The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation will announce its 2014 Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom winners on Wednesday, with honors going to two Ukrainian human rights activists.
As tensions continue to mount following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March, the foundation is honoring Mustafa Dzhemilev and Myroslav Marynovych, two Ukrainian leaders who fought against the Soviet Union and have stood up against human rights violators for decades.
Dzhemilev is a leader of the Crimean Tatar National Movement, a Turkish group native to the Crimean peninsula that was oppressed under the Communist rule of Josef Stalin.
"A heroic example of bravery throughout his life, Mustafa Dzhemilev spent decades defending the political rights of Crimean Tatars from Soviet aggression," the foundation said. "A member of the Ukrainian parliament, Dzhemilev has now come to be one of the most prominent critics of Vladimir Putin’s recent annexation of Crimea."
Recently, unmarked soldiers attacked Dzhemilev’s office, and the human rights leader said he was banned from entering Crimea. The State Department said reports of the ban are "particularly disturbing" given Dzhemilev’s "legendary" record of "courageous advocacy for the human rights of his people."
Marynovych is the vice-rector for the University Mission at Ukrainian Catholic University. Marynovych cofounded the human rights organization Ukrainian Helsinki Group in the 1970s and was a prisoner of conscience in the Soviet Union from 1977 to 1987.
"Despite having suffered as a ‘prisoner of conscience’ for nearly a decade during the Brezhnev era, Marynovych has worked tirelessly to strengthen civil society in his native country," the foundation said. "In recent months has also been an eloquent spokesman for human rights and Ukrainian sovereignty. Mr. Marynovych has dedicated his life to first freeing Ukraine from Soviet oppression and then to building institutions of freedom in Ukraine."
Marynovych has been a fierce critic of recent Russian aggression. As tensions mounted in Ukraine in February, he wrote, "Today I am close to paraphrasing Shakespeare: ‘Treachery, thy name is Europe!’"
"The depth of our bitterness is commensurate with the strength of our love for Europe," he said.
Marynovych told the West to "stop ‘expressing deep concern,’" apply sanctions, and "Don't listen to the propaganda sirens of Yanukovych and Putin."
The foundation awards the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom every year to individuals and institutions that have "demonstrated a life-long commitment to freedom and democracy and opposition to communism and all other forms of tyranny."
Dzhemilev and Marynovych will be presented their awards on June 11 at the Victims of Communism Memorial on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Former president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Klaus received the Medal of Freedom last year.
"Mustafa Dzhemilev and Myroslav Marynovych demonstrate that the fight to realize freedom and democracy across the world is never easy," said Dr. Lee Edwards, the foundation’s chairman. "The daily struggle to gain and preserve liberty against all forms of tyranny is one we all must wage."