UCCA – Members of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA), the nation’s largest representation of Americans of Ukrainian descent, on April 28 met with Refat Chubarov, the chairman of the Indigenous Crimean Tatar Mejlis.
The UCCA hosted this small gathering of local community leaders at its New York City office to discuss the current situation in Ukraine, in particular the status of the Crimean Tatar population in occupied Crimea, as well as the rest of Ukraine.
Mr. Chubarov was in town attending the 14th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Ayla Bakkalli, the U.S. representative of the Indigenous Crimean Tatar Mejlis, helped arrange this meeting.
A leading figure in Crimea’s Tatar community, Mr. Chubarov stated that life on the peninsula since Russia’s illegal occupation has become increasingly more difficult for the Crimean Tatars. The Russian Federation has cracked down on dissent since taking control, and Crimean Tatars are continually being targeted by Moscow’s system of oppression.
Prior to the illegal occupation, Crimean Tatars had constituted about 15 percent of the peninsula’s total population, having been granted the right of return by independent Ukraine only in the 1990s. In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, Mr. Chubarov stated that of the roughly 20,000 Crimean residents displaced, 10,000 Tatars were now internally displaced within mainland Ukraine.
Mr. Chubarov then proceeded to cite examples of everyday problems that Crimean Tatars face. A Crimean Tatar woman, who maintains her Ukrainian passport, had to register the birth of her child in the town where her child was born. Unfortunately, now that Crimea is occupied by Russia, the mother received Russian birth documentation for the child. When she decided to visit her family in mainland Ukraine, she was given permission to cross the border from Crimea to Ukraine but her child, which now has Russian documents, was not. Mr. Chubarov stressed that there are dozens of such cases of everyday difficulties that need to be addressed.
Mr. Chubarov also argued in favor of maintaining Western sanctions against Russia and even adopting tougher sanctions, as well as supplying Ukraine with modern weapons to help it defend itself.
He said he is thankful for the Ukrainian American community’s advocacy of these same positions but underscored his desire for the community to not forget his homeland, urging that Crimea be included in discussions and statements about Ukraine. He also welcomed the Ukrainian American community’s ability to gather and send tons of humanitarian aid needed by internally displaced persons.
In conclusion, Mr. Chubarov expressed gratitude to Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada for joining the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and for officially recognizing the Crimean Tatar people’s status as indigenous people of Crimea.