KYIV: Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday criticized Russia’s treatment of the Muslim-minority Tatar community in Kremlin-controlled Crimea and vowed to recapture the peninsula from Russia during a first official state iftar. Russia wrested control of the Black Sea territory from Ukraine in 2014 and pushed through a referendum on the annexation that was condemned as fraudulent and illegitimate by Ukraine and its Western allies.
“Russia’s attempt to enslave Ukraine … began exactly with the occupation of Crimea, exactly with repressions against Crimean, Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar freedom and of Crimean Muslims,” he told Ukrainian Muslim leaders and ambassadors from Muslim countries. The Tatar community, which accounted for 12-15 percent of the two million Crimea residents, largely boycotted the 2014 vote. Moscow then banned the Mejlis — the traditional assembly of the Tatar Muslim minority in Crimea — declaring it an extremist organization and has jailed members of the community since, citing security concerns.
“There is no alternative for Ukraine, or for the world, other than the de-occupation of Crimea. We will return to Crimea,” Zelensky said, before handing out awards to several Muslim Ukrainian servicemen. Zelensky, speaking at a mosque outside the center of the capital, announced that Ukraine was beginning a new tradition of hosting an official iftar, the meal breaking the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan. “Ukraine is grateful to the Muslims of our country and to everyone in the Muslim community of the world who, like us, longs for peace and protection from evil,” he added.
Several Muslim-majority countries, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, have positioned themselves as mediators in the conflict in Ukraine, brokering agreements between Kyiv and Moscow on grain exports or prisoner exchanges. Russia has a large Muslim minority from southern regions, including Chechnya and Dagestan, many of whom are fighting for Moscow in Ukraine. Top Muslim clerics in the country have put their differences aside and rallied behind the Kremlin, media have reported.
Numerous Muslim names have already appeared on lists of Russian captives, and according to analysis by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, about one third of casualties are soldiers with non-Slavic, mostly Muslim names. Notably, Chechen strongman and Putin ally Ramzan Kadyrov has dispatched a unit of loyalists to Ukraine. Kadyrov’s forces have become a symbol of Russian tyranny in Ukraine — and for some, Muslim-Christian conflict, according to the Washington Post. Far-right Azov Battalion fighters have filmed themselves smearing bullets in pork grease to antagonize Muslims fighting for Russia. – Agencies