For almost a decade, Crimea has been occupied by Russian invaders. During the Second Parliamentary Summit of the Crimean Platform, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi emphasized that Ukraine would definitely liberate the peninsula and return it not only to the all-Ukrainian but also to the pan-European space. For its part, the Mission of the President of Ukraine in the ARC has been developing the steps to be taken by the Ukrainian State in Crimea following its de-occupation. In an interview with Ukrinform, Tamila Tasheva, Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine in the ARC, told us about the cognitive de-occupation of Crimea and how long it may last, the building of a candidate pool for the peninsula, the current mood among Crimeans, and Ukraine’s strengthening cooperation with the countries of the Global South.
WE ARE TRAINING SPECIALISTS WHO WILL BE TASKED WITH RESTORING JUSTICE IN THE LIBERATED TERRITORIES
“What steps will the Ukrainian State take first in Crimea after its liberation?”
“When we talk about the de-occupation of the Crimean Peninsula, we mean the first stabilization measures to be taken within Crimea following its liberation from the invaders and subsequent systemic reintegration changes.
“We have different visions of how the peninsula will be de-occupied or Russian troops might flee Crimea. It may be liberated gradually, district by district. Or it may be a so-called ‘goodwill gesture’ from Russians, like the one we saw in Kherson. Ukraine will definitely de-occupy the territory of Crimea, but it could require an array of efforts and measures.
“Obviously, the first to enter Crimea will be the Security and Defense Forces of Ukraine, which will liberate the peninsula from the occupiers. Only then will infrastructure, telecommunications and other essential facilities be gradually restored.
“We have already seen this in the liberated Kherson and in the Kharkiv Oblast. The de-occupied territory may be off-limits for a certain period, while the relevant authorities will work there to clear mines and restore basic security needs of our citizens. After all, we can only guess what the occupiers might do during their retreat from the peninsula.
“For its part, the Mission of the President of Ukraine in the ARC is working together with its partners to develop reintegration policies, including the humanitarian aspect of reintegration. It is critical for us to understand how public authorities would resume their operation. Obviously, military administrations will function. Various efforts are required to initiate this process, and we are working on it.
“For example, on August 23, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted several key documents, one of which is the Statement on the Priority Areas of State Policy of Ukraine in the Field of De-occupation, Reintegration and Restoration of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol. Another important step is the adoption of the Law on Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine on Resolving Certain Issues of the Administrative Territorial Structure of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. This document enables establishment of military administrations in ten districts of the peninsula. We could not do it earlier, because the development of a new zoning plan started in 2020, and it was supposed to be implemented after de-occupation.
“It should be noted that this law spells out how public authorities and the military administration will function. It is essential that these institutions are set up as a matter of priority, since people in Crimea need to understand who to contact to resolve their issues, to receive social benefits, what should those who don’t have Ukrainian documents do, etc. The issues of candidate pool — a resource required for operation in the de-occupied territory — are also associated with this.”
“By the way, what is the current stage of building the candidate pool for Crimea?”
“In May, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted a resolution on building a candidate pool for the de-occupied territories of Ukraine, including the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. More than 2,000 applications have been received from those willing to become part of the candidate pool program and work in the liberated territories. Of these, 80% chose Crimea as their future workplace location. Clearly, this is not enough. After all, 50,000 professionals are needed for the peninsula alone. However, this is one of the components of recruiting personnel for the de-occupied territories. This may also involve secondments, where specialists from various central executive authorities would get involved in working in the de-occupied territories. Each structure — educational, medical, etc. — will form its own candidate pool.
“Educational work with persons included in the candidate pool is likewise important. People need to be trained comprehensively in view of the issues associated with amendments in laws and regulations, and the specifics of working in the de-occupied territories. Two educational programs, ‘Post-Conflict Governance’ and ‘Governance in the Post-War Territories,’ have been launched at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. We have also developed an educational online course titled ‘ProKrym: State Policy of Reintegration of Crimea.’ This is an additional learning opportunity for civil servants and all those willing to find out more about the history of the peninsula or various aspects of social and political events. More than 17,000 concerned citizens signed up for the course, and more than 15,000 of them have been issued certificates.
We must make Ukraine a safe country for Crimeans, a relatively fashionable one, which is also part of the European Union
“It should be noted that not only civil servants, but also those without any civil service experience but willing to work in the de-occupied territories apply for the candidate pool. Among them are public figures, servicemen who are currently fighting on the front lines, journalists, and university students. Together with the MIM-Kyiv Business School, the Mission has developed and is about to implement an educational program for executives in the de-occupied territories. The idea behind the project is to train a new generation of executives for the reintegration of Crimea and other territories, including future heads of military administrations. The training program includes four training clusters that deal with the issues of business administration in public governance, strategic management, economics, innovations, regional development, and organizational management. During the training, the participants develop and defend team projects that cover specific problems of the restoration of de-occupied territories.”
COGNITIVE DE-OCCUPATION WILL LAST FROM 15 TO 20 YEARS MINIMUM
“How will the cognitive de-occupation of Crimea occur? How long can it take?”
In Crimea, the largest percentage of those who oppose the occupiers and are sarcastic about the actions of the Russian authorities is among the younger generation
“The Strategy for the Cognitive De-occupation of Crimea is an important document, because it is about working with thoughts, beliefs, values, and also about cognitive ‘demining’ of Russian toxic influence. By the end of the year, we will develop a roadmap that will describe practical steps to achieve the key goals of the Strategy. We explain to everyone that the processes of de-occupation and subsequent reintegration will not be easy. But we are getting ready for it. Cognitive de-occupation is a long-lasting process. It must be said that the experience of people living in a free mainland Ukraine in the context of a full-scale invasion is different from that of people in the temporarily occupied territory. Both types of experience matter. We have to look for common ground. This should be conveyed through training and educational programs, exchange programs. Clearly, it will not come easy. People in Crimea had lived in the environment of total propaganda for almost a decade. This includes militarized mentality, patriotic education classes for schoolchildren, young army cadets movement, etc. We must make Ukraine a safe country for them, a relatively fashionable one, which is also part of the European Union. Ukraine should mean opportunities for Crimeans.
“In Crimea, the largest percentage of those who oppose the occupiers and are sarcastic about the actions of the Russian authorities is among the younger generation. For example, we’ve been told about schools in Dzhankoi, where students are fond of greeting each other by saying ‘Glory to Ukraine!’ and ‘Glory to Heroes!’ during recesses.
“We are developing a roadmap containing a step-by-step action plan that will facilitate cognitive de-occupation in each area. This applies not only to Crimea, but also to all liberated territories of Ukraine. We are developing textbooks, training and educational programs. We are talking about setting up street culture centers that would attract both young people and the older generations.
At least 800,000 Russian nationals moved to the peninsula illegally
“Given the complexity and uniqueness of the situation in Crimea, the principal transformations as part of cognitive de-occupation of the peninsula are expected to last 15 to 20 years minimum, but may also continue throughout the period of a generational change.
“It should be noted that the language issue will remain problematic for five to seven years after the actual de-occupation. A significant proportion of Crimean residents are accustomed to communicating in Russian, as many of them lacked the opportunity to practice Ukrainian regularly. In any case, language proficiency cannot be an indicator of loyalty to Ukraine. But the soonest use of the Ukrainian language should be supported and encouraged in a reasonable manner. The public sphere in Crimea should be gradually Ukrainized. Specialized Ukrainian language courses should be made widely available to various social groups.”
WE SEE THAT PEOPLE IN CRIMEA ARE WAITING FOR UKRAINE
“Do you communicate with Crimeans? What is the current mood on the temporarily occupied peninsula?”
Russians failed to deliver on their promises in Crimea
“I communicate with Crimeans personally. People’s moods differ, because people in Crimea also differ very much. At least 800,000 Russian nationals moved to the peninsula illegally. We should not expect them to support Ukraine. There are Ukrainian citizens who maintained a neutral position, and there is a pro-Russian population. But most of them grew disappointed in Russia’s actions. Russians failed to deliver on their promises in Crimea. Putin said that there would be investments, that Crimea would transform into a highly developed region, but this never happened.
“After the full-scale invasion, the residents of Crimea — both Russian and Ukrainian citizens — saw that Ukraine was fighting for the peninsula. Including by military means — almost every day, the Ukrainian Armed Forces successfully attack various military facilities of the occupiers. And people who had been fed such Russian messages as ‘Crimea is with Russia forever,’ ‘Everything is calm in Crimea,’ ‘We will defend Crimea’ for almost a decade suddenly see that the picture that is being painted is beginning to get out of touch with reality. What is actually happening? There has been no tourism at all since 2022, the illegal Kerch Bridge is being shelled, and Russian military headquarters are being destroyed. Prices have risen dramatically, there is a shortage of food, medicines, fuel and lubricants. Locals are being mobilized and the bodies of the dead are being returned. People see that, on the one hand, staying in Crimea is dangerous and, on the other, life is not getting any better. There is no happy mood. Some people are leaving the peninsula.
“Several resistance movements are active in Crimea, which was not the case before the full-scale invasion. These include the ATESH guerrilla movement, the Zhovta Strichka civil resistance movement, the Zla Mavka women’s movement, and the Crimean Fighting Seagulls. They distribute leaflets, symbols, and monitor the movement of enemy military equipment.
“There are also citizens who demonstrate their steadfastness by getting tattoos with Ukrainian symbols, blue and yellow manicures, raising the Ukrainian flag, throwing yellow and blue paint on the occupiers’ ‘military commissariats,’ singing Ukrainian songs, and writing the truth about life in Crimea on social media. For this, they are brought to administrative or criminal responsibility. The Russian occupation administration responds harshly to such things by conducting identity checks on the streets, harassing people, breaking into their homes and making false accusations.
“We have counted that Ukrainian citizens have already paid more than 15.5 million rubles in illegal fines. There have been 559 court cases for allegedly ‘discrediting the Russian Armed Forces.’ Of these, 490 resulted in an administrative sanction in the form of a fine.
“The occupiers realize that, despite the infusion of huge funds into the security forces and punitive bodies fighting ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ between 2014 and 2022, their scheme has failed. There are people who demonstrate their resistance. We see that people in Crimea are waiting for Ukraine. We need to tell our international partners and Ukrainian citizens about this.
“We know for sure that not everyone who lives there supports Russia, as Russian propaganda would like to demonstrate. Crimeans have a very strong regional identity. That is why resistance on the peninsula is and will continue to grow, especially after new military successes of the Ukrainian army.”
“What will happen to the housing and land that were provided in Crimea during the occupation, in particular, to the Russian servicemen?”
“Any actions by the occupation administrations are illegal, including the alienation of property of Ukrainian citizens — the so-called ‘nationalization.’ We will review all these ‘decisions’ to identify violations. We are aware that Crimean residents who have cooperated with the regime against their will are hostages of the occupation. Where there is evidence of voluntary collaboration, they will be prosecuted.”
“Will there be a reburial of Russian soldiers who were interred in Crimea?”
“We study the experience of other countries to do the right thing. All of us, Ukrainian citizens, are against having the graves of Russian soldiers on our territory. But we need to understand that some of those who went to fight against Ukraine are Crimeans, not ‘newcomers.’ So this is a very difficult question, but we will definitely find an answer to it.”
WE NEED TO COOPERATE NOT ONLY WITH EUROPEAN COUNTRIES, BUT ALSO WITH THE GLOBAL SOUTH
“An international conference ‘Crimea Global. Understanding Ukraine through the South’ was held in Kyiv. This event brought together more than 300 attendees from 36 countries. Can we conclude that Ukraine is starting cooperation with the countries of the Global South? How important is this for us?”
“Regretfully, we’ve made many mistakes in the years of Ukrainian independence, including in diplomacy. Ukraine had put top priority on cooperating with the countries of North America, the G7, the European Union, and partners who are close to us geographically. We had paid the least attention to the countries of Southeast Asia, the African continent, Central and South America, and the Persian Gulf. Obviously, we maintained stronger ties in certain regions, which was primarily associated with the reconstruction in the economic field. But if you look at the map of the African continent and the presence of Ukrainian embassies, you will see that their percentage is insignificant. Of course, there were also objective reasons for this, including lack of funding or of resource base for opening the embassies, etc. After 2022, when President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi pointed out that one of the priorities of Ukraine’s diplomatic work was working with the countries of the Global South, we began to strengthen relations with these countries.
“The topic of Crimea is also interesting because the peninsula is part of not only European civilization but also the Global South. This is because of the history of the region, the presence of the largest Muslim community in Ukraine with a long Islamic background, the presence of various ethnicities, and trade ties with numerous countries.
“For many experts who came to the international conference that you mentioned, Ukraine opened up differently. Most of them were supportive of our country. However, during the event, it was essential to talk at the expert level about Russia’s crimes and the challenges posed to their nations by the Russian-Ukrainian war. I mean food security, the crimes of the Wagner group, which were also committed on the African continent and in Syria, along with double standards in left-wing activist movements, etc.
Russia is yet to be punished for continued colonial policy towards its neighbors
“We have seen numerous ‘peace plans’ proposed over the past year. It is clear now that the Ukrainian Formula for Peace proposed by President Volodymyr Zelenskyi answers all the questions and accumulates the suggested plans. Ukraine needs to cooperate not only with European countries, but also with countries of the Global South. All these nations are members of the UN and vote in favor of certain resolutions. For example, Malaysia and Indonesia voted in favor of the Resolution adopted on February 23, 2023, on the Formula for Peace proposed by President Zelenskyi. And this is despite the fact that these countries had previously abstained from decisions concerning Ukraine. By the way, I visited Malaysia and Indonesia, where we met with representatives of religious and other institutions. It is important that cooperation is systematic. We must clarify that it is not about the confrontation between the USA and Russia, as is voiced in a number of these countries, but about the war, Russia’s full-scale invasion into Ukraine. For our country, this is an existential war, that is, a war where our entire existence is at stake, and this message is also very clear to the countries of the South. For us, it is also a war of decolonization, since Russia regards Ukraine as its colony and has based all its actions on this viewpoint. And through this prism, we also explain who we really are. Russia is yet to be punished for continued colonial policy towards its neighbors. We must talk about it at the international level, convey the truth.
“We are actively working on the reintegration policy. One of the points of the Peace Formula concerns the territorial integrity of our state. The President has repeatedly said that ending the war is impossible without the return of Crimea. More than 80% of Ukrainian citizens support the message that they are unwilling to concede or give up territories in exchange for the NATO or EU membership. It is not only about the territories, but also about the people who survive there and are illegally imprisoned.
“Of course, we will fight for Crimea in various ways — not only militarily, but also diplomatically. We will engage the Crimean Platform, which is actively developing now. After de-occupation, we will use this platform for other purposes related to the reintegration and restoration of Crimea.
“Sometimes we hear narratives about Crimea being so difficult to reintegrate as to not being worth it. This is what certain analysts say, while being quite aware that this squandering of territories would affect hundreds of thousands of people. That is why we are working not only to show our citizens that we have everything in place to reintegrate the occupied territories, but also to demonstrate this to the international community. We explain to everyone that the process of de-occupation and subsequent reintegration will not be easy. But that is precisely why we keep sharing our vision of these processes. Not only Ukrainians but also the international community must understand that Ukraine will definitely liberate these territories. That our country is fully aware of the coming challenges and that we have a plan.
“When was the last time you visited Crimea? And what will you do first when you come back to the peninsula following its de-occupation?”
“The last time I was in Crimea was in January 2014. When I get to the peninsula, I will visit my parents. My home is in Simferopol. I will always do my best to restore the peninsula, to help in any way I can. Crimea is my land. This is not merely a job, it is the purpose of my life. I would have abandoned it a long time ago if f I did not believe in regaining control over Crimea.”
Photo by Hennadii Minchenko