Zaborona continues a series of materials as part of a special project dedicated to the occupation of Crimea and (de)colonial policy towards the peninsula. In the first text, we debunked Russian myths about Crimea, and in the second, we analyzed why the occupied peninsula became a colony of the Russian Federation. Preparing this material, we asked our readers (including Crimeans) what questions related to the de-occupation of Crimea are of most concern to them, and came with them to Tamila Tasheva, the Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine in Crimea.
What does the process of de-occupation of the peninsula entail?
“Until 2022, we said that we would liberate Crimea through political and diplomatic means — these theses were mentioned in the Strategy for De-occupation and Reintegration [of the temporarily occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol]. Obviously, the context has changed after 2022. It was difficult to talk to the Russian Federation even then, but now that we have seen the destroyed civilian infrastructure, thousands of civilian deaths, the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children, and military losses, it has become clear that the political and diplomatic path is impossible in this war.
Now we rely mostly on the Ukrainian military. The president has repeatedly said that we would like to liberate Crimea by non-military means, which would minimize the casualties. But in fact, this is impossible. Therefore, there will most likely be a hybrid format: political efforts at the UN level and the Crimean Platform, and, of course, the efforts of the Ukrainian military.
However, this is a very complex issue of the entire south [of Ukraine], cutting off Russian troops from the land corridors they have been carving out for themselves and gradually entering the peninsula. The Ukrainian military is showing the whole world unprecedented courage, but we need to fight technologically. Currently, we do not have enough weapons to conduct an active operation to liberate the peninsula. That is why we are talking about a hybrid format. But negotiations [with Russia] can begin only after the Russians are withdrawn from our territory.
People [in Crimea] must realize that this is a war. And the active phase [of a full-scale war] on the peninsula is inevitable. Accordingly, we need to prepare ourselves psychologically and physically for any eventuality. It is clear that Ukraine and the Armed Forces will never fire on civilian objects. Crimea is involved in the war to the fullest extent possible — it is a large military base, so the civilian population should prepare.
What processes does the reintegration of Crimea entail?
These are very specific steps — from the reintegration of the local population and information broadcasting in Crimea to the restoration of state authorities. In the latter case, it will be the same as in the rest of Ukraine: military administrations with a gradual transition to civil-military administrations and civilian life after the elections, etc.
It’s much easier to organize the infrastructure of government agencies, education, medicine, restore Ukrainian media, etc., but it’s much harder to work with people’s minds and views. This is the key issue of the reintegration process, which is likely to last longer than the period of occupation. For more than nine years, people have been living in conditions dictated by the aggressor: total propaganda, total control, omnipresent security forces. These are the generations that have already grown up, these are Ukrainian children who do not actually know the Ukrainian state. That is, we will be overcoming the damage from the occupation for many, many more years.
Of course, we will work to prevent Russian influence on the peninsula. However, the people who supported the occupiers will not disappear by themselves, and I am talking about Ukrainian citizens. For Russian citizens, there is only one way — out of Crimea.
Yes, Russia will continue to try to send and infiltrate people — this is a job for law enforcement agencies. But these attempts will not disappear overnight, so we will have to work hard.
What could be the scenario of de-occupation?
I can’t say what the security and defense forces will do, but it’s obvious that they will provide the first stabilization measures. Think of the liberation of Kharkiv, Kherson, or any other towns and cities: the military and law enforcement agencies go in first. We don’t know how the de-occupation of the peninsula will take place. It’s one story if the Russians leave Crimea quickly, and another if they leave destroying absolutely everything.
In addition, it is a matter of communications and infrastructure, without which we will not be able to start working effectively. Then there is the creation of bodies within the system of military administrations, whether it is a department of culture or social protection.
We are thinking about what to do with the personnel [civil servants], and we are already working on it. Crimea will need at least 50,000 people — where will we get them?
When we enter Crimea, some of the personnel will flee; some will stay and will most likely be prosecuted (if they made any illegal decisions); and some will probably continue to work at the grassroots level to ensure the functionality of [government agencies].
Accordingly, we need to think about how to build the system completely from scratch. Perhaps this is a rotational method, and for some time teachers and the management vertical will come to work in Crimea. We have created a “Recovery Register” where we are collecting personnel — a kind of Crimean team that will go to the de-occupied territory. We are working together with the National Agency of Ukraine for Civil Service, the Ministry of Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories, and several other government agencies to train these personnel.
For example, a person from Lviv cannot go to the de-occupied territory without any understanding of what the Crimean peninsula is. The local population will not accept them at all. There should definitely be basic knowledge: about territory management, transitional justice legislation, about the indigenous peoples of Crimea. That is why we are already organizing such academic programs.
What awaits the employees of the structures whose work was financed from the Russian budget?
First and foremost, there are currently no legislative decisions. However, there were some changes to the legislation on collaboration adopted in 2022, and they fulfilled a certain preventive function, primarily for the territories occupied since 2022. The prevention was that the legal framework for prosecution was very broad — in fact, any communication with the occupation administrations is now punishable.
However, we understand the specifics of the territories occupied in 2014. Ukraine as a state failed to protect people in Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions. We did not provide all the necessary standards for those who became internally displaced. As a result, most of the people remained on the peninsula —everyone’s circumstances were different.
Therefore, we need to harmonize our legislation with the realities of the prolonged occupation. Who will be held accountable? Firstly, we need to narrow the scope of responsibility and bring to justice those who are really guilty. Ukrainian society has a huge demand for justice, and it must be met.
On the other hand, there is no need to organize a witch hunt. We must definitely bring to justice top officials, those who made management decisions, those who betrayed their oath (judges, prosecutors, investigators, military), propagandists, and the management vertical in medicine and education.
Speaking of the latter, educators have been implementing the standards of the aggressor country, they have been militarizing people’s minds. This does not mean that we will prosecute absolutely all teachers — we should apply an individual approach here, [determining] whether a person has committed any criminal acts or not.
Will Crimea remain autonomous after de-occupation?
Ukraine cannot make any changes to the Constitution during martial law. In general, any constitutional changes require a thorough discussion, especially in parliament. This is impossible during martial law, so there are no finalized decisions on the status of Crimea.
The modalities are different: a regular region, revoking the special status of the city of Sevastopol, the status quo as it is now, or the right of the Crimean Tatars to self-determination within the Ukrainian state — these are all [proposals] up for discussion. But I hope that after the end of martial law, MPs will be able to resolve this in a broad discussion with Ukrainian society.
What does the process of self-determination of the Crimean Tatars involve?
I’m not a representative of the Mejlis, but in my understanding, it means special rights and special protection for Crimean Tatars. I remember when I was still living in Crimea, the local Ukrainian authorities decided to build a market on the territory of Bakhchisarai on the holy places of the Crimean Tatars, and there were huge riots. That is, the right to self-determination implies the right to veto illegal decisions. If you want to do something that concerns the Crimean land and the Crimean Tatars, you have to consult them and get their consent. This may also apply to elected positions, but, again, amendments to the Constitution are needed.
What about the status of the documents issued during the occupation?
They will definitely need to be verified. We do not recognize any decisions of the occupation administrations or any documents issued there. But it is clear that life in Crimea continued, and it was accompanied by a whole array of different documents: educational, medical, death or property, etc. Of course, at first, Crimeans will use old documents, but there should be a time limit, for example, a year and a half, during which they will be able to verify the documents quickly.
The situation with court decisions is more complicated. They should be divided into categories. Documents on the nationalization of property cannot be verified — they are immediately invalid, and the property must be returned to the Ukrainian state. Or decisions on the illegal adoption of children illegally appropriated by Russia. Or decisions on imprisonment on political grounds — these are immediately canceled, and the person is released.
The second category of documents is, roughly, disputable. Someone sold the property to someone else, and Ukrainian law did not recognize this transaction. Or there are cases of expropriation of property. What should be done about it? In our opinion, we need reparations measures that should be imposed unequivocally on the aggressor country. We can’t accept any document, but there will definitely be a transition period when we can prove some things.
What will happen to the new buildings built during the years of occupation?
Again, there are no finalized decisions. However, most likely, a special commission will be set up to review each object.
For example, the Kerch Bridge is an infrastructure facility that causes real damage to the environment and the safety of navigation in the region. If it is not destroyed before de-occupation, it will be dismantled safely.
But the commission must determine whether a particular object is harmful or whether there is a need for it — in the latter case, Ukraine can use it. If it is decided to keep them, the legal procedure for nationalizing this property should take place. If a decision is made to dismantle an object because it was built in nature reserves or on the coastline, we have to dismantle it.
In the case of residential buildings, we need to see whether they were built, for example, in accordance with all standards, whether they violate Ukrainian law, whether there is a school and a kindergarten nearby, and whether they will be safe in the future.
If they are safe, you can then work with this property and recognize the right to ownership. But if the property violates the standards and Ukraine decides to get rid of it, then we need to choose some compensation mechanisms [for the owner, if they are a Ukrainian citizen].
But there are entire residential complexes where Russian colonizers, including the military, live. If they leave the peninsula, this property is simply left to no one. Therefore, it can be used in favor of the Ukrainian state as temporary housing, it can be in communal ownership.
How will Ukraine implement the language law in Crimea?
It is clear that all reforms should be fully implemented on the peninsula: anti-corruption, educational, language, decentralization, etc.
However, throughout the entire period of [occupation], people in Crimea did not use the Ukrainian language; it was actually banned there, equated to extremism. So the law on language will not work there overnight.
Again, I do not have any finalized decisions, but our vision is that there may be a certain transitional period for the functioning of the law on the state language on the peninsula. It should be clearly limited in time, when educational institutions or government agencies will gradually switch to the state language. The language should be in the public space, and its functioning should be ensured.
A network of opportunities for learning Ukrainian must be created, such as specialized courses at various government agencies, educational institutions, etc. We are already talking, in particular, about the transition period in schools. For example, there is a need to develop special textbooks, possibly bilingual, so that a child who does not know Ukrainian can have explanations in a language they understand: either in the language of indigenous peoples, or in Crimean Tatar, or in the language of one of our national minorities, Russian.