March, 10, 2014
Mariya Dragina, The Ukrainska Pravda, Life; Photos by Serhiy Morgunov
I got acquainted with the Crimean Ultras while I was for 3 days in Simferopol during the meeting dedicated to the Taras Shevchenko’s 200 hundred anniversary. It is very uncommon to meet pro-Ukrainian Crimean inhabitants. When I saw guys in typical outfits near the Shevchenko monument, I headed to them. I was greeted right away with a question:
– Where are you from? Don’t photograph our faces! – I regret about that because the faces of these guys are handsome and light. – We are not only Ultras, we are the spontaneous autonomous defense of Crimea.
– Have you already fought with someone?
They laughed at my question and evasively answered:
– Certainly not, we stand for peace.
– From who does Crimea need to be defended?
– We are opposed by the so-called “Russian vatniks” [ed: ultra-chauvinistic Russian-supporters], who have never even been to Russia or other regions of Ukraine; they don’t know what is happening in the country. They are confident that the authorities in Kyiv are ‘banderites’ and that we eat Russian children.
Of course this is all not true. We have received a chance to make this country better, but they think that we should not have this chance. They want ‘stability’. “Everything will be as it’s been and we don’t need changes. Let’s leave everything as it was.” They are confident that Russia has better conditions, Putin will defend everyone, that Crimea will be a region that Russia will subsidize, which will save them. But the subsidized Abkhazia hasn’t been saved. And neither will we be saved.
We, Crimeans, Ukrainians that were born in Crimea, got a chance to create our own country. A just and fair country. And we are ready to do that. But they don’t (points to a crowd of druzhinniki who are the so-called ‘Crimean self-defense’ standing together with the police near the meeting). But the police betrayed us.
– Is Crimea a part of Ukraine?
– Crimea remains Ukrainian. And we will be the Ukrainians forever. If we will not be a part part of Ukraine, Ukraine will remain in our hearts.
– What will you do if due to the referendum Crimea passes to Russia?
– We would not be even given the slightest chance to do something. There is no need to explain what the Russian centre “E” is (the central office on counter-extremism of the Ministry of Internal Affairs-edit.), they know all of us, and it’s of little avail that you don’t take photos of us now. (But they don’t allow to photograph their faces). And our friends will leak information on us at first, f*ck them all. – Friends?
– They are former friends now. The ones that took Russia’s side. To be more precise, they were just purchased. This is a serious problem in Crimea, there is no sense to hide faces, they know all of us. We are under svsere occupation.
– We’re not afraid of the Secret Service of Ukraine. We would be betrayed into the hands of the ‘E’ center, first of all. And the ‘E’ center will not look into details, they will take everyone away to clear up the situation which we are spiraling by their accounts. And to say that the ‘E’ fights terrorism is a lie, because in that case, their headquarters would be in Chechnya, and not Kazan. They fight dissent against Putin.
If we become Russia, we would cease to exist, there is no doubt about that. We would either flee or they would jail us one by one, in the most positive of scenarios. We will be forced to become political refugees. It is terrifying to hear that we would have to flee from our country into our own country.
– Would Ultras from other cities accept you?
– The everlasting hostility between Ultras ceasing is a sign of support in itself. We don’t want to believe what they are saying from the stage, that Kyiv abandoned us and doesn’t give a damn.
– Generally speaking, you don’t want to go to Russia. – I sum it up.
They laugh at my words in unison.
– We were born in Ukraine and will remain here!
– Here are our supporters, – they point to the Ukrainian meeting, numbering 700 people by my approximation. – We will stand here till the end, we have nowhere to run. This is our only native land. Though, we could become partisans.
– Despite I am Ukrainian, first of all I am Crimean, – speaks the most active guy from them whose name is Vitaliy. – Crimea is like freedom, like your mother, there can be only one.
– Did anybody try to attack you?
– As for me, I was threatened, – said one of the group. – Me too, I was also threatened, – the rest caught up. – They call from hidden numbers, post me in Vkontakte: ”you are Ukrainian, hard times are coming for you.” Sometimes ordinary people threaten us, most often they have ‘Defender of the Crimea’ bands on their arms; these people may beat women, children, mainly they are the chief factor of disorder and looting…
The young men from the group occasionally interrupt their speech to answer to the “Glory be to Ukraine” calls from the demonstration with “Glory be to her heroes”. And we return to the topic of threats:
– As to these ‘self-defense forces’, they take an oath for defending Crimea, and that means they can be given guns. Aksenov (chairman of the Ministry Council of the Criemea) is in fact a former gangster from the bandit gang “Selim”. This may be unknown in Ukraine but it is well known in Crimea.
His nickname was “Goblin”, he took an active part in raids over Yalta, Sevastopol, Simferopol. He owns all the shops on Kirova Str. Our families repeatedly encountered him.
Judging by the conversation with the ‘self-defense members’ it is clear that even they don’t like Aksenov. They say: “we don’t want Aksenov but there is no other choice”. A less than satisfactory position. We don’t know exactly what is really going on.
– Do they call you fascists?
-Of course, because we eat children, don’t we?
– But you have right-wing political ideals?
-Why is it always right-wing? The Ultras have always stated that they also have anti-fascists among their ranks, that have always positioned themselves as anti-fascists. Why should we be called Nazis? It is not so important now. Many anti-fascists begin to sympathize with national ideas. After all this ends, they will most likely search for common ground.
– What do you think of other nationalities? There are many in Crimea.
-We stand not for a nationality but for a united Ukraine. It is not important what language a person speaks if he or she loves this country. Many nationalities don’t have another native land. They have no other places to go. And when the Russians said that they don’t want live here, but want to live in Russia, what should we answer? Brothers don’t behave like that. We fully understand the Crimean Tatars and other nationalities, their only ethnic homeland is here.
– And if they have another homeland?
-The idea of the Ukrainian nationalism implies that we support the right each nationalities’ right to realization, any nation, but on their ethnic territory. Why do the Russians in Crimea start to say that “this is Russian land. Well, guys, be reasonable! This is historically untrue. Why don’t we raise the issue of Kuban [Ukrainian ethnic territory in nowadays Russia]?
– How do you keep in touch with Ultras from Kyiv?
– This is being done spontaneously. People keep in touch without any assistance, share information. There are internet communities. But it’s questionable whether we should trust these communities. Communication inside them is easliy broken down. For example, the Tatars made their own radio channel, and it was broken in 2 steps.
I ask them to leave a message for Kyiv. They answer:
Long live Ukraine! And tell them to support us. We supported them. We know that Kyiv is with us. We expect them to come with a visit on March, 15 (a day before the referendum on Crimea’s status which will be held on March, 16, 2014-edit)
So the people that stand here, not us Ultras, but ordinary people, so they will know that Kyiv is with them. Among them are our relatives, our brothers. They don’t believe that Kyiv is with us. Certainly nobody wants war and bloodshed, with a fraternal people.
All the Russians don’t want war too. Not the Soviet people but Russians.
We want to say to supporters who want to be united with Russia, take a look what is going on with Russia itself – people that are against war are being imprisoned. What will happen to them here?!..
* * *
The demonstration is over. The Ultras thank me for coming. They wait until I finish streaming the deomnstartors folding up the blue and yellow flags that are otherwise rare for this region. It is not advisable to carry national flags in the streets. And then the young men propose to accompany me home.
– It is dangerous here, especially for journalists. Let’s go together. It will be better that way.
Translated by Shara Anatoliy, edited by Alya Shandra