Book of stories of Crimean human rights defenders working in exile and under occupation presented in Kyiv

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The book Crimean Album: Stories of Human Rights Defenders was presented at the Docudays UA International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival in Kyiv.

It contains testimonies and memoirs of the Crimean human rights activists, their working experience before and after the occupation. The book covers dozens of personal stories about the past, present and future of the people, who continue to fight for the protection of human rights in Crimea even after losing their homes, as well as those, who oppose the reprisals living under the occupation.

These are stories of Olha Anoshkina, Eskender Bariyev, Mykhailo Batrak, Oleksandra Dvoretska, Abdureshyt Dzhepparov, Lilia Hemedzhy, Serhiy Zayets, Synaver Kadyrov, Emil Kurbedinov, Alyona Luniova, Roman Martynovsky, Ruslan Nechyporuk, Valentyna Potapova, Anna Rassmakhina, Darya Svyrydova, Olha Skrypnyk and Vissarion Aseyev, Iryna Sedova and Oleksandr Sedov, Tamila Tasheva, Maria Sulialina and Volodymyr Chekryhin.

“This book is about Crimean human rights activists, who had to leave their homes after the occupation of the Crimean peninsula. For many of them, the leaving, which was planned for no more than three days or a week, has been lasting already for five years. They now live outside of Crimea but they still manage to protect the rights of those, who stayed on the peninsula, and help the internally displaced persons.

The book also tells about the people, who were not civil society activists before the occupation, but could not stay indifferent after the armored infantry vehicles and the soldiers in unmarked uniform had invaded the peninsula. These people have become human rights activists and joined the process of collection and documentation of human rights violations so that the occupation authorities’ crimes would be punished.

This book is also about the people, who stayed in Crimea and continue their human rights activity despite the threats and pressure. Their struggle for human rights, or more precisely, for the people, whom the occupying power persecutes for their views or belief, is an example of courage that inspire many people to join the human rights movement,” said Tetiana Pechonchyk, the head of the ZMINA Human Rights Centre.

The author of the book, journalist Iryna Vyrtosu, traveled to Crimea in early March 2014 and became an eyewitness to many of the events that took place there: “We attended rallies, went to the Ukrainian military units, listened to radio and people’s conversations in city transport. Being outside, we deliberately stayed in the crowded places, constantly looked around, tried not to use such “explosive” words as “Mejlis”, “Maidan”, “Hrushevsky Street” in one sentence. I stayed in Crimea less than a week, but it seemed to me like a month had passed due to countless number of meetings, continuous conversations about the situation in Ukraine, the power of emotions. It was a

difficult, restless month. I feel scared, primarily, because I did not understand what was happening.”

Those events drastically changed the lives of many protagonists of the book. Five years have already passed, it still not easy for them to recall those events. However, such documentary evidence is very valuable.

“When we look through historical books, we always see there many facts, references to the chronicles, sources, serious literature. As for me, I like the memoirs of the contemporaries most of all as they are alive and interesting. I tried to convey in my book the stories of our heroes as lively as they tell them, at the same time not shifting away from the historical truth, because it is a document of our time,” Iryna Vyrtosu says.

“Freedom is the ability to speak in defiance. The ability to speak not in the way everyone is told to,” says one of the book protagonists Synaver Kadyrov, a member of the Crimean Tatar national movement, a political prisoner of the Soviet times. “As before, the Russian invaders are now struggling to keep people quiet, they want to sow internal fear in Crimea. When people do not keep silent, it is called “resistance.” Speaking about human rights is enough. Human rights defenders are those, who are not afraid to speak about human rights.”

Volodymyr Chekryhin (on the left)

Russian occupation of Crimea has radically changed the lives of many heroes of the book. For example, Volodymyr Chekryhin worked in a diving company in Sevastopol before the occupation and did not plan to change his profession. “My most sincere wish was never to become the hero of such a book, I never thought of becoming a human rights defender. The occupation made us do that. Most of those, who were thrown into jail, became the activists only because of the armed seizure of Crimea,” says Chekryhin, who is currently working in the Crimean Human Rights Group.

“This book shows the human face of history, which is already turning into a chronicle. Each story has a small section devoted to the dreams of each hero. It is an inspirational part. For me it was the most interesting part to read. I wish the dreams of these people came true,” says Darya Svyrydova, the lawyer of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and one of the book protagonists.

According to the ZMINA Human Rights Centre, the stories of 22 human rights activists in the book is just a part of the “mosaic of resistance to occupation and struggle to protect human rights in Crimea.” The stories of many other people, who continue the human rights activity under the occupation or have relatives in Crimea, can not yet be made public due to the risks of persecution. However, the authors of the book hope that the time will come and their deeds will come to light.

“We are waiting for the release of human rights defenders, who were jailed for fake accusations of “terrorism.” Those, who participated in the activity of the Crimean Contact Group on Human Rights and the Crimean Solidarity initiative, namely Emir-Usein Kuku, Server Mustafayev and many other Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians, who have been imprisoned in the Russian Federation and the occupied Crimea,” says Tetiana Pechonchyk.

The publication of the book was supported by the Human Rights House Foundation (Oslo, Norway). Representative of this organization, Ane Tusvik Bonde, says that while retelling personal stories it

is important to raise awareness about the human rights defenders and the important work they do:

“We see the growing support for the Crimean human rights activists in other countries of Europe, in the Balkans, Belarus, so it is important that this book also be published in English. The Human Rights House Network covers 16 organizations in 11 countries. For example, there is the Belorussian Human Rights House in our Network. Currently, it works in exile in Vilnius. The fact that many Crimean human rights activists now also work in the exile is not a point, not an end, it’s only an intermediate stage. It is important to ensure that all human rights activists, who were forced to leave, will be able to return home and continue their work.”

The book Crimean Album: Stories of Human Rights Defenders is also expected to be presented at the Book Arsenal Festival in Kyiv in May 2019 and at the sites of international organizations.

The collection of stories was composed and presented by the ZMINA Human Rights Centre within the framework of a joint project with the Human Rights House Zagreb (Croatia) “Human Rights Defenders: Standards, Memoirs and Testimonies” with the support of the Human Rights House Foundation, which brings together human rights organizations in different countries. The Human Rights House Foundation is based in Oslo, with an office in Geneva and representation in Brussels and Tbilisi.