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Several months have passed since the annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea by the Russian Federation. Muslim Crimean Tatars, the indigenous people of Crimea, were opposed to the illegitimate annexation, but comprising only 15% of the total population of the peninsula, they were hardly able to change the fate of their homeland.

The reason for their opposition lies in the history of Crimean Tatars under Russian and Ukrainian rule. During the Soviet regime, all Crimean Tatars were forcefully deported from their homeland and were allowed to return only after decades in exile. Upon their return, Ukrainian helped Tatars to regain their rights. Mustafa Dzhemilev , the leader of the Tatars, said that Ukraine gave freedom to Crimean Tatars but Putin’s Russia took it away.

Since the annexation, over 7 thousand Crimean Tatars have fled Crimea and found shelter mostly in Western Ukraine.  Those who remained in Crimea suffer the consequences of Russian aggression, such as an informational void (Ukrainian TV broadcasting is off), isolation and economic crisis. The cost of living went up several folds and the number of tourists—whom were the major contributors to the Crimean economy–dropped drastically. Still, most disturbing is the restriction of freedom and ongoing oppression from the new self-proclaimed authorities in Crimea.

New rules implemented by Russia limit freedom of assembly and give authorities the right to prohibit and disperse public gatherings and prosecute participants. The fines for unsanctioned demonstrations and failing to comply with the regulations can reach up to thousands of dollars, which is an unbearably high price to pay under the current economic situation.

Despite all, Crimean Tatars continue to demonstrate a peaceful struggle for their rights.

Thousands of Crimean Tatars went to meet their leader, Mustafa Dzhemilev, in early May when he unsuccessfully tried to return home to the Crimean peninsula. Self-proclaimed authorities prohibited Dzhemilev to enter Crimea for five years. 

Tatars tried blocking roads and rallied in protest. As a consequence, they faced trials and fines of over 20,000 dollars for “illegal” demonstrations and border crossing. They were also threatened with liquidation of Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people (6). In response, Ukraine and Crimean Tatar communities sought justice in European Human Rights Court.

Despite a ban of all mass rallies from May 16th until June 6th, thousands of Crimean Tatars gathered to commemorate the 70th  anniversary of the deportation and were surrounded by a heavy presence of Russian security officers.

On June 13th, Mejlis of Crimean Tatars appealed to the UN, OSCE and the international community, urging them to protect civilians in Crimea. This was triggered by the disappearance of three pro-Ukrainian activists in Crimea and a lack of progress in finding the murderers of a Muslim Crimean Tatar activist whose tortured body was found on March 15.  

Crimean Tatars marked the day of their flag on the 26th of June, despite a prohibition to hold the traditional event since 2010 in Simferopol downtown.

Russians try to deprive Crimean Tatars not only of gatherings but of leaders like Dzhemilev, and Refat Chubarov, the head of Mejlis. Chubarov – was banned to enter his homeland for five years on July 5th and was given only three days to appeal.

Rallies in support of Crimean Tatars are held in Ukraine. Also, Ukrainians help Crimean Tatar refugees on a regular basis. The friendship between Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians grew stronger afterwards.

Recently, Mustafa Dzhemilev and the governor of Dnepropetrovsk Oblast Ihor Kolomoyskyi signed a memorandum of collaboration between Crimean Tatars and residents of Dnepropetrovsk Oblast. The purpose of this document is to enhance cultural, economic, scientific and educational collaboration as well as the facilitation of friendship and cooperation. 

The current situation in the Eastern Ukraine does not receive very much attention. Although Petro Poroshenko, has made reuniting of Crimea with Ukraine as one of country’s priorities, still it is not clear when Russian occupation of Crimea will end.

Summery

Muslim Crimean Tatars show an example of fighting for their rights despite ongoing oppression Created by the Russian Federation in Crimea.