By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
KYIV, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)– Ukraine’s minority Tatars are are bracing for a breakaway vote in the Crimean Peninsula amid the biggest East-West confrontation since the Cold War.
Ethnic Tatars may be forgiven for feeling anxious about Sunday’s referendum in Crimea on whether to join Russia.ed on Saturday for a breakaway vote in the Crimean Peninsula following deadly clashes between pro-Moscow and pro-Kyiv supporters, amid the biggest East-West confrontation since the Cold War.
Ahead of the vote, homes of Tatars were damaged with the feared X sign. That has revived memories of May 1944 when Soviet leader Josef Stalin ordered his police to tag the houses of Crimean Tartars, the native Muslim residents of the peninsula.
Within days 200,000 people were deported to Central Asia for their alleged cooperation with the Nazis. Almost half of them died from hunger, thirst and disease.
“I never knew my mother or father,” an elderly woman said, her voice tremblimg.” I was the oldest, twelve years old. I can not deal with the memory. They all died
of hunger,” she added, showing photos.
The woman, whose full name was not identified, was among the few willing to talk to reporters at a time of heightened tensions.
The Tatars, who comprise 12 percent of Crimea’s population want to remain in Ukraine and support the pro-European policies of the interim government, which came to power following the recent violent ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Yet, with Russian forces in control of Crimea and ethnic tensions rising, their leader Mustafa Cemilev, has urged the NATO military alliance to intervene to avoid what he calls a massacre.
He said, “I am not saying that (NATO) soldiers should come and chase these Russian troops out from our territory. But a series of measures should be worked out to make it impossible (for Russia) to commit without punishment this sort of aggressive action against its neighbours.”
He also appeals for United Nations observers, while Tatars have set up patrols to protect their homes.
Yet elderly Tatars fears history will repeat itself, even in the 21th century. “Now I am concerned about my children and grandchildren,” said the elderly woman with the family photos. “I fear something bad may happen with them.”
Despite her plea and possible sanctions against Moscow, expectations are that Crimea will become part of Russia as soon as next week.
Tensions over Crimea have fueled deadly clashes between pro-Moscow and pro-Kyiv supporters in Ukraine’s Russian speaking east.
Police said Saturday one pro-Russia protester and a passerby were killed overnight in the city of Kharkiv, where Ukrainian nationalists opened fire on a group of men trying to storm their headquarters.
It was the second such deadly incident in as many days.