A prominent elderly Crimean Tatar activist has died after being caught up in an incident in which Russian security officers in Crimea detained several of her associates.
Vedzhie Kashka, 82, became unwell and was taken away by ambulance in the Crimean city of Simferopol on November 23 after several fellow activists were detained by Russian officers on suspicion of extortion.
Kashka subsequently died, according to sources in a local hospital and fellow Crimean Tatar activists.
Speaking in Brussels after a meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he had informed Tusk "about the terrible events that took place in Crimea today" and lauded Kashka's "very important history of defending the interests of the Crimean Tatar people."
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin posted on Twitter that Kashka was a "heroic and courageous woman" and that her death was "another tragedy of despicable repressions Russia exerts in Crimea."
Crimean Tatar activists Bekir Degermendzhi, Asan Chapukh, and Kyazim Ametov were detained in the incident, which took place in a cafe in the Crimean capital.
Russian state media quoted the Federal Security Service (FSB) branch in Crimea as saying that several members of the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatar self-governing body that has been outlawed by Russian authorities, were detained in Simferopol on suspicion of extorting $7,000 from a Turkish citizen.
However, Mejlis member Gayana Yuksel told journalists that the detainees were not members of the body.
Russia's state-run RIA Novosti news agency, citing an unidentified law enforcement source, said that Kashka died due to "stress" and accused the suspects of "cynically" using her as a pawn in the alleged extortion plot.
'They've Come For Our Elders'
But Crimean Tatar activist Nariman Dzhelalov told RFE/RL that the Turkish citizen had duped Kashka out of a large amount of money, and that the detained men were trying to convince him to return the sum.
The Turkish man "tried to get out of it, and the security services used the situation to apply pressure on this group of activists," Dzhelalov said.
Kashka had been a prominent Crimean Tatar activist since the 1950s and was a colleague of Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.
Her death triggered an outpouring of outrage and grief among fellow Crimean Tatars.
"They’ve come for our elders," journalist Aidar Muzhdabayev wrote on Facebook, adding that it was "impossible to hold back tears."
Muzhdabayev and others said Russian security officers had planned to detain the veteran activist as well before she fell ill. That could not be immediately confirmed, and Russian authorities did not immediately release an official statement on the matter.
Rights groups and Western governments have denounced what they call a persistent campaign of oppression targeting members of the indigenous Turkic-speaking Crimean Tatar minority and other citizens who opposed Russia's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014.
Human Rights Watch said in a report released November 14 that de facto Russian authorities in the region have "intensified persecution" of Crimean Tatars due to their opposition to the Russian takeover of their historic homeland.