Cover Image for Media Coverage of Crimea’s Decade Under Occupation

Media Coverage of Crimea’s Decade Under Occupation

Issue 2 (2024)

Alim Aliev surveys topics which have been in the spotlight since Russia occupied Crimea in 2014: the violation of human rights by the occupation regime, the indigeneity of Crimean Tatars, the militarisation of the peninsula, and various solutions proposed by political leaders for the ‘Crimean issue’ over the decade.


The events of February to March 2014 in Crimea were an absolute shock to the democratic world. The Russian dictatoriship’s act of aggression against Ukraine was unprecedented in Europe since the time of World War II. It was a blow to international law, while also jeopardising the existing global security order.

I clearly remember the telephone calls I had with Crimean friends on the morning of 27 February 2014; I remember the despair and rage in their voices. Early that morning Russia’s ‘little green men’, armed to the teeth, had broken into the Crimean Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) and into the Council of Ministers of Crimea in Simferopol. Later we would learn that those men were members of the Russian Federation’s regular armed forces. The previous day, on 26 February, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, together with pro-Ukrainian activists had called a demonstration in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity next to the Crimean Parliament, which drew 10,000 people. That day there were two-and-a-half times fewer demonstrators out in support of Russia. This demonstration prevented the pro-Russian members of Crimea’s Parliament from passing a separatist resolution. It was the last and the largest protest action on the peninsula.

From the moment the peninsula was captured by Russia, it grew more isolated from the world. It became more and more dangerous for independent media and human rights initiatives to find out what was happening there. Over the past ten years of temporary occupation, Crimea’s appearance in print and television news stories has followed certain tendencies: the peninsula is mentioned after significant human rights violations or around commemorative dates (like 26 February, the Day of Crimean Resistance to Russian occupation). In general, the media tend to focus their attention on five key Crimean issues, which I will elaborate on below: human rights violations; the Crimean Tatars as indigenous people of Ukraine; the militarisation of the peninsula; various responses to Crimea’s occupation by political actors and international institutions; and ways to resolve the ‘Crimean problem’.



Human rights activists have documented over five thousand human rights violations on the peninsula over the past ten years, ranging from banning peaceful assembly to violent abductions. The international community became an involuntary witness to the peninsula’s transformation into a zone of fear, lawlessness, and repressions. When members of pro-Russian paramilitary forces violently murdered Crimean Tatar Reshat Ametov, who staged a solitary demonstration in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity in March 2014, the news reverberated throughout the world.

What followed was a snowballing of human rights violations: repressions of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate and its parishioners; mass searches of Crimean Tatar homes and fabricated criminal charges against civic activists, journalists, and artists; the violent abduction of Erwin Ibragimov, member of the Executive Board of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars; Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov’s numerous court trials based on fabricated charges and imprisonment in Russia; the arrest and sentencing to prison of the deputy chairmen of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people and banning the representative body from civic life. These are all obvious signs of the current recolonisation of the peninsula by Russia, which since the eighteenth century has been trying to make Crimea and its residents a part of the ‘Russian world’ by destroying the identities of Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars.

To keep these numbers from being just horrific statistics, journalists tell the personal stories of Crimean political prisoners and their families. They report on the activists, artists, lawyers, and journalists who keep working in Crimea despite the climate of fear and repression, and on those who continue to promote Crimean interests in other regions of Ukraine and abroad. Media outlets also turn their attention to demonstrations protesting the Russian occupation of Crimea outside Russian diplomatic missions, as well as on streets and squares, in countries around the world.

Another topic that generates waves of attention around the world is the Crimean Tatars as indigenous people of Ukraine. The Crimean Tatars have posed a serious obstacle to the myth of Crimea as ‘Russian since time immemorial’. The peninsula’s indigenous people overwhelmingly supported Ukraine’s territorial integrity and declared this publicly through their representative bodies — the Qurultay and also the Mejlis. Russia declared both Chairman of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov, and Mustafa Dzhemilev, renowned Soviet dissident and leader of the Crimean Tatar people, personae non gratae. Nariman Dzhelyal — journalist, first deputy chairman of the Mejlis, and the loudest voice of the free residents of Crimea — was thrown in a Russian prison for seventeen years.

Persecution is revenge for the Crimean Tatars’ resistance to occupation. As of April 2024, of 216 political prisoners from Crimea, 132 of them are Crimean Tatars, although the latter make up only 13% of the peninsula’s population. Other measures the occupying authorities have taken against indigenous people include banning independent Crimean Tatar media; banning large gatherings, even those to commemorate the 1944 deportation and remember the victims of the Soviet genocide of the Crimean Tatar people; destroying both material and immaterial heritage, for example, ruining the main Crimean Tatar architectural monument from the sixteenth century, the Khan’s Palace in Bakhchisarai.

Despite all this, the world is discovering the history and vibrant culture of the Crimean Tatars. When Crimean Tatar singer Jamala won the Eurovision song contest in 2016 with her Crimean Tatar song ‘1944’, this only made the international audience more interested in the peninsula’s native population.

Ten years of Russian occupation have transformed the peninsula, which was generally considered a vacation paradise, into a military base. Crimea has been one of the key staging grounds for Russia’s aggression since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. In the past two years alone, Russia has launched over a thousand missiles from Crimea into other regions of Ukraine, ruining people’s lives and civilian infrastructure. In addition, Russia’s occupation of Crimea poses a significant security threat to the entire Black Sea region. International media have consistently reported on the placement, repositioning, and establishment of Russian military bases and weapons on the peninsula, as well as on the presence of the Russian Black Sea Fleet as a historically destabilising factor on the European continent. They have tracked airspace violations and provocations in the waters of the Black and Azov Seas (for example, when the Russian military seized Ukrainian military vessels in the Kerch Strait in 2018).

Another important issue is the militarisation of the mindset of the peninsula’s residents, beginning from a young age. One example is the creation of paramilitary organisations in schools along the lines of ‘Yunarmiya’, which glorify the Russian army, promote the cult of violence and war, and construct an image of Ukraine as the enemy. One of the media’s messages in the context of Russia’s military domination of the peninsula is that this war is not just directed at Ukrainians, it is a threat to the entire European security system.


Newspaper columns and television news have become platforms where social and political leaders from various countries share their responses to Russia’s temporary occupation of Crimea alongside the declarations and resolutions of international organisations. First the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 68/262 on 27 March 2014, in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, calling upon states and international organisations not to recognise any changes to the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. This was followed by statements by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and the G7 summit condemning Russian occupation. In short, Russia was excluded from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the G8 (which became the G7) over its occupation of Crimea. The international media have also highlighted the politicians and officials who condemned the annexation of Crimea and voiced their support for Ukraine, along with those who have tried to legitimise the actions of Russia (like Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban and Bulgarian president Rumen Radev).

The imposition and strengthening of sanctions has been a significant issue in international policy debates over the period of the peninsula’s occupation. A number of countries — specifically, EU countries, the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, and others — have imposed sanctions against Russia over its takeover of Crimea and its human rights violations there. These sanctions include restrictions on financial operations, a ban on imports, freezing assets, sectoral sanctions (restrictions or bans on certain forms of economic or industrial activity, which may be of strategic importance to the economy of Russia), individual sanctions against persons or government officials responsible for actions involved in the occupation of Crimea (for example, visa restrictions or freezing assets).

International court proceedings tied to Crimea also get media attention. One such process was the legal dispute over the return of a collection of ancient Scythian gold, which was on display in the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam when Russia occupied the Crimean peninsula, to museums on the peninsula. The court process lasted nearly ten years. Following the final court ruling, these treasures were returned to Ukraine.


Until 2021, various political actors voiced their own proposals for resolving the ‘Crimean problem’ in media outlets abroad. Their ideas were quite diverse, ranging from negotiating a political-diplomatic agreement or even stationing an international peacekeeping contingent to preserving the status quo and essentially freezing the situation.

On 23 August 2021, Ukraine proposed its own permanent international forum dedicated to the de-occupation of the peninsula and called the inaugural summit of the Crimea Platform. Summit participants included representatives from forty-six delegations from countries and international organisations — among them heads of state. Hundreds of media outlets from around the world reported on it. The summit was a clear signal to the world of Ukraine’s subjecthood and agency in resolving the issue of Russia’s occupation of Crimea. The Crimea Platform has become a mechanism that brings experts together with leaders of nations, governments, and parliaments each year to discuss and work out solutions.

Once Russia launched its full-scale military aggression, which includes attacks that originate from the territory of Crimea, people started to publicly discuss the option of de-occupying the peninsula through military action. Note that most of the political leaders of the democratic alliance refrain from openly endorsing the option of liberating Crimea through military force, exercising particular caution to avoid a confrontation between NATO and Russian armies, and out of fear that Russia might use nuclear weapons. However, they admit that the international response to Russia’s actions in 2014 was not strong enough and that the full-scale invasion is a consequence of this weak response. Discussions at the third Crimea Platform Summit in 2023 focused on the important issues: the peninsula’s liberation, recovery, and also the security of the Black Sea region.

Meanwhile the Ukrainian armed forces have performed successful operations on land, striking military-industrial sites (like Saky air base in Novofedorivka or Belbek airfield in Sevastopol), and at sea. They have damaged a third of the ships of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet (for instance, in April 2022, they destroyed the fleet’s largest ship, the cruiser Moskva).

These examples of international media responses demonstrate certain tendencies in covering the issue of Crimea’s occupation and its repercussions, while also revealing their variety. One of the strategic tasks of civil society and of the Ukrainian state is to provide information about the situation on the peninsula systematically and to keep this issue on the international media agenda. This is key to receiving various kinds of support and to reinstating justice. It is a reminder of our existence in this dynamic world, which constantly faces new challenges. It is also important to keep highlighting free voices from the peninsula in the media. In addition, this publicity can contribute somewhat to the safety of those who have become hostages of the dictatorial occupying regime. Ultimately, keeping international attention focused on their struggle is an act of solidarity and support; letting them know they are not alone in the hands of a monster is of vital importance.

The temporary occupation of Crimea was the start of the greatest episode of military aggression in Europe since World War II. But ending this war is only possible by de-occupying the peninsula and returning the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar flags to their rightful positions there.


Alim Aliev is Deputy Director General of the Ukrainian Institute (Kyiv), a human rights defender, curator of educational and cultural projects, researcher, and journalist. He is a board member of PEN Ukraine, as well as co-founder of the ‘Crimea SOS’ NGO, and co-author of Mustafa Dzhemilev. Unbreakable (2017), a book about the leader of the Crimean Tatars. Aliev is a member of the supervisory boards of several Ukrainian NGO, and the initiator of the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar literary project Qirim inciri [Crimean Fig]. He is also a frequent participant and speaker in Crimean advocacy missions in the Council of Europe, European Parliament, OSCE, UN Security Council, and other political institutions.


Image: Emine Ziyatdinova, The poster reads ‘Attention. Kidnapped person. Ervin Ibragimov’, Bakhchisaray, 18 October 2016.

Cover Image for Crimean Tatars: Eighty Years of Remembrance and Resistance

Crimean Tatars: Eighty Years of Remembrance and Resistance

Issue 2 (2024)

For the eightieth anniversary of the Soviet deportation of Crimean Tatars, the London Ukrainian Review dedicates its second issue of 2024 to the Russia-occupied Crimean peninsula and its Indigenous people’s ongoing fight for justice.

Sasha Dovzhyk
Cover Image for The Long Exile: A History of the Deportation of 1944

The Long Exile: A History of the Deportation of 1944

Issue 2 (2024)

The mass deportation of Crimean Tatars in May 1944 is rooted in Russian settler colonialism which Martin-Oleksandr Kisly traces to the subjugation of Crimea by Catherine II. Eighty years after the grievous crime against the Indigenous people of Crimea, Crimean Tatars are under Russia’s occupation and banned from marking this historic date.

Martin-Oleksandr Kisly, trans. by Larissa Babij