Crimea, the road to Russian-occupied Ukraine, has become a road less traveled. Official and unofficial elements of the Battalions of Territorial Defense, of which many are now units of the Ukrainian National Guard, have begun a new effort to blockade the border of Crimea. These privately operated sanctions were initiated by the Crimean Tatars as a means to strangle the logistics and support route to Crimea. This action, according to the Tatars, is designed to stop goods from flowing into Crimea from Ukraine and prevent people from leaving.

The Crimean Tatars are an ethnically charged minority in Russian-occupied Crimea. The Tatars were also one of the largest voices of opposition to the annexation of Crimea, and a long-term adversary to Russian interest following their 1944 deportation from western U.S.S.R to Central Asia by Stalin. The Tatars only began their migration back to their homeland following the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union. They have since lived relatively at ease with the local populations.

However, following the 2014 occupation, the Tatars have begun to relive some of the Soviet-era nightmares that led to their deportation, such as harassing arrests, targeted violence from the police and military, and people simply disappearing. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) recently backed the Tatars’ claims in a report, citing “numerous credible, consistent, and compelling accounts of human-rights violations and legal irregularities,” all of which are becoming common practices in Russian-occupied Crimea.

Activists block a road near the border crossing point of Chongar, linking mainland Ukraine to Crimea, on Sept. 20, 2015. (Photo: GENYA SAVILOV, AFP/Getty Images)
Activists block a road near the border crossing point of Chongar, linking mainland Ukraine to Crimea, on Sept. 20, 2015. (Photo: GENYA SAVILOV)

The Tatars may have established a clear objective, but opportunists and thieves are, as always, on the prowl in Ukraine. As the Tatar blockade has been relatively successful and ignored by the Ukrainian government, the newest units of the Ukrainian National Guard have targeted the region as a prospective gold mine. Units such as Right Sector, Private Sector, and many others are racing to the region to get a slice of the pie. These units and their leadership are seeking the expansion of what are illegal roadblocks to shake down cargo transport and civilians as they make their way across the border.

Under the guise of protecting Ukraine, armed thugs have established traffic control points and tolls, and are using what amounts to little more than common hoodlum tactics to extort as many people on the road to and from Crimea as possible. The armed men in uniform under Ukrainian flags justify their actions with boisterous claims such as, “They are all separatists,” or “These people are nothing more than Russian spies and traitors.” Obviously, one cannot simply assign such labels during a blurry war within a region often confused by its own politics and corruption. People cannot and should not be punished based on suspicion alone, nor should they be extorted—and extortion is what is really happening here.

Outside of the Tatar checkpoints, many of the vehicles and people move freely past the checkpoints after they supply the armed men with cash, electronics, or goods. The people of Ukraine and Crimea have reacted in a manner nearly as accepting as their respective governments. This acceptance truly demonstrates how commonplace corruption is and how accepting of thugs both governments truly are.

(Featured image courtesy of militarytimes.com)

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