Crimea: Update on Events, 19 March 2014

Updates: Ukrainian authorities have begun responding to the humanitarian challenges in Crimea and are assisting citizens to depart the peninsula; several activists and Ukrainian military personnel are being held hostage in the Crimea; Separatists and the Russian military continue to storm Ukrainian military units.

Last night marked the revival of Ukrainian authorities' reaction to the humanitarian challenges posed by the situation in Crimea. After the reported death of a Ukrainian soldier and a Crimean Tatar activist, acting Defense Minister Igor Tenyukh and First Deputy Prime Minister of the Ukrainian Government, Vitaly Yarema, attempted to visit the Crimea, albeit unsuccessfully. The Cabinet approved a plan for the possible evacuation of Ukrainian citizens from Crimea. Additionally, a headquarters has been established for families of soldiers who are on the territory of Crimea.

Ukraine has begun the process of withdrawing from the Commonwealth of Independent States. The decision was made at a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine.

Activists of the 'Automaidan' movement, Amnesty International and other community initiatives have reminded the security service of Ukraine about the abducted activists in Crimea and about the need to step up their search and release efforts. Acting President of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchynov, issued an ultimatum to the Russian government: “release the hostages by 9 p.m.”, but this went unacknowledged. 'War ultimatums' continue to be issued by military units in Crimea: both on the part of the occupying forces and the Ukrainian armed forces, in the name of the Ukrainian Government. At the same time, at least three troops had been captured within 24 hours by Russian troops and civilians.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Social Policy has opened a hotline for citizens who left the Crimea and want to get information about obtaining assistance, compensation, pensions, etc. The number is 00800507309. More information regarding the various Government 'hot lines' to help citizens leaving the Crimea can be found here.

Regarding the headquarters for the families of Ukrainian troops in the Crimea, places have been reserved to provide temporary shelter for members of military families. These have been set up in sanatoriums and other institutions in 18 regions of Ukraine. Contact numbers for military families from the Crimea can be found here.

Near the offices of the Security Services of Ukraine (SBU) in Kyiv, a demonstration took place demanding the release of 12 hostages who are currently considered missing. Their names are:

1. Yaroslav Pilunskiy, videographer

2. Sergey Gruzinski, videographer

3. Andrei Shekun, Ukrainian activist

4. Anatoly Kovalski, Ukrainian activist

5. Mikhail Vdovchenko, Ukrainian activist

6. Aleksei Grytsenko, activist of the Kiev Automaydan

7. Sergey Suprun, activist of the Kiev Automaydan

8. Nataliya Lukianenko, activist of the Kiev Automaydan

9. Vladislav Polischuk, activist

10. Ivan Bondarets, activist (Rivne)

11. Valeriy Vashchuk, activist (Rivne)

12. Abu Yusuf (Sergei Selentsova)

Yesterday it was reported that the Abu Yusuf has been detained and is in police custody, but these claims could not be corroborated, so he remains on the list of those abducted.

UPDATE: Seven of the Ukrainian activists kidnapped in Crimea and the Ukrainian Navy Rear Admiral Sergey Gaiduk were released today. The names of those released are as follows: Andrei Shekun, Anatoly Kovalski, Mikhail Davydenko, Maksim Tryvidenko, Sergey Suprun, Yuri Shevchenko, Aleksei Grytsenko. The hostages were kept in the basement of the Republican Military Registration and Enlistment Office in Simferopol, where they were tortured. At least two of those released, Andrei Shevchenko and Yuriy Shekun, have been sent to the hospital. In both cases, the victims suffered gunshot wounds while being tortured.

A representative of Ukrainian Security Service, who spoke to the protesters, assured: according to the Security Services, all these people are alive and well. According to unconfirmed reports from 'Automaydan', the Russians want to exchange these hostages for FSB personnel (the identities of which are currently unknown).

Another issue of concern is the abduction of several Ukrainian soldiers. According to activists of the Euromaidan SOS initiative, neither the Ukrainian Security Services nor the Ministry of Defense, could provide clear information regarding the number of missing military personnel in Crimea. According to Euromaidan SOS and Crimean activists, at least four officers are being held in captivity by the Russian forces:

1. Evgeny Pivovarov

2. Anatoly Kalyan

3. Vladislav Nechyporenko

4. Alexander Filippov

According to the Institute for Mass Information, 89 cases of violation of journalists' rights have been documented during the unrest in Crimea. Violations include: obstructing journalists' work, DDoS attacks on media sites, and the bullying of local channel operators by armed masked men. To prevent the transfer of information, local journalists were attacked, beaten, and had their equipment broken. A complete list of such cases can be found here.

The Head of the Committee of Crimean Refugees, Nikolay Podolyako, said that lists have been created of people who opposed the separatist referendum. As he noted in an interview with 'Ukrainian Pravda’, such lists put all local pro-Ukrainian activists at risk. Euromaidan SOS had earlier warned of similar 'black lists', and had informed Igor Kirushchenka, who had to flee the Crimea due to threats from one of the pro-Russian organizations.

 

The Situation of Military Units

The Ukrainian military unit in Novozernoe could not withstand an assault launched by Russian forces. According civilian activists who witnessed the events, civilians, including women and children, were surrounding the targeted area. Those defending the area refused to shoot and the Ukrainian soldiers came out unarmed. After breaching the checkpoint gate, the offensive forces proceeded to drive a bulldozer into the crowd made up of civilians and military personnel.

Russian troops also seized an automobile battalion in Bakhchisarai. During the raid, Russian soldiers used firearms, fired shots in the air and menaced journalists. Ukrainian troops were forced to leave the territory.

The headquarters of the Ukrainian Navy in Sevastopol was stormed – it was after this assault that Rear Admiral Sergey Gaiduk went missing.

According to the head of the Defense Ministry's Media Center in Crimea, Vladislav Seleznev, Ukrainian military meteorologists were ejected from the base in Evpatoria by the occupying forces, as was the staff of a base of the Armed Forces of Ukraine for the Southern Region. Several officers and employees of the base, led by the Commander, Lt. Col. Alexander Provorovym, were injured during the confrontation.

The Corvette warship, 'Ternopol', which is located near the Sevastopol Bay, received an ultimatum: surrender or an assault will begin.

Soldiers of the 1st Marine Infantry Battalion of the Ukrainian Navy demanded specific directives from the Ukrainian Military Command. The military require 'immediate guarantees of the preservation of the battalion as a whole, as well as guarantees of ‘further military service elsewhere in Ukraine.’

 

International Reactions

OSCE

The OSCE Chairman-in-Office, the Foreign Minister and the President of Switzerland, Didier Burkhalter, said that although Russia's actions regarding the status of Crimea are in violation of international law and OSCE commitments, these events should not mark the end of attempts to resolve the situation by diplomatic means. He said that the Swiss presidency 'will continue to play its role in the search for a diplomatic solution and urged all parties to contribute to this cause. The OSCE has decided to send a mission to Ukraine, consisting of several hundred civilian observers. Today, Russia attempted to block this process, but the German Foreign Office believed that the issue should be solved within days. Germany is ready to send 20 observers to participate in the prospective OSCE Mission in Ukraine. Nothing more was decided at a third meeting of the ambassadors of the OSCE on 19 March. The Russian delegation has refused to make a decision regarding the date of deployment of international observers to Ukraine.

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovich, has expressed indignation over an incident in which the Office of the President of the National TV Channel, Alexander Pantelejmonova, was roughly stormed by members of the “Svaboda” political party who then forced him to resign.

 

UN

The UN Security Council held a meeting on the situation in Ukraine. The Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations, Yuri Sergeyev, said his country considers the referendum on the status of Crimea to be illegal. The Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, said that Russia is ready to cooperate with all international partners interested in the normalization of the situation in Ukraine on the basis of a wide, internal dialogue in Ukraine involving all responsible political forces and all regions'.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will travel to Russia and Ukraine for an official visit to help the parties resolve the crisis peacefully. UN Chief will arrive in Moscow on 20 March and in Kiev on 21 March. He will meet with the heads of State in both Capitals.

A UN group, which will monitor the observance of human rights in Ukraine, has already been established. It includes 25 Ukrainian and 9 foreign observers. Many of them are already in the country. By Friday, March 21, the members of the group will arrive in Kharkiv and Donetsk. UN Assistant Secretary General, Ivan Shimonovich, said that representatives of the group will also be able to go to the Simferopol in Crimea.

 

Council of Europe

The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly President and the leaders of the PACE political groups, together with co-rapporteurs for the monitoring of Ukraine Assembly Commission, will visit the country from 22 – 24 of March to discuss the ongoing crisis.

The Congress of local and regional authorities of the Council of Europe will discuss the situation in Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimea at its 26th session, which will be held from 25 – 27 March in Strasbourg (France). Among other things, on 24 March, the members of the Bureau of the Congress will consider a draft statement on the subject. Upon approval of the request on 25 March, there will be an urgent debate on the situation in Ukraine.

 

European Union

Jan Tombinski, head of the European Union to Ukraine, said EU international human rights observers should immediately get access to the Crimea.