Dzheparov’s son Islam, 18, went to check up on his widowed aunt and her children, who also live in the settlement of Sary-Su, on the edge of the town of Belogorsk, less than an hour’s drive east of Simferopol, Crimea. Islam went most evenings, Dzheparov said. Sometimes, as on this occasion, his 23-year-old cousin Dzhevdet came along for company.
“At seven that evening, around seven, a car came along and beeped and I was like, ‘Why don’t they come in?’ I went out and there were two young lads in the car, and one said, ‘Your son, I saw him, he was kidnapped, he was thrown in a van and taken away.’"
Dzhevdet was gone too. The young witnesses said three men wearing masks had bundled them into the back of a blue Volkswagen Transporter with tinted windows. Neither of them has been seen or heard of since.
The Russian approach to investigating has also not helped calm their fears. The Investigative Committee, powerful organization often called “Russia’s FBI,” confiscated Dzheparov’s computer and called him in for questioning about his criminal record (he doesn’t have one, but was repeatedly arrested in Soviet times during the Tatars’ campaign to return home).
Sergei Aksyonov, who became head of the regional government during the Russian takeover, came to talk to Dzheparov after an outcry on social media over the boys’ disappearance, and promised to do all he could to help find them. No one has claimed responsibility for the abduction, but Dzheparov believes it was a state-sponsored raid. No one else’s vehicles, he said, have tinted windows.
“One investigator said the destiny of the children would depend on my behavior. I said I was happy to be under constant surveillance, to be fully under their control, to be where my son is now, as long as that meant he was here,” he said.