Russian authorities barred an independent Ukrainian journalist, Taras Ibragimov, from entering Crimea last weekend and issued him a 34-year-ban. Ibragimov had traveled regularly to Crimea the past four years, and in May 2019 joined me in Crimea as a videographer, when I interviewed dozens of lawyers and family members of Crimean Tatars jailed on bogus terrorism charges.
Shortly before that trip in May last year, I had heard that Ibragimov was also heading to Crimea for Radio Liberty. He and I met for coffee in Kyiv, and I asked whether he could spare a few days to film my interviews. He said that as long as he was allowed entry, finding the time wouldn’t be a problem, because his Crimea trips always lasted at least a month. “I never know whether I’ll actually get past Russian security officers. So when I’m in, I try to do loads of work because next time I go, they can turn me back and ban me.”
Ibragimov’s is the longest Crimea-related ban that Russia has handed a journalist so far, but it’s not the first. In February 2019, Russian authorities banned a Ukrainian photographer from entering Crimea until 2028. In November 2018, another Ukrainian journalist, Alyona Savchuk, got a 10-year ban. A correspondent of Ukrainian Truth, Anastasiya Ringhis, was issued a four-year-ban in 2016.
When banning Ibragimov and the others, Russian officials invoked an article of Russia’s migration law referring to state security, defense, and public order. The truth, though, is that critical reporting from Crimea is a major irritant to Russian authorities, and barring independent journalists from the peninsula helps to choke the flow of information about their crackdown on Crimean Tatar activists and other abuses. The Russian security officer who spoke to Ibragimov would not elaborate on the reasons behind his ban, except to smile and say, “I think you understand.”
The friend who first introduced me to Ibragimov wrote on social media: “I don’t know how Crimea will cope without Taras or how Taras will cope without Crimea.” Indeed, in Ibragimov I found an insightful reporter who knew the Crimean Tatar community intimately, spent innumerable hours at sites of searches and in courtrooms, and who cared deeply for victims of politically motivated prosecutions and their families. A chunk of his soul was left in Crimea. Crimea needs him, and he will be back.