Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Ukraine

Self-Exiled Blogger: 'Crimea Is A Big Prison'

Yelizaveta Bohutskaya
Yelizaveta Bohutskaya
By Mark Krutov and Claire Bigg

A popular blogger who fled Crimea this week after local authorities raided her home says basic human rights are under threat in the peninsula.

Yelizaveta Bohutskaya has been a strident critic of Crimea's self-declared authorities since Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine in March. 

Despite efforts to stifle dissent, Bohutskaya has used her Facebook account to tirelessly pan the new government and denounce what she says is a sweeping crackdown on fundamental freedoms in Crimea.

"Crimea is now a big prison, although few people understand this," she told RFE/RL from Odesa, in mainland Ukraine. "Many think we got freedom when Russia took over. They don't yet understand that this 'freedom' will backfire for all of us."

Amid the media clampdown, Bohutskaya's posts have emerged as a rare source of independent information from Crimea.

Almost 20,000 people follow her Facebook page, and she has been giving interviews for Ukrainian radio and television.

Photos of her car, adorned with traditional Ukrainian embroidery motifs, have also been widely circulated on the Internet.

She says the September 8 raid on her home and her subsequent detention were just a matter of time.

The day before, she had written a particularly acerbic post in which she accused Russia's secret services of manipulating Crimeans and warned that the violence in eastern Ukraine could well spill over into the peninsula.

"I felt something would happen," she wrote in a later post. "That night I couldn't sleep until 5 a.m. Every time a car stopped in my yard I though it had come for me."

Security forces launched their raid at 5.30 a.m. by releasing a round of gunfire outside her home.

Bogutskaya says the men searched her home for ammunition, narcotics, and extremist literature. 

They told her she was a witness in the case surrounding Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev's attempt to re-enter Crimea on May 3.

Bohutskaya was at the scene when thousands of supporters broke through lines of Russian troops to reach Dzhemilev as he tried to cross back into Crimea from mainland Ukraine after being declared persona non grata by the new Crimean authorities. 

Bogutskaya's computer, mobile phone, car navigation devices, and USB sticks were confiscated during the raid.

"Now I understand that they had no right to seize this equipment from me, as a witness," she says. "I'm not a suspect and I haven't been charged."

Bogutskaya was then taken to the new government's crime-fighting agency. 

There, she was questioned for three hours and told she may be charged with extremist activities and inciting ethnic hatred. She was eventually released.

"Two hours later, I had already decided that I must leave," she says. "They let me go, but the following day they would have looked at the seized material and charged me with extremist activities, they would have fabricated terrorism charges against me. Then I would have been arrested as an extremist."

She quickly purchased a new computer, a new mobile phone, and hastily packed a few clothes. She left Crimea overnight. 

Bohutskaya has already published her first posts from Odesa. 

Other than that, she has no immediate plan for the future and doesn't know when she will be able to return to Crimea, where her husband and children remain for now.

Despite these uncertainties, Bohutskaya stands firmly by her decision to flee Crimea.

"I decided it was better to speak up in freedom than keep silent in prison," she says.


Claire Bigg

Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues. Send story tips to BiggC@rferl.org​


 

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