Crimea Tatars seek to block peninsula to protest Russian annexation
Accompanied by members of the Ukrainian ultra-nationalist Pravy Sektor group, protesters from the Muslim Tatar community used concrete blocks to partially seal off the three roads linking mainland Ukraine to Crimea in an attempt to halt the delivery of goods.
Tatar leaders said they were aiming to block supplies to protest the “numerous violations of their rights by Russian authorities”.
“Our goal is to end the occupation of Crimea and to restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Refat Chubarov, one of the leaders of the Crimean Tatar community, told journalists.
An AFP journalist at the scene reported that dozens of lorries were backed up at two crossing points into Crimea but drivers and Ukrainian officials said this was due to lengthy custom checks on the Russian side.
Russia seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014 after deploying thousands of special forces troops following the ouster of Kremlin-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev.
Most of the 300,000-strong Tatar community strongly opposed Russia’s annexation of Crimea, condemned by Kiev and the West as an illegal land grab, and have since faced a crackdown that has seen activists detained and leaders barred from the region.
The Tatars were exiled by Stalin to Central Asia during World War II, with almost half perishing in harsh conditions. They only returned to Crimea at the end of Soviet rule.
Activists said they hoped their move would help to ease pressure on the members of the community, secure the release of detained Tatar activists and see restrictions on Tatar media lifted.
Between 10,000 and 15,000 Tatars — which has its own distinct language and culture — are thought to have fled Crimea since the Russian flag was raised there.
Despite the takeover by Moscow, Crimea — linked to Russia by only an over-burdened ferry link — is still reliant on Ukraine for some of its energy and food supplies.
The region has been subjected to tough Western sanctions that have seen it cut off from international banking systems and Western firms pull out.