One day in October, a dozen armed men in masks drove up to the gates of Yalta Film Studios. But they weren’t actors, and this was no make-believe. They sealed off the premises and took over the property.
The studios are among thousands of businesses seized from their owners since Crimea in Ukraine was annexed by Russia eight months ago. Crimea’s new pro-Moscow leaders say the takeovers, which they call nationalizations, are needed to reverse more than two decades of wholesale plunder by Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs.
But an Associated Press investigation found many instances of less noble practices: legal owners strong-armed off their premises; buildings, farms and other prime real estate seized on dubious pretenses, or with no legal justification at all; non-payment of the compensation mandated by the Russian constitution; and the targeting of assets belonging to independent news media, the Crimean Tatar ethnic minority and the pro-Kiev branch of the Orthodox Church. Owners complain that their appeals to police, courts and even Russia’s leading authorities have gone nowhere.
By Laura Mills and John-Thor Dahlburg, moving before 5 a.m. Eastern/10 a.m. GMT on Tuesday, Dec. 2, for use in print and online, at 3,000 words, with a separate abridged version of 1,000 words. Photos will be available. Video will move by 2 a.m. Eastern/7 a.m. GMT. An interactive will be available at http://hosted.ap.org/interactives/2014/crimea/.