Russia/Ukraine: A decade of suppressing non-Russian identities in occupied Crimea 

Since the occupation of Crimea 10 years ago, Russia has sought to change the peninsula’s ethnic makeup and suppress the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar communities, Amnesty International said today in a new publication, on the tenth anniversary of the illegal annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula by Russia.  

“Russia has systematically sought to eradicate Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar identities by disrupting, restricting or banning the use of Ukrainian and Crimean Tartar languages in education, media, national celebrations and other spheres of life, and oppressing religious and cultural practices that do not conform to those endorsed by Moscow. It has also forcibly transferred population out of Crimea and transferred the Russian civilian population in,” said Patrick Thompson, Amnesty International’s Ukraine Researcher.  

“Russia must end its practices of suppression and eradication of non-Russian identities in the territories it occupies and stop its violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.” 


Russia has attempted to legitimize its occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea by introducing policies that aim to suppress non-Russian identities throughout the peninsula.  

Immediately after the annexation, Russia imposed its own school curriculum in Crimea resulting in indoctrination and threats of reprisals against teachers, students and parents who objected. At the same time the Russian authorities have been systematically dismantling Ukrainian language education. This has come on top of the illegal imposition of Russian laws and practices, including suppression of the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and of cultural events and religious practices.   

“For years, we have been ringing the alarm bell over Russia’s suppression of human rights in Crimea. A decade later we can take stock of what this has done to the peninsula as Russia seeks to suppress non-Russian identities, including Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar cultures. Alarmingly, it looks like this is Russia’s blueprint for the other Ukrainian territories it has occupied.” 


Russia has severely restricted the right to freedom of religion and belief in Crimea, including the introduction of legislation according to which praying, preaching or disseminating religious materials outside specifically designated places or without an official permission a punishable offence. As of 2023, dozens of administrative cases have been brought against individuals for “illegal” missionary activity, and in more than 50 those targeted paid hefty fines for these “violations”, according to information from freedom of religion watchdog Forum 18.  

Crimea’s Muslim population, the majority of whom are Crimean Tatars, have faced severe reprisals. Russian law enforcement agencies have, on repeated occasions, disrupted Friday prayers in Crimean mosques by carrying out passport checks of all those present. Targeting mostly Crimean Tatars, Russian authorities have also carried out house searches looking for religious literature. More than 100 Crimean Muslims have been prosecuted on unfounded terrorism-related charges and given prison sentences of up to 24 years, which they are serving in Russia. 

In April 2017, the Russian Supreme Court designated Jehovah’s Witnesses “extremist” and banned the religion in Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea, following which all 22 of their congregations in Crimea were de-registered, affecting an estimated 8,000 believers. At least 12 Crimean Jehovah’s Witnesses have been sentenced to six years in prison or more solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief.  

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (after 2018, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine) refused to re-register as a religious organization under Russian law. Several of its clergy refused to take Russian passports and were forced to leave Crimea.  

By the first year of the occupation it had lost 38 of its 46 parishes, and all of them by now. In May 2023, the de facto authorities unlawfully evicted it from its cathedral in the regional capital Simferopol.  


Independent media and journalists have been targeted by the occupying authorities. Several journalists were abducted by pro-Russian paramilitaries already in the first days of occupation, as part of a campaign of violence which targeted pro-Ukrainian activists. As early as March 2014, Ukrainian language television and radio channels were taken off air and replaced by Russian media. Following the annexation, Russia mandated that all media outlets in Crimea should re-register in accordance with Russian legislation within 10 months, and warned against “provocative acts.”  

Crimean Tatar-language outlets have been targeted, with the popular ATR TV channel and others having their requests for registration rejected. On 26 January 2015, dozens of masked men stormed the ATR offices and removed their computer servers. Editors told Amnesty International that they had received unofficial warnings over the phone from influential individuals in response to some of its coverage of events affecting the Crimean Tatar community. ATR was eventually forced to relocate to mainland Ukraine and lost its ability to broadcast into Crimea. 

Access to online media that have been exiled from Crimea has been arbitrarily blocked in Crimea, without any judicial authorisation.  

Russia must immediately stop all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in Crimea, and other Ukrainian territories it occupies. All those responsible for all crimes under international law must be brought to justice in fair trial proceedings, while victims of these crimes should be able to fully realize their rights to truth, justice, and reparations.