Virtual museum of Russian aggression.

Virtual museum of Russian aggression.



Government Square: meeting place for the authorities and the public

The government building was constructed on the erstwhile fountain square during the extensive development of Simferopol after the takeover of the Crimean Oblast by the Ukrainian SSR. It was built in 1960 as an administrative facility. The House of Trade Unions appeared across the street at the same time. By the 50th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, a monument to V.I. Lenin was put up in front of the building. Subsequently, the Ukrainian Musical Theater was built close by.

Since the Soviet times, Lenin Square and the buildings around it  over time become the center of social and political life. Initially, only formal activities, strictly controlled by the Communist Party, took place there, for example, the city’s October civil parades.

Since Ukraine's independence, political rallies and memorial events often took place in the square. In the 1990s, the Crimean people, along with the entire Ukrainian society, started establishing the democratic institutions.

Crimea regained the status of an autonomous republic, lost in Stalin's times after the deportation of the Crimean Tatars. The procedure provided for the autonomous republic, though an integral part of Ukraine, to have its own parliament - the Verkhovna Rada of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (ВР АРК) − , and the government, Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. There was also a representative office of the President of Ukraine. The Qurultay and Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People became the centers of social and political influence. Crimea had its own courts, prosecutor’s offices, territorial departments of the Security Service of Ukraine and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, as well as local authorities.

Until 2014, a vibrant political life was in full swing in Crimea. Pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces debated in the parliament, at rallies and on the pages of periodicals. From time to time, tensions would flare up, threatening the territorial integrity, security and peace, but each time the authorities managed to find a way out of any conflict.

Democracy, law-based approach and political pluralism were not conducive to the Russian plans to sever Crimea from Ukraine. Therefore, the authorities of the autonomy had to be seized first.

From the center of power to the first target of aggression

In the winter of 2014, the members of the Party of Regions (e.g., the Crimean Prime Minister Anatolii Mohyliov and Speaker of the Parliament Vladimir Konstantinov) continued to hold positions at the top and middle levels of power in Crimea. Most commonly, these were the people from the Donbas region, personally loyal to President Viktor Yanukovych, against whose policies the country rose during the Revolution of Dignity.

However, not only democratic and pro-European activists were unhappy with the Yanukovych regime. The pro-Russian forces were hoping to the last that the security forces would crush the peaceful protest in Kyiv thereby ensuring the continuity of the state's course of rapprochement with Moscow.

The events in Kyiv - shootings on the Maidan, flight of many formerly high-ranking officials, the actual collapse of the ruling party - had a considerable impact on the political life in the country. Both the public and the authorities in the ARC were likewise determined to replace the ruling team.

On 02/22/2014, activists of the Russian Unity party and the Russian Community of Crimea organization set up a tent on Lenin Square to enroll those wishing to join the so-called "people's squads" - groups specifically recruited for armed confrontation with the new Ukrainian government.

However, the day after, 02/23/2014 , the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People once again gathered a mass rally of thousands on the central square of Simferopol. The participants expressed support for the Ukrainian government, demanded the dissolution of the Crimean parliament, punishment for the separatist officials, and demolition of the monument to the leader of the Bolsheviks.

Over this period, the government of the autonomy did not always act consistently. On 02/23/2014, the first deputy head of the Crimean government, Rustam Temirgaliev , stated his loyalty to Yanukovych as the incumbent president. Meanwhile, his superior, Anatolii Mohyliov, convened a briefing on the same day where he expressed his intention to implement the decisions of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and the acting President of Ukraine Oleksandr Turchynov.

In those days, various candidates for the chair of the head of the Council of Ministers of the ARC were discussed. The name of Sergey Aksyonov practically never came up among them, however, following the invasion of the Russian military into the administrative buildings of the ARC, he was the one who took this position.

(Un)Known Invaders

Seizing the state administration centers in Simferopol went at a speed of lightning. Even in the evening of 02/26/2014, after a rally of many thousands in support of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, the socio-political situation appeared to be stable.

However, in the morning of 02/27/2014, much to the astonishment of most Crimeans, some unknown people appeared to have taken over the control of administrative buildings of the autonomy. At night, several dozen well-armed military men, without firing a single shot, occupied the parliament first, and the government of the ARC soon thereafter.

According to surveillance camera records, at 04:23 in the morning, some unknown servicemen broke windows into the building of the Council of Ministers of ARC, tossed a stun grenade, neutralized the guards, took control of the main entrances and got hold of the computer in the chairman's office. The Ukrainian flags on both administrative buildings were taken down, only to be replaced by the Russian tricolors.

The invaders looked unusual: dressed in the newest Russian military gear of Ratnik type, wearing masks and helmets, faces covered, toting the latest models of the Kalashnikov assault rifles, Dragunov sniper rifles, Pecheneg machine guns, Mukha grenade launchers and other most advanced small arms. At the same time, the attackers broke the laws of warfare: they wore no insignia on their uniforms to indicate their state and organizational affiliation. They did not introduce themselves, neither did they put forward any demands, they just waited.

A few months later, unknown persons dubbed by the Russian media as the "little green men" would give themselves away in a video report of the Russian Special Operations Forces. Among other things, we will see the seizing of the building of the Crimean government: withdrawal of police officers on duty, barricades indoors, change of flags in the night, and at least 4 Russian Tigr armored vehicles and a military truck driving into the courtyard. The video of the commandos also shows a meeting of at least 17 people in business suits led by Sergey Aksyonov and apparently supervised by the Russian military.

At 8:30 am on 02/27/2014, Prime Minister Anatolii Mohyliov made an address to the residents of Crimea, informing them that the government and parliament were seized by unknown people. His attempt to negotiate with the military men through the broken glass of the government building failed.

Pro-Russian fighters, specifically, well-organized so-called "people's squads", were pulling up to the buildings of the parliament and government. They formed a human shield to protect the buildings from possible assault. Among others, the future commander of the militants in the Donbas, Igor Girkin (aka Igor Strelkov), was also spotted there.

On 02/27/2014 at the beginning of the working day, the website of the General Prosecutor's Office of Ukraine reported on the seizure. The Prosecutor's Office of the ARC initiated criminal proceedings under Art. 258 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (Terrorist act). The Crimean Department of the SBU was assigned to run the investigation. The prosecutor's office of the autonomy is currently providing procedural management in criminal proceedings under Part 3 Article 27, Part 4 Article 28, Article 341, Part 3 Article 27, Part 4 Article 28, Part 2 Article 258, Part 2 Article 279, Part 1 Article 343, Part 1 Article 109 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine). Top officers of the Crimean Prosecutor's Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the SBU were at the scene. The local police personnel were put on the alert.


The perimeter of the administrative buildings was closed. Members of the Parliament, however, were expected here. People's representatives who came in voluntarily or under duress, started to pass unlawful decisions. One of the first decisions was a motion of no confidence and termination of the powers of the government headed by Anatolii Mohyliov, followed by the resolution on accession to the Russian Federation.

The controlled parliament and government of Crimea were tasked with legitimizing the occupation by Russia. The new head of the Cabinet of Ministers of the ARC, Sergey Aksyonov, assumed command of the law enforcement agencies of Ukraine stationed in Crimea, and called on the Russian president for help.


Vladimir Putin would be making very controversial statements about the involvement of the Russian military in the above-mentioned events in Crimea for quite a while thereafter, but a year later he would openly admit that it was a planned special operation. After the so-called referendum on 03/16/2014, he would admit there were Russian servicemen in Crimea standing behind the "self-defense groups". In 2015, the President of Russia will sign Decree No. 103 - On the Establishment of the Day of Special Operations Forces and will specifically assign it to February 27.

During the occupation, complex and important missions would be assigned to the special operations forces, such as the storming of the military base of the 1st Marine Battalion of Ukraine in Feodosia. Most of the remaining objects in Crimea will be seized by the "self-defense" paramilitaries and servicemen of the less elite Russian forces.

A lot of officials who assisted the invaders in the seizure of administrative buildings in Crimea would end up on the sanction lists drawn by Ukraine, the USA and the EU. A number of criminal proceedings have been initiated in Ukraine against certain representatives of the former Crimean authorities, including the administration of the so-called Republic of Crimea. On 03/05/2014, the Shevchenkivsky District Court of Kyiv would uphold the motion of the preliminary investigation authorities to detain Konstantinov and Aksyonov. They are charged with colluding in the attempt to overthrow the constitutional order, inciting violent coup, threat to the territorial integrity of Ukraine, etc.

Certain Crimean authorities would gradually reinstate their activities in the territories controlled by Ukraine, mostly in Kyiv, Kherson and Odesa.

Following the seizure of the administrative buildings in the night, the Russian military would get a free reign in Simferopol. Under their cover, all kinds of "people's squads", "self-defense" groups and "cossacks" would become increasingly confident. Reshat Ametov , who came out on a solo picket, would be kidnapped from the government square and brutally murdered. In broad daylight on 03/01/2014, shooting and beating all around, they would seize the House of Trade Unions along with the Center for Investigative Journalism. The blue-and-yellow flags would be everywhere replaced by the Russian flags. The occupation administration would restore the central monument to Lenin, and the name of the musical theater would drop the word Ukrainian for the first time since its foundation. The square would lose its socio-political essence and would attain clear signs of occupation.

Published on 2021-09-01

Olga Volyanyuk

Security Environment Research Center «Prometheus»


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