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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“We are not refugees. Refugees leave their country for another one. And the Crimea is Ukraine”

Stories of those who were forced to leave their houses, work, friends, and family on the peninsula. Why did they do so and how they plan to live on
3 April, 2014 - 10:55
Photo by Yevhen KRAVS

“It is terrible to choose between the country and the family,” says Olha Skrypnyk, who until recently was a teacher of the Crimean Humanitarian University in Yalta. On March 16, on the day of the illegal referendum, they left the peninsula. They did so without any problem: they were helped by the passport with a two-headed eagle, because Olha’s husband is a citizen of the Russian Federation. These people lost their home and had to suffer in other people’s houses, although they were hospitable. Few of those who came from the occupied peninsula to the continent, as they frequently call Ukraine, are eager to tell their stories.


Ceramicist Rustem Skibin, a Crimean Tatar with a considerable touch of Ukrainian blood, left his house in the suburbs of Simferopol, Akropolis (The Day has many times written about the numerous exhibits of the master). It was his uncle who started to build a house in Crimean Tatar style after return from deportation. Every summer, from 1991 till 1996, when Rustem finally moved to the Crimea, he would come from Uzbek Samarkand, where he was born and got educated at the school of arts, to help to build the house.

When he was leaving the Crimea, Rustem at first planned to go to western Ukraine, but he stayed in Kyiv. However, his mother, sister, and neighbors are in Lviv now. When asked whether they are not afraid of “banderites,” the man laughs: “We are banderites, and Lvivites became Crimean Tatars. Kids are fond of it. They have already found friends there.” In spite of the complicated situation in the country, Rustem is glad that Ukrainians are united like never before.

The man managed to bring from the Crimea a collection of antiquities, clothes, and handiwork. Today he helps other migrants and together with other artists is preparing a charity exhibit to support the Crimean Tatars. “We want to show that our culture is alive and is in demand,” the man says. However, like Olha Skrypnyk, he is worried because of taking out the pieces of art. The ceramist is afraid that they will simply stay in private collections.

The men in his village, including Rustem’s brother, patrol streets at night. In population centers, where Crimean Tatars are few, their houses are marked with a cross or letter “T.” In the villages which are populated mostly by Crimean Tatars, nothing of this kind is going on so far. “The situation is very tense. The moods among the Crimean Tatars differ. Some got tired, others, vice versa, got tempered and are ready to fight, yet others (but there are few of such people) said from the beginning that it would be better with Russia. Several elderly people died, because they could not stand the information tension, and part of the people got ill because of nerves or their former diseases aggravated. This is like a wound. It has only started to skin – we have lived for 20 years in the Crimea, built houses, rose our culture, language, and folklore – and now it is an open wound again which is getting bigger,” the man says sadly. In case of military actions, he will go back to the Crimea, to defend the house which he failed to finish and his Fatherland. “What if the house gets ruined?” I ask. “We will build a new one,” Rustem sighs.

He has optimistic forecasts concerning the development of the situation with the peninsula. “I think the Crimea will become a part of Ukraine soon, but this time with autonomy of Crimean Tatars. Crimean Tatars feel like hosts on the peninsula. And any host will do everything to make his home clean, beautiful, and hospitable,” says the artist.


Olena is a native Crimean. She was born in Simferopol in a family, where several generations were military people. When Olena turned five, her father was transferred to Uzhhorod. They lived there for nearly 20 years, and in 2004, when her father was retired, they decided to go back to their small fatherland. By that time Olena managed to get an education of economist in Lviv Polytechnic University. Their life in Crimea was quite normal.

“The situation started to escalate during the Maidan. In the Crimea most of the population speaks Russian, so they prefer Russian TV channels. Over the past months, especially after the odious journalist Kiselev came to the central channel of Russia, the TV air was overwhelmed with anti-Ukrainian psychosis,” Olena recalls the beginning of escalation of the situation. “The opinion that Russia is a defender of Crimean population was imposed very actively in the past years, yet there were no counterarguments in Ukrainian information space. It was imposed that Ukrainization awaits the Crimea and that banderites would forbid them from speaking Russian. The tension increased after the Kivalov and Kolesnichenko language law was cancelled by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine immediately after the Maidan events. Russian mass media started to play this card very actively and really scared the Crimean residents by this.”

At first, according to the woman, the adherents of the so-called referendum wanted simply more powers for the Crimean authorities. “People who have seized power in the Crimea took advantage of these moods very skillfully. They are bandits and thieves, and the Crimean residents are aware of this. But people did not choose them: they appointed themselves. The supporters of Ukraine were intimidated and persecuted. My parents weren’t going to vote. But police and self-defense units came to their house and made them go,” the Crimean resident says.

She tells how the decision to leave the peninsula was made. “We saw that the number of Russian military people is increasing by the day. Parents were really afraid of war actions and development of a large-scale armed conflict with the participation of Crimean Tatars. Another important argument was that we could be left without water and electricity. My parents said they had traveled enough during their lives and they had no strength to leave the place where they had just settled, so they would try to survive in these conditions. If there an armed conflict outbreaks, they will run away, of course. At the moment they decided not to put a little child at risk. I have a friend in Uzhhorod, I phoned her. She immediately invited me to her place. That is how we became refuges,” Olena says.

She says that the local authorities of Zakarpattia are not helpful. “De jure I cannot receive a status of a refugee because the Crimea is considered a Ukrainian territory. Maybe, I will get a status of a migrant later. The only thing they did for me was transferring the governmental benefits for the child from Simferopol to Uzhhorod. Incidentally, it’s very important now, because the current Crimean power has blocked all social payments, and the RF has different rules for child benefits,” Olena says. “I don’t know what I will be doing tomorrow. I am thankful to Ukrainian power for not leaving me face-to-face with my problems. I haven’t received any legal help yet and I don’t know where to appeal for it.”

The woman says she does not want to receive Russian citizenship. “I cannot imagine how I can change the flag and passport of my country. I simply don’t want to be a Russian. I am a Ukrainian, a patriot of my country, and I cannot refuse from Ukraine,” she sums up.

By Anastasia FEDCHENKO, Kyiv; Vasyl ILNYTSKY, Uzhhorod