Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
Excerpt from a book, which is set to be released in the near future:
Crimea was saying goodbye to its heroes. With all military honors. Thousands of Crimeans came to bow their heads before the dead. The farewell ceremony took place on February 22nd, 2014, in the building of the Ukrainian musical theater of Simferopol. Betrayed by the commander-in-chief [Yanukovych – ed], demonized by the Ukrainian media, but faithful-to-the-end to the oath and duty of service, the fighters of the special unit “Berkut” of the Republic of Crimea came back home in coffins. There were three. Shoulder to shoulder, shield to shield, in rain, in snow, under hail stones, bottles with self-made napalm, and then also under gunfire, they resisted the inflaming civil conflict that was on the brink of becoming a civil war. It was forbidden to return fire. Moreover, there was nothing to return fire with. Their issued weapons remained on the peninsula. These three fighters weren’t the first victims of Maidan’s militants, but, after their death absolute clarity arrived that the puppeteers of Maidan switched their protègès to the regime of big blood. There wasn’t a way back for anybody. Neither for them, nor for us. The point of no return had been passed. The country that existed before Maidan was no more. And in the “updated” Ukraine — it was impossible to remain. It was not only my personal choice. It was read in the eyes of Crimeans, accompanying the dead Berkut officers in their last business trip.
The fighters of “Berkut” who were more lucky than their colleagues weren’t in a hurry to disarm and obey the orders of representatives of the new power, which was formed by leaders of a state coup. While portfolios in Kiev were being shared around, local officials remained in their posts and either looked for the opportunity come to an agreement with leaders of Maidan groups, or stayed in a stupor. They had no possibility to force the colleagues of the dead to disarm. Having hastily evacuated their families, fighters of the special unit established a defensive perimeter around the base of Crimean “Berkut”. Having barricaded the entrances, having equipping weapon emplacements, having rolled out the armored personnel carriers, the guys made it clear that they are ready to be defend themselves to the end, fully realizing how it can end. It was obvious that special troops of SBU “Alpha” or nationalist fighters will come looking for them. At that moment, in the Crimean situation it wasn’t yet clear with the other security forces who were friends and who were enemies.
The events in Kiev forced different groups representing the Russian movement in Crimea to consolidate. We carried out a large number of actions of an anti-Maidan character, coordinated the actions of our co-thinkers in all cities of the peninsula. I was directly involved in this process. Having assessed the situation in which the wounded “Berkut” found itself, we made the decision to put in front of the entrance of the special units’ base a civilian post made from activists of the Russian movement of Crimea and Cossack organizations. The purpose of organising the civilian post to keep watch was to not allow the bloodshed and provocations of nationalists. We distinctly understood that this post is the last barrier resisting the implementation of a bloody scenario. And it is thanks to this post that “Alpha”, which received the order to disarm “Berkut”, couldn’t complete their task. To shoot at civilians — they were still not ready.
Crimean “Berkut” at first treated our initiative with doubt. After the horrors of Maidan, after they buried their brothers-in-arms, the mood of fighters was critical. When we succeeded to convince them that we support them and are ready to stand between them and those who will arrive to disarm them, and maybe even to eliminate them, and because Kiev saw them off with unambiguous threats and curses, the fighters believed us. With every new day of the Crimean spring all of them started to more actively participate in our common work on the neutralization of parts of the UAF and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The role of Crimean “Berkut” in the Crimean spring can’t be overestimated. “Berkut” was one of our symbols. Crimeans perceived the fighters of this unit as their defenders, who were the first to engage with nationalists on Kiev’s Maidan. Crimea met buses with “Berkut” who escaped from Kiev with tears in their eyes.
Still acting at this time Chairman of the Board of Ministers of Crimea Anatoly Mogilyov suddenly arrived at our civilian post and hoped to convince activists and fighters of “Berkut” that no disarmament will happen, and that all of this is ridiculous rumour and silly fantasies. And then also accused us of inflating the situation. I.e., a state coup took place in the country, power was seized by nazis, but it is in us that he saw a threat. In general, he, like all regionals, was sacredly sure that in a few weeks they “will work everything out, everything will be correct, there is no reason to be concerned, the situation will be under control”. But there wasn’t any more trust in them. Neither from us, nor from the “Berkut” betrayed by them. And Mr Mogilev was obliged to be ousted without anything.
The challenge that was thrown at us by Kiev forced us to act in conditions of distemper and uncertainty, without reckoning with possible consequences. On February 22nd, on Lenin Square in Simferopol, activists of the Russian movement of Crimea established the first tent and began signing up Crimeans for self-defense units. Police officers immediately approached us and tried to curtail what they called an “illegal action”. We managed to convince them that illegal actions were committed by supporters of Maidan, who also were killing their colleagues, and that we are aligned with them on the side of the law, legal order, and ordinary citizens. Police officers saluted and stood up for the protection of our tent. It is from such hardly noticeable episodes that the overall picture in Crimea was being formed. Law enforcement authorities understood that they didn’t have much of a choice: either execute criminal orders, or come over to the side of the people, which they were a part of. When militants tried to storm administrative buildings, Crimeans stood shoulder to shoulder with the police officers protecting these buildings. And when stones and bottles flied, when attacks with iron fittings and chains were incoming, they hit not only law enforcement officers, but also our activists, ordinary Crimeans. It is precisely during this period, from February 22nd to February 26th, that the attitude formed of policemen towards our movement, which was encompassing more and more not-indifferent citizens of Crimea. And, in many respects, thanks to this attitude, the process of resubmission of the Crimean law enforcement authorities to local authorities happened quickly and painlessly….
On February 25th, in Simferopol, during a many-thousand meeting, our activists hung a flag of the Russian Federation on the building of the Supreme Council of Crimea. It was, certainly, the most symbolic moment, both for Crimeans and for the Russian political establishment. Crimea, in the face of the participants of meeting, let it be known that it is ready to go all the way concerning the question of returning to the Motherland. It was a signal that was unambiguously received in Moscow. Despite the fact that later the majority of participants recognised the meeting on February 26th as the main crucial event of the Crimean spring, I remain confident that the flag of Russia on the building of the Supreme Council of Crimea definitely designated the priorities of the anti-Maidan protest in Crimea. What occurred on February 26th was already an inevitable consequence.
All previous years, when Crimea was under the jurisdiction of Ukraine, the attitude of Crimean officials towards the flag of the Russian Federation (who, by the way, still remain in the same cozy offices) was negative. It was called the flag of a foreign state, for which there was no place at official events, as well as unofficial ones too. With all available means, with a cautious glance at Kiev’s chiefs, they tried not to allow the emergence of the tricolor in the Ukrainian political and information field. But, this flag was a flag of foreign state only for them, and not for us. The flag of Russia was our symbol of unity with the Russian world, and not simply a flag of a neighboring country. That’s why the intention of officials to forbid it was quite explainable and rational.
It is necessary to understand that as soon as a politician or public figure expressed his pronounced pro-Russian position, he started to be eliminated. By different methods: economic, political, informational, the opening of criminal cases, threats of physical reprisals, and at times not only verbal threats. To be pro-Russian and successful in the then-situation was impossible a priori. In response to the total Ukrainization, we held a huge number of actions where the flag of the Russian Federation was present. The action “A Russian Flag in Every House”, when we were sewing and distributing these flags to ordinary Crimeans, who took these flags with pleasure, to put it mildly, wasn’t welcomed by the Ukrainian authorities. But, it is precisely these, as they are now called, flashmob actions that helped to keep the Russian spirit, which became the propeller of the Russian spring in Crimea. In many respects, thanks to these actions, a huge number of youth who didn’t experience the Soviet Union with its values and traditions, and whose upbringing had already occurred in Ukraine, took part in the Crimean spring. But, despite this circumstance, our youth imbued themselves with the idea of the Russian world and considered Crimea as a part of historical Russia.
At that time, in February, 2014, we still didn’t know how it will end. There were also too many alarmists. Especially from the old guard – the veterans of the Russian movement disappointed with the results of the previous intricacies. They remembered 1995, when the President of the Republic of Crimea Yury Aleksandrovich Meshkov was betrayed. They said: wait, now behind your backs they will agree, you will have problems, you will be punished, and other gloomy, but it is necessary to say, not-groundless forecasts. In the event of failure, with other development of events, it would have been like that. Those people who participated in events of the Russian spring in Crimea, or the Crimean spring, realized that the defeat of Russian cause for them will be the equivalent of death. Everything was put on the altar of serving the Motherland. Alarmists were hysterical, but the Russian tricolor was already hung on the building of the Supreme Council of Crimea. The flag of the Russian Federation became our Banner of Victory. The Banner of the Victory of the Crimean spring…