Category: Injustice in Crimea

October 17, 2018

MOSCOW (AP) — An 18-year-old student strode into his vocational school in Crimea, a hoodie covering his blond hair, then pulled out a shotgun and opened fire on Wednesday, killing 19 students and wounding more than 50 others before killing himself.

It wasn’t clear what prompted Vladislav Roslyakov, described as a shy loner, to go on the rampage. A security camera image carried by Russian media showed him calmly walking down the stairs of the school in the Black Sea city of Kerch, the shotgun in his gloved hand.

“He was walking around and shooting students and teachers in cold blood,” said Sergei Aksyonov, the regional leader in Crimea. Officials said the fourth-year student killed himself in the library of the Kerch Polytechnic College after the attack. His mother, a nurse, was helping to treat victims at a local hospital after the shootings, unaware yet that her son was accused of the rampage and was already dead.

Such school shootings are rare, and Wednesday’s attack was by far the worst by a disgruntled student in Russia, which annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. The bloodbath raised questions about school security in the country; the Kerch Polytechnic College had only a front desk with no security guards.

By the end of the day, Crimean authorities said the death toll stood at 19, apparently not including the shooter. Fifty-three people were wounded, including 12 in serious condition. It was the greatest loss of life in school violence in Russia since the Beslan terrorist attack by Chechen separatists in 2004, in which 333 people were killed during a three-day siege, many of them children, and hundreds were wounded.

The announcement that the shooter in Wednesday’s attack was a student who acted alone came after hours of rapidly shifting explanations as to what exactly happened at the school. Officials at first reported a gas explosion, then said an explosive device had ripped through the cafeteria during lunchtime in a suspected terrorist attack.

Witnesses, however, reported that victims were being killed by gunfire. The Investigative Committee, Russia’s top crime investigation agency, eventually said all the victims died of gunshot wounds. Reflecting the daylong confusion, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the victims were killed by an explosion just as the Investigative Committee was announcing they were fatally shot.

A somber-faced Putin deplored the attack as a “tragic event” and offered his condolences to the victims’ families at a news conference in the southern city of Sochi, where he was meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

The Investigative Committee said the explosive device rigged with shrapnel went off in the school lunchroom and Sergei Melikov, a deputy chief of the Russian National Guard, said it was homemade. Officials later found a second explosive device and destroyed it.

It was not clear what the explosive was, if the attacker detonated it, or how many people it wounded. Guns are tightly restricted in Russia. Civilians can own only hunting rifles and smooth-bore shotguns and must undergo significant background checks. Roslyakov had only recently received a permit to own a shotgun and bought 150 cartridges just a few days ago, according to local officials.

Aksyonov, the regional leader in Crimea, said the gunman had been described as a shy boy who had no conflicts. “He wasn’t aggressive, he was rather timid,” Aksyonov said, speculating that Roslyakov might have “watched some movies” that inspired him to go on the shooting spree.

Some Russian news reports said the shooter had left his backpack containing the explosive device in the cafeteria and remotely detonated it before he started shooting. “I heard an explosion and saw glass shards and window frames falling down,” student Roman Voitenko said in remarks broadcast on Russian state television.

Another student, Semyon Gavrilov, said he had fallen asleep during a lecture and was awakened by the sound of shooting. He looked around and saw a young man shooting at people, he said. “I locked the door, hoping he wouldn’t hear me,” Gavrilov told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.

He said police arrived about 10 minutes later to evacuate people and he saw dead bodies on the floor and charred walls. Another student, Yuri Kerpek, told the state RIA Novosti news agency that the shooting went on for about 15 minutes.

Russia has seen several violent attacks by students in recent years, but none of them were even remotely as brutal as the Kerch rampage. Early this year, a teenager armed with an ax attacked fellow students at a school in Buryatia in southern Siberia, wounding five students and a teacher. The attacker also ignited a firebomb in the class and tried to kill himself before being apprehended.

In another attack in January, two teenagers stabbed children and their teacher with knives, wounding 15 people, and then attempted to kill each other before being detained. After Wednesday’s attack, local officials declared a state of emergency on the Black Sea peninsula and cordons of Russia’s National Guard circled the school. Security was also increased at a new 19-kilometer (12-mile) bridge linking the peninsula with Russia, which opened earlier this year. Military units were deployed near the college to help emergency agencies.

Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea triggered Western sanctions. Russia has also supported separatists fighting the Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine, a conflict that has left at least 10,000 people dead since 2014.

Over the past few years, Russian security agencies have arrested several Ukrainians accused of plotting terror attacks in Crimea, but no attacks have occurred.

October 11, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s domestic security agency said Wednesday it detained six people in Crimea accused of involvement in an extremist organization, a move described by one of the suspects’ lawyer as part of Moscow’s crackdown on the Crimean Tatars.

Emil Kurbedinov, a lawyer for one of the six detainees, said that police also rounded up nine other Crimean Tatars who protested the detentions in the Crimean town of Bakhchisarai. The Federal Security Service or FSB, the main KGB successor agency, said it has stopped the activities of a local cell of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamist group which Russia and several other ex-Soviet nations banned as a “terrorist” organization.

The FSB said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that it has opened a criminal probe against six people suspected of involvement in the group. Kurbedinov, a lawyer for Suleiman Asanov, whom the FSB accused of organizing the cell, described the charges as “absurd.” He said all six detainees were local Crimean Tatar activists who opposed Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.

Russia has faced criticism for infringing on the ethnic group’s rights since the annexation. “It’s yet another attempt to intimidate people with ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ labels,” Kurbedinov said by phone from Bakhchisarai.

Kurbedinov said nine other Crimean Tatars who were protesting the detentions were taken into custody for holding an unsanctioned demonstration and were set to face court hearings Thursday. Zair Smedlyayev, who heads an association of Crimean Tatars, also said the move was part of a continuing crackdown on the Turkic ethnic group.

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was visiting the Ukrainian capital, said Turkey was monitoring the situation of Crimean Tatars and thanked Ukraine for defending their rights.

August 01, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on Saturday placed a major archaeological site in Crimea, which he has hailed as the country’s most sacred spiritual symbol, under federal control following turmoil over the appointment of its director.

The Kremlin said that Putin ordered the area of the ancient Greek city of Chersonesus to be placed under federal oversight. The site is located just outside Sevastopol, the main port city in Crimea, the Black Sea Peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine last year.

Putin’s order followed the Sevastopol governor’s decision last month to appoint a Russian Orthodox priest as director of the Chersonesus museum, a move that has angered its keepers and fueled strong public criticism that the appointee lacked education and experience.

While presenting the new director to museum workers, the governor, Sergei Menyailo, reportedly sought to counter protests by saying that “religion has always dealt with science,” a comment that drew mockery on Russian social networks. Menyailo’s claim that he had received Moscow’s approval for the appointment was denied by officials in Moscow.

Putin’s adviser for cultural issues, Vladimir Tolstoy, a descendant of novelist Leo Tolstoy, was among those who criticized the governor’s decision, saying the museum chief should be a professional. Tolstoy was quoted by the Interfax news agency Saturday as saying that the Culture Ministry will now be in charge of Chersonesus and choose its new director.

Excavations in Chersonesus, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, began in 1827. The city was founded by Greek colonists about 2,500 years ago, and later became part of the Byzantine Empire. The Kievan Rus ruler, Prince Vladimir, was baptized there in 988 before bringing Christianity to the region.

Putin has hailed the spiritual importance of Chersonesus for Russia, saying in last year’s state-of-the nation address that the site has a “huge civilizational and sacred meaning” for the Russian Orthodox Christians, just as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is to Jews and Muslims.

May 18, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — Police in the capital of Russia-annexed Crimea have detained demonstrators trying to take part in an unauthorized motorcade to observe the anniversary of the mass deportation of Crimean Tatars.

Tatars, a Turkic ethnic group, ruled the Black Sea peninsula from the 15th century until Russian conquest in the 18th century. In May 1944, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin accused the Tatars of collaborating with German forces and ordered their deportation, many to Central Asia.

Tatars commemorate the deportation on May 18. This year’s events in Simferopol were much smaller than those before Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea, which most Tatars opposed. Crimea’s chief of inter-ethnic affairs, Zaur Smirnov, said Monday about 100 motorcade participants were blocked and the men among them were taken to a police station to be interrogated.

Mar. 30, 2015

It’s the only television channel that broadcasts in the Crimean Tatar language, and soon it might be off the air forever. ATR, which broadcasts from Simferopol, could be shut down by the Russian authorities controlling the Crimean Peninsula. Its temporary license expires on April 1, and there is no sign that Russia’s broadcast regulator will renew it. The Crimean Tatar channel is one of the last independent voices on the peninsula following Russia’s annexation last year.

Ibraim Umerov, a spokesman for Crimean Tatars in Kyiv, worked for several years for Crimean media outlets, including ATR. He stopped by the Ukraine Today newsroom to explain why the channel is so important for the Crimean Tatar community and for the right to independent media.

Ibraim Umerov, Spokesman for Kyiv Crimean Tatar community: “ATR is not an oppositional channel…”

Umerov said the Russian authorities who seized the peninsula have cracked down of freedom of speech. Umerov said ATR is more than a news channel. It’s an important part of Crimean Tatar culture, showing documentaries and Crimean Tatar films as well as other specialty programs.

ATR has applied for a broadcast license under Russian law, but authorities have rejected their attempts citing murky administrative rules. Umerov and ATR journalists see it another way.

The Crimean Tatars, who make up about 10 percent of the peninsula’s population, have faced harassment under Russian occupation. Properties have been seized and activists have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, a former Soviet dissident and longtime leader of the Crimean Tatar community, was banned from re-entering Crimea after travelling to mainland Ukraine last year. Human rights groups, including Freedom House, have called the situation alarming.

Source: Ukraine Today.


30 January 2015 Friday

Turkey has condemned Friday the arrest of a top Crimean Tatar official by the Russian Federal Investigative Committee.

Releasing a written statement on Friday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry called the arrest of Deputy Chairman Ahtem Ciygoz a new way of suppressing the Mejlis – the governing body for Crimean Tatars.

“We express that these kind of illegitimate implementations serves no one’s interest, expect the liberation of Mr. Ciygoz and see respect to our Crimean Tatar kin’s democratic and humanitarian rights,” the statement said.

Ciygoz was taken into custody Thursday on suspicion of organizing “mass disorder” in front of Crimea’s parliament in Simferopol on Feb. 26, 2014, when Crimean Tatars and other pro-Ukrainian activists clashed with pro-Russian activists.

A statement by the Russian Investigative Committee said unidentified people had called on Crimean Tatars to create trouble, which ended in brute force against the members of Russian Unity headed by the current Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov.

Mevlut Cavusoglu also raised the issue on Friday during a speech at the 24th African Union Summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

“Increasing pressure on Crimean Tatars is unacceptable,” the foreign minister said.

Since Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, Crimean Tatars have said to be facing discrimination and pressure for their opposition to the annexation.

Source: World Bulletin.


06 February 2015 Friday

February 6, Crimean Supreme Court decided to leave Deputy Chairman of Crimean Tatar Mejlis Akhtem Chiygoz in pre-trial detention center till 19 February, reports.

The Supreme Court refused to grant an appeal on arrest of Akhtem Chiygoz on 29 January.

Chiygoz was detained on 29 January in the framework of criminal investigation of Crimean Tatars’ rally that took place on 26 February 2014, when Crimean Tatars expressed their support of Ukraine’s integrity.

Source: World Bulletin.


04 February 2015 Wednesday

The enforced departure of the last of the original 23 Turkish imams and teachers who had been working in Crimea at the invitation of the Muslim Board means that all its imams and religious teachers are now local people, the Muslim Board spokesperson told Forum 18.

According to Forum 18 News Service, all but five of 23 Turkish imams and religious teachers invited by the Crimean Muftiate under a 20-year-old program have been forced to leave Crimea as Russia’s Federal Migration Service refused to extend their residence permits.

“If they want to begin mission work in Crimea they will need a visa from the Russian embassy in Turkey in accordance with Russian law,” Yana Smolova of the Federal Migration Service insisted to Forum 18. Despite being told that the Turkish imams and religious teachers were not seeking to “begin mission work in Crimea” but to continue work they have been doing in Crimea at the invitation of the Muftiate over many years, Smolova said the requirement to get a visa in their home country was irrespective of their work visa.

The Turkish imams and teachers had been supplied by the Turkish government’s Diyanet (Presidency of Religious Affairs) under a program that has been running for 20 years. “These Turkish imams and teachers helped our communities to develop and people liked them and got used to them,” a Muftiate spokesperson told Forum 18 in August 2014. “Of course we wanted them to continue working here. We can’t invite anyone now as they say we have no legal status,” said Jemil Bibishev “They told us we need to register first and then to reapply”. When Crimea’s chief mufti Emirali Ablaev met Mehmet G?rmez, the head of the Turkish government’s Diyanet in Ankara in November 2014, he stressed the continuing need for Turkish teachers and imams to be based in Crimea. “”We’ve done all we can within our competence”. A Russian law from 31 December 2014 extended the deadline for re-registering religious communities (and other entities) in Crimea until 1 March 2015.

The enforced departures of the Turkish imams and teachers came as a wide range of religious communities in Crimea complained to Forum 18 of surveillance by the Russian FSB security service.

Representatives of a range of religious communities have told Forum 18 that they are under surveillance by the FSB security service. Greek Catholic priest Fr Bogdan Kostetsky has been summoned several times. Among the questions were some about his attitude to Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky, who led the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church until his death in 1944. The duty officer at the Yevpatoriya FSB told Forum 18 he had never heard that Fr Kostetsky had been summoned.

Despite these concerns among a variety of religious communities, Aksyonov insists that his authorities will defend the rights of religious believers. “The rights of Crimea’s religious believers, regardless of their confessional adherence, are well protected,” he claimed on 19 January, in remarks quoted on the Crimean government website.

Source: World Bulletin.


December 22, 2014

YALTA, Crimea (AP) — One day in October, a dozen armed men in masks drove up to the gates of Yalta Film Studios. They weren’t actors, and this was no make-believe. It was a hostile takeover.

“They forced all the employees onto the ground, sealed off the premises and halted the work of the studio,” said owner Sergei Arshinov. The studio, nestled in the hills overlooking the Black Sea, is just one of thousands of businesses seized from their owners since Crimea was annexed by Russia eight months ago. Crimea’s new pro-Moscow leaders say the takeovers, which they call nationalizations, are indispensable to reverse years of wholesale plunder by Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs.

But an Associated Press investigation throughout this peninsula the size of Massachusetts found many instances of less noble practices: legal owners strong-armed off their premises; buildings, farms and other prime real estate seized on dubious pretenses, or with no legal justification at all; non-payment of the compensation mandated by the Russian constitution; and targeting of assets belonging to or used by the Crimean Tatar ethnic minority and the pro-Kiev branch of the Orthodox Church.

In a preliminary estimate, Ukraine’s Justice Ministry told AP that around 4,000 enterprises, organizations and agencies have had their property expropriated. Some holdings, from shipyards to health resorts, were publicly earmarked for repossession by Crimea’s regional government, now part of the Russian Federation. Others were simply seized by armed men, sometimes carrying official decrees that were never published or no documentation at all.

Crimea’s Russia-installed prime minister, Sergei Aksyonov, says the nationalization law enacted Aug. 8 seeks to right wrongs committed by officials in Ukraine, where a lot of state property was sold off at bargain prices because the government was broke, or to benefit cronies.

“Over the past 10 years, the majority of state property was illegally stolen from the government,” Aksyonov told AP. “Enterprises were privatized via fraudulent schemes and the state didn’t receive any money.”


At the 34,600-acre Dobrobut farm in far eastern Crimea, the fields now lie fallow, and the 26 employees haven’t been paid for months.

It was June when two carloads of men arrived at the farm with pistols, clubs and assault rifles. In hand, the men had a piece of paper signed by Aksyonov.

The document, seen by the AP but never issued publicly, proclaimed that the land tilled by Dobrobut — under lease from the local village — was being nationalized. The men took over not only the fields, but also Dobrobut’s buildings, its harvest and its equipment, all worth about $1.6 million.

Alexander Garfner, an attorney for Dobrobut, sued in a Crimean court, now part of the Russian justice system. On Sept. 2, the lawsuit was thrown out.

“If we look at the law, then there is no basis for this,” Garfner said. The nationalization attempt, he said, “was clearly just a land grab, because it’s big money.”

The seizures investigated by the AP vary in scale and type of assets involved. But many, like Dobrobut, are reliably profitable and would require little additional investment, including a bus company with a monopoly on $14.6 million in annual ticket sales.


Some of the losers in Crimea’s new order have been Ukrainian magnates or pro-Kiev politicians stripped of their assets.

The biggest loser so far has been Ihor Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian oligarch and nationalist firebrand. Aksyonov’s government has taken 65 of his properties, including all branches of Privatbank, one of the largest in Crimea.

Andrei Senchenko, local leader of Ukraine’s Fatherland party, estimated his own losses at “several tens of millions of dollars,” including shares in a seized building materials plant and office center.

“They tried to influence me and, what’s more, made me a definite proposition, that I should change my rhetoric and relationship to the occupation of Crimea,” Senchenko said of Crimea’s leaders. “But I gave a clear ‘no.'”

The leadership of the 300,000-strong Muslim Tatar minority, by far the loudest voice against Russian annexation, was ousted from the building it rents in downtown Simferopol. The pro-Kiev branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has had 11 of its 18 parishes shut, and authorities have told the archbishop they want to hike the rent on the building he uses as his cathedral by 600,000 percent.


For losers in Crimea’s great property grab, there is often no redress.

In April, the Trans-Bud company delivered 54 vehicles, from excavators to dump trucks, to a Simferopol-based firm, Krymsky Passazh. But the customer never paid the $5.2 million bill, and the equipment is now in the hands of camouflage-clad self-defense forces.

Trans-Bud took the matter to the police, company director Vadim Padalko said. But he said after an investigator was told the equipment was being nationalized, police “decided no crime could be established.”

Ukrainian tax registers show Krymsky Passazh was co-founded by the sister of a Simferopol City Council member.

The AP contacted the firm three times, but each time a woman hung up when questioned about the equipment deal.

Business owners affected by nationalization say they have had no better luck in the region’s courts or getting the attention of Russian authorities in Moscow.


Aksyonov, the prime minister, denied any legitimate owner or business person had been hurt in the property seizures.

But at Yalta Studios, they tell a different story. They managed to get the armed men to quit the premises, but haven’t been able to register yet as a Russian company. Without that status, they can’t legally remain in business after Jan. 1.

The owners told AP they’ve plowed $16 million into the studio since becoming sole proprietors in 2004. As compensation for the sets, cameras and other lost property, they say they’ve been offered $1 million. An employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of official reprisal, said he doubts they’ll get anything from Crimean authorities in the end.

“It’s a robbery,” the employee said, “pure and simple.”

Dahlburg reported from Kiev.