"I remember very well how the so-called 'green men' appeared, how the military units were blocked, how people tried to feed the soldiers, passing food to them, because they knew that the soldiers didn't have any. I remember how the demonstrations took place - 'Crimean Women For Peace' with yellow and blue baloons - and how everybody hoped something would happen, they read the news, watched TV and thought that something would come up and change everything.
Three years have passed since then. Unfortunately, it has been three years. It's been a time of hardship; detentions, arrests, searches, kidnappings, mothers' tears and immense patience. Some people might consider it to have passed quickly, but for us it has been too long".
Elmira Ablyalimova, wife of Akhtem Chyigoz
The first deputy of Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, Akhtem Chyigoz, was detained in annexed Crimea on January 29th 2015. Occupation authorities charged him with the organization of mass civil unrest near the Verkhovna Rada of Crimea on February 26th 2014. Then thousands protesters clashed in Simferopol, one man died of a heart attack and a woman died after being trampled. Chyigoz could be sentensed to 10 years in prison. Nataliya Poklonska, the famous former 'Crimean prosecutor' and now a deputy in the Russian Duma, is representing the prosecution.
Hromadske spoke to Elmira Ablyalimova, wife of Akhtem Chyigoz, about her husband's case, life in occupied Crimea, friends, enemies and the fight after three years of annexation.
Have you had the chance to talk to Akhtem?
The court let me as a defense attorney. Ukrainian laws allow for civil defenders, and it gives me the right to visit him in the pretrial detention centre. I help the lawyers a bit, but it's mainly to give him moral support.
In your opinion, what is the most fabricated part of your husband's case?
Everything. From the first page and to the last - everything is fake. The lawyers have chosen a line of defense in which they just deny any accusations based on the prosecutor's charges.
What are you hopes regarding the court hearings?
One can’t live without hope...But I understand that we already have the final verdict, it’s clear....The real question is how many years it will go on for. We know that there is no article like in the Sentsov or Kol’chenko cases, where it states 20 or 22 years. We have more than ten years. Now it seems the question is how many years it will actually be. That’s the question. But however many they give him we will carry on. What else can we do?
How do you think Akhtem's detention has influenced other Crimean Tatars here?
It was for show, so everybody could understand: "Look at what could happen. If someone like Akhtem Chyigoz can be charged, what can be said for the rest of us?" It was shocking situation for everybody.
My generation was born in deportation. I was born in Uzbekistan. But we were raised knowing our homeland was Crimea and that we must return there. Our parents did everything they could so that we could return.
When we returned we didn’t ask for our homes or property back. We went to the authorities and said give us land, we’ll build and we’ll live…
In 2014 they suddenly denied us entry to the other side of the barricade. They denied us access to the people who we were associated with, those who we considered our friends. Our points of view were completely opposite–what seemed dangerous for us seemed very good to them. And for the first time, I remember it very well, we lived in fear of danger...the feeling of constant tension.
And then Akhtem was arrested. I don’t really remember that time because it was catastrophic and unpleasant for me. I just didn’t know what to do in that moment, what action to take. How did this happen? Why? What for? But after a while I grew tired of being afraid. Now we live our lives and are very conscious of the fact that we did not steal anything from anyone. We are living on our land. Moreover, we have the right to live on this land.
It’s even more painful to see these crazy plans that individual politicians are working on, saying that Crimea should be leased to Russia for 50 years, 100 years, and so on. They are strongly provoking us and that’s why I just want to scream and say that we are not serfs that can be rented out! We are the owners of this land and we should be able to decide on this question, the way we want, just ask us. But we also understand that Ukraine is going through hardship because there is a war in the East, people are being killed...But we really hope that society, politicians, the President of Ukraine will do everything in their power to return Ukraine’s territorial integrity and become a strong, European state.