Activists in Ukraine block food trucks crossing checkpoints into Crimea

Luke Graham, special to CNBC

Activists in Ukraine have set up road blocks to prevent deliveries of food and other supplies crossing into Russia-controlled Crimea in a protest against the treatment of the minority Tatar community that could last up to six months.

The Tatar activists began to block roads on Sunday September 20th to highlight the treatment of Tatar people in Crimea, as well as to provoke Ukrainian authorities and the international community to do something about the situation. The region was annexed by Russia in March of 2014, causing western countries to place sanctions on Russia.

According to Kateryna Kruk, a political scientist and activist in Ukraine, 240 trucks were blocked from crossing the checkpoints on the first day of the blockade. TASS reported on Monday that more than 800 trucks were queuing at the Crimean border. The activists are only blocking supply trucks; civilians and regular traffic are still allowed across.

Trucks queue after Tatar activists block a road near to the border crossing point into Crimea
Maksim Voytenko | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The Tatars are an ethnic group originating from central Asia that inhabited the Crimea from the 13th century, but were deported en mass by Stalin in 1944. The Tatars are now a minority in the Crimea, making up around 12 percent of the population according to the most recent census data from 2001.

The Tatars claim members of their community living on the peninsula are being discriminated against by Russia authorities, although the Kremlin denies these allegations. Members of the community were arrested for attending pro-Ukraine rallies and, in August, the BBC reported that a Crimean Tatar TV channel was forced to stop broadcasting because authorities in Moscow constantly rejected their application to stay on the air.

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Kruk explained to CNBC some of the other reasons for the protest.

"The decision to organize the Crimea blockade is due to several reasons. First and most important one is the lack of attention to the situation in Crimea from the international media and politicians," she told CNBC via email.

"Crimea is absolutely absent from talks about Ukraine and it feels like there is a shared feeling it's a lost game. Even Ukrainian President Poroshenko hasn't mentioned Crimea in his speech on the occasion of celebration of Independence Day."

She also accused Western companies and European politicians of ignoring sanctions against Crimea and continuing to travel and do business in the region.

"That makes Tatars, who are very much pro-Ukrainian, feel forgotten and betrayed," she added. "I believe this initiative of Crimean Tatars aims not only at raising the awareness of international society, but also to fill the gap in lack of actions by Ukrainian authorities."

Refat Chubarov, chairman of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, attends a protest
Maksim Voytenko | Anadolu Agenc | Getty Images

Refat Chubarov, a member of the Ukrainian parliament and chairman of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, has appeared with the protesters and spoke to a Ukrainian news network about how long the blockade will last.

"Organizers of this action offer various formats for it, including in terms of duration. It can be a week's format, a month's format, a format for six months or even longer," he told the ICTV channel, TASS reported.

Ukrainian authorities have not condoned the blockade, but they have not done anything to disperse it, according to Kruk.

"The response of the Ukrainian side was rather silent, quite understandably they want to distant themselves from the blockade," she explained.

"At the same time, the police haven't prevented Crimean Tatars from organizing a blockade, nor have they detained anyone during the action. So, I believe the blockade is taking place with a silent approval from authorities."

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However, Crimean authorities claim they are not concerned by the blockade, according to reports from TASS.

"Almost all retailer chains and entrepreneurs have made agreements with agriculture producers on the mainland," Crimea's prime minister Sergey Aksyonov told a Russian news network.

"A total of 90 percent of goods at our markets now were produced in Russia. With this approach, there will be no Ukrainian products at all at shelves in supermarkets in two weeks."

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