Russians Flee Crimea, Abandon Property Ahead of Kyiv’s Counteroffensive

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Thousands of Russians are fleeing Crimea and abandoning their properties amid concern an expected spring counteroffensive by Ukraine may target the Black Sea peninsula, a Ukrainian official has said.

Tamila Tasheva, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky‘s top representative for Crimea, said on national television that Russians are becoming anxious about the prospects of a Ukrainian effort to recapture the region that was illegally annexed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014.

A yellow terrorist threat level has been in place in parts of Crimea since April 11, 2022, weeks after Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began. Russian forces have been fortifying the peninsula amid fears of Ukrainian advance.

Russian soldiers patrol the area in Crimea
Russian soldiers patrol the area surrounding the Ukrainian military unit in Perevalnoye, outside Simferopol, on March 20, 2014. Crimea was annexed from Ukraine by Putin nine years ago, a move that has not been recognized internationally.FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

In February, a Ukrainian official said that his country was preparing “assault brigades” to take back its occupied territories, including Crimea. Many fear that such a move would be a red line for Russia, which may prompt Putin to use his country’s nuclear capabilities to defend the territory.

“People are abandoning their property to leave the territory of the peninsula,” said Tasheva, who earlier noted that some 500,000 to 800,000 Russians are currently living illegally in Crimea, and could be forcibly deported in accordance with the norms of Ukrainian legislation and international law should Ukraine recapture the peninsula.

Tasheva said there is no demand to buy property in Crimea, “only for sale.” Russians are leaving in their thousands, she added.

“There are no statistics on the departure of people, because we do not have access to it. We understand that these are thousands of people who [are leaving] the territory of Crimea. And this can be seen even in the queues for the Kerch Bridge, for example,” she said, referring to the strategically vital Kerch Strait Bridge that connects Russia with Russian-occupied Crimea.

“This can be seen again in the real estate market. We monitor communications in various social networks… Therefore, we will not say the exact number, but it is a fairly large number of people who leave. It is not hundreds of thousands yet, unfortunately. But it is thousands of people,” Tasheva said.

Newsweek has contacted Russia’s foreign ministry by email for comment.

In November, Emil Ibragimov, the head of the Crimean project and educational platform Q-Hub, told Radio NV that Russians had been fleeing from Crimea to the neighboring Russian region of Krasnodar because they fear Ukraine will eventually liberate the Black Sea peninsula.

“We saw a video and, according to the locals, many people left Crimea after strikes by the [Ukraine] Armed Forces. And we know about the relocation of local occupiers or occupier officials to the Krasnodar region of Russia, where they are currently renting apartments, moving there to live,” he said at the time. “That is, we see this trend and can conclude that this is, of course, panic and fear that the [Ukraine] Armed Forces will be able to liberate Crimea in the near future.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to take back Crimea, saying during a televised address on August 29 that Ukraine’s military had “kept the goal” of recapturing Crimea since it was annexed.

“This war, which began with Russia’s occupation of our Crimea, with an attempt to seize Donbas, must end precisely there—in the liberated Crimea,” he said.

Last week, Aleksey Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, published what he called “12 steps for the de-occupation of Crimea,” which includes dismantling the Kerch bridge and forcing all Russian citizens who “came to reside on the Crimean Peninsula after February 2014” to leave.

Sergey Aksyonov, the Russian politician acting as head of Russia-annexed Crimea since 2014, has said the peninsula is “ready” for a counteroffensive from Ukraine.

Source : NewsWeek