brutalized the arrested activist. This person with a Ukrainian surname (!) verbally abused, beat, and humiliated Balukh over his ethnicity.
The case of Balukh is only the tip of the iceberg. Most of the facts of the oppression of Ukrainians in Crimea still remain in the shadow due to the fear of victims themselves. Iryna S. told The Day she had taught the Ukrainian language and literature in a Dzhankoi district school before the annexation. In the spring of 2014 senior school pupils repeatedly asked her what was going on in Crimea, why everybody around suddenly began to say that the peninsula was “going to Russia.” “I told the children straight out several times that it was not a true referendum and not a ‘reunification’ but a veritable Russian occupation and that Crimea’s authorities had no right to hold a ‘referendum’ by evading the law. A few months after the annexation I came to know that I had been reported and the FSB was framing a case against me. It is forbidden now just to be Ukrainian in Crimea,” Iryna says. She had to urgently leave Crimea and settle at her relatives’ place in mainland Ukraine. The lady asked not to disclose her name in order not to jeopardize her relatives who stay behind on the peninsula.
THE KREMLIN IS AFRAID OF THE UKRAINIAN LANGUAGE
It is forbidden to study the Ukrainian language and literature on the peninsula. The occupational “constitution” of Crimea formally sets out that Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean Tatar are “official languages,” but in practice only Russian dominates. The Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar languages can be ostensibly studied on an optional basis, but school principals are doing their best for children to study Russian only. Crimea’s “ministry of education” orally instructed principals not to accept, under any pretext, applications from the parents who want their children to learn the Ukrainian or the Crimean Tatar languages.
Moreover, books and manuals in Ukrainian have also come under a ban. Halyna P., the deputy principal at a Simferopol school, told The Day that immediately after the annexation the superiors gave some “explanations” to all teachers, especially those who teach Ukrainian. “They made it clear to us that there would be no Ukrainian language in Crimea from now on. Then they ordered all the books in Ukrainian to be removed from the school library and locked up in a separate room. In the course of an inspection, a few Ukrainian schoolbooks were found in the bookcase of a teacher. The principal raised hell over these ‘Banderaite books’ and forced the teacher to write an explanatory note,” Halyna said.
Crimean journalist Anna Andriievska, who had to abandon the peninsula because of the Russian occupation, confirmed that the Crimean “authorities” and school administrations are deliberately reducing the number of the pupils who wish to study Ukrainian. “I know for sure that parents of only three pupils in a school had enough courage to write an application for their children to study Ukrainian,” Andriievska said. In all the other cases, school administrations pressured parents, trying to persuade them that “children don’t need the Ukrainian language.” Pressure on parents and pupils and refusal to accept Ukrainian language study applications is a common practice in Crimea. According to Andriievska, the occupational “authorities” are deliberately turning educational institutions into mechanisms for changing the awareness of young Crimeans and instilling aggressiveness towards Ukraine and the surrounding world and general.
Andrii Shchekun, director of the Ukrainian state-run enterprise National Newspaper and Magazine Publishing House, one of the leaders of Euromaidan-Crimea, said in a commentary to The Day that the Russian authorities are deliberately destroying Ukrainian education. “The more young Crimeans study Ukrainian, the more profoundly they will be integrated in the Ukrainian cultural space. The Kremlin is really afraid of this. Many Ukrainians are living in Russia proper. The authorities of that country fear that if they ‘give in,’ Ukrainian schools, media, and libraries will come up soon all over Russia. They are so much afraid of this that they have destroyed the last Ukrainian library even in Moscow,” Shchekun said.
Moscow is consistently eliminating Ukrainian education, destroying nongovernmental organizations, and pursuing the policy of Crimean Ukrainians’ assimilation. The FSB has liquidated the Ukrainian Cultural Center which used to hold educational and cultural events. Its director Leonid Kuzmin and some activists were forced to leave Crimea. Moreover, the Kremlin is trying to mislead the world community by forming puppet pseudo-Ukrainian organizations. One of these organizations is the “Ukrainian Society of Crimea” led by the United Russia member Oleg Usik. The data base of the Myrotvorets (“Peacemaker”) center positions him as a collaborationist and Ukrainophobe. The occupiers have also established a mythical “Ukrainian Community of Simferopol.” At first, Crimean officials intended to publish a Ukrainian-language newspaper in order to glorify the “Russian Crimea” and describe a happy life of Ukrainians under occupation, but they soon dropped this idea. According to our experts, the Russian “authorities” are afraid to publish this kind of newspapers because the Ukrainian word (even in the occupiers’ press) will remind the readers of their national identity.
The puppet organizations are used to hold propagandistic actions and demoralize the peninsula’s Ukrainian population. The Crimean “authorities” announced in October that a “congress of Ukrainian diasporas” would be held. “Professional Ukrainians” were brought to Crimea from Russia and other CIS countries. The participants in the pseudo-forum were exalting the Russian annexation of Crimea and calling in every possible way on the residents of other Ukrainian regions to stop the “civil war” in the Donbas and join the “Russian World.”
The Kremlin also needs pseudo-ethnic organizations to instill the myth that the Ukrainians, Russians, and Belarusians are allegedly “the same nation.” Crimea is populated by an estimated 600-650 thousand ethnic Ukrainians. The peninsula’s Ukrainian community can be divided into three imaginary groups. The first is those who have already assimilated and may be even supporting the Russian occupation. The second is the Ukrainians who arrived in Crimea from Russia in the Soviet era. They are, first of all, the Western Ukrainians whom the Bolsheviks deported to the USSR’s northern areas in 1939 and their children. After the death of Stalin they were allowed to leave the places of deportation – but not for their homeland. “These people and their descendants keep a low profile in Crimea because they have the experience of a negative relationship with the Kremlin regime. After the annexation they either keep silent or quietly pack up and go away from Crimea,” Shchekun said.
The third group consists of the young Crimeans who were born and raised in independent Ukraine. Some of them may be ethnic Russians or the ones born into mixed families that take a pro-Ukrainian stand. These young people are in no way associated with present-day Russia, and they are accustomed to Ukrainian values and norms of behavior, such as, above all, the freedom of speech and independence of the individual from the authorities. They pose the greatest threat to the “authorities” of Crimea. The “authorities” want to convince this part of the Crimeans that Ukrainians and Russians are “the same thing.”
At present, only a political pressure of the West and tough economic sanctions can keep Moscow from further infringing the rights of the Ukrainians in Crimea. In its turn, the state of Ukraine must help the families of the Ukrainians being persecuted on the occupied peninsula and in the neighboring Russia.