top of page

Photographer Emine Ziyatdinova on how Crimea was taken away: «I felt that Donbas would be next»

21 October 2014. Photo by Emine Ziyatdinova


At gunpoint 10 years ago, on 16 March 2014, the pro-Russian authorities held an illegal referendum in Crimea on joining Russia, which led to the annexation of the peninsula. Before that, the so-called "little green men" - Russian military units without any insignia on their uniforms - appeared on the territory of Crimea. The civilised world did not recognise the results of the pseudo-referendum, which was held without adherence to international standards and the supervision of independent observers.


Among those who watched the Russian Federation annex the Crimean peninsula was Emine Ziyatdinova, a documentary photographer of Crimean Tatar origin. She was born in Uzbekistan, where her family was deported from Crimea in 1944 by the Stalinist regime. In 1990, Emine and her family returned to their homeland, but in 2014 she was forced to leave her home by the Putin regime. 


Everyone understood that it was the Russians 


"I had a very clear understanding of the threat," Emine begins to recall the events of spring 2014, "This, of course, is connected to the history of the Crimean Tatars. There was a lot of fear and anxiety because there was talk that Crimean Tatars would be deported from Crimea again. The Crimean Tatars did not support any leaders of the occupation regime - neither Aksyonov nor Konstantinov".


On 20 February 2014, military men without insignia appeared in Crimea. They spoke Russian. Ukrainians and Crimeans called them 'little green men' because of the colour of their uniforms. The unidentified men were in fact armed Russian military personnel. They took turns seizing Ukrainian border crossing points and blocking military units.


Unmarked Russian soldiers in Sevastopol. March 2014. Photo by Emine Ziyatdinova


At that time, in Kyiv, Eminem was actively involved in the Revolution of Dignity. She was contacted by Danish journalists and asked to travel to Crimea together to cover everything that was happening on the peninsula.


"Everyone expected a military development. Journalists, for example, too. The Heavenly Hundred had already been killed on the Maidan before, so everyone was in a tense state, everyone expected something to happen. Because all military units were surrounded," recalls Emine, who worked with Danish journalists as a fixer. 


Photo by Emine Ziyatdinova


«Donbas will be next»


When the Russians had already captured all Ukrainian military units, Emine and her team understood that Crimea would be given back without armed confrontation.

"I was personally very disappointed about this. I also had a clear understanding that Donbas would be next," says Emine.


Photo by Emine Ziyatdinova


Photo by Emine Ziyatdinova


Photo by Emine Ziyatdinova


International journalists from all over the world came to cover the actions of the Russians, which were outrageous for the civilised world. They, like Eminem's team, made daily reports about the seizure of another military unit and the history of the Crimean Tatars. "The 'little green men' convinced Ukrainians to lay down their arms and join their side. Moscow initially denied the presence of its military in Crimea.

"We went there: we went to Belbek. We were in that military unit before it surrendered. We went to Sevastopol, we went to Perevalne, and also Bakhchisarai - to all the military bases that were surrounded," says Emine, adding that events were moving too fast: "All the world's famous media were working in Crimea at the time: CNN, Al Jazeera, photojournalists from other media. It was very strange, because everyone understood from the very beginning that it was the Russian military, that it was Russian aggression, that Russia had crossed our state border, that they were annexing, that we were on the verge of war."


Photo by Emine Ziyatdinova


Some Ukrainian soldiers continued to resist and did not want to betray their oath. During this time, the pro-Russian authorities threatened and intimidated local civilians, and as a result, Ukrainian activists were arrested on trumped-up charges and Crimean Tatar activists were found murdered. The Russians paid special attention to the Crimean Tatars, the indigenous population of the peninsula, as they have always actively opposed the occupation authorities. Despite the resistance, the Russians managed to seize all Ukrainian military, law enforcement and administrative facilities and hang their "tricolours". As a result, the puppet government held a pseudo-referendum.


Photo by Emine Ziyatdinova


Photo by Emine Ziyatdinova


Photo by Emine Ziyatdinova


16 March, the so-called referendum «on reunification with Russia»


The "referendum" included two questions on the ballot: the restoration of the 1992 Crimean constitution and Crimea's accession to Russia. In this way, the organisers of the pseudo-referendum did not give the residents of the peninsula the opportunity to remain part of Ukraine. The poll was held without international observers, so no one recorded any violations or falsifications. At the time, the occupiers reported that the voter turnout was over 83%, and in Sevastopol it was almost 90%. However, according to the leader of the Crimean Tatar people Mustafa Dzhemilev, the voter turnout did not exceed 30%.  


Photo by Emine Ziyatdinova


Photo by Emine Ziyatdinova


Photo by Emine Ziyatdinova


"The culminating moment for me personally was when the results were announced on 16 March on Lenin Square. The world seemed to have collapsed around me. I remember Zhenya Malolletka was on the same square. I sat on his shoulder and just sobbed. I couldn't stop crying for hours afterwards," admits Eminem.


Photo by Emine Ziyatdinova


Photo by Emine Ziyatdinova


Photo by Emine Ziyatdinova


According to Emine, Lenin Square was full of drunken, cheering people with tricolours. As she and the team of Danish journalists were packing up to leave the scene, a woman approached them and wanted to confess her love for Russia on camera. The stranger shouted and pushed Eminem, but no one could protect her. "For me, this is a very metaphorical moment. These journalists I was working with were just standing there, and no one was helping me. There was also a driver in our team, my friend's husband. He was also standing there, watching everything with a smile. Until I came up to him, grabbed his hand and said: "We are paying you, take her away from here," he would have done nothing. For me, this is a very metaphorical scene of these events."


Two days later, on 18 March 2014, Putin and representatives of the occupation authorities signed a document on the annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation. Subsequently, the self-proclaimed Prime Minister of the occupation authorities in Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, admitted that Putin personally supervised the "annexation" of Crimea.


Photo by Emine Ziyatdinova


«I was afraid that Kyiv would be bombed in 2014»


After the invasion of Crimea, Emin did not think that Russia could attack the whole of Ukraine, but had a clear understanding that events would now unfold in Donbas. However, in July-August 2014, when the fighting in eastern Ukraine was in full swing, Emin became afraid that the Russians might shell Kyiv as well: "I was constantly following the news. I was kind of paranoid that Kyiv was going to be bombed, and at every smoke break I would say to my friend: "Look how they bombed Grozny, and they're going to bomb Kyiv!" It seemed to me that it would all start right now, in 2014. I had this feeling."


Russian troops did start bombing Kyiv and the whole of Ukraine, but 8 years later, on 24 February 2022. All this time since 2014, the occupiers had been actively militarising Crimea and preparing for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

For Emin, as well as for many Ukrainians, the 10-year Russian-Ukrainian war began in 2014. The documentary filmmaker admits that it was painful for her to feel powerless and to watch the lawlessness that was being committed before her eyes: "It was like I was left alone with Russian aggression, and everyone was watching it live. It was very difficult for me to emotionally experience this March 2014."


The Ukrainian Defence Forces are now doing everything possible to liberate Crimea and all other temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine.


Emine Ziyatdinova is a Ukrainian documentary photographer of Crimean Tatar origin, co-founder of Ukrainian Warchive. She studied photojournalism at Ohio University (USA). The main theme of Ziyatdinova's documentary photography is immigration and ethnic minorities. 


 

As a reminder, the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers has launched a series of materials dedicated to the key events of the Russian war against Ukraine, where it publishes memoirs and photographs of Ukrainian documentary photographers.


The project is implemented thanks to the support of IWM Documenting Ukraine.

コメント


bottom of page