Crimea is actually a bridgehead for the russian attack on Ukraine. From the first hours of a full-scale war, military equipment and personnel of the rashists began to enter from the occupied peninsula. Since then, military experts and politicians have been talking about a possible de-occupation of Crimea by military means, although previously they limited themselves to political and diplomatic frameworks.
The Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea Tamila Tasheva believes that the previously adopted strategy for the de-occupation of the peninsula never excluded a military component. In addition, after all the russian atrocities in Ukraine starting February 24, the approaches to this issue have changed.
In the OstroV’s interview, Tamila Tasheva told how life in Crimea has changed after the start of a full-scale invasion, whether the Crimeans support the war, and why, in her opinion, the local population will greet the Ukrainian military with flowers.
About the work of the Representative Office
- How has the work of the Representative Office of the President of Ukraine in Crimea changed since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of the russian federation?
- When it began, we focused on key areas: we began to make less in-depth analytics (about the economic situation in Crimea, what assets we lost, and so on), since it is not needed at the moment. But we still prepare certain reports for representatives of the public sector, human rights defenders and international partners. We have now focused on the information direction, because, apart from us, no one is specifically engaged in the subject of Crimea. We explore the narratives on the peninsula regarding the war and form counter-narratives. Not everything we do is visible publicly, only the top is noticeable. We use certain counter-propaganda methods and so on. This is a large informational direction that is aimed at several audiences.
- Please, tell us more about them.
- One audience group is Crimea per se, that is, we inform the peninsula residents about some opportunities, changes in legislation, what Ukraine is doing to return the peninsula, pass along messages from the president. While exploring the information field in Crimea, we see that the things that our president says are well received there. Moreover, representatives of the occupation administrations react very sharply to all Zelensky’s statements about Crimea.
The second target group is the population of Ukraine, the third one is the international audience.
- Do you work with Ukrainians who leave Crimea?
- Yes, of course. Both with those who left earlier, and with those who are just now leaving. We receive a lot of requests from people who leave the territory of the peninsula. They ask questions about where and how certain documents can be obtained.
- How do people leave Crimea nowadays?
- Mostly through the territory of russia, and then go to third countries. It's a long and expensive way, but people keep leaving. And when they arrive to third countries, they face some problems, because, as a rule, not everyone has a full package of documents.
- Do you work with people who oppose the war and the occupation regime in Crimea?
- Yes, this is another direction of our work. We try to track and tell their stories of resistance. There are a lot of Crimean residents, who quietly hated the russian federation for all these eight years, and only now, after the horrors in Mariupol, Irpin and Bucha, they began to voice their position. And these are not just Crimean Tatars and local activists, these are completely different people who led a normal life and did not participate in human rights campaigns.
- How is their resistance manifested?
- In different ways. For example, Bohdan Ziza, who poured yellow and blue paint over the Yevpatoriya’s occupying administration. Or activists who solitary picketed the building of the Verkhovna Rada of Crimea on the first day of the full-scale invasion. A pensioner who was sentenced to two years in prison for desecrating the grave of a russian soldier who died in Ukraine. Or the activity of Crimeans in social networks.
- Are such cases common?
- These are not isolated cases, we know of over a 100 of them.
- Do you cover and coordinate this activity?
- I can't say that we coordinate it. We mostly cover, monitor, try to help the people, connect them with human rights organizations that can help them leave or protect their rights.
- Was it a surprise for you that such resistance appeared in Crimea?
- Yes, we were surprised. I did not expect such anti-war protests. What we have been seeing for eight years has been related to the protection of human rights, and what we see today are pro-Ukrainian actions.
And now we are trying to constantly communicate with these activists, interview them and tell their stories.
- What legislative issues are relevant today?
- First of all, this is transitional justice, responsibility for collaborationism. Issues of lustration and amnesty, and what forms of this amnesty are possible. I will say right away: war criminals, those who violated human rights and the oath, will definitely not fall under the amnesty.
There are also questions related to changes at the government level, simplification of the procedure for entering Ukrainian universities - it will be possible not only to submit the application form and the documents online, but also to pass the entrance exams remotely. The law on the status of the Crimean Tatar people is also in development.
- Even now this work has not stopped?
- On the contrary, the legislator has already adopted a number of amendments to the Criminal Code and a number of other laws in the context of collaborationism. In our opinion, not everything is balanced there, so we are trying, together with experts and authorities, to bring it into line with international standards.
- What do you mean exactly?
- We must think about strategic goals and not intimidate our population in the temporarily occupied territories, not infringe on their rights. Of course, it is necessary to bring to justice the obvious collaborators, but if this is an ordinary teacher who, moreover, did not conduct propaganda activities, then this definitely should not be applied to them.
It is important for us to take a broader view of this and to work out the issues of lustration and amnesty right now. We are confident that our Armed Forces will defend all territories, so these issues are very important.
- Are you also involved in the Crimea Platform?
- Yes, sure. We hold a number of meetings with ambassadors, our partners, where we constantly point out that there will never be any concessions on the territorial integrity of our state. We are talking about taking back absolutely all territories, including Crimea.
- In your opinion, since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, our international partners' position on Crimea has been changed?
- We try to react preventively. Sometimes we see statements by certain politicians about some compromises regarding Crimea, and we remind them of the Crimea Platform Summit declaration, which clearly states the position of the signatory countries that Crimea is an integral part of Ukraine. Sometimes it is necessary to put more emphasis on the fact that there can be no compromises regarding the territorial integrity of the country. Over the past 8 years and 4 months, we have suffered and sacrificed a lot, and we will definitely not sacrifice what is so important to us.
- How do you feel about the fact that at the beginning of the negotiation process with russia, the Ukrainian side started talking about leaving out the Crimean issue? This was stated by Mykhailo Podolyak, Adviser to the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine.
- It is very important to talk about the details when communicating any issue. At that time, it was understood that the parties were going to return to the Crimean question after a certain period. But that was before Bucha. After the atrocities that we saw, neither the issue of Crimea, nor the issue of Donbas can remain "left out". When we talk about the end of the war, we mean the return of absolutely all territories, including Crimea. The war did not start on February 24, 2022, but in 2014 with the occupation of the Crimean peninsula.
The presence of the russian navy in Sevastopol and the russians on the peninsula is a danger to Ukraine and the entire Azov-Black Sea basin. It is very important that everyone understands that a full-scale end to the war should mean the de-occupation of absolutely all territories. If the occupiers remain there, we have no confidence that after some time they will not strike again. Rocket attacks on the west of the country and other regions were launched from the territory of Crimea and the Black Sea.
About the life in Crimea
- How has life changed in Crimea after February 24?
- In Crimea, they are well aware that this is not a military operation, but a full-scale war. For eight years, the key narrative there was: “The main thing is that there is no war here. Otherwise it would be like in the Donbas”. Only now they understand how much Crimea is already drawn into the war.
- Is there any information about the mobilization of the Crimeans?
- The russian federation is conducting covert mobilization there. The notices are sent out. The mobilization process is quite active.
- Is it voluntary?
- It depends. They can put pressure on the family or blackmail them. For example, if there is a minor offense, then a person is offered to serve under a military contract and everything is forgiven.
- Is there any data on how many Crimeans are participating in the war against Ukraine?
- We do not have data on the exact number, but we monitor the funerals of servicemen on the peninsula. As of now, we have data on more than 107 soldiers who were buried. And most of them were born and raised on the peninsula, we believe that they were citizens of Ukraine.
- Do the locals complain that they are being drawn into the war?
- Yes, there are many complaints about the occupation military commissariats. People are very unhappy. This can be seen even in the occupation social media pages, when the commissariat representatives justify that the conscripts will not participate in the war. But then the russian flagship Moskva sunk where according to various estimates up to half of the crew were conscripts from Crimea.
- What economic changes have occurred?
- In economic terms, life in Crimea has deteriorated. We were informed that entrepreneurs were forced to artificially fix prices for many products. In addition, there was a shortage of many basic goods, and prices for some of them have skyrocketed. All this is the result of a full-scale invasion.
And there is no tourist season in Crimea. Nobody wants to go to a region that is close to the war zone, where there are a lot of military and equipment.
- Crimeans do not support the war?
- Many Crimeans are dissatisfied, they mostly do not support this war. Of course, there are jingoists there who favor the war. But is a russian citizen who arrived there after the occupation a real Crimean? There are at least 500,000 of them there. Most often, it is russian citizens who have moved to Crimea who support the war. There are a lot of dissatisfied people among the actual locals.
In addition, there are a lot of those who are afraid to speak out loud about their pro-Ukrainian and anti-war position.
- We often hear about partisans in Kherson, Melitopol, Berdyansk. Is there a similar partisan movement in Crimea?
- Oh sure. They puncture tires in the cars of military personnel, smash windows, set military registration and enlistment offices on fire, paint park benches. I think that with proper communication from the Ukrainian side, such actions can continue. Let me remind you that this has not been happening for eight years.
De-occupation of Crimea
- Let's talk about the de-occupation of Crimea. Recently you have stated that you do not rule out the return of the peninsula by military means. Can you clarify your position?
- The strategy for the de-occupation and reintegration of Crimea which was adopted last year, states that Ukraine has the right to use various methods and tools to get the peninsula back. These are political, diplomatic, humanitarian, economic and military methods. But it was precisely the political and diplomatic path that was given priority.
I told that we will return Crimea by using different tools, including the military ones.
- Before the full-scale invasion, the military method of getting Crimea back was not even discussed in public.
- Yes, we have always talked about the return of the peninsula through political and diplomatic means, but military elements have never been ruled out. Wouldn't it be not surprising for you that the Ukrainian military will be the first to enter Crimea? There are issues of technical support for this process: clearing the territory of the russian military, mines, and so on. We are well aware that russia will not leave there just like that.
In addition, after February 24, the approaches have been changed. We cannot talk about the status quo after all the atrocities of the russians and the occupation of other regions of Ukraine.
- Won’t the military de-occupation of Crimea complicate its reintegration?
- I believe that the Ukrainian military in Crimea will be joyfully greeted with flowers and Ukrainian flags. I am 100% sure of this. There are hundreds of thousands of people who are waiting for the liberation of the peninsula.
- That is, there will be no confrontation?
- The civilians will not resist.
- How do you feel about the statements about the possible AFU’s strikes of the Crimean bridge?
- We see and know for sure that the Crimean bridge and all the infrastructure that the occupiers have been building for eight years is used to transfer military personnel and equipment. Accordingly, the bridge should not be considered as an object that is used only by civilians. The occupying administrations of Crimea sometimes say that it is reliably protected, sometimes they ask the local population to refrain from traveling over the bridge. It was repeatedly blocked for civilians when they needed to transfer military equipment. That is, when they need it, they use it exclusively for military purposes.
- Recently Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk called on residents of the occupied territories to leave by all possible means. Do you support such a call regarding Crimea?
- We have never defended the position of leaving Crimea. We believe that this is our territory, where our citizens have the right to live. If everyone leaves from there, then it will only help the invaders to finalize the integration of the peninsula into the russian federation.
As for the territories where hostilities are taking place, this is a question related to the counteroffensive, therefore, if possible, it is worth leaving from there.
- Has it become more dangerous to live in Crimea?
- Of course. Due to illegal conscription into the army and the fact that Crimean teachers are sent to the southern regions of Ukraine, which are occupied by russia. Due to the fact that local doctors are actually sent to the frontline. The persecution of the Crimean Tatars and those who do not support the war did not stop there. It got even worse. It's just that unlike the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine, there are other threats in Crimea.
Interviewed by Vladyslav Bulatchik, OstroV