When President Vladimir Putin’s “little green men” started appearing in Crimea in 2014, locals took to the streets to protest Russia’s presence on the Ukrainian peninsula. That February, as Moscow was putting its plans to annex the peninsula into motion, a pro-Ukrainian rally outside the Crimean Supreme Council turned violent, with clashes erupting between pro-Ukraine protesters and a nearby pro-Russian rally.
After the annexation, Russian authorities blamed the unrest on Akhtem Chiygoz, deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis assembly. They arrested him the following January on charges of organizing “mass disturbances.”
Chiygoz’s trial would become one Russia’s many politically motivated cases against Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian activists, characterized by serious procedural violations and the usage “secret witnesses.”
On September 11, 2017, Russian authorities concluded what human rights group declared “a sham” trial by sentencing Chiygoz to eight years in prison.
But the following month, negotiations between Putin and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan saw Chiygoz and another imprisoned Tatar leader, Ilmi Umerov, pardoned and released from custody.
Chiygoz, who is currently in Kyiv, sat down with Hromadske in the run-up to the fourth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea to discuss how Moscow seized the the peninsula and his hopes for Crimea’s future.