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I’ve been to Crimea several times. It is a beautiful land with a very special atmosphere. The last time I visited Crimea, I was in my early twenties. We went to Ai-Petri Mountain via a cable car.

It was a very long trip, as we had to stay in line and wait for the cable car for several hours outside. To make matters worse, it was quite hot. After we got to the very top of the Ai-Perti Mountain and enjoyed the views, we saw a man who was selling wine in recycled plastic bottles.  

The man was fit, middle aged, and looked like Crimean Tatar; he had no tent and no car that I could see. It looked like he hiked up there with his merchandise. We started talking to him and I got the impression that he was a kind, honest and hard-working man doing his best to make a living.

I do not remember all the details of our conversation and I’m no longer sure of his name—maybe it was Abdulla. He made his own wine and then sold it in the plastic bottles.. Although he was hesitant to share details, he revealed that he was storing the wine in caves nearby so he did not have to carry it up there every day.

We talked about the times when the Soviet regime destroyed many grape vineyards in their attempt to enforce the dry law.

I should mention here that Crimea was is famous for making wonderful wines; one cannot find such sweet desert wines anywhere else. Wine making is also one of the major economical branches of Crimea. It was a crime back then to cut down those vineyards. The man we spoke to informed us that not all of the vines had been cut and some remained.

I started to get a lot of respect for this man. He’d had a hard life but did not give any sign that he was feeling pity about himself, nor did he show any hatred or anger about the past.

We bought one small bottle (around 250 ml) of wine. We were poor students and could not afford to buy more, although it was priced very reasonably. That wine was the best wine I have ever tasted and is probably why that day has been imprinted in my memory.

Back then, I barely knew about the deportation of Crimean Tatars and the hardships they had to go through.

The Putin regime only knows the  language of force and domination.  They view any form of stepping back as a loss and dishonor. I suspect they will loosen their grip on Crimea and Ukraine only during agony of their regime. 

Crimea, at the moment, is isolated from the world. Annexed from Ukraine, it has no physical connection with Russia. To provide for Crimea, the Russian Federation must either organize all the supplies needed by ships or try to somehow take over Ukrainian territory in order to get ground transportation to Crimea.

After learning about the recent events from Eastern Ukraine, I saw that they chose to get physical access to Crimea. However, it is very unlikely for them to succeed due to the low level of support from the local population and inability to isolate a part of the mainland as they did in Crimea.

I think that life in Crimea will not get better, as the Russians promised, but will only become worse. The main branch of the economy in Crimea is tourism, and 2/3 of tourists are Ukrainians.

Given the current situation, nobody will want to spend a vacation with armed men everywhere. Moreover, Ukrainians are no longer welcome in Crimea, and Russians will have to travel over 24 hours with 2-3 different means of transportation to get there. Other factors such as quick change of currency, juridical system, business registration, taxation and so on will be painful and economically costly.  

I feel the most sorry for Crimean Tatars, as they are the native population of Crimea. Crimea is the only place they can call home. While Russians and Ukrainians may return to the mainland, Crimean Tatars will have to flee their historic homeland. About 5,000 Crimean Tatars have fled Crimea; most of them have gone to Western Ukraine after Russian occupation.

Taking advantage of the occasion, I’d like to apologize to Crimean residents who did not want to become Russian citizens and in particular Crimean Tatars for not protecting them better.  Many of my friends, myself included, were very disappointed by how new Ukrainian government let go of Crimea.

In the past, Crimean Tatars were prosecuted by the Soviet regime, successors of those that now occupy Crimea. Back in 1945, Crimean Tatars were accused of collaborating with Nazis during the Second World War. As a consequence, all Crimean Tatars, even those who just returned from the soviet army after fighting the Nazis, were forcefully deported to Uzbek SSR (now Uzbekistan) and other remote areas in inhumane conditions by cargo trains.  Over 40% of them did not survive the first three years in exile. Moreover they were not allowed to relocate. Instead, they faced discrimination and disrespect.  

The Soviet regime removed the charges against them in 1967, but they were prohibited to move back until 1989. It took years for Crimean Tatars to return home. Their old homes and lands were taken by others and they had to start all over again.

Ukrainian government helped Crimean Tatars to get land and become the rightful residents of Crimea, respected their culture, language and religion. Likely therefore vast majority of Crimean Tatars wanted Crimea to remain a part of Ukraine and ignored the referendum. Overall people in Crimea lived in peace until the occupation.

It is sad that the successors of the regime, which deprived Crimean Tatars of their homeland, took over their land shortly after they started to regain it.

As the Soviet regime was based on lies, the new Crimean government also started with lies. Although they promised to have three official languages in Crimea, the Ukraine government removed the label of the parliament buildings in Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar and only left Russian text.

I think that the economic situation in Crimea’s future is looking grim and that the Kremlin’s propaganda will likely blame others like Americans, the West, Ukrainians and maybe even Crimean Tatars.  While others may be hard to find, Crimean Tatars will be easy to distinguish, by appearance, culture and religion.

Now that I know much more, I realize how hard the life of Crimean Tatars could be when they returned home. I think of Abdulla who had to hike up to the top of the mountain and sit under an open sun to sell that fantastic wine..

I assume he did not have any other income, as he likely did not have any property by the sea to rent to tourists because Crimean Tatars were not privileged enough to have good, desirable land.  Still, he seemed happy and content. 

I really hope that things will get better for Crimean Tatars.  I firmly believe that Ukrainians will not give up, and we will fight to get Crimea back.

 

Summery

Maria Borisovska, Ukrainian postdoctoral fellow at Oregon Health and Science University, writes about her anguish and frustration over Russians treatment of Ukraine and Crimea.