The Ongoing Struggle for Free Expression in Crimea
Crimea, October 6, 2023 – Amid the escalating conflict in Crimea, Russian-installed authorities are intensifying their crackdown on social media posts related to the ongoing military activities. The peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014, has witnessed increased attacks on Russian military supply lines and the Black Sea Fleet. In response, the occupation authorities have repeatedly warned residents against posting any content related to these attacks, emphasizing that such actions aid the enemy.
The recent emergence of “repentance” videos, reminiscent of Stalin-era confession tactics, highlights the severity of this clampdown. These videos feature individuals apologizing for their previous posts about attacks or other activities in Crimea. It remains unclear whether these apologies are voluntary or coerced, raising concerns about freedom of expression in the region.
One such video featured Olena Nikolaychuk, who inadvertently captured footage of a drone strike on the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Sevastopol on September 22. After sharing the video on social media, she appeared in a video on a pro-Russian Telegram channel, apologizing for her actions under apparent duress.
The Telegram channel in question, “Crimean SMERSH,” presents itself as an official source of law-enforcement statements and regularly publishes real-time videos of law-enforcement raids. It describes its content as targeting “Russophobes, Ukrainian nationalists, and traitors to the motherland.”
Similar videos have surfaced, including one in which a man apologized for shouting “Glory to Ukraine!” in Ukrainian, and another featuring a woman who allegedly posted pro-Ukrainian content.
While it is challenging to verify the circumstances under which these videos were made, individuals who have been similarly filmed by Russian-imposed authorities have reported coercion and threats.
Bohdan Ziza, a resident of Yevpatoriya, shared his experience of being forced to record a “repentance” video after he was accused of pro-Ukrainian actions. He revealed that he had recorded multiple versions of the video, each with changing demands from authorities, including apologies to the Russian Army and President Putin.
The use of such tactics to stifle dissent and control the narrative in Crimea underscores the challenges to free expression faced by its residents. As the conflict in the region persists, the suppression of social media posts serves as a stark reminder of the lengths to which authorities are willing to go to maintain control and suppress information.