“I gave birth to you…”
Key figures of our investigation are Igor Stepikov, the so-called “head of administration” of the city of Sudak, and Dmytro Tkachenko, his deputy, who supervises department of land and property relations, divisions on capital construction, territorial planning, city development and municipal control in the occupation “administration”.
Years ago, Igor Stepikov told a story about his involvement into setting up the natural reserve “Meganom Peninsula”.
“There is a lot of work to do. We succeeded in making the borders of secured territory at Meganom Cape and Kapsel Cape. I cancelled all decisions about construction on this territory. It has been difficult to do. “Aggrieved” businesspersons visited me at the village council every day. But later they agreed that there would be no capital construction on the sea shore of Kapsel bay”, as Igor Stepikov, the head of the village council of Sonjachna Dolyna at that time, told kafanews in 2011.
The village council of Sonjachna Dolyna and its head shaped the destiny of Meganom.
Born in Feodosia, Stepikov graduated from Suvorov Military School in Kyiv in 1987 and then – from Kyiv High Military School named after Frunze. He did his military service as the officer in Russia, in Far East. He came back to Crimea in 1993, and then headed the resort “Zenith” in Morske village. The resort has been the subsidiary of JSC “Russian Aircraft Corporation “MiG”, one of giants of the Russian defense industry. He has been elected the head of the village council of Sonjachna Dolyna in 2006-2014.
The creation of the natural reserve at Meganom Cape has been already initiated at that time. Under Soviet Union the military base was located on the Cape. Access to the Cape and any activity were strictly forbidden. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Meganom was opened, and its unique nature was put under serious threat. In 1990s, the movement to preserve Meganom was launched. The Decree of the Verkhovna Rada of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea # 538-1 “About Development of the Perspective Network of Territories and Objects of the Natural Reserve of Crimea” from April 12, 1994 defined Meganom Cape as the basis for the creation of the natural reserve in the future.
The Crimean Institute of Ecology and Design completed the research about territorial organization, protection and use of the complex natural reserve “Meganom Peninsula” in the first half of 2002.
In 2006, Stepikov signed a letter of the village council of Sonjacnha Dolyna to the Verkhovna Rada of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea with the request to create the “natural monument” “Meganom Peninsula”. As an outcome, the Verkhovna Rada issued the Decree # 708-5/07 from December 19, 2007 about creation of the natural monument of the local significance “Meganom Peninsula”. Total area of the natural reserve has been 651,591 hectares whereas the secured \ protected zone reached 850,488 hectares, in accordance with the recommendations of the Crimean Institute of Ecology and Design.sdolyna
The Decree defined the village council of Sonjachna Dolyna as the land user of the natural monument “Meganom Peninsula” and its protected zone.
In November 2008, Stepikov signed protection obligation for the natural monument “Meganom Peninsula”. Thus, the village council of Sonjachna Dolyna headed by Igor Stepikov took on the obligation to protect and preserve the natural monument “Meganom Peninsula”.
The “mine” under Perepelyne field
In 2009, the executive committee of the Sonjachna Dolyna village council announced the tender for the development of the land management project and borders of the complex natural monument of local significance “Meganom Peninsula”. LLC “Institute of ecology, land management and design” won the contract. Approval of the land management project is the necessary condition for completing creation of the natural reserve.sdolina3
However, the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine informed that the State Geocadastre did not have information about approval of the land management project by the village council of Sonjachna Dolyna. It means that the procedure to create the natural monument “Meganom Peninsula” was not completed.
It is worth noting that incomplete procedure and absence of borders allocated in kind is the most widespread scheme of the illegal use of natural reserve lands.
Further Stepikov’s decisions suggest that he used this scheme. The village council of Sonjachna Dolyna ordered services to conduct new research about territorial organization, protection and use of the complex natural reserve “Meganom Peninsula”. The research was completed by LLC “Objednannja Tekhnokhimkomplekt”. The cost of services reached almost 80 thousand UAH, according to Dmytro Tkachenko, who has been the member of the tender committee of the village council in 2008-2010. However, we could not find any official information about this tender.
Is the new research able to change borders of the natural monument established by old research and approved by the Decree of the Verkhovna Rada of the ARC? Certainly, it is not, as the new Decree is needed to change borders! Authors used the following trick. They did not change the total area of the monument and its secured zone but they changed borders of the territory – they excluded Perepelyne field in the western part of the natural reserve and added the territory covered by the forest with the same area in the eastern part.
It must be emphasized that human intervention threatens Meganom from the side of Perepelyne field and not from the eastern part.
Before occupation, the new research was ignored. The situation worsened after the occupation of Crimea…
Banquet of vultures
After the occupation, the legal vacuum created by the Russian authorities paved the way for a number of offenses and abuses, including the sphere of protection of the environment. “Meganom Peninsula” is such a case.
“The Council of Ministries of the Republic of Crimea” defined the area of natural monument “Meganom Peninsula” and did not mention protected zone (see “the Decree” # 981-r from 19.10.2015). The “Order” of the “Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of the Republic of Crimea” # 104 from January 26, 2016 “About Approval of Passports of Natural Monuments of Regional Significance” also indicated Meganom without protected zone.
In 2017, the “Council of Ministries” adopted the “Decree” “About Creation of Zones with Specific Architectural and Planning Organization of the Territory”. This “Decree” indicated protected zone of “Meganom Peninsula”, with its borders defined by the so-called “new research” and not by the Decree of the Crimean Verkhovna Rada from 2007. As we wrote before, the “new research” from LLC “Objednannja Tekhnokhimkomplekt” was ordered in 2009 by the Sonjachna Dolyna village council headed by Igor Stepikov and never approved by relevant authorities. That is to say, Perepelyne field was de facto excluded from the protected zone of “Meganom Peninsula”.
In May 2018, four land plots with total area of 30 hectares “for recreation zone” appeared on the public cadaster map of Russia. Numbers of plots are 90:23:000000:961; 90:23:000000:962; 90:23:082001:1; 90:23:082001:2. All of them are an integral geographical part of the Meganom protected zone. Building of tourist infrastructure is incompatible with the natural monument.
The “City Council” of Sudak approved the General Plan of Sudak by its decision from November 15, 2018 (preparation of the Plan started on September 29, 2015). The Meganom protected zone was distorted as the western part of Perepelyne field was allocated for the tourist infrastructure. The “faction” of “Edinaja Rossia”, the party of occupation authorities, in “Sudak City Council” was headed by Igor Stepikov.
This decision opened the way for the illegal construction of tourist infrastructure in Meganom.
“Sudak City Council” approved the illegal decision on May 21, 2020 to transfer free of charge several land plots in Mygdalne village (total area – 33 hectares) to the Federal Agency for State Property Management for organizing and conducting “Tavrida ArtRussia” festival and building educational center “Art Residence Tavrida”. The “decision” was signed by Dmytro Tkachenko, “the deputy head of Sudak City Administration”. As we wrote above, in 2009, he together with Igor Stepikov, the current head of “Sudak City Administration”, initiated the development of the “new research” by LLC “Objednannja Tekhnokhimkomplekt” which excluded those land plots from the protected zone of “Meganom Peninsula”.
Protests: peaceful and hopeless
Sudak public activists try to oppose barbarian construction on lands illegally excluded from the protected zone of “Meganom Peninsula”. They also protest against restricted access to the seashore. Initiative group “Meganom-SOS” was set up with the purpose to preserve the natural monument. Activists address all occupation authorities but in vain. They also address Igor Stepikov, the head of “Sudak City Administration”. However, it is hopeless to seek support from the collaborator who planned the scheme with Perepelyne field well before – in 2009. No wonder, activists receive meaningless answers from him.
Even if Stepikov would decide to protect “Meganom Peninsula”, he will face the failure. Too powerful Russian actors are already involved into the case. The organizer of Tavrida ArtRussia festival is autonomous non-commercial organization “The Center for the Development of Cultural Initiatives” founded by the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs. The leading developer is JSC “Stroitransgas” owned by Gennadii Timchenko, the oligarch close to Vladimir Putin. The company of Russian billionaire is under Crimean sanctions of the EU and USA. It is very unlikely the company will pay attention to environmental protests of a handful of inhabitants of the occupied territory. Meanwhile, occupation authorities call “Meganom SOS” activists for meetings with police and heads of the Center to Counteract Extremism.
The first reaction of the Ukrainian authorities to the destruction of Meganom appeared in the summer of 2020. The Representative Office of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea sent an official letter about the issue to prosecutor offices in Crimea and Sebastopol City (both institutions temporarily moved to “mainland Ukraine” after the occupation of Crimea). The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine informed on July 3, 2020 that information about illegal construction of tourist objects on the territory of complex natural monument of local significance “Meganom Peninsula” was attached to the criminal investigation opened under the article 252 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (taking actions aimed at deliberate destruction of territories under the state protection and natural reserve objects).
It is likely that this criminal investigation also focuses on other facts of destruction of Ukrainian natural reserve objects in Crimea: Opuk, Yalta, Crimean natural reserves, natural reserve “Martian Cape” etc.
Destruction of the natural reserves in Crimea and serious worsening of the environmental situation are direct results of the occupation. They should be treated within the overall framework of occupant’s actions to colonize and exploit resources of occupied Crimea. In order to de-occupy the peninsula, these facts should be documented and investigated whereas the sanction pressure on aggressor should be increased.
VLADYSLAV MIROSHNYCHENKO, Senior Consultant of the Representative Office of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea