Cover Image for Crimean Tatars: Eighty Years of Remembrance and Resistance

Crimean Tatars: Eighty Years of Remembrance and Resistance

Sasha Dovzhyk
Issue 2 (2024)

For the eightieth anniversary of the Soviet deportation of Crimean Tatars, the London Ukrainian Review dedicates its second issue of 2024 to the Russia-occupied Crimean peninsula and its Indigenous people’s ongoing fight for justice.


Like too many things concerning Ukraine these days, the reason for dedicating this issue of the London Ukrainian Review to Crimea is Russian atrocity. The atrocity of the peninsula’s ethnic cleansing under Stalin which culminated eighty years ago in the mass deportation of Crimean Tatars, the Indigenous people of Crimea, from their ancestral homeland. The atrocity which is rooted in Russian settler colonialism in Crimea since the eighteenth century. The atrocity which unfolds through the Russian occupation and weaponisation of the peninsula since 2014.

This issue discusses the fateful mistakes of the Ukrainian state and international community which have paved the way for the escalation of Russia’s Crimean atrocities. The issue also explores reasons to remain hopeful about the future of Crimea: the extraordinary resistance of Crimean Tatars, the recognition, albeit belated, of their Indigenous status by the Ukrainian state, and the bond of solidarity between the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar peoples forged through the shared experience of fighting against Russian colonialism.

From 18 to 20 May 1944, the entire Crimean Tatar nation was exiled on Stalin’s order. People were given minutes to prepare and then escorted at gunpoint to cattle wagons, which transported them to Central Asia and the Ural Mountains. Thousands died during the journey from inhuman conditions, and thousands more from exposure, malnutrition, and diseases upon arrival. In the following decades, Crimean Tatars were not only banned from coming back to their homeland but their very name was erased from official Soviet documents. However, as Martin-Oleksandr Kisly explains in ‘The Long Exile: A History of the Deportation of 1944’, Crimean Tatars did not do what the Soviet authorities expected. Rather than assimilating in exile, they ‘formed an image of Crimea as their homeland, the place to which they must return’. In exile, they formed the most cohesive dissident movement in Soviet history. Around the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the second and third generation of deportees managed to return to Crimea.

Emine Ziyatdinova’s ‘Deportation, Homecoming, and Belonging: Three Crimean Tatar Stories’ encapsulates this history spanning three generations of women in her family. These intimate testimonies are based on Ziyatdinova’s interviews with her mother and grandmother and accompanied by the author’s recollection of her own childhood in Crimea, Ukraine.

Crimean Tatar resettlement in their ancestral homeland was marked by a failure of the Ukrainian state to recognise and restore their Indigenous rights. As Mariia Shynkarenko notes in ‘Crimean Tatars’ Story of Recognition’, the repatriates ‘found themselves in a newly independent state, to which they had no prior connection or affinity. Similarly, Ukraine, taking its first steps in state- and nation-building, did not have the capacity or knowledge to develop a strategy of engagement with Crimean Tatars’. It was only after Russia’s occupation of Crimea in 2014 and the Crimean Tatars’ remarkable resistance that Ukraine joined the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and recognised Crimean Tatars’ indigeneity. And it was too late to become a decisive factor in opposing Russian aggression. However, the hope for the peaceful and democratic future of Crimea after liberation depends on the recognition of Crimean Tatar self-determination and autonomy within Ukraine.

An important step towards this future is also ‘de-occupying Crimea in Western mind’, as argues Rory Finnin in his eponymous piece, brimming with much-needed moral clarity. Breaking out of the net of imperialist Russian narratives will enable the global community to envision the possibility of Russian defeat in Crimea — the land where the Russian invasion of Ukraine started and where it will end.

Alim Aliev’s essay ‘Media Coverage of Crimea’s Decade Under Occupation’ summing up the topics that have been in the news spotlight for over a decade of Crimea’s occupation is a helpful summary of media tendencies, and a poignant reminder that this attention has been deficient. In 2024, the Indigenous people of Crimea are not only banned from commemorating the eightieth anniversary of their deportation but suffer from the fashioning of their homeland into a weapon in Russia’s war against Ukraine. The sooner we acknowledge that turning a blind eye to Russian atrocities in Crimea has facilitated their escalation on the peninsula, the more chance we have to deter future crimes.

As we mark eight decades since the Crimean Tatar deportation, let us turn to a contemporary piece by Nariman Dzhelyal, the first deputy chairman of the Mejlis who was sentenced to seventeen years of imprisonment on fabricated charges by the Russian occupiers. The text was smuggled out from Russian captivity and published in the anthology of Crimean Tatar literature Qirim inciri [Crimean fig] (2023). Describing one of the many courageous acts of Crimean Tatar civic disobedience, Dzhelyal explained his motivation: ‘We had to self-organise and demonstrate to everyone, the Russian government, Ukrainian society, and international community, the existence of Ukrainian patriots in occupied Crimea’.

It is our civic duty to ensure that Crimean Tatars are never again obliged to prove their loyalty to Ukraine, convince the international community of the need to free Crimea from the Russian invaders, or fight for the recognition of their rightful claim to their land. The peninsula’s future is both Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian, as is evident in the contributions published in this issue of the London Ukrainian Review.


Note on transliteration: the rendering of Crimean Tatar words and phrases follows each author’s preference.

Image: Emine Ziyatdinova, The boy holds the dove in his backyard in Novoselivske, Crimea, July 2013.


Cover Image for The Long Exile: A History of the Deportation of 1944

The Long Exile: A History of the Deportation of 1944

Issue 2 (2024)

The mass deportation of Crimean Tatars in May 1944 is rooted in Russian settler colonialism which Martin-Oleksandr Kisly traces to the subjugation of Crimea by Catherine II. Eighty years after the grievous crime against the Indigenous people of Crimea, Crimean Tatars are under Russia’s occupation and banned from marking this historic date.

Martin-Oleksandr Kisly, trans. by Larissa Babij
Cover Image for Deportation, Homecoming, and Belonging: Three Crimean Tatar Stories

Deportation, Homecoming, and Belonging: Three Crimean Tatar Stories

Issue 2 (2024)

The stories of three Crimean Tatar women, Emine Ziyatdinova’s paternal grandmother, mother, and the author herself, revolve around their relationship with Crimea and its history. The essay is based on multiple interviews with her family Ziyatdinova recorded between 2008 and 2022   as well as her personal memories.

Emine Ziyatdinova