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Protests in Germany

Stephanie Höppner / ewMarch 16, 2014

The controversial secession referendum in Crimea has aroused fears and doubts in the minds of German residents with Ukrainian roots. Some of them hit the streets on Saturday (15.03.2014) to voice their disapproval.

Protest against Crimean referendum in Cologne (Photo: Stephanie Höppner / DW)
Image: Stephanie Höppner

"There will be purges for sure - everyone is scared and worried about this," says Olaf Leidreiter, a German who, out of a feeling of solidarity, is standing in front of the Russian Consulate in Bonn with his Ukrainian-born wife Alina and other demonstrators.

A group of Tatars called for protests before the controversial referendum in Crimea. An estimated 12 to 15 percent of Crimea's residents are Tatars - a Turkic ethnic group inhabiting parts of eastern Europe and northern Asia. In the past, their population in Crimea was larger, but during World War II they were labeled Nazi sympathizers by Soviet authorities and deported. Now, many Tatars are boycotting the Crimean referendum, fearing another ethnic cleansing if Crimea becomes part of Russia.

Taking a stance

"Many Tatars are moving their families to safer places, but the men are staying in Crimea and are ready to fight," says Leidreiter, who has chosen to wear traditional Ukrainian clothes for the protest - a black and red felt jacket and a fur hat.

It is a peaceful demonstration. A few local residents are peering out of their windows and a car drives past occasionally on its way to the nearby hospital. There is no sign of life from the Russian Consulate.

"If it comes to bloodshed, I am totally sure that Angela Merkel will have some of this blood on her hands," says Leidreiter's wife Alina, whose relatives still mostly live in Ukraine. "She was the one who opposed Ukraine joining NATO at the Munich Security Conference in 2007."

Protesters of Tatar heritage in front of the Russian Consulate in Bonn (Photo: Stephanie Höppner / DW)
Many Tatars living in Germany are alarmed by the events in CrimeaImage: Stephanie Höppner

Both Alina and her husband are experienced in public demonstrations. "We were both on Maidan Square," says Leidreiter, showing an ID card issued by the Ukrainian revolutionary guard. "We're ready for anything," adds Alina.

Demonstration in Cologne

A protest is also being staged in Cologne, on Cologne Cathedral's forecourt. It was arranged via Facebook by a group that calls itself "Maidan Köln" (Maidan Cologne). With chants, protest songs, flags and traditional Ukrainian wreaths they have been attracting the attention of passers-by. Some of these are looking on with skepticism or amusement; some are taking photos.

A few of the observers approach the group. "Who can I speak with here?" asks a young man loudly. Meanwhile, two girls get into a conversation with some of the protesters. "I've heard about this on the news, but I don't understand any of it," one of them says.

In the center of the demonstration is Ukrainian Nathalie Uhlmann, holding a megaphone and a flag. For a few days now she has been organizing transport for the relatives of people wounded in the Ukrainian riots who are being treated at the military hospital in the western German city of Koblenz. She also took part in the Maidan Square protests in Kyiv in previous weeks. Despite this, she does not see herself as a political person - this is something she is doing on the side.

"For me it's simply about the people - people like me, but in a different situation," explains Uhlmann. "It's the question of whether I have a heart, feelings and empathy."

Russian artist Natascha at the Cologne protest against the Crimean referendum (Photo: Stephanie Höppner / DW)
Natascha disapproves of 'Soviet power structures'Image: Stephanie Höppner

She keeps in touch as much as possible with family and friends in Ukraine. The telephone connection isn't always good, though, she adds. Many calls do not get through. "This is why I ask 'How are you?' as soon as I get them on the phone."

Another demonstrator is Natascha, a Russian artist who has lived in Germany since 1987. "Russian propaganda is very powerful in Germany - Putin's supporters have a big podium here," she claims. Aside from that, she believes that many people reject the idea of Ukraine entering the European Union.

"Many people don't like the idea of countries like Ukraine belonging to the EU," says Natascha. "For Germans this means having to pay for yet another thing. I can understand that."

The fact that she, as a Russian, is protesting against Putin's political moves together with Ukrainians does not strike her as being odd in any way. "I also protested in favor of Estonia's and Georgia's independence. I'm simply against Soviet power structures."