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Crimean Tatars Worry About Future Under Russian Rule

  • Daniel Schearf

Tatar minorities from Crimea are worrying about their possible future under Russian rule, as the region prepares for a Moscow-backed referendum on breaking away from Ukraine.

The mood is somber at the Crimea, a Tatar restaurant in Kyiv's Independence Square. Months of anti-government protests and recent violence have slowed business, and now the Tatar minority employees worry about their families and the future of Crimea.

Tatar waitress Linara Smiliava said all her relatives are in Crimea, where the Muslim group was once expelled by Joseph Stalin during the Soviet era. "I'm concerned very much with the fate of our homeland. As you know the Crimean Tatars have returned to their homeland very recently. And to lose our homeland a second time... that we simply cannot do," she said.

Smiliava said customers voice their support for Tatars and against the Moscow-backed referendum for Crimea to break away from Ukraine.

Ukrainian public relations worker Olessa notes Crimeans are given only two options by the coup-installed regional parliament -- become independent or join Russia.

“They haven't had a chance to have access to the Ukrainian TV, it was switched off. They haven't had a chance to talk to Ukrainians, which were trying to get inside, everything is blocked off. So, do you think it's a free choice or it's a democratic way of putting the referendum? I don't know how you can even call it the referendum,” said Olessa.

Activist Alim Aliyev is with Crimea S.O.S., a Tatar rights group helping people in Crimea and those who want to leave.

"Crimean Tatars now are probably the most afraid, they worry the most, because they already have experience living within Russian borders,” said Aliyev.