On May 18, the day that marks the 65th anniversary of the 1944 deportations, a group of a few dozen Crimean Tatars spent some two hours walking around Kyiv's Lipki neighborhood, squeezing themselves, their flags with black ribbons and their banners through the cars parked on sidewalks, distributing leaflets with info on the deportations to the passerby - but getting little to no attention from most people. It's Kyiv, of course: the past four years have taught many people here to ignore all kinds of political rallies, especially such tiny ones. Zero attention from the authorities is as typical - but, all things considered, it seemed a bit more disappointing on that day.
First, the Crimean Tatars walked to the Rada, where they didn't get to enter the little maidan in front of the Rada building. They didn't make it to the Presidential Secretariat, either, because the street leading to it was full of the newly-jobless gambling business protesters. On the way back to their base by Kabmin, where they'd been protesting for the past few weeks, they stopped to chant "Shame on the government!" in Ukrainian and Russian, but only a few cops stationed to guard the Ministry of Finance, one of the Rada buildings and the cars parked in between, seemed to be their audience.
Back by Kabmin, they held a memorial prayer for the dead. A few people spoke about the deportations and the problems they've been facing since their return. Then they resumed their honking and chanting, calling Tymoshenko, demanding her personal involvement in resolving the land conflict. Six people - four men and two women - had been on a hunger strike for a few days by then, and, as far as I know, they still are.
Here are some pictures from May 18 (the whole set is here):
I spoke with two elderly women that day. One of them was 7 years old in 1944, and she barely managed to keep herself from crying as she was telling me some of what she remembered from that time. We talked about the more recent history, too: the Soviet dissident movement and the Crimean Tatar role in it. Both of them also spoke of the hardship and humiliation they've been subjected to since their return to Crimea: three families living in one little house, their children unable to start their own families; problems with employment; a lack of Crimean Tatar schools; hostile and biased attitudes towards Crimean Tatars in general.
Some of the problems they mentioned affect just about everyone in Ukraine in one way or another, but this should not serve as a justification for ignoring these problems - definitely not in Crimea.
Later that day, I talked to a friend who seems to know a thing or two about Crimea. Part of the reason these people are being ignored by the authorities in such a spectacular way, I was told, could be the somewhat marginal status of the NGO that's organizing the protests. According to my friend, this group has plenty of popular support in Crimea, but due to their proactive role in the fight for the land and a number of other factors, including religion, mainstream Crimean Tatar leaders appear reluctant to publicly associate with them, and that, among other things, could explain why they aren't getting much response from the authorities in Kyiv.
I've no idea how much of this is true: need to stop reading about the Soviet dissident movement and instead educate myself on the contemporary Crimean Tatar politics. I do know, however, that these people explain their current presence in Kyiv by the fact that the government is doing nothing of what it promised to do to resolve the land conflict - and that sounds perfectly credible to me.