According to Russian official statistics, Alpaut says, “about 247,000 Russians have moved to Crimea since 2014, while “about 140,000,” overwhelmingly ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars have departed for other parts of Ukraine. These movements have increased the Russian share of the population from 60 to 65 percent and cut that of the Ukrainians from 24 percent to 15 with Crimean Tatars increasing from 10 to 12 percent.
But Ukrainian officials and experts say the numbers of those arriving and departing are greater and the ethnic shift thus far larger. Boris Babin, the permanent representative of the Ukrainian president for Crimea, says that “we can with confidence say that we are talking about hundreds of thousands of people.”
“A large number of Russian government employees are being shifted to Crimea with members of their families, and the latter are seeking work. In addition, there are many gastarbeiters” from the Russian Federation, he says. And there are far more people who have fled than the 40,000 who have officially registered with Ukrainian authorities.
At the end of May, Mustafa Dzhemilyev, a leader of the Crimean Tatars and advisor to President Petro Poroshenko, said that Moscow had moved in or sponsored the migration of between 850,000 and one million people to Crimea, significantly changing the ethnic balance there.
But he acknowledged that the exact figures are impossible to specify because the Russian occupation authorities treat them as “a military secret” given that “they know very well that they are committing a military crime,” one defined as an act of genocide by the Geneva Convention of 1949.
Refat Chubarov, another Crimean Tatar leader who is a deputy in the Verkhovna Rada, seconds that view. He points out that one of the major reasons is Moscow’s expansion of pre-existing military bases and the creation of new ones, something that has brought many soldiers and sailors and members of their families to the Ukrainian peninsula.
According to Andrey Klimenko, editor of the Black Sea News, the Russian occupiers treat the demographic situation in Crimea solely from the perspective of how best to ensure that they have a loyal population which won’t engage in protests or make significant demands on the authorities.
Igor Tyshkevich, an expert at the Ukrainian Institute for the Study of the Future, says, that he has evidence that Moscow has a plan to shift prisoners from the Far East and other parts of Russia to Crimea in order to save money as it costs less to hold them on the Ukrainian peninsula than elsewhere.
In support of these population shifts, Ukrainian expert Yevgen Goryunov says that the occupiers give preferences to the new arrivals in schools and kindergartens. “This is the only thing that Russia can give them so that they will settle here.” At the same time, the occupation authorities make local people wait in line.
Finally, Irina Pribytkova, a sociologist at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, say that what Russian officials are doing now is a direct continuation of what tsarist and then Soviet officials did earlier – trying to change the ethnic balance in Crimea in order to be in a better position to hold its acquisition.
“This must be watched via constant monitoring,” she says, something “Ukraine is doing,” in order to see both the ways in which Russia is bringing in new people and seeking via repression to force the departure of Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians.