The Victims of Communism Foundation's Blog

Captive Nations Report 2017: Crimea and Donbas

Captive Nations Report 2017: Crimea and Donbas


It’s been three years since Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. I will divide my remarks into three brief sections: first discussing the case of Ilmi Umerov, which has been an ongoing trial this year. Second, I want to explain the ramifications of Russian occupation in Crimea this year from a legal standpoint, and show you that the people of Crimea and eastern Ukraine really do still desire freedom. And I have some news from Donbas and Luhansk that is still developing.

The case of Ilmi Umerov is distressing. On May 12, 2014, Russian authorities arrested Ilmi Umerov, who was the vice-chairman of the Mejlis, which is the traditional governing body of the Crimean Tatars, the native population in Crimea. So, they arrested Ilmi Umerov for “public calls to action aimed at violating Russian territorial integrity,” a mouthful that is basically a charge that Russia levies against dissidents and human rights activists like Umerov who denounce Russia’s imperial designs. On August 18, 2016, Russian authorities took Mr. Umerov to Psychiatric Hospital No. 1 in Simferopol, where he was held against his will. The US State Department, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, and other human rights organizations, all denounced this as what it was: a return to punitive psychiatry in Russian territory, like in the Soviet times. Mr. Umerov was released from the psychiatric hospital at the end of September 2016 to get insulin treatments for his diabetes, which he was not being provided while in the psychiatric hospital. I wish the story ended there, but it doesn’t, because on July 21, 2017, the Russian regime resumed the trial against his “public calls to action aimed at violating Russian territorial integrity”—for speaking up for the quarter-million Crimean Tatars who do not want to be under Russian occupation.

What is Crimea like these days under Russian occupation? It’s a bit of a black box. But we do know some of what’s happened. Under Russian occupation, Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws have been forced on Crimeans, something Crimeans did not choose for themselves. Crimeans can now only take college entrance exams in Russian. They are being drafted into the Russian military against their will and against the Geneva conventions. Crimeans need a passport to get a cell phone SIM card, and they’re being looped into Russia’s rapidly growing protectionist internet monitoring and censorship project. All those things that we’ve always found objectionable about the Russian regime, namely, the sanctioned persecution of gay people, the censorship of information, and the draconian practices of punitive psychiatry, have been imposed on the people of Crimea against their will.

My final point is brief because it’s still developing. Some of you may have heard that the Donbas separatists yesterday tweeted out a constitution, flag, and proposal for a new Ukrainian state covering the entire territory of Ukraine with a capital in Donbas. They’re basically saying Ukraine isn’t a solvent state anymore, we need to dissolve the whole of Ukraine and create a new state called Malorossiya, which is Little Russia, and which will ultimately, of course, be subsumed by Russia. What’s still developing is who this is and what they’re doing and what their aims are. Is this coming directly from the Kremlin? Initial reports seem to indicate that this was pretty poorly thought out and even separatists in Luhansk were taken off guard. And while it most likely won’t go anywhere immediately, it is a test for both Russia and America. Here’s how Russia responded: “As the head of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, I cannot support this, but as a human, as a communist, as a deputy, I have long called for Russia to recognize these states.” This is Leonid Kalashnikov, member of the Russian Communist Party and chair of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs. Clearly Russia will continue to foment unrest in eastern Ukraine and keep these captive nations as a diplomatic lever or a thorn in our side. Now we’re waiting on American response. Kurt Volker, the relatively new US envoy for the Ukrainian crisis, has yet to make a public statement, last I checked a couple hours ago.

Photo by Oleksandr Maksymenko.

These remarks were delivered at events held by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation to commemorate Captive Nations Week in Washington, D.C. on July 19, 2017.