Kyiv, 15 March 2014 – “Mass persecution of Ukrainian speaking citizens of the peninsula has begun under the pretense of protection of the Russian speaking population in Crimea”, said Aleksandra Dvoretska, Crimean human rights activist, coordinator of a network of legal protection offices in Crimea, during a press briefing held at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center.
After the abduction of three Ukrainians in Simferopol, Crimea, a large-scale hunt has begun targeting the supporters of Ukraine’s integrity. Today, Crimean Ukrainians, who make up 23% of the autonomous republic’s population, happen to be the least protected ethnic group in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Ukrainians’ constitutional rights are being grossly violated. For example, the Ukrainian language is no longer used in official documents in Sebastopol The Ukrainian language department of Vernadskyi Tavrida National University has been disbanded.
Furthermore, today there is a real threat to the life and safety of Ukrainians in Crimea. Dozens of Ukrainian speaking activists in Crimea are forced to hide because of the increasingly frequent threats made by Crimea’s illegitimate authorities and armed people. Ukrainians have begun fleeing Crimea because it is becoming unsafe for their lives to stay there. For instance, Aleksandra Dvoretska, coordinator of a network of legal protection offices in Crimea, Maidan activist, had to leave her home town, Simferopol, on March 10, 2014 because of threats made by pro-Russian forces and Aksenov’s government.
“Today, people who support Ukraine and its integrity and consider themselves citizens of this country are not safe to stay here”, said Ms. Dvoretska.
Aleksandra, who herself became a victim of persecution in Crimea, has shared her personal experience at a briefing at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center. Posters saying ‘Your neighbor Aleksandra Dvoretska is a traitor of Crimea’ appeared at the entrance to Alexandra’s home and all over her parents’ neighborhood in Simferopol, and on February 12 a leaflet with a black spot was left in her mail box.
The current campaign was preceded by continued harassment of Crimea’s pro-Ukrainian activists who supported Euromaidan in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. In January, a video clip was shown in public trolleybuses featuring 8 leaders of Ukrainian organizations: Andrey Shchekun, Sergey and Anatoliy Konovalskiy, Vladimir Prytula, Aleksandra Dvoretska, Leonid Pilunskiy, Yana Goriunova and Andrey Mostykin, and calling them traitors of Crimea.
These threats have been partially carried out. On March 9, 2014, at a railway station in Simferopol, unidentified persons wearing camouflage and striped St. George ribbons on their sleeves kidnapped two Crimean citizens of Ukraine: Andrey Schekun, leader of the Center for Business and Cultural Cooperation “Ukrainian House”, and Anatoliy Kovalskiy, head of the school board of a Ukrainian Secondary School in Simferopol.
On March 11, 2014, a citizen of Simferopol, public activist Mikhail Vdovychenko, disappeared in the center of Simferopol as he was returning home from an anti-war protest.
The whereabouts and health condition of all three missing persons is still unknown. They are all famous in Crimea as leaders of Ukrainian organizations which suggests that they may have been persecuted for their Ukrainian position.
Arkadiy Bushchenko, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union, said: “Under the current circumstances, it is Russia who is responsible for all human rights violations happening in Crimea. These violations are happening under Russia’s control. Local authorities do not control the situation but are actively pushing Russia to prevent a part of local population from expressing their standpoint. Local authorities are provoking the aggression of one part of the Crimean population against the other, who have different views”.
Political consultant Taras Berezovets, a Crimean native, noted that holding the referendum and changing the status of Crimea will first of all affect loyal Ukrainian military men and members of their families, employees of the Security Service of Ukraine and public sector employees, who fill likely find themselves outside the law and in great danger. “They will have to either leave Crimea or become semi-legitimate”.