On November 21, a week before the planned signing of the Association Agreement (AA) with the European Union at the Eastern partnership Summit in Vilnius, the Ukrainian Parliament (Verhovna Rada) failed to pass legislation to allow the former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko to receive medical treatment abroad. Moreover, the Ukrainian government declared it was suspending the process of EU integration indefinitely, leading to one of the biggest political mass protests in Ukraine (see EDM, November 22). If the AA had been signed, it would have boosted economic, social, and economic ties between the EU and Ukraine, and progressively brought Ukraine up to European standards with regard to the political system and human rights. Fearing Ukraine’s drift toward the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, thousands of deeply disappointed Ukrainians started to gather in Kyiv’s Independence Square (Maidan Nezhalesnosti), a scene reminiscent of the Orange Revolution of 2004. Subsequently, utilizing social media (Facebook and Twitter), the opposition parties called for a mass protest on November 24. In response, protestors flocked to Independence Square—now rechristened “EuroMaidan”—from different regions of Ukraine, including the Crimean peninsula, their numbers reportedly swelling to tens or even hundreds of thousands (see EDM, December 2). The protests also spilled over to Western Ukrainian cities such as Ternopil, Lviv, Ivano-Frankovsk, Vilnitse, Kirvograd and Rovno, where thousands occupied the city centers
Refat Chubarov, the newly elected chairperson of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis (de facto quasi-governing assembly of Crimean Tatars—see EDM, November 13), first heard the news of Ukraine’s European integration process suspension while attending a meeting in Kyiv. The meeting was to discuss the Crimean Tatar question within the framework of Ukraine’s European integration with the heads of diplomatic missions and international organizations (https://qha.com.ua/medjlis-obsudil-s-glavami-dipmissii-krimskotatarskii-vopros-131548.html). Chubarov told journalists he was disappointed because he believed that the resolution of the Crimean Tatar question was directly linked to the development of democracy in Ukraine, which can only be accomplished with Ukraine moving closer to Europe (https://qha.com.ua/medjlis-obespokoen-protsessom-ostanovki-evrointegratsii-131564.html).
On November 26, hundreds of Crimean Tatars left Crimea and headed to Kyiv to join their Ukrainian compatriots at EuroMaidan (https://qha.com.ua/krimskie-tatari-otpravilis-na-evromaidan-v-kiev-131606.html). During the demonstrations, Crimean Tatar flags could be seen being waved along with Ukrainian and EU flags (https://ua.racurs.ua/news/18920-na-ievromaydani-z-yavylysya-krymsko-tatarski-prapory-foto).
Meanwhile in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea—a region that constitutes one of President Viktor Yanukovych’s political strongholds in Ukraine, and where pro-Russian forces and former Communists hold power—the Presidium of the Crimean Parliament issued an “urgent” statement on November 22. The Presidium declared its full support for the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers’ decision to suspend preparations for signing the EU-Ukraine AA. This declaration asserted that an agreement with Europe goes against the real interests of Ukraine’s citizens (https://15minut.org/article/krymskij-parlament-v-srochnom-porjadke-priznalsja-v-ljubvi-k-rossii-2013-11-22). Two days later, the local authorities in Crimea organized an anti-EU meeting in Simferopol’s Lenin Square and required that all government workers attend or risk losing their jobs (https://avdet.org/node/8594). Then, on November 27, the Crimean regional government’s leaders organized yet another meeting in which they asked President Yanukovych to join the Customs Union.
Pro-EU protestors organized a counter-protest the following day titled “I chose EU” in the same square in front of the Council of Ministers building. Although there were representatives of various ethnic groups at the demonstration, the majority were Crimean Tatars. Long-time members of the Crimean Tatar National Movement as well as the younger generation carried Ukrainian, Crimean Tatar and EU flags, displayed posters that read “EU Yes,” as well as chanted “Ukraine-Europe” and “Yanukovych will sign.” When Chubarov addressed the protestors, he pointed out that the common desire and the uniting factor of all those gathered in Lenin Square was “for Ukraine to belong to the family of European nations”.
On November 29, more Crimean Tatars left for Kyiv on buses. That night (November 29–30), around 4 a.m., hundreds of Berkut (Ukrainian Riot Police) personnel suddenly attacked the non-violent protestors in EuroMaidan with batons and boots. During the crackdown, dozens of protestors were injured and hospitalized. Police arrested around 35 people as the protestors were dispersed (https://podrobnosti.ua/power/2013/11/30/945363.html). According to the Ukrainian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, one female protestor was rumored to have died as a result of Berkut’s excessive force (https://www.radiosvoboda.org/content/article/25185611.html).
On December 1, Refat Chubarov and a group of Mejlis members arrived in Kyiv to meet with some leading opposition politicians and discuss the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Ministerial Council that is taking place in Kyiv on December 5–6. Ukraine holds the OSCE’s chairmanship during 2013. During his visit, Chubarov also participated in the EuroMaidan protests. He addressed the crowds from the same stage as leaders from the opposition parties such as Vitaly Klichko (UDAR Party), Arseniy Yatseniuk (leader of Tymoshenko’s Batkivschyna/Fatherland party), who were simultaneously delivering fiery speeches to the crowds (https://lb.ua/news/2013/12/01/243531_rukovoditel_medzhlisa_viehal_kiev.html). On December 3, Mejlis’s Deputy Chairman Ahtem Chiygoz called for more Crimean Tatars to participate in the EuroMaidan protests in support of European integration (qtmm.org, December 3).
The Crimean Tatar Mejlis has always been a vehement supporter of European integration and strongly advocated the implementation of this long-term project (see EDM, October 8). Zair Smedlaev, a Crimean Tatar activist, summed up the Crimean Tatar sentiments on EU integration as follows: “Our oligarchs keep their money in Swiss Banks and not in Russian banks; they send their children to European or US universities, and not to Moscow. Then they tell us Europe is bad and that association with the EU is not going to help the Ukrainian citizens. What an oxymoron! I do not want to live in Russia or at a Russian base. I do not want to be a serf. I want to be a free man. This is why we support EU integration and the EuroMaidan protests!” (https://qha.com.ua/smedlyaev-na-evromaidane-ya-ne-hochu-jit-kak-v-rossii-131675.html).