Human rights advocates and international experts are alarmed at growing xenophobia in Crimea and separatist-controlled territories
Since 2008 an average of nine people were killed out of xenophobia every month in the Russian Federation. Year 2011 when 15 people lost their lives was a peak. Over the same six-year period, five such cases have been registered in Ukraine, according to the Congress of Ethnic Communities of Ukraine. The Sova analytics centre reported that 199 were injured of which 21 died in xenophobic incidents in Russia in 2013. The Moscow Bureau for Human Rights has reported similar figures – 205 victims, including 25 deaths. In contrast, 21 people were injured and no-one was killed in Ukraine in 2013, according to the Group for Monitoring Ethnic Minority Rights. That xenophobia is deeply enrooted in the Russian Federation is further confirmed by the “Grapes of Wrath” study carried out in Russia by the Centre for the Study of Ethnic Conflicts and the Clubs of Regions in September 2013 through March 2014. Over this period, 570 “ethnically motivated acts” were committed, ranging from publishing xenophobic content online to mass conflicts involving the use of firearms and ending in deaths.
It appears that the Russian invaders in the Crimea and the separatists in eastern Ukraine have decided to apply their “brotherly” experience to ethnic minorities in Ukraine. In the past two months, 20 cases of xenophobia-driven violence were recorded in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, according to the Group for Monitoring Ethnic Minority Rights, while five such incidents were reported by experts from Sloviansk, a separatist hotspot in Donetsk Oblast. This count does not, of course, include neo-Nazi statements, the destruction of monuments revered by ethnic minorities and threats. “Since the time some Ukrainian territories were occupied by Russia, a large share of cases involving xenophobia and anti-Semitism have been recorded precisely in these territories, and this is a hard fact corroborated by numbers,” Tetiana Bezruk, a representative of the Congress of Ethnic Communities, has told The Ukrainian Week. “The most problematic cities were usually Kyiv, Odesa and Kharkiv, where a large number of foreign students study. There are foreign students also in the Crimea, and there were cases when the police came to them to ‘talk’ for no good reason. Moreover, there were situations when the Crimean Tatars lost their jobs only because they were Crimean Tatars. But the kind of growing xenophobia we see in eastern Ukraine is unprecedented.” Yulia Tyshchenko, who coordinates programmes to develop civil society in the Independent Centre for Political Research, says: “In occupied territories, there are systematic violations of the rights of ethnic minorities and also the basic human rights, which explains the growth of xenophobia.”
Crimean Tatars are facing a new wave of repressions
Despite Vladimir Putin’s promises to secure the rights of ethnic minorities in the Crimea and the rehabilitation of the Crimean Tatars who were affected by Stalin’s repressions (this amounted to nothing more than window dressing), the Tatars are being truly persecuted on the peninsula. According to human rights advocates, several Crimean Tatar monuments have been vandalized during the occupation, and those who refuse to take up Russian citizenship are fired. “Persecutions against the Crimean Tatars are on the rise. Chauvinistic attitudes have become stronger at the level of everyday relationships: neighbours are offending the Crimean Tatars for their political views, while school students commit violent acts against their peers, especially if the latter speak their native language,” Tyshchenko says. Back in March 2014, unknown persons set on fire a hotel and two cars owned by Crimean Tatars in village Rybache in Alushta County. The most high-profile case was the death of Crimean Tatar Reshat Ametov who had staged a one-man picket against military invasion in Simferopol and was kidnapped by gunmen. His body with evidence of torture was found the next day. Experts in the Group for Monitoring Ethnic Minority Rights tentatively suggest that it was his ethnic background that triggered more brutal tortures as compared to other kidnapped activists and eventually led to his death. If this assumption is correct, this is the first murder based on ethnic hatred in Ukraine since 2010, human rights advocates say.
An international scandal erupted when Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev was banned from entering Russia for five years and later denied entry to the Crimea. The most cynical thing about this farce is that the Kremlin has not officially commented on the incident, while Putin lavishly decorated Crimean Tatars opposed to the Mejlis. In contrast, Dzhemilev’s supporters who met him at the border crossing point in Armiansk on May 3 started being arrested and fined. According to the most recent data, Crimean courts have accepted for consideration 55 cases involving the Crimean Tatars and hand out fines that are about 10,000 roubles on average. In this context, it is quite possible that the authorities will act upon the statement made by Nataliya Poklonskaya, Crimean “prosecutor” as appointed by the local illegitimate authorities, that “extremist activities will not be tolerated” and will ban the Mejlis.
Other ethnic minorities
In addition to the Crimean Tatars, Russian separatism has afflicted other ethnic minorities, including the Roma and the Jews. The media have widely reported a recent case when anti-Semitic leaflets issued by the Donetsk People’s Republic said that the Jews allegedly had to pay USD 50 each for registration and have a stamp indicating their religion made in their passports. “Anyone avoiding registration would be stripped of their citizenship and expelled from the Republic and their property will be confiscated,” read the leaflet. Moreover, several synagogues have been set on fire in eastern and southern Ukraine in the past two months and offensive inscriptions have been made on Jewish monuments and Holocaust victim memorials. Russian propaganda points the finger at “Bandera followers” or the Right Sector. However, representatives of right-wing forces are actually helping the Jews to restore the damaged memorials. “Inscriptions on the monuments of the Jewish community started appearing after separatists came to the Crimea. Prior to that, there were no problems of this kind in Ukraine. The atmosphere of terror is not conducive to tolerance,” Tetiana Khorunzha, an expert with the Congress of Ethnic Communities of Ukraine, says. It is no surprise that the Jewish communities and organizations in Ukraine have been unanimous in rejecting the claims of Ukraine’s mythical anti-Separatism which the Kremlin has started actively using in its speculative rhetoric. They have appealed to Putin with a request to stop manipulating the “Jewish question”.
The Roma also suffered at the hands of Russian separatists. Their homes became the target of several pogroms in Sloviansk. “We can now speak about certain negative dynamics in anti-Roma attitudes. It pertains to society in general and the territories that are under Russian occupation. The social atmosphere in Ukraineis steeped in conflict, so these attitudes are more likely to develop into an interethnic conflict,” Natalia Belitser, a researcher studying various categories of ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples of Ukraine and an expert with the Pylyp Orlyk Institute of Democracy, says. Zola Kondur, a Council of Europe counsellor on Roma issues, has stressed in her commentary for The Ukrainian Week that conflicts between the Roma and the local population became more frequent with the arrival of the separatists. “Such cases have been recorded in several communities wherepurely domestic conflicts grew into persecution of entire Roma communities. We have never seen so many conflicts between the locals and the Roma. In my opinion, this is happening because of a complicated situation in the region and the escalation of tension by Russian separatists,” Kondur has explained.
In fact, it is not only about ethnic minorities. Both in the Crimea and in Sloviansk those who speak Ukrainian or wear national symbols are being given hostile treatment. People like that are the first to be targeted by the gunmen who call themselves “fighters against Nazism”.
On June 1, a group of armed criminal-looking men dressed as Russian Cossacks broke into the Intercession of the Theotokos Church of Kyiv Patriarchate, its press centre reported. The attackers ravaged the interior and occupied it, banning priest Ivan Katkalo from conducting a service. When the priest arrived, the men attacked him and broke his car. The parishioners who tried to protect the priest, including a pregnant woman and the priest’s daughter with cerebral palsy, were injured, too. The police arrived three hours later and supported the attackers. “Kyiv Patriarchate conducts anti-Russian activities and it has no place in Crimea,” both the police, and the Cossacks explained.
A day before, on May 31, a priest of the Moscow Patriarchate visited Ivan Katkalo at home and demanded that he “frees” the church voluntarily because “these are your last days in Crimea”. Later, militants visited the church in search of the Right Sector.
After the incident, the Muslim Spiritual Directorate in Crimea expressed “deep concern about illegal actions of specific individuals against the clergy in Crimea, no matter what denomination they belong to. Crimean Muftiate appeals to the Crimean authorities to find and hold liable those who committed the act,” the Muslim Spiritual Directorate press-service said.