15 June 2024
By Tamila Tasheva: "After liberating Crimea, the consciousness of its residents needs de-occupation"
By Tamila Tasheva: "After liberating Crimea, the consciousness of its residents needs de-occupation"

Tamila Tasheva, Resident Representative of the President of Ukraine in Crimea, informed Decentralization about the state policy and the local self-government model on the peninsula after its liberation from ruscists.

Text by: Dmytro Syniak

Tamila Tasheva was born in 1985 in Samarkand, the Uzbek SSR, where Crimean Tatars (Qirimli) were deported by the Stalinist regime after World War II. In 1991, at the age of 5, Tamila returned with her family to Crimea, where they settled in a hastily built house near Simferopol. While studying at the Faculty of Oriental Languages of the Vernadsky Taurida National University, Tamila was actively involved in public activities, including art projects organised in Crimea and participation in the Revolution of Dignity. In February 2014, Tamila Tasheva, along with other like-minded people, created the CrimeaSOS NGO, aimed at covering the temporary occupation of the peninsula, Russia's repressive policy, documenting human rights violations in Crimea, etc. On 25 October 2019, Tamila Tasheva became the Deputy Resident Representative of the President of Ukraine in the AR of Crimea, and two and a half years later - the Permanent Representative of the President in the AR of Crimea. She is now actually the number one person in charge of the future state policy on the peninsula, which is obviously to be implemented after the victory. Tamila Tasheva spoke to Decentralisation about this policy, as well as the future administrative structure and local self-government bodies of Crimea.


Visiting Russian citizens need to leave Crimea


The liberation of Crimea is a component of Ukraine's victory. Everyone perceives this as an axiom, with little thought given to how we can live side by side with those who currently reside on the occupied peninsula. After all, some local residents were reliable strongholds of pro-Russian forces even before the war, not to mention their current attitudes. How do you define Ukraine's state policy towards them?

- The current population of Crimea can be divided into two categories. The most problematic one is Russian citizens who arrived on the peninsula after it was seized by Russia, as part of a criminal colonisation aimed to change the demographic composition of the local population. Thus, from 500 to 800 thousand ethnic Russians have moved to the peninsula since 2014. We call on all these people to voluntarily leave the territory of Crimea while it is possible, as they entered the peninsula illegally and, intentionally or not, became accomplices in the war crime of colonisation. Ukraine has repeatedly reiterated this legal position in the international courts, including the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court in The Hague, etc. If a citizen of a foreign state illegally crosses the border, they are subject to expulsion procedures, which is a normal international practice. Accordingly, we hope that the majority of Russian citizens who have arrived in Crimea since 2014 voluntarily leave its territory without being invited, so to speak. This process has already begun, and each "prylit"(strike) and "bavovna"(explosion) significantly accelerates it. In other words, those Russians who had a warm and cosy life in Crimea have already started going "home".

 How to deal with the real estate of Russians? Would they have any rights to it? After all, would they have any opportunity to stay, for instance, through taking Ukrainian citizenship?

- Yes, they would have this opportunity, in accordance with the procedure established by Ukrainian law, but they would still have to leave the peninsula first and then apply for a residence permit or Ukrainian citizenship in a legal manner. If the Ukrainian state determines that these people do not pose a threat to its national security and they are useful for certain reasons, such requests can be granted. However, there are no guarantees here, because it is about participation in the war crime of colonisation. As for the property of Russian citizens leaving the territory of Crimea, the following should be noted: According to international norms, the occupying country, the aggressor country, is responsible for any actions that occur in the occupied territory. That is, if someone suffers losses because of being forced to leave the territory of Crimea, they should turn to the Russian government. In passing, I would like to note that a number of facilities built by Russia on the peninsula during the occupation can be dismantled as not complying with Ukrainian design and environmental standards. This is a separate issue to be addressed by a special commission.


Ukrainian citizens of Crimea as victims of the crime of colonisation


Is the second category the Ukrainian population of Crimea, i.e. those who had Ukrainian passports in 2014?

Indeed. Most of these people had sentiments not for Russia, as you stated at the beginning, but for the Soviet Union, because Crimea was an elite holiday destination in Soviet times. But when it came to the choice of being for Ukraine or Russia, many of them, despite their nostalgia for the USSR, chose Ukraine. Let me remind you that more than 50% of the Crimean population voted in favour of Ukraine's independence in the All-Ukrainian referendum of 1991. As for this ridiculous "referendum" in 2014, the real support of the Crimean population for the idea of "reunification" with "erefia"(the RF), according to our data, amounted to no more than 35%, rather than 98%, as the Russian propaganda machine claimed. If we recall that more than 15% of Crimean residents in 2014 were Crimean Tatars, who never tolerated Russia, then the beautiful propaganda image starts to fall apart.

But you would not deny that many Crimeans were of Russian descent and sincerely welcomed the seizure of the peninsula.

- Although being of Russian ethnic origin does not necessarily mean supporting "Russianness", I must say that indeed there were many ethnic Russians in Crimea, about 60% of the total population. This is primarily a consequence of the successive colonisation of Crimea, first by the Russian Empire and later by the Soviet Union. It is also worth mentioning that until 2014, the Ukrainian government, contrary to Russia, did not have the consistent information and humanitarian policy towards Crimea and never took serious steps to make it mentally Ukrainian. That is why Ukraine lost the information war over the peninsula in 2014. During the Revolution of Dignity, it was necessary to explain to Crimeans what happened; to tell them that the revolution was not a matter of "Banderites"; to emphasise that it was a struggle for values equally close to people in Crimea as in the rest of Ukraine: for freedom, for prosperity, for being open to the world; and, of course, it is a fight against corruption. Instead, after the victory of the Revolution of Dignity and the start of the Russian military operation, a "struggle for portfolios" occurred in Ukraine. The language law cancellation also became a trigger for the local population. Despite all of this, during the years of independence, the population of Crimea became increasingly receptive to Ukrainian information content and Ukrainian narratives. Now that they have learned more about what Russia is, the residents of peninsula have much more sentiment for Ukraine compared to 2014. They can clearly perceive the way things used to be and are now. I can assure you that the indigenous Crimeans breathe a completely different air than the visiting Russians.

Almost all Ukrainian citizens in Crimea were forced to get Russian passports, since it was impossible to live without them for 9 years under occupation. Is there any responsibility for this?

- According to the current Ukrainian and international law, such people suffer from the crime of colonisation and forced, imposed citizenship, so there is no punishment to be imposed on them. Moreover, they are subject to a whole range of measures aimed at their reintegration: restoration of Ukrainian passports and other documents, psychological rehabilitation, free language courses, etc. Numerous reforms already implemented in the territory under Ukrainian government control, primarily the decentralisation reform, would also become an element of reintegrating these people into Ukrainian society.


Language issue


Most of the Ukrainian citizens of Crimea you mention have always been very far from our language, culture, traditions, customs and even reforms. What is the best way to find an understanding with them now and make Crimea Ukrainian not just in administrative terms?

- Russia spent a long time imposing its history and propaganda narratives on Crimeans and militarizing their consciousness. Therefore, it is impossible to de-occupy their minds overnight. This is a decades-long work, and we are well aware of that. But I want to emphasise: These are our citizens, and we intend to work with them to restore their trust in the Ukrainian state. Of course, I mean only those who did not commit crimes against the foundations of Ukraine's national security and defence, who were not involved in collaboration, did not act as Russian propagandists, etc. I believe that in 5–10 years after the de-occupation, Crimea would integrate with the Ukrainian state in all respects, including linguistically and culturally.

Should we expect resistance to the introduction of the Ukrainian language in Crimea?

- I really hate generalisations. People in Crimea are different. Now, for example, I observe an explosion of pro-Ukrainian sentiment on the peninsula. Nothing like this has happened since 2014, the beginning of the occupation. Suddenly, a Ukrainian flag appears on a building in Sevastopol, someone ties a yellow and blue ribbon or even does a yellow and blue manicure. Ukrainian songs start to be performed at weddings, and here and there Ukrainian national symbols appear. I know for sure that children compete with each other in Ukrainian language skills at schools in the north of the peninsula, including in Krasnoperekopsk and Dzhankoy. Last year, we counted more than 450 cases of such activity. Moreover, people are fined huge sums of money - up to 100,000 rubles - and even arrested, but they still openly express their sympathy for Ukraine because they are very tired of staying in that prison called Russia. They still remember how much they could do before 2014, and how free they were. We developed the Strategy of Cognitive De-occupation specifically for them, i.e. a strategy for de-occupying the minds of people finally liberated from the ruscists propaganda narratives.

Currently, Crimea speaks Russian and Crimean Tatar, and there is absolutely no Ukrainian language on the peninsula. Does Crimea differ from the rest of Ukraine in terms of language?

- No, there is only one official language on the territory of Ukraine, and Crimea is a part of the Ukrainian state. Of course, it is impossible to rapidly introduce the Ukrainian language into all spheres of the peninsula. Therefore, there is a short (I emphasise - short!) transition period, when public sector and service workers can use Russian. But these employees have to attend compulsory language courses and eventually switch to Ukrainian. Obviously, this applies only to the workplace, and people have the right to speak the language of their choice at home and in everyday life. However, when it comes to the Ukrainian state and statehood in Crimea, everything should be in Ukrainian.


Crimean Tatars


What do Crimean Tatars expect from de-occupation? Their peculiarity is that they are the same indigenous people in Ukraine as Ukrainians, and according to the UN Charter, every indigenous people has the right to their own statehood. Could this result in demands for broad autonomy, a special status for the Crimean Tatar language, etc.?

- Indigenous peoples are usually small peoples without a related state outside their country or place of residence. Ukrainians are not an indigenous people, since indigenous does not refer to roots, Ukrainians are a titular and state-forming nation. That is the difference. I am the Resident Representative of the President of Ukraine in Crimea, so I primarily voice the state position on the peninsula. As for any expectations of the Crimean Tatar people, we should ask the representative bodies uniting the Crimean Tatars, first of all the Mejlis. However, when it comes to my personal feelings, I can say that the Crimean Tatars do have certain expectations from Ukraine's victory. I am convinced that Ukraine, as a legal state respecting international law, in particular the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, should heed these expectations. Back in 2021, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, submitted a draft law to the Verkhovna Rada on the definition of indigenous peoples in Ukraine, which was subsequently adopted. Crimean Tatars have their own linguistic, humanitarian and religious needs, and I believe that all these needs deserve to be met. The rights of the indigenous Crimean Tatar people were violated over the centuries. Crimean Tatars faced discrimination in Soviet times and after 2014. We need to restore their rights while maintaining the identity of these unique people.

Is Crimea's autonomy to be preserved?

- Any Ukrainian municipality after the decentralisation reform has more powers and development opportunities than the Autonomous Republic of Crimea as of 2013, with its parliament and Council of Ministers. At the same time, changing the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea requires amendments to the Constitution, and under current legislation, such changes are prohibited during martial law. Thus, this issue demands a broader discussion, especially in terms of the Crimean Tatars' interests. That is why we actively communicate in this regard with the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people and MPs. There are no finalised decisions to be made and cannot be made during martial law.

 Therefore, neither administrative nor decentralisation reforms in Crimea can be implemented without constitutional amendments?

- Once we regain control of Crimea, we need to restore state bodies and public authorities there. This has to be done from scratch. First of all, I think we have to establish military administrations, and then, after the end of martial law, move on to civilian administrations. After a while, we have to hold local elections. Even in the coming years after the liberation of the territory of Crimea, elections are impossible because, according to the standards of the OSCE and other international organisations, it is prohibited to hold elections in a territory that has been subject to hostile propaganda and lack of independent media for a long time. Moreover, it is necessary to consider the security component, as voters must be protected from violence, regardless of their views. I believe it is unrealistic to hold any elections earlier than a few years after de-occupation. In general, we do not talk about the timing of elections, but only about the criteria that can be met to hold them. We already started to create the infrastructure for military administrations. In particular, draft law No. 9548, jointly prepared by the Representative Office and MPs, is now registered. It actually unblocks the possibility to establish military administrations even before the physical de-occupation of the territory.


How does the Ukrainian Crimea appear?


Where to get personnel for various government agencies in Crimea?

- We already have one pilot project to recruit people. I refer to the Restoration Register, created in accordance with the resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. It is open to those professionals who agree to move to the de-occupied territories and restore various life spheres there. The Register includes not only civil servants, but also anyone interested who has no previous experience in the civil service. Later, we intend to launch a register for healthcare, education and law enforcement officials. We already understand that Crimea requires at least 50,000 people just to meet the first needs. During the first week of the Register's operation, we received more than 400 applications without any information campaign. Almost 13,000 people are currently enrolled in the Register. That is, people are ready to go to work on the de-occupied peninsula. Besides, several training programmes for future professionals, including local self-government officials in Crimea, are to be launched soon. Some of them start in September at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. The Representative Office of the President in Crimea actually developed such programmes for post-conflict governance in the de-occupied territories. A few months ago, we launched ProCrimea, a specialised advanced training courses for civil servants, and more than 15,000 civil servants from across the country have completed them.

So, all employees of the government agencies in the de-occupied Crimea are not local?

- To be more correct, it is not "local", but those who stayed under occupation for a long time. Local personnel who left Crimea after the events of 2014 and did not stay under occupation for a long time, such as IDPs in Crimea, on the contrary, have a priority right to be part of the "Crimean team". Those who lived in Crimea for a long time certainly cannot form a management team, primarily because of security issues and, of course, because of the lack of in-depth knowledge of Ukrainian legislation, language, reforms and changes in Ukraine since the temporary occupation of Crimea.

There are no more Komsomolske and Pionerske villages in Ukraine, but there are plenty of them in Crimea. Are they going to become the administrative centres of Komsomolske and Pionerske municipalities after de-occupation of the peninsula?

- Gradually, all the reforms carried out in the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government, including decommunisation, should be implemented in Crimea. I can assure you that very few people on the peninsula would regret the fact that their village is no longer called Komsomolske. Therefore, the decommunisation and decolonisation of toponyms and other names must take place. By the way, one of the provisions on decommunisation was included in the draft law No. 9548 that I mentioned. So we have to carry out decommunisation prior to the moment of de-occupation.


Dialogue with Crimea


What proportion of the Crimean population currently supports Ukraine?

- There is no sociology on the peninsula starting from 2014, only propaganda. Any stories seen on TV or analyses by Western media are not worth a fig. Because the territory of Crimea is a territory of unfreedom, where human rights are suppressed. It is a huge military base. I have repeatedly stated that the key difference in the mood of people in Crimea in 2014 and in 2022 was the fact they could not rely on the Ukrainian government. In fact, this government did not exist, nor did the Ukrainian army, systematically destroyed by the Yanukovych regime. In 2022, the Crimeans realised the existence of the powerful Ukrainian government as well as the strong Ukrainian army. Now the people of Crimea see that they have those to rely on, that Ukraine fights for Crimea, that Ukraine is ready to regain Crimea. That is why a lot of people start expressing support for Ukraine. It's hard to estimate their number, but I'm sure that the vast majority of Ukrainian citizens in Crimea, those who had Ukrainian passports before 2014, support Ukraine and stand by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. They want to be free.

Is there already any cooperation with them?

- Such cooperation would be very dangerous for them. I am convinced that the mere signals that the Ukrainian state prepares to liberate the occupied territories and does not prosecute anyone for the very fact of living in the occupied territory and holding occupation passports are enough. Top officials, the managerial vertical, propagandists, and those who betrayed their oath are another thing: military, judges, law enforcement, etc. It is clear that life did not stop in 2014: people got married, were born, died, bought and sold property. We do not recognise documents issued by the occupation authorities about these events or actions, but we would gradually replace them with Ukrainian analogues. Everything is going to be gradual, without a collapse of the system, and everyone in Crimea has to understand this.

In order to, so to speak, install Ukrainianness in Crimea, a lot of efforts are required. In particular, perhaps, some sort of huge information campaign. Do you have any plans for it?

 - I actually mentioned cognitive demining or cognitive de-occupation. We developed this strategy jointly with civil society activists, representatives of the public sector, and international experts. Now we work on its content and a specific action plan. It is quite difficult because there are very few working tools and almost no access to Crimeans. The only communication tools are various Telegram channels and satellite TV, which, after all, is not widely watched. It is very complicated to convey any information to the peninsula. That's why we hope for the help of the Ministry of Culture, as well as the non-governmental sector, I mean various private media. The more widespread the information about Crimea is, the faster it reaches the end user and de-occupies their minds.

It is obvious that the arrival of Ukraine would result in considerable problems for Crimeans: they have to learn the Ukrainian language, get acquainted with Ukrainian legislation, and change almost all their documents. And what do they get in return?

- The answer to this question is quite obvious, because Ukraine is a state of the democratic world, which in the near future, I am sure, is going to join both the EU and NATO. Ukraine is a territory of freedom, a state with the rule of law. Citizens of Ukraine can already travel to the EU countries and beyond without any problems. Even now, during the war, Ukraine attracts huge investments, while Russia only loses them. Ukraine would open the way to Crimea for a massive flow of very wealthy tourists from all over Europe throughout the year. And what can Russia offer them other than cheap petrol, holidaymakers with trade union vouchers, as well as planes, guns, tanks and the danger associated with them? What else can they offer but the impossibility of development, the inability to get quality healthcare and education, absolute international isolation and the lack of travel? So, if Crimea wants to be open to the world, if they want to integrate into the free world, the choice is obvious. Just look at a map to understand that Crimea should be part of the Mediterranean, not Muscovy, which is over a thousand kilometres away.

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