The situation in Ukraine’s Kherson Oblast is tense: while people continue protesting against poverty and corruption, officials are conflicting with the so-called Crimean Tatar Mejlis, an organization that has fled from Crimea and is now headquartered in Kherson Oblast.
Over the last four months, the leaders of the Mejlis Lenur Islyamov, Mustafa Cemilev and Refat Chubarov are recruiting radical groups from all over the world into their “Noman Chelibicihan Battalion” - force sponsored, equipped and trained by Turkey’s special services. In an interview to Russian mass media, Deputy Prime Minister of Crimea Ruslan Balbek said that there are almost no Crimean Tatars in this battalion. “It consists mostly of ISIL fighters who have fled from Syria. In fact, this is a gang, which can one day become a serious threat for Ukraine and its neighbors,” Balbek said.
According to EADaily’s reliable sources, the core of the battalion is hireling, radical Islamists from the Grey Wolves as well as fighters from North Africa and some other regions. “They are paid quite big money,” Balbek said.
The initial mission of the battalion was the “food blockade” of Crimea, but all this ended in an attempt to grab control of cargo smuggling schemes. Despite resistance from Chief of the Kherson Customs Office Vitaliy Cherkunov, Islyamov and Chubarov have managed to place their cargo inspection posts on the border and are now legalizing contraband. One of local residents complains that these “activists” are robbing people. “They are inspecting all cars and are extorting money for everything they find there,” he said.
Cherkunov cannot but be concerned as before the Mejlis appeared in Kherson Oblast, it was he who controlled all cargo smuggling schemes in the region. Though repeatedly involved in corruption-related scandals (a $9mn villa near Kiev and a $1mn Jaguar), Cherkunov was not fired but just moved from Sumy to Kherson. The conflict of these two corrupt entities has left the local customs office with a 40% loss.
But let’s talk about the Mejlis. As you may know, Russia and Ukraine have mutually restricted their cargo traffic. So, there is no more sense in continuing the blockade of Crimea. Having lost this source of income, these “patriots” have decided to organize some “mobile patrols” so as to “detect separatists and to prevent smuggling activities.” Such patrols were first formed in early Jan 2016. On the night of Jan 25, junior sergeant the Kherson Department of Ukraine’s State Emergency Service Andriy Horoschenko and his friend were stopped by a group of people in masks. They first searched the men and then began shooting at their car. Horoschenko and his friend managed to flee. They say that the attackers spoke with an accent. The police and the prosecutor’s office were instructed to investigate the case but the initial testimony was rewritten lest nobody might suspect the Mejlis patrols.
So, we can see that with the consent and even support of the Kiev authorities, Ukraine’s Kherson Oblast is turning into a hotbed of crime and terror.