Initiated by senior members of the Mejlis, who were later joined by Ukrainian activists, a peaceful blockade of Crimea commenced at checkpoints between mainland Ukraine and Crimea on September 20, 2015. In fact, the blockade was a consequence of the failure of the Ukrainian authorities to free Crimea and protect people living in it.
The demands initially raised by the activists included cessation of business with Crimea, release of political prisoners, granting of free access to Crimea for international monitoring missions and return of Crimea under Ukrainian jurisdiction.
At the outset, the blockade was meant to last indefinitely and be held in three stages, the first one consisting in preventing delivery of goods and food products to Crimea.
“We do not care how long it will take – one month or six months. Apart from putting a transport blockade in place, we will also be pushing for cutting power supplies and terminating a contract on supplying power to occupied Donbass and Crimea signed between Ukraine and Russia. In our view, the deal whereby Russia supplies Donbass with power while Ukraine delivers electricity to Crimea is contrary to Ukraine’s national interests,” said Mustafa Jemilev, Leader of Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian MP, Mustafa Jemilev.
The trade blockade created quite a stir, causing trucks trying to break through the checkpoints at all costs to stand in huge lines. Back then, the Crimean authorities stated confidently that the blockade would cause no major problems to Crimea. However, there was a dramatic increase in prices of certain food products followed by a decrease in variety of food products.
September 28 saw shutting down of a railway branch used for delivering raw materials to Krymsky Titan, Crimea’s largest plant owned by Dmitry Firtash.
In October, the activists tried to disrupt delivery of electricity to Crimea by blowing up transmission towers in the Kherson region. On November 20-22, unidentified individuals blew up bases of four transmission towers, thus effectively cutting delivery of power to Crimea. Back then, Lenur Islyamov, the blockade’s coordinator, said the activists would not let repair crews fix the damaged transmission towers.
“We will not let anyone fix the damaged transmission towers. The blockade is ongoing, we are OK. We are expecting the Ukrainian government to abolish the law on a special trade zone,” said Islyamov.
Cutting of power supplies came as a complete surprise to everyone in Crimea: cities were struck by power outages, mobile connection and heating disabled, people sent on forced leave pending resuming of power supplies, schools, kindergartens, hospitals and drugstores closed, causing people to take walking trips to seek medical attention. A state of emergency was declared in Crimea, followed by rolling blackouts and austere electricity conservation measures. Despite the launching of the first stage of a power cable linking up Russia’s Kuban region with Crimea on December 2, the emergency state was never lifted.
However, tense talks held between the Ukrainian government and Mejlis senior members 18 days after the power blockade was put in place resulted in one of the damaged towers en route Kakhovka-Titan being repaired.
The activists decided to let the repair crews fix transmission towers of the Kakhovka-Titan power line, the only one capable of outputting no more than 220-250 mWt. If one of the three remaining lines with a combined capacity of up to 650 mWt had been restored, the occupants could get a lot of electricity via them,” said Refat Chubarov, Mejlis Chairman, Ukrainian MP and President of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars.
According to Chubarov, they took into account interests of all parties involved, such as Western partners, the Ukrainian government and, naturally, people living in mainland Ukraine and Crimea. Chubarov went on to say that the Ukrainian government came up with a decree restricting supplies of certain goods and provision of certain works and services to occupied territories. Prepared by a working group set up by the government, the decree was a consequence of Crimea blockade.
“The activists will keep checkpoints in all three directions. They will make sure that the decree is implemented but do that in a slightly different way. Together with border guards they will be ensuring that the norms and restrictions contained in the decreed are followed,” said Chubarov.
After such a move, common people and activists began to ask themselves whether it signaled the end of the blockade. However, Mejlis senior members dispelled their doubts by announcing naval and network blockades of Crimea, as well as formation of a battalion made up of Crimean Tatar volunteers, which would be incorporated into the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
“I cannot tell you the exact date the blockades will commence, because this is confidential information. What I can tell you is that we are now busy forming the battalion. We are putting together lists of volunteers and getting uniforms delivered. We have enough people who took part in the antiterrorist operation, so we applied to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry for a military unit number. We will launch the battalion during a meeting of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars that is due to take place on January 15. The Turkish President expressed his willingness to support our battalion by providing funds and uniforms. The battalion will be trained to infiltrate Crimea,” said Lenuar Islyamov, the blockade’s coordinator, in an interview with QHA.
The ongoing blockade will also undergo changes.
“There will be teams of activists officially allowed to assist border guards. They will be responsible for detecting cases of separatism and preventing shipments of forbidden goods customs officers may let through from crossing the border. Their job will now be that of observers,” said Islyamov.
He went on to say that the goals the blockade’s organizers set themselves remain unchanged.
“Our goals are the same. The most important thing we succeeded in accomplishing is the government’s decree which is due to take effect on January 16. However, there is still a power blockade we have to finish. We are really looking forward to December 31, for that is when a contract on power supplies ends and a power blockade is put in place. After that we will concentrate our efforts on a naval blockade,” Islyamov concluded.