Crimean Tatar community leaders have announced plans to block roads and checkpoints leading from Ukraine to the Crimean peninsula in protest against the export of goods from Ukraine to Russia via Crimea.
Speaking to reporters in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on Tuesday, Refat Chubarov, the head of the Crimean Tatar Assembly, otherwise known as Mejlis, said that an exact date for the protest would be announced next week but it is planned to take place later this month.
Crimean Tatars, an ethnic Turkic community indigenous to Crimea estimated to be around 300,000 strong, have mostly opposed Russia’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014 following a local referendum.
The referendum, which was boycotted by the majority of Crimean Tatars, was condemned by the international community as being illegitimate, especially as it was held after the peninsula came under the occupation of armed militants in unmarked green uniforms.
The militants, often referred to in Western media as “little green men,” were believed to be Russian soldiers, but Russia on the other hand claims they were local militiamen.
Prior to the referendum, the largely ethnic Russian-dominated autonomous Crimean parliament declared independence from Ukraine after the country’s former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych fled violent anti-government protests in Kiev organised by the pro-EU opposition.
Despite Crimea coming under international embargoes and economic sanctions against Russia in response to the annexation, some businessmen have seen the annexation as an opportunity to sell cheaper Ukrainian goods to Russian consumers.
Mustafa Jemilev, the former Mejlis head, slammed those exporting to Russia via Crimea, saying they were contradicting the Ukrainian government’s policy.
Jemilev also told reporters he would be discussing the issue with Ukraine’s current President Petro Poroshenko in a meeting next week.
Since coming under Russian control, rights abuses against the Crimean Tatars in Crimea have come under the spotlight.
Both Chubarov and Jemilev were barred from entering Crimea for five years after they were accused by the Russian authorities of disrupting peace in the peninsula. The Mejlis was also shut down by Crimea’s chief prosecutor.
Crimean Tatars who have refused to adopt Russian citizenship and instead opted to keep their Ukrainian nationality have also become foreigners in their homeland.
Crimean Tatars were forcibly exiled in their entirety from their homeland by Soviet Russian leader Josef Stalin in 1944 to various parts of central Asia and the Caucasus. A large community of Crimean Tatars also settled in Turkey to escape persecution at the hands of the Soviets.
However, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Crimean Tatars began returning to their homeland in droves.