Anastasia Levkova, There is Land beyond Perekop

Aliye, Aliona, and I. From our names, written out in a line or listed in a column, you can read the history of Crimea — or at least one of its chapters: however, a superficial glance at these three names would certainly lead to confusion. Aliona, with her Russian-looking name, is Ukrainian. I, with my Ukrainian-looking name, am a Russian. And this deception in names makes the picture even more intricate and vivid.

But, in the beginning, there were Aliye and I. Aliye was the only Crimean Tatar in our nursery. At age five, she couldn’t speak Russian — she hadn’t had a chance to learn it yet. Did she have a hard time because of this among twenty-eight Russian-speaking children?

At that time, some of us struggled to articulate ourselves at all. She, on the other hand, wielded her language effortlessly. Standing in front of the group, hands clasped behind her back, she would hold forth with an air of authority. She would come up to any one of us and speak like she had wisdom to impart. When our actual teacher displayed a drawing of the moon and asked in Russian, “Children, what is this?” the entire ‘Slavic’ group, with the lone Crimean Tatar girl, Aliye, responded in unison, ‘Ay!’.[1] [2]

For Aliye, it was easier to teach us Crimean Tatar than to learn Russian herself. In the late afternoons, when her father or grandmother would come to pick her up, without telling her mother beforehand, I would readily inform them, ‘Оны энди анасы алды’, which meant ‘Her mum picked her up.’

Why did we become nearly-sisters? It could be that my natural affinity for languages started at a young age. In two months, I spoke Aliye’s language as fluently as she did herself.

It was, most likely, thanks to this, that I could go to their home so often. After all, outsiders, the non-Kirimli, were met with wariness and distrust here. Still, I felt this distrust only from Anife-bitá, the great-grandmother who held sway here until her death.[3]

They did not return to Crimea in the early 1990s, nor even in the late 1980s when most did. And they did not come from Uzbekistan but from Kuban’s Novorossiysk. They were deported, of course, to Central Asia, but returned step by step: as soon as it was possible to leave places of exile, they moved every few years — further and further west.

In 1968, the grandfather, Anife-bitá’s son, arrived in Crimea for the first time with his friends. They tried to find jobs, but within a week, they were arrested and deported back to Uzbekistan. They returned: the same story repeated itself. Later, Anife-bitá came with her daughter-in-law and infant granddaughter. Once again, they had to return to Novorossiysk because they could not find a house for sale in all of Crimea. Dreams of settling in the house in Bakhchisarai, where they had lived before the war and which had been built by Aliye’s great-grandmother’s father-in-law, had to be abandoned. And indeed, they were abandoned. To find a house they could buy for the same amount they’d get for the one in Novorossiysk felt like a miracle to be prayed for. And indeed, they prayed. Just as they prayed for getting a residence permit in this place. Among the Crimean Tatars who arrived in Crimea during the tumultuous transition of the 1960s–1970s, it became customary to implore the Almighty after the prayer duva, beseeching permission to stay in Crimea, obtain registration, secure employment…[4] ‘Registration office’ became a favourite make-believe game among the children.

In the mid-1970s, they purchased a house in a village in the Krasnoperekopsk district. The buying and selling process happened right after the inspection, with neither the Alimovs nor the homeowner dwelling on alternatives. The owner sold it — and within two weeks, he fled: not only from Crimea but from the Soviet Union altogether. His grandmother was Jewish, and he seized his chance to escape into the free world — even if it meant facing war.

All this, of course, I learned much later: from Aliye’s mother, Aunt Aishe, one of the many evenings I spent at the table on the veranda rolling minced meat into grape leaves for sarma.[5]

Anife-bitá was distrustful but bold. After their return, they were constantly accosted by ‘men in suits’, or simply ‘suits’, who came to ‘check the meter’. ‘Hello! Meter check up!’ — the women led them into the house, brought them to the meter, and whispered to the children to call dad, babá.[6] Dad would come, and the questions, warnings, and threats would begin. It was a ritual: babá had to pose as the head of the household first, and Anife-bitá would intervene later (she was a true master of the house and, with her temper, would not dream of hiding in a back room or keeping quiet). If not for her temperament, who knows if they could have stayed. Of course, luck was also on their side: most Crimean Tatars who returned to their homeland by the late 1980s were sent back, with some having their homes bulldozed to the ground beforehand.

Once, one of those men in suits, one with a shaved head, arrived to ‘check the meter’. Babá came out to him, looked surprised — and both burst into laughter. The guest was Rollan Kadyev, a physicist and a leader of the national movement, a long-time family friend who, as one can gather, didn’t shy away from dark humour. In fact, none of them shied away from it — otherwise, they wouldn’t have survived. ‘Clean up because the “suits” are coming — you’ll be embarrassed when they see the mess’, the joke went.

Throughout all those years, until the late 1980s, they didn’t have local registration. And, of course, no official employment. They grew cucumbers and tomatoes in greenhouses, selling them in resort towns. For Anife-bitá, who grew up in a city near Khansarai, this wasn’t a dream job at all — but in exile, she had endured worse.

Only in 1988, together with relatives who had just returned from Uzbekistan, were they able to purchase an old Armenian house with two entrances in Bakhchisarai, in the Old Town, across from the Khan’s Palace. Could one have dreamt of such a thing in the 50s, 60s, 70s?

On weekends and summer evenings, I would goof around in the Alimovs’ courtyard, also known by the surname of my friend’s father — Memetovs’ — alongside Aliye and other children, their relatives. There were many relatives; the double-entranced house barely fit them all. As I discovered a decade later, some of them camped out on the plateau in the future Sixth micro-district alongside hundreds of other demonstrators. Occasionally, they would come here, to Pushkina Street, to bathe. They had to stay in the tents on the plateau, they couldn’t come here; otherwise, they would be asked: ‘Why do you need land if you have a place to live?’

Some camped on the plateau, some built their houses here, and some looked after the children. Some would send children to daycare, though, not to have them underfoot for a time. But if they sent one child to daycare, they’d see two coming home: Aliye would sometimes bring me along.

My parents didn’t quite encourage it, but they were too preoccupied with their own parents who were often ill at that time. Especially so when my father’s mother passed away and he went to the Perm region for her funeral, while my mother’s parents took turns either in the hospital or in the military hospital. My mother would rush to them in the evenings after work and only then pick me up. Dad, on the other hand, would stay at work late into the night — he was the head of the department at the renowned Bakhchisarai cement plant, which was undergoing re-registration and had to find new clients for its product after the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Mum was grateful to the Memetovs but disliked the smell of chybereks, which, she thought, wafted from their yard.[7] On the way home, she would complain that my hair kept the smell. In fact, it wasn’t that often that they cooked chybereks — only on weekends and holidays — because they are made only with the freshest meat, which wasn’t always easy to find. What my mum mistook for chebureks were, in fact, manty.[8] I loved chybereks, manty, tatarash,[9] and kubete[10]  — there was always something delicious to eat there. As a teenager, I finally realised why their tables were laden with food, even then: Grandma Dilara-bukaná,[11] bitá’s daughter-in-law, who grew up in an orphanage and spent her entire childhood hungry, made sure of that. She could deny anything to herself, but not food for herself and her loved ones.



[1] Ay, (Crimean Tatar) — Moon. Crimean Tatar words and phrases in the text are presented in Cyrillic script; in the notes, both Cyrillic and Latin script are used. The Cyrillic script was forcibly introduced in 1938, while the Latin script was adopted immediately after Arabic in 1928, to which the Crimean Tatars attempted to return in the 1990s. Today, the majority of Crimean Tatar authors and publications use Cyrillic because it is more familiar, while a minority use Latin script, which better corresponds to the phonetic features of the Crimean Tatar language. If there is an immediate translation or clarification in this text — usually for phrases, sometimes for words — it is not relegated to a footnote. The concept of family affiliation (grandmother, grandfather, elder sister, etc.) or terms of address indicating status (aga, odzha) are is presented in the text in Ukrainian transliteration with emphasis — here and henceforth, author’s notes in translation, where not specified otherwise. 

[2] In translation, Crimean Tatar words are presented in Latin script — translator’s note. 

[3] Bitá (Cr.Tat.), one of the ways to call a grandmother in Crimean Tatar, more typical for the steppe and foothill regions of the peninsula.

[4] Duva / dua (Cr.Tat.) is an Islamic prayer, as well as a joint prayer among the Crimean Tatars, which is customary to gather on the occasion of important family events: certain wedding ceremonies, after the birth of a child, for a funeral, before the start of a big business, etc.

[5] A dish similar to cabbage rolls. Minced meat, onions and rice are wrapped in cabbage or grape leaves.

[6] Baba (Cr.Tat.) father.

[7] This spelling of this flour and meat dish is more in line with the original sounding of the word than the usual “cheburek”.

[8] A dish similar to cheburek, though fried on a dry pan

[9] A dish similar to small dumplings

[10] Meat pie. The dough is puff pastry, the filling is made of meat, potatoes and onions

[11] Bukana (Cr. Tat.) is another, more common, way to call a grandmother in the sub-ethnic group Yaliboil (southern coastal Crimean Tatars).


Translated by Marta Gosovska from: Anastasiia Levkova, За Перекопом є земля (There is Land Behind Perekop) (Kyiv: Laboratoriia, 2023), pp. 7–11.


The UIL Literary Translation workshop was funded by the Embassy of Ukraine to the United Kingdom and coordinated by UIL Kultura Fellow Maryna Dubyna.

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