Crimea is Ukraine. It was, is and will be!

On April 15, it will be 10 years since the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted a law that defines the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol as “territories under temporary occupation”. During this time, Russia has managed to turn it into a territory of fear, persecution, and its military base. Yet, despite all its efforts, the enemy has failed to break the Crimean people or to get its annexation recognized by the international community. Crimea is waiting for Ukraine, and the numerous successes of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the active resistance movement that is only gaining momentum on the peninsula are proof of this because all of it would not have been possible without the pro-Ukrainian population on the peninsula.

When the Russians seized Crimea in violation of international law, no one doubted that the Kremlin’s promises of a “paradise life” and “a million tourists” for the peninsula’s residents would be empty, and the way the occupiers actually behave towards Crimeans proves once again that the world is dealing with a criminal.

Patriots are political prisoners

This, in particular, can be confirmed by the Crimean Tatars, who have already had the tragic experience of being evicted from their land and in 2014 began to be persecuted again. After the seizure of the peninsula, many indigenous people recalled the times of Stalinism: mass persecution, abductions by security forces, imprisonment, and mysterious killings became the norm in Crimea. On March 15, 2014, the body of 39-year-old Crimean Tatar activist Reshat Ametov was found with numerous signs of torture. On March 3, 2014, Reshat went to the main square of Simferopol with a single picket against the occupation of the peninsula. Webcams recorded him being detained by three men in the uniform of the illegal armed group ‘Self-Defense of Crimea’ and forced into a car, and the man was never seen alive again.

Reshat Ametov is called one of the first victims of the occupation of Crimea. In 2017 he was posthumously awarded the Star of the Hero of Ukraine.

According to Crimean activists, the massacre of Ametov was the first demonstrative act of intimidation of the pro-Ukrainian population of Crimea. In the first months of the occupation, such disappearances were frequent. In particular, the NGO Crimea SOS has information about at least 59 people who have gone missing over the past 10 years.

Despite this, there were people in Crimea who were not afraid. Some of them openly declared their pro-Ukrainian position, while others joined the hidden resistance movement. In particular, since the beginning of the occupation, human rights organizations have recorded data on 307 (206 of them are Crimean Tatars) political prisoners and those persecuted in criminal “cases”.

Ukrainian flag in temporarily occupied Crimean mountains

“Those who openly opposed the occupation – Reshat Ametov, Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Akhtem Chiygoz, Ilmi Umerov, Erwin Umerov, Timur Shaimardanov, Seyran Zinedinov, Nariman Dzhelialov and many others – were quickly imprisoned or kidnapped and killed, or banned from entering Crimea, and then sentenced in absentia to several years in prison. Nowadays, it is mostly a hunt for those who think “wrong””

said Mustafa Dzhemilev, leader of the Crimean Tatar people, human rights activist, member of the dissident movement.

According to Dzhemilev, the Russian FSB is closely monitoring the mood of Crimean residents, watching who visits which sites and where they put “likes,” so arrests and searches continue at an increasing pace.

Crimeans are forced to join the Russian army, children are militarized

Russians also violate international law through the illegal mobilization of the local population and the mass militarization of children.

Thus, according to the representative of the President of Ukraine in the ARC Tamila Tasheva, as of the end of 2023, the occupation authorities had conscripted 44,500 Crimeans into the Russian army as part of the partial mobilization, of whom 525 have already been killed and were probably Ukrainian citizens. However, it is difficult to determine the exact number as Russia conceals its losses.

Russia has also involved more than 30,000 Crimean children in the Yunarmiya movement created by the Russian Ministry of Defense, opening cadet classes in schools and holding demonstrations by the military even for preschoolers.

Occupation resistance movement gains momentum in Crimea

But whatever the repressive actions of the occupation authorities against the inhabitants of the peninsula, there remains a large number of pro-Ukrainian citizens who resist the occupiers in one way or another. And what is crucial, is their number and importance for the process of de-occupation of the peninsula is only growing.

In particular, about 6,000 Crimeans are members of the Yellow Ribbon civil resistance movement, which operates in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine and constantly reminds the occupiers that they are here temporarily.

Leaflet of the Yellow Ribbon resistance movement in Crimea

The Atesh military guerrilla movement, created by Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, has also made a loud statement, its members conducting reconnaissance and collecting data on enemy personnel, equipment, and weapons. The Crimean Wind monitoring group also monitors the number of Russian equipment.

Recently, there have been reports of the emergence of another movement of resistance to the occupiers in Crimea – Resistance of the Nation. The activists began their activities immediately with decisive actions and set fire to a car with Russian symbols in Feodosia.

However, the rejection of Russia also occurs at a purely domestic level. The derogatory term “ponayekhi” can often be found in local social media and on the streets. That is how Crimeans refer to Russians who come to the peninsula.

The Crimean bridge is “storming”

However, the best signal to the Crimeans that they have not been forgotten and that the land under the occupiers should burn is probably sent by the Security and Defense Forces of Ukraine.

Over the 10 years of occupation of the peninsula, they have inflicted significant losses on the aggressor in both manpower and equipment. Simultaneously, they have carried out such sophisticated strikes and operations that intelligence services and military units of other countries can boldly adopt. In particular, these include the destruction of the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the missile cruiser “Moscow”, the regaining of control over the “Boyko Towers”, the defeat of the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, and repeated attacks on the Crimean bridge, which has become one of the most vital transportation arteries providing military logistics between the Russian mainland and the Ukrainian peninsula.

Also, thanks to the work of the Security Service of Ukraine, the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine, and various troops, the balance of power in the Black Sea has changed. Ukraine, which lost most of its fleet after 2014 and then after the start of the full-scale invasion in 2022, managed to “turn the tables” on Russia’s main power and pride in Crimea, the Black Sea Fleet, and the city of Sevastopol.

The defeat of the Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Russian occupied Crimea

In total, the Ukrainian military managed to destroy one third of the total number of 80 ships, while 15 units remain damaged for repair.

“As for the number of units hit, it was 27 units hit together with the submarine, of which 14 were noticeable serious units of different classes. These are large landing ships, missile boats, a submarine, and a patrol ship,”

said Dmytro Pletenchuk, spokesman for the Ukrainian Navy.

According to him, even though the Black Sea Fleet still has a significant force, including 10 missile carriers, three submarines, 5 large landing ships (4 under repair), 2 missile boats, and patrol and guard boats, most of them have been redeployed from Crimea due to the Ukrainian threat. In particular, there is only one cruise missile carrier left in Crimea, which has not launched a single missile.

We can say that the strategic importance of Crimea for Russia is undergoing certain changes as a result of actions of the Ukrainian Defense Forces. That is evident both from the statements of propagandists and from the inaction in response to the crossing of the so-called “red lines” announced by the Russian authorities in 2022. The relocation of a part of the Black Sea Fleet to the Krasnodar Territory is also a blow to Russian propaganda, which has been legitimizing Sevastopol for all these years. So, no matter how hard the Russians try to turn the peninsula into an impregnable fortress, the Ukrainian Defense Forces and the Crimean residents themselves prove that such intentions are unrealizable.

In August 2021, Ukraine announced the creation of the Crimean Platform, an international platform for discussing ways to de-occupy Crimea and strengthen European and global security. The idea of the platform was supported by many countries and international organizations.

Speaking of the occupation of Crimea, we should not forget that it has also affected international security: as long as Crimea is in Russian hands, no country in the Black Sea region can feel secure, as Moscow has repeatedly proven that international agreements or rules are not for it. Returning Crimea to Ukraine, supporting this process by the international community, and holding Russia accountable for the annexation will send a clear signal to all totalitarian countries that in the 21st century, international law and norms, not the whims of tyrants, should rule the world.

However, on February 24, 2022, it became clear to everyone that Russia will not stop until it is stopped by force, and whether the temporarily occupied territories of Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine will decrease or increase, possibly even at the expense of the EU and NATO member states, is a matter of responsibility not only for Ukraine but for the whole world.

No matter what happens, Ukraine, Ukrainians, and Crimean Tatars, who have no other homeland, will never stop fighting for the liberation and return of Crimea, they have no right to. Following the Russian ships that disappeared from the ports of Crimea, the rest of the occupiers with their equipment will follow the course determined by the border guards on Zmeinyi Island. And this will not be the worst option for them. If they were alive, the sailors of the cruiser “Moscow” would not let them lie…

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