10 Years of Annexation: Crimea's Decade-Long Stand Against the Criminal Russian Regime

February 26, 2024
What methods does the Russian occupation administration employ, and how does the local population in Crimea oppose it?
Photo credit: Stanislav Yurchenko

February 26 marks the Day of Crimean Resistance to Russian Occupation. On this day in 2014, Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar community organised a rally in Simferopol, attended by Crimea's indigenous population and pro-Ukrainian activists.

This event signalled the start of the Crimean people's peaceful resistance against Russia's annexation, commencing the following morning, February 27, 2014.

Ten years have passed, yet Crimean defiance persists and has taken on a new, albeit "quiet" form of resisting

UkraineWorld delves into the tactics employed by Russian occupiers over the past decade, alongside the forms of Crimean resistance that have emerged since the full-scale invasion began.

To shed more light on this topic, UkraineWorld we with experts:

  • Natalia Belitser - expert on the indigenous peoples of Crimea at the Pylyp Orlyk Institute for Democracy.
  • Martin-Oleksandr Kisly - historian, Ph.D.


Radio Liberty

Ismail Ismailov, one of the activists of the rally, recalls the events of February 26.

"I recall attending the Crimean Tatar rally on February 26, 2014, with other supporters. There were Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian flags. Pro-Russian forces organised a spontaneous rally with Russian flags on the opposite side. I was aware that Crimean Tatars had organised the event, but I was unaware of any pro-Russian rallies. I asked what pro-Russian activists wanted. They responded that they wanted a referendum. I noticed a few people I knew. They were radical and marginal. Then clashes broke out. People were injured. I helped one of them. He had been beaten; when I pulled him from the centre, he was filthy and covered in bruises, but there was no blood on his body. He was helpless, lying on the ground, and could be trampled by the crowd. Unfortunately, I am unsure of this man's future."

During the winter of 2013 and 2014, Ismail co-organized and participated in public actions in Crimea in support of Ukraine's European integration and in solidarity with Kyiv protesters. He had lived in Crimea since 2004 but was forced to leave at the age of 28 due to threats from pro-Russian forces.

These and other stories are compiled in the book "People of the 'Grey Zone': Witnesses of the Russian Annexation of Crimea in 2014" by Anna Andriyevska and Olena Khalimon (Ukrainian Institute of National Memory).


At the centre of one of the most resonant and extensively investigated stories of activist killings was Reshat Ametov. During a 2014 rally in Simferopol, two men dressed in camouflage and one in civilian clothing approached the Crimean activist. He was forced into a vehicle. Reshat was last seen alive. His body, which bore numerous signs of torture, was discovered on March 15, 60 kilometres from Simferopol, near the village of Zemlyachne in the Bilohirsk district of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. His head was taped up, and there were traces of handcuffs on his hands. The cause of death was a gunshot wound that penetrated the left eye. In May 2017, Reshat Ametov was posthumously named a "Hero of Ukraine." In 2014, he became the first victim of Russian aggression in Crimea and, consequently, a symbol of sacrificial resistance.

Radio Liberty

Mejlis, the main representative body of Crimean Tatars, was banned as an "extremist organisation" in 2016. Two deputy heads, Akhtem Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov, were arrested in January 2015 and May 2016, respectively. On October 25, 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan saved both and exchanged them for two Russian spies. On September 4, 2021, Nariman Dzhelyal, the sole Crimean Tatar leader in Crimea, was arrested on charges of "sabotage" for his participation in the Crimean Platform's inauguration summit in Kyiv on August 23.

Criminal cases were initiated against Mejlis Head Refat Chubarov and charismatic leader Mustafa Djemilev, who were barred from entering the peninsula. The Mejlis office is now located in Kyiv, while approximately 30,000 Crimean Tatars were forced to relocate to mainland Ukraine. Some of them joined the Ukrainian Army as volunteers or contractors.

Furthermore, a number of Ukrainian activists have been imprisoned, including Oleksandr Kostenko and Andriy Kolomiets.

Another example of Russian brutality is the case of Bohdan Ziza, a Ukrainian artist and political activist. In May 2022, he painted the City Administration Building in Yevpatoria blue and yellow. Russian law enforcement detained him and later handed him a 15-year prison sentence on terrorism-related charges.

Illegal detentions continued throughout the ten-year occupation. The largest risk group consists of believers who have been persecuted for belonging to the peaceful pan-Islamic movement Hizb ut-Tahrir, designated a "terrorist organisation" in Russia in 2003 but is legal in Ukraine and most democratic countries of the world.

Victims of the repressive regime are frequently sentenced to absurdly long prison terms of up to 20 years, typically served far from their families in Siberia or remote northern oblasts of the RF.

According to the analysis by the Crimean Tatar Resource Center in 2023, there were 173 cases of detentions, 217 instances of arrests, 280 cases of violations of the right to a fair trial, 65 searches, 186 cases of interrogations, and at least 52 cases of violations of the right to health. The majority of these incidents targeted Crimean Tatars.

In accordance with traditional Soviet practice, Russia labels all dissenters as extremists and terrorists. For example, during World War II, Soviet authorities labelled Crimean Tatars as "collaborators" to justify their mass deportation, accusing them of "cooperation with Nazi forces."


One of the Russian occupying authorities' primary manipulative tools is, of course, propaganda and suppressing the flow of truth. Crimea's information space is incredibly sealed, with blocked websites and pages and the inability to use VPNs.

Martin-Oleksandr Kisly, resistance to propaganda often occurs at the level of trusted interpersonal relationships, particularly in large Crimean Tatar families. Unfortunately, the opportunities for this option are minimal.

Beyond projecting the image of "benevolent rulers," Russian authorities use "demonstrative support" of indigenous ethnicities who have suffered the most under their rule throughout history. In the case of Crimean Tatars, this "support" is actually a new type of discrimination.

The construction of the Crimean Tatar mosque in Simferopol is one example of an attempt to integrate Crimean Muslims into the larger Russian Muslim space and make them part of a broader religious community, which is essentially a religious assimilation mechanism.

Since 2016, religious missionaries from Chechnya and Kazan have been visiting Crimea to teach Crimean Tatars the "correct rituals". Official spiritual leadership resources interpret this as "older Muslim brothers coming to support younger brothers."

We understand that behind this is the actual destruction of a unique local religious tradition that has already suffered destruction during the Soviet period and deportation.


"Russia's military invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has had a number of other negative consequences for the Crimean residents and, in particular, for the Crimean Tatars," Natalia Belitser says.

A major threat to them is being forced to fight against their compatriots, including ethnic Crimean Tatars in mainland Ukraine. According to some sources, in September, occupation authorities disproportionately applied forced conscription to Crimean Tatars in order to replenish the Russian army, using all available means and locations.

According to the human rights NGO "Crimea SOS," 90% of mobilisation notices were issued to Crimean Tatars, and this action bears the hallmarks of genocide. It caused panic and a sense of helplessness because fleeing the peninsula proved to be an extremely difficult task, as access to mainland Ukraine had become impossible. As stated by Tamila Tasheva, Ukraine's permanent representative to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea,.

First they tried to buy us, then they tried to repress us, and now they see mobilisation as a way to try to simply get rid of us.

Nonetheless, up to 20,000 Crimean Tatars were able to leave the temporarily occupied peninsula, despite the fact that they confronted enormous difficulties in gaining access to Kazakhstan, Georgia, Turkey, Poland, and other third countries.

In 2023, approximately 70,000 Crimean Tatars were forced to leave their homeland due to occupation, though the exact number remains unknown.


Another effect of the full-scale war is a shift in the nature of resistance. The popular "Crimean Solidarity" movement is an example of peaceful, nonviolent resistance to the occupiers. It is a human rights organisation that not only defends the rights of those arrested and falsely accused but also supports their families.

Crimean Solidarity is more than a human rights organisation; it is a sizable community. Moreover, its members frequently assume the role of journalists, disclosing information about the persecution of Ukrainian citizens in Crimea.

Other nonviolent movements include "Zla Mavka" (a partisan movement founded in Melitopol) and "Yellow Ribbon."

Activists of the "Yellow Ribbon" frequently share photos of Crimea and other temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories, depicting Ukrainian symbols or handwritten notes reading, "Crimea is Ukraine."

Ukrainian flag at the foot of the mountain Çatır Dağ in the Crimea/Yellow Ribbon

The full-scale war has resulted in new forms of everyday resistance, such as Ukrainian flags in public places, clothing, and yellow-blue manicures.

In addition, more aggressive forms of resistance exist in Crimea. Their activities include sabotage, killing of military personnel and the most vicious collaborators, reconnaissance of military facilities, troop deployment and movement, and the transfer of critical information to Ukraine's military and security forces, etc. The Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) greatly benefit from new partisan structures like the Crimean Tatar-Ukrainian "Atesh"; these underground fighters have received a lot of support from Ukraine's recent success in the Black Sea as well as from repeated attacks on the Kerch Bridge and Russian military infrastructure on the peninsula.

According to Natalia Belitser, the reform of the Ministry of Defense, now led by Rustem Umerov (an ethnic Crimean Tatar), has also boosted the morale of Crimean Tatars, both among military servicemen in Ukraine's Armed Forces and those who remain on the occupied peninsula and want to see it liberated.

Although the majority of Ukrainian citizens support returning Crimea to Ukraine, including through military force, we realise this is unlikely to happen in the near future or even in the medium term. Nevertheless, since the process of de-occupation and reintegration of Crimea bears many unresolved problems and challenges and is rather specific, all the accumulated issues need full attention, and adequate solutions should be found long before the reunification.

Martin-Oleksandr Kisly does not rule out the possibility of relocating indigenous ethnic groups from abroad to Crimea. There are communities and families eagerly awaiting the de-occupation of Crimea so that they can set foot on the land where their grandparents lived once again.

Nika Krychovska
Journalist at UkraineWorld