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Mass Evictions in Russia-Occupied Crimea
25 May, 2020
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The Kozlov family apartment. Novaya Gazeta

When Alexander Kozlov and his family inherited two rooms above the garage of Yalta's Chernomorye (Black Sea) sanatorium in the 1980s, the space was barely liveable. Years later, when the family approached the authorities about other housing, they were told there was nothing else available. They were encouraged to settle where they were. 

The Kozlov family renovated the space. They connected it to a separate water, gas, and electricity source, transforming it from a cramped dormitory to a modern apartment. A local commission then recognized it as residential, and the municipal authorities gave the family the green light to privatize. 

But eight years later, the administration of the Chernomorye resort filed a lawsuit, claiming privatization of the space was illegal. The Crimean courts sided with the Kozlovs. That turned out to be the start of a decade long battle for their home – one that would be exacerbated under Russian occupation. 

Following Russia's illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in 2014, the Kremlin promised that all property rights established under Ukraine would be preserved. However, six years after the annexation, residents of Crimea's lucrative resorts lands are facing mass evictions. Our partner outlet Novaya Gazeta brings you stories of Crimeans who are at risk of losing their homes.

READ MORE: The True Cost Of Remaining Ukrainian in Crimea

Backstory

Crimea's coastal regions have been a prime holiday destination and hotspot for high-end summer houses for over a century. After Ukrainian independence from Russia, the lucrative land became engulfed in permanent property wars. Housing along coastal resort cities like Yalta isn't cheap – a square meter costs around $1,500. Meanwhile, rent during the off-peak season starts from $270. During the summer months, that can quadruple.

After Moscow annexed the peninsula in 2014, the human rights situation has deteriorated on the peninsula. Alongside mass persecution of Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians and the LGBTQ+ community, property rights have also come under attack. Russia not only staged a large scale nationalization of Ukraine’s public assets but has seized private property too. 

Earlier this year, President Vladimir Putin issued an illegal decree prohibiting non-Russian citizens from owning land on much of the peninsula. Human rights groups say the move effectively strips Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians without Russian citizenship of their land rights.

Losing the Property War

After winning a court battle for their home, the Kozlovs lost it to Ukraine's Security Service (SBU). It took over the sanatorium in 2011 and reclassified it in a military facility with a ban on privatization. This stripped the Kozlovs of their right to the apartment. Nevertheless, the SBU couldn't force them out – under Ukrainian law, people can't be evicted from their only housing. 

After the annexation in 2014, Russian laws were enforced on the peninsula. The sanatorium changed the hands again – this time for Russia's Federal Security Service. But new owners had the same attitude and ordered the family to move out. Once again, the Kozlovs tried to fight for their home in court but lost it this time. Last May, the family was slapped with an eviction order. However, they have nowhere to go. 

READ MORE: The Cost of Crimean Annexation is Life – Special Project

"My husband is a pensioner and a Chernobyl liquidator. I'm a pensioner too," Elena Kozlov said. "The children don't have housing. If they offered to put any kind of roof over our heads, we would gladly leave. If we had been kicked out in 2001, we would have been able to earn enough for an apartment, we were young, but now..."

Chernomorye sanatorium management did not respond to Novaya Gazeta's request for comment. 

Losing the Roof Over Their Heads

Andrei Komarov was born and raised in an apartment on the territory of the "St Petersburg" sanatorium in Yalta. In 2006, sanatorium management allowed his family to privatize their home. But after Russia's occupation of Crimea, it was resold to VSMPO-Avisma Corporation, the world's largest titanium producer and a subsidiary of Rostec, a state corporation founded by President Vladimir Putin. Since then, many families living on the edge of the resort have started having problems, and new owners have begun encouraging them to move. 

Andrei Komarov. Photo: Novaya Gazeta

Komarov said while they privatized the apartment, they never managed to register the land on which their home stood. Hence, the sanatorium considered that land theirs. Sanatorium workers demolished the fence around their house, dug up the palm trees in their garden, and installed checkpoints. 

"Now, we can only get into our home with an access pass," he said. 

Komarov's neighbor spent three years locked in a land battle with the sanatorium owners before he surrendered and accepted their buyout offer. Komarov was also offered 9 million rubles (around $122,400), but he refused and ended up losing his roof. Literally. 

The Komarov family shared a roof with their neighbours. When the neighbours sold their home, the sanatorium dismantled the roof apex three times - and the Komarov's home was flooded. Photo: Novaya Gazeta

"They dismantled the apex between our apartment and the neighbor's apartment, which the sanatorium bought, and discarded it. As soon as it rained, we were flooded," Komarov recalled. 

Together with this son, they patched the roof up with whatever materials they had on hand. But as soon as they left the house, the owners tore the roof off again. This happened three times. The owners of the sanatorium refuse to communicate with the family.  

"When I spoke with the management, they told me: you won't be living here anyway," Komarov said. Nevertheless, he hasn't given up hope. 

READ MORE: Crimea 6 Years On – Reality and Russian Propaganda

Novaya Gazeta has been unable to reach sanatorium management for comment.

Slapped with Anti-Terrorism Laws

In another resort of Gurzuf, more than 400 people are being forced to move this year — officials declared their homes "unsafe." But villager Olga Kanaki says the authorities are exploiting ambiguous zoning regulations and just want to clear the way for an expansion of local VIP summer camp for kids.

Once the largest summer camp for kids from the countries under the Soviet patronage, the Artek was established in the 1920s and has been expanding since. As it grew, it began absorbing residential properties. This was partly facilitated by the fact that Artek never had defined borders. 

Under Russian occupation, Crimea's Kremlin-backed leader Sergey Aksyonov transferred 218 hectares of the coastal strip — including the land on which hundreds of residents lived — to federal ownership. Gurzuf villagers were then told that new anti-terror laws would prevent them from living next to a children's camp. Authorities promised to build 500 new apartments for the evicted but later revised that to just over 200. Then, they recognized 21 houses on the campsite as 'unsafe' and subject to immediate demolition. 

READ MORE: Bashar al-Assad’s Kids Allegedly Attended A Crimea Camp Last Year

These houses were unexpectedly declared "unsafe". Photo: Novaya Gazeta

Artek director Konstantin Fedorenko has threatened to block access roads and bring in security forces if residents were not out by June. 

Defending Their Homes in International Courts

There are around a dozen families who are against relocating to what they describe as multi-storey "dorms.” A number of families who spoke to Novaya Gazeta said both the size and conditions of the new apartments were significantly below the standards of their current homes. But their fate has already been decided. In March, Yalta City Council approved allocation plans for the new apartment building. 

One resident, Lyubov Podyablonskaya, has launched a lawsuit against Artek with the European Court of Human Rights. She wants the right to privatize her exiting home. Another resident, Irina Alakozov, doesn’t want to move with her three children, either. “My grandfather built this house,” her ex-husband Sergey Ivashchenko-Alakozov tells us. “He came to Gurzuf in the 1950s to build Artek but there was no housing for him, only a plot of abandoned land. During the day he worked on the camp and at night he dragged stones from the beach to build a house for the family.” Surrounded by a beach and forest, the Alakozovs say their family home was envied by many. 

“Now there’s dust, dirt and construction,” Irina says. 

READ MORE: Despite Kremlin Investment, Crimea Still Faces Human and Economic Costs

/Translated and abridged by Natalie Vikhrov, with materials from Novaya Gazeta correspondent Ekaterina Reznikova. Courtesy of the Russian Language News Exchange.