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Crimeans rally to help 24 Ukrainian POWs seized in Russia’s Azov Sea attack | Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KhPG) Halya Coynash 29.11.2018

Ukrainian prisoners during the first day of
Over the last 24 hours, Crimeans and people from mainland Ukraine have heeded a plea for help from Crimean Tatar civic leader Nariman Dzhelyal and brought money, food and clothing for the 24 Ukrainian sailors whom Russia took prisoner after its unprovoked attack on three Ukrainian naval boats on 25 November. 

By late Wednesday afternoon, Dzhelyal reported that they had already collected 60 thousand UAH  (140 thousand roubles).  The money, together with a formidable amount of food, clothing, toiletries and other items, will be passed to the men in the Simferopol SIZO [remand prison].  A number of political prisoners are held in this SIZO, and the conditions are appalling, so all such help for men whose families are in mainland Ukraine is desperately needed.  For the moment, Dzhelyal has asked people to stop bringing physical items as there are strict rules as to how all food and other goods can be passed on to the men, and the volume is already enormous.

As is always the case at the ‘court hearings’ in cases involving Crimean Tatar and other political prisoners, a large number of Crimeans also came to the Russian-controlled ‘court’ to show their support.  Archbishop Kliment is seeking permission to visit the men though, with Russia’s antagonistic attitude to the Orthodox Church under the Kyiv Patriarchate, it is not clear whether this will be granted.

Three of the men – 18-year-old Andriy Eider, Andriy Artemenko and Vasyl Soroka – were badly wounded when Russian FSB border guards opened fire without provocation on 25 November and remain in a Kerch hospital.  The ‘court hearing’ remanding them in custody appears to have been held without them, and with all three men having been deprived access to a lawyer.

The help did not stop there.  Osman Pashayev, a Crimean Tatar journalist forced by the occupation regime from Crimea, almost accidently found that he had collected almost 325 thousand UAH for the imprisoned Ukrainians, as well as 100 dollars that somebody brought to his work in Kyiv.

Pashayev later wrote that he had been mistaken for the last five years in assuming that with rare exceptions, there was nobody remaining in occupied Crimea except the Crimean Tatars who still supported Ukraine.  Of the 857 people who had written to him to donate money for the men, very many, he writes, had Slavonic (non-Crimean Tatar) names.

Other Ukrainian citizens in Crimea, besides Crimean Tatars, are not organized and don’t have the same contacts.  “They are more frightened than many Crimean Tatas.  They don’t have the experience in their genes of fighting the regime, the history of returning from deportation and opposing those in power. For many of them Russia’s occupation is their first experience of dissidence. They probably won’t go to the courts, stream such material onto the Internet and won’t confront the repressive machine.  They won’t speak out publicly, yet there are moments when they overcome their fear and write personal messages on Facebook although they know that there is no guarantee that such a form of communication is safe”. They want to help, he adds, without heroism, and they also deserve our support.

It is worth stressing that fears of FSB reprisals for writing to an exiled journalist and particularly for helping Ukrainian prisoners of war are very well-founded.  Russia has imposed a massive amount of surveillance in occupied Crimea, and is also encouraging people to denounce their neighbours, colleagues, etc.  On 28 November alone, searches were carried out of the homes of Ukrainian Cultural Centre activist Halyna Balaban. Elina Mamedova, , as well as of several members of a Crimean Tatar family. Balaban is suspected of ‘extremism’, with this allegedly seen in some comments on VKontakte, while Mamedova is facing criminal charges and has already been added to Russia’s notorious ‘List of extremists and terrorists’ for three Facebook reposts critical of Russian occupation of Crimea.

Further details about the imprisoned Ukrainian naval officers here:  More than ‘deep concern’ needed as Russia illegally imprisons 24 more Ukrainians after flagrant act of war.

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