Over the last 24 hours, Crimeans and people from mainland Ukraine have heeded a plea for help from Crimean Tatar civic leader Nariman Dzhelyal and brought money, food and clothing for the 24 Ukrainian sailors whom Russia took prisoner after its unprovoked attack on three Ukrainian Navy boats on Nov 25.

By late Wednesday afternoon, Dzhelyal reported that they had already collected UAH 60,000 (RUB 140,000), the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group wrote.

The money, together with a formidable amount of food, clothing, toiletries and other items, will be passed to the men in the Simferopol SIZO [remand prison].

As is always the case at the ‘court hearings’ in cases involving Crimean Tatar and other political prisoners, this time, a large number of Crimeans also came to the Russian-controlled ‘court’ to show their support.  Archbishop Kliment is seeking permission to visit the men though, with Russia’s antagonistic attitude to the Orthodox Church under the Kyiv Patriarchate, it is not clear whether this will be granted.

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Three of the men were badly wounded, when Russian FSB coast guards opened fire without provocation on Nov 25, and remain in a Kerch hospital. The ‘court hearing’ remanding them in custody appears to have been held without them, and with all three men having been deprived access to a lawyer. 

The help did not stop there.  Osman Pashayev, a Crimean Tatar journalist forced by the occupation regime from Crimea, found that he had collected almost UAH 325,000 for the imprisoned Ukrainians, as well as $100 that somebody brought to his office in Kyiv.

Pashayev later wrote that he had been mistaken for the last five years in assuming that with rare exceptions, there was nobody remaining in occupied Crimea except the Crimean Tatars who still supported Ukraine.  Of the 857 people who had written to him to donate money for the men, very many, he writes, had Slavonic (non-Crimean Tatar) names.

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Other Ukrainian citizens in Crimea, besides Crimean Tatars, are not organized and do not have the same contacts. “They are more frightened than many Crimean Tatas.  They don’t have the experience in their genes of fighting the regime, the history of returning from deportation and opposing those in power. For many of them, Russia’s occupation is their first experience of dissidence. They probably won’t go to courts, stream such material onto the internet and won’t confront the repressive machine.  They won’t speak out publicly, yet there are moments when they overcome their fear and write personal messages on Facebook although they know that there is no guarantee that such form of communication is safe”. They want to help, he adds, without heroism, and they also deserve our support.

It is worth stressing that fears of FSB reprisals for writing to an exiled journalist and particularly for helping Ukrainian prisoners of war are very well-founded.  Russia has imposed a massive amount of surveillance in occupied Crimea, and is also encouraging people to denounce their neighbors, colleagues, etc.  On Nov 28 alone, searches were carried out of the homes of Ukrainian Cultural Centre activist Halyna Balaban. Elina Mamedova, as well as of several members of a Crimean Tatar family. Balaban is suspected of ‘extremism’, with this allegedly seen in some comments on VKontakte, while Mamedova is facing criminal charges and has already been added to Russia’s notorious ‘List of extremists and terrorists’ for three Facebook reposts critical of Russian occupation of Crimea.