News / Europe

    Two Years After Crimea Annexation, Tatars' Resentment Growing

    2 Yrs After Russia Annexes Crimea, Memories of Stalinist Attrocitiesi
    X
    Luis Ramirez
    March 11, 2016 4:25 PM
    Two years after Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine, resentment is building among the region’s Tatars. The Muslim minority group is native to Crimea and many have been leaving the peninsula, saying Russian authorities are running them out of government jobs and taking away the autonomy that they once enjoyed under Ukrainian rule. VOA Europe Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from what is now the administrative border between Ukraine and Russian-controlled Crimea.
    Luis Ramirez

    Two years after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, resentment is building among the region's Tatars. The Muslim minority group is native to Crimea. But many have been leaving the peninsula, saying Russian authorities are running them out of government jobs and taking away the autonomy that they once enjoyed under Ukrainian rule.

    Seeing Moscow again controlling their native Crimea brings ugly memories to Azime Umerova and her husband. They remember 1944 when Soviet leader Josef Stalin deported their families and thousands of other Tatars from the peninsula.

    At her home on Ukrainian-controlled territory just a few kilometers from where Russian authorities have established a new international border, Umerova, 77, describes the day Stalin's security forces showed up at her family's house and ordered family members out at gunpoint.

    Azime (R) and Rustem Umerov were children when Stalin's security forces deported them from Crimea in 1944. To them, Mocow's annexation of the peninsula has been another chapter in a long history of Russian persecution of the Tatar people. (L. Ramirez/VOA)
    Azime (R) and Rustem Umerov were children when Stalin's security forces deported them from Crimea in 1944. To them, Mocow's annexation of the peninsula has been another chapter in a long history of Russian persecution of the Tatar people. (L. Ramirez/VOA)


    "They gave us an order to get ready quickly, that we had 15 minutes to take our most important belongings," she said. "Everyone was tremendously upset and shouting 'where and why.' Nobody knew anything. Everyone was crying, both children and adults. And soldiers with automatic guns were pushing us to pack into the boxcars."

    The journey to the deserts of Uzbekistan was torturous and they endured years of slave labor. Stalin accused the Tatars, who chose their traditional way of life over the forced collectivization and atheism of Stalinist Russia, of treason.

    Feelings of bitterness

    Umerova is famous in the town for the delicious hard candy she makes and sells, and which she proudly displays. Two years after her people once again lost Crimea to the Russians, it is hard to fight feelings of bitterness against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    "If I was a bird, I would fly over and destroy the Kremlin down to the last brick and him with it," she tells VOA. The words are stronger than expected from a grandmother whose bright smile, repeated hugs to a reporter and thick eyeglasses project an image of warmth and tenderness.

    Tatars have organized a battalion and set up a camp near the new, unrecognized border between Ukraine and Russian-ruled Crimea. (L. Ramirez/VOA)
    Tatars have organized a battalion and set up a camp near the new, unrecognized border between Ukraine and Russian-ruled Crimea. (L. Ramirez/VOA)


    Her husband of 58 years, Rustem Umerov, 81, was also deported as a child and suffered similar experiences. He shares his wife's sentiments on what has happened in Crimea in the past two years.

    He said, "every nationality has its motherland, and ours is Crimea, so how can we not feel sick about it?"

    At the town mosque, there is anger at what is perceived as inaction by Ukraine's leaders. A group of men gathering for morning prayers say Ukraine has given up on Crimea and never really put up a fight.

    "The problem of Crimea is mentioned only in passing. It would seem there is no problem there, that everything is all right there, and that we have resigned ourselves to the situation," says their imam, who identified himself only as Usein.

    Volunteer battalion

    Despite a doubling of manpower and the defense budget over the last year, Ukraine's armed forces are stretched as the war against Russian-backed separatists drags on in the country’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

    Members of the Noman Chelibijihan Battalion are mostly Tatars but group leaders tell VOA there are also Ukrainians, Chechens, and Afghans. (L. Ramirez/VOA)
    Members of the Noman Chelibijihan Battalion are mostly Tatars but group leaders tell VOA there are also Ukrainians, Chechens, and Afghans. (L. Ramirez/VOA)


    Activists backed by Turkey and other majority Muslim countries have taken matters into their own hands. Last September, they set up a fully equipped force called the Noman Chelibijihan Battalion. VOA visited their camp, with tents and barricades, built next to the highway that leads north on a stretch of land connecting the Ukrainian mainland with the Crimean peninsula.

    Men and women in combat uniforms and ski masks gather inside the tents. They stand at the barricades, looking across the horizon where a Russian flag waves at a distance of about 2 kilometers from the first Russian checkpoint on the highway from mainland Ukraine.

    "We are ready for everything," Haydarma, one of the battalion's members, says. "Coming here is not a simple proposition, and our goals are not simple. Personally, I am ready to give my life for this."

    Members say they do not rule out a Russian attack and are ready for it. They declined to answer questions about weaponry, but asserted they are "fully equipped." Behind the tents is a line of trenches, sandbag barricades, and lookout points.

    The group's leaders declined to discuss their numbers, but told VOA they are no fewer than 100, comprised mostly of Tatars but also include Chechens, Ukrainians, and Afghans. They receive training from Ukrainian military advisers.

    Members of the Tatar battalion say they are not ruling out an attack by Russian forces. (L. Ramirez/VOA)
    Members of the Tatar battalion say they are not ruling out an attack by Russian forces. (L. Ramirez/VOA)


    Ukraine's government allows the group to operate but battalion leaders say Kyiv does not provide support other than training.

    Enforcing blockade

    For now, their actions have been limited to enforcing a blockade of cargo from Ukraine to Russian-controlled Crimea. Battalion members have set up a checkpoint next to their camp, where they stop large trucks traveling to the peninsula.

    Their aim is to stop any form of support from Ukraine to Crimea as long as the Russians control the territory.

    The group has not claimed responsibility for acts of sabotage on power lines that supply Ukrainian electricity to the peninsula. The acts, widely believed to have been carried out by Tatar activists, have resulted in blackouts of several days and sent Russian officials scrambling to install generators and find other sources.

    Haydarma, a Tatar, says he is ready to give his life to drive Russian forces out of Crimea. (L. Ramirez/VOA)
    Haydarma, a Tatar, says he is ready to give his life to drive Russian forces out of Crimea. (L. Ramirez/VOA)


    The actions have been no more than a nuisance for Russia, and there is no hint whatsoever that the Tatars' actions are having any effect toward reversing the annexation of the territory.

    But the volunteers say they cannot sit idle and remain silent.

    "If we do not fight for Crimea, then who else will?" one volunteer asked.

    You May Like

    UN Observes International Day of Peacekeepers

    The U.N. honors 3,400 peacekeepers killed since first mission in 1948

    Video Rolling Thunder Tribute to US Military Turns into a Trump Rally

    Half-million motorcycles are expected to rumble Sunday afternoon from Pentagon to Vietnam War Memorial for rally in event group calls Ride for Freedom

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: give up your farry tales from: globus
    March 10, 2016 9:26 AM
    All two years (after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula), resentment is building among the region's Tatars. What unit is used to measure Tatars' resentment & dissatisfaction? Who measures it? For two years, all Tatars should burst from internal pressure.

    It is the same fish:
    Someone have constantly told us that Russia is increasing its military presence in the Donbass and/or on the border with Ukraine constantly (all two years).
    Have Russia such amount of soldiers for such "constant increasing"? What happens to all involved Russian soldiers? Where are their toilets and field kitchens?

    by: Babeouf from: Republic of Ireland
    March 10, 2016 7:43 AM
    The current President of Ukraine is now less popular than the President overthrown in his Coup. These whistling in the Dark stories are a waste of effort.

    by: Anonymous
    March 09, 2016 11:36 PM
    In Russia live about 5 millions Tatars. In Ukraine live only 73 thousands Tatars .
    And than Cremea is part of Russia they have to be very glad . They really can visit there motherland . I know many Tatars in Russia who visited Cremea after it again became part of Russia.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora