Russian Muslim Opposition Journalist Denied Entry To Ukraine
28 September, 2017

On September 25, Ukraine denied entry to Dmitry Hamza Chernomorchenko, editor-in-chief of the Voice of Islam news site, and his brother Alexei.

The border guards claim that the brothers were rejected because they did not state the purpose of their visit. But Dmitry Chernomorchenko believes the actual reason was his political and religious beliefs.

Five years ago, Chernomorchenko fled Russia and moved to Turkey. There, he supported Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and opposed Russian adventurism in Ukraine, views he expressed on Voice of Islam.

While held in Odesa Airport’s departure area, Chernomorchenko spoke with Hromadske about his predicament.

What happened?

Dmitry and Alexei Chernomorchenko arrived at the border control area of Odesa Airport on September 25. There they were informed that they needed to be interviewed, as it was their first visit to the country.

“As I understood, after the interview, the [guards’] decision was positive. Then they told us to wait a bit. Soon, people from the Security Service of Ukraine and the border service entered the room and introduced themselves. After several hours of waiting, we received a document stating we had been refused [entry],” Chernomorchenko said.

The official reason was that the brothers could not “prove the purpose of their visit to Ukraine.”

The Border Guards’ Side of the Story

“They were calm, but they answered questions hesitantly, consulted with one another,” Oleg Slobodyan, press secretary of the State Border Guard Service told Hromadske. “The border guards have expressed doubts regarding the true purpose of their visit to Ukraine.”

According to Slobodyan, first Dmitry and Aleksei said that they were IT specialists. Then, the border guards found out that they edit Voice of Islam.

The Chernomorchenkos’ Side of the Story

“I didn’t advertise that I’m an editor of Voice of Islam because I didn’t want to turn the conversation political,” Dmitry Chernomorchenko says. He does not deny the fact that, at first, the brothers told the border guards that they were IT specialists. He says that’s because he also works in the IT business in Finland and Ireland.

Chernomorchenko says that he is seeking Ukrainian citizenship. That was the real purpose for his visit, and he believes he had all the necessary documents and grounds to receive it.

“My mother was born and lived in Ukraine,” he said. “I have to submit documents to the passport service at my future place of residence. We rented an apartment and we have a notarized form stating that my landlady consents to my registration at that apartment.”

Why Were They Refused?

The State Border Guard Service says that the Chernomorchenkos were refused because their stated purpose of visit was untrue. However, Dmitry Chernomorchenko asserts that the reason for their entry denial, indicated on the document they received, is only a formality.

Photo credit: Dmitry Chernomorchenko

Rather, he claims that one of the border guards informed him in a private conversation that they had received an order to reject the brothers from the Border Guard Service’s Odesa branch. The Border Guard Service reportedly based its decision on compromising materials about Dmitry Chernomorchenko found online.

“‘You are a Muslim, you are a public figure, you are an Islamist, in Turkey you were supporting [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan — that’s why you were refused entry to Ukraine,’” Chernomorchenko says the border guard told him.

Photo credit: Dmitry Chernomorchenko

The two brothers were placed in a holding room at the airport. Dmitry notes that he has cancer and that the conditions in the room were spartan. No one provided them with hot food; they received only sandwiches from on-board catering.

Chernomorchenko’s Activities in Russia

According to Dmitry Chernomorchenko, Voice of Islam is the most popular Muslim news portal among Russian-speaking internet users. However, in early 2016, Russian communications watchdog Roskomnadzor blocked the site — a move Chernomorchenko says was motivated by Voice of Islam’s coverage of the Syrian civil war and the war in Ukraine. In particular, the site had published an interview with the leader of the Islamic terrorist organization Jabhat al-Nusra, a branch of al-Qaeda which is banned in the Russian Federation.

Five years ago, Chernomorchenko was forced to leave Russia. Previously, he had worked as a teacher at the Nur-Islam Mosque on Russia’s northern Yamal Peninsula. Then, in 2010, the Russian authorities accused several people from the mosque of extremism. Although the court later acquitted these people, the prosecutor’s office accused Nur-Islam of spreading extremist literature on CDs and DVDs. As a result, Chernomorchenko fled to Turkey.

There, he continued to edit Voice of Islam. He says that the publication spoke out against the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine.

“I don’t know what to say about my entry ban…for a person involved in opposition activity against Putin’s regime,” Chernomorchenko said.

How Many Muslims Are Refused Entry to Ukraine? And Why?

Ukrainian human rights activist Maksym Butkevych says that there are two formal reasons to refuse someone entry to the country: an unconfirmed purpose of visit or insufficient financial resources.

“The criteria are so blurry that they can be manipulated in any way,” Butkevych said. “Very often entry refusal decisions depend on the subjective opinion of the senior officer working at the border control point at that moment.”

There are no statistics on denial of entry to Muslims, as it is difficult to track such cases. But there is telling anecdotal evidence.

Anvar Derkach, a Ukrainian journalist and activist, recounted the following story: A Muslim woman named Asiyat Abdulkarimova arrived in Kyiv with her seven children seeking asylum. She informed a member of the State Border Guard Service of the purpose of her visit. But she was arrested, refused entry, and deported back to Egypt “by a decision of the competent authorities.”

“In other words, the Security Service of Ukraine believes that a woman in her 40s with seven children poses a danger to Ukraine,” Derkach said.

He emphasizes that the authorities do not always behave logically. “There are a lot of people who reside in Ukraine on a permanent basis and fight against the Russian authorities,” he says. For example, the Caucasus Emirate is recognized as a terrorist organization in many countries.

“But those who fought against Russia [in the Caucasus Emirate] live here, in Ukraine. It’s not advertised, but it’s a fact,” Derkach said. “Recently, Muslims have been refused entry to Ukraine. So the question is: who is more dangerous? A journalist or people who have fought with weapons in their hands? The answer is obvious.”

/Translated by Olga Kuchmagra