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Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Pro-Ukrainians in Crimea left to fend for themselves | beyondbrics #EuroMaidan

Pro-Ukrainians in Crimea left to fend for themselves | beyondbrics:

The stronger Russia’s grip on Crimea becomes, the more support is needed for pro-Ukrainian residents and military personnel there. However, the past weeks have demonstrated that government officials in Kiev are failing to provide such support and the burden has fallen to self-organized groups of volunteers. Why is this the case?

Alim Aliev, a 25-year-old Crimean Tatar who works as a media consultant in Lviv and Kiev, became the coordinator of the Crimea SOS initiative, which has been providing support to residents and soldiers on the peninsula since late February.

The initiative started, during the first days of the stand-off, as a Facebook page aimed at informing the public in Crimea and the rest of Ukraine about what was really happening on the peninsula, as “in the beginning there was a lot of misinformation, spawning myths and putting fear into people,” Aliev tells beyondbrics.

Soon the number of Crimea SOS volunteers increased and they started to deliver food supplies and equipment, including generators and barbed wire, to Ukrainian soldiers. “We also delivered equipment for self-defence, such as bullet-proof vests,” Aliev says.

However, border controls have recently been toughened in Crimea, making aid delivery more complicated. “Today we can no longer transfer large quantities. But we still deliver aid to Crimea,” he says.

Last week, Ihor Tenyukh, Ukraine’s acting defence minister, admitted that due to poor financing over previous years the Ukrainian armed forces had become outdated and most units had lost their combat capability. “Victory in war is secured by organization, resources, strategy, tactics and fighting spirit. Today, the armed forces only have the latter two elements – tactics and fighting spirit,” Tenyukh told the Ukrainian parliament.

Crimea SOS is coordinating its activities with the Ukrainian ministry of defence, Aliev says. But why is the ministry unable to provide support to its own soldiers and civilians?

“Ukrainian soldiers feel abandoned [by the authorities in Kiev]. Why isn’t the defence ministry engaged in the process? I think the ministry is taking too long to develop a strategy, and is afraid to take responsibility. Overall, the central government of Ukraine is afraid to take responsibility in this conflict. And today, people in the Crimea who want the peninsula to remain part of Ukraine feel abandoned,” Aliev says.

He adds that the same problem appeared during the protests against president Viktor Yanukovich, which were centred in Kiev. “The opposition leaders on Maidan were often too scared to take responsibility,” Aliev believes.

He adds that many residents in Crimea rely on the protection of the Mejlis, the representative body of the Crimean Tatars. “Many people who, since the beginning of the return of the Tatars to Crimea from deportation 25 years ago, have never trusted the Mejilis, today see this body as the only authority which can protect them,” Aliev says.

At the same time, some Crimean residents have taken the decision to leave the peninsula. Crimea SOS volunteers are helping to resettle those people in other parts of Ukraine. “As of the end of last week, we had relocated slightly over 200 Crimean residents. Among those who want to leave Crimea are the families of Ukrainian soldiers – it is these families who are currently experiencing some of the highest pressures,” Aliev says.

He says many other volunteer structures and local administrations in Ukraine, especially in the western regions of the country, are providing assistance to those who want to leave Crimea.

On Tuesday, Lviv regional administration said that 1,729 people from Crimea and south-eastern regions of Ukraine had expressed their desire to reside temporarily in the Lviv region.

Aliev’s relatives and friends remain in Crimea, and today he fears for their safety. He says: “my family has the opportunity to leave Crimea. But my father says that he returned to Crimea after deportation 25 years ago and is not going to flee now”.

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