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Martin Harris

British Ambassador to Ukraine

Part of UK in Ukraine

1st July 2024 Kyiv, Ukraine

Crimea: a place to remember, learn from and return to

Martin Harris with his daughter, visiting Crimea in 2002.

Crimea is a special and, in many regards, unique place in Ukraine. It has a distinctive climate, breathtaking views of sea and mountains that can’t be found anywhere else in the country. It has a multi-layered history with a rich heritage stretching from ancient to modern times. This is the context that created an incredibly diverse local community and culture. This is a land that witnessed many important historical events and was home to many people: from ancient Greeks and Scythians to Armenians, Jews, Tatars, Karaims, Krymchaks, Italians, Ukrainians, and others.

I visited Crimea for the first time 22 years ago. As for many others, it was a holiday trip for me, my wife, Linda, and my daughter Catriona who at the time was just 18 months old. We travelled to Bakhchysarai, Yalta, Sevastopol, Ai Petri. As a historian, even then, I was fascinated by the peninsula, with many place names that resonate in British military history like Balaclava, and the Ancient Greek and Christian remains in Khersones.

Since that first trip, I visited Crimea many times when I was serving as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Kyiv. Once I had the honour of accompanying the daughter of Winston Churchill, Baroness Mary Soames when she visited Livadia Palace where her father held complex negotiations during the World War II, including on the founding principles of the UN, principles that Russia so grossly violated in 2014.

While Crimea is for many a source of happy holiday memories, for others Crimea is first and foremost their home.

In 2014, Russia attacked the safety of that home, illegally annexing the peninsular. Crimean residents (Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians and others) demonstrated incredible resistance. They held mass protests against the Russian forces. They weren’t afraid of the armed Russian military and they clearly said “no” to the Russian-imposed regime. Locals demonstrated their will for a free democratic future for Crimea within a sovereign Ukraine. Many were arrested, beaten, tortured and imprisoned. We remember all of their sacrifices and their bravery to resist in this way.

Since then, the persecutions and human rights abuses have not stopped. The people of Crimea have been subjected to forced passportisation, militarisation and indoctrination of children, destruction of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar cultural heritage, the ban of free independent media, environmental crimes, and violations of religious rights. Crimeans have been forcefully mobilised into the Russian military and made to fight against their fellow Ukrainians. They are bombarded by a single narrative pushed by the Kremlin. Hundreds of civilians were forced to leave their homes on the peninsula in fear of being arrested or killed.

In some ways, in Crimea the Kremlin showed us the tactics, policies and abuses that it would pursue in more Ukrainian territories after the start of the full-scale invasion.

Today, Russia uses Crimea in its war against Ukraine as a military base, as a source of forced recruitment and as a prison. Hundreds of civilian Ukrainians are detained there, away from the rest of the country and the world. This includes people from other Ukrainian territories that Russia has taken control of, along with 217 Crimean political prisoners, 134 of whom are Crimean Tatars. It also includes Ukrainian children who were sent to “summer camps” in Crimea and pressured there to renounce their homeland. Russia’s grip on Crimea is affecting not only the people of Crimea, who themselves are effectively imprisoned, unable to leave to other parts of their homeland: Ukraine.

The UK government’s position is clear – Crimea is Ukraine. Our commitment to upholding the basic international principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity is why the UK has remained steadfast in its support to Ukraine and to Crimea for the past ten years – and why we will continue that support for as long as it takes.

Our support for Ukraine’s defence against Russia’s invasion includes the future liberation of all parts of Ukraine. We are committed to ensuring the world does not forget Russia’s crimes in illegally annexing Crimea, the violations and abuses it has committed, and the repression that the Crimean people face daily.

We will continue to raise the topic of Crimea in international fora.  In Kyiv our Embassy has held witness testimony events to provide a platform for the voices of Crimeans to be heard by the wider diplomatic community. We also support the Crimea Platform and we fund educational campaigns about Crimean history, culture and traditions. We support Ukraine’s work on planning for Crimea’s reintegration. We remain a strong partner of Ukraine, of Crimea, and of Crimea’s future as an inalienable part of Ukraine.

I know the day will come when tourists from all over the world can once again visit and see the beauty of Crimea. But I particularly look forward to the day when those who call it home can return.

I look forward to seeing Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians being able finally to return to the peninsula, and for those who have lived for 10 years in Crimea without freedom to finally live there in freedom without persecution. I cannot wait to see Crimea and its people flourishing once again and enjoying freedom as part of Ukraine. And I hope the UK will be able to play its part in restoring Crimea’s economy and infrastructure, with the support of UK investors in rebuilding Crimea for a brighter future.

I am honoured to know some of those leading Crimean and Crimean Tatar activists who have borne the brunt of Russia’s persecution and are now forced to work outside of the peninsula due to the Russian occupation. When Crimea is free again, I look forward to visiting them and many others in their homes in the land of their ancestors.

When my parents came to visit me in Kyiv twenty years ago I was delighted to take them to Crimea to show them all of its wonders. It was October, and we stopped off on the road from Yalta to Sevastopol at the beautiful bay of Batiliman. Swimming in the warm waters there, from a quiet sandy beach is one of my abiding memories of this wonderful part of Ukraine. I look forward to the day when I can show this unique place to my British friends who have never had the pleasure of visiting it.

Qırım serbest olacaq! Crimea will be liberated!

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About Martin Harris

I took up my role as His Majesty’s Ambassador to Ukraine in September 2023. Previously, I was Minister and Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Moscow, Ambassador…

I took up my role as His Majesty’s Ambassador to Ukraine in September 2023. Previously, I was Minister and Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Moscow, Ambassador at the British Embassy in Bucharest and served at the UK Delegation to the OSCE in Vienna.