Crimean Tatar “self-deportation”: mass exodus to Central Asian countries to avoid forced mobilization

The Ukrainian media Suspіlne published an article “To go against your brothers?” about the unwillingness of the Crimean Tatars to fight on the side of Russia against Ukraine and their mass departure from Crimea after the start of forced mobilization into the Russian army. Many leave for the countries of Central Asia, where in 1944 their relatives were deported by the Soviet authorities and where many still have relatives or acquaintances. Those who leave Crimea, and there are thousands of them, call their departure “self-deportation.” Most of them do not have valid passports. Existing documents – expired Ukrainian passports, Ukrainian birth certificates, new Russian passports issued after 2014 – make it possible to enter Kazakhstan and wait for valid documents to be processed by the Ukrainian embassy.

“This war is not mine, I don’t want to take part in it on the Russian side. After [Russia’s] coming to Crimea, it became more and more difficult to live, as if oxygen was being slowly cut off. You cannot freely express your opinion, you must control all words,” says Crimean Tatar woman – a doctor who left with her family from mobilization. She doubts that she will be able to return to Crimea in the near future.

“Many men left their families at home. From the point of view of the Crimean Tatar mentality, this is a difficult moral step, because we traditionally have strong horizontal ties. All my friends who left Crimea repeat the same thing: we hope to return soon. They have lived on occupated territories for many years, and it seems to them that if it was possible to adapt to that reality then, then this time it is also possible [to adapt]. On the one hand, I am sorry that they think so, because this is a completely different level of danger. Back in the day, it took Crimean Tatars half a century to return home, and decades more to set their lives straight. That is why, of course, it is hard for them to go through this new self-deportation,” Dilyaver Saidakhmetov, editor of the Islam in Ukraine website, says in an interview.

Seidamet together with his nephew left for Uzbekistan. They went to the city where Seidamet had lived with his parents while still in deportation: “Almost 30 years have passed, and I am here again. The first thing I did in Fergana was visiting the apartment where I once lived. Of course, other people live there, but we found a common language – I told my story, we drank tea…”, says Seydamet. He thinks every day about returning to Crimea, but he understands that it is risky: “It’s terrible to even imagine that I could end up in a trench on the other side from the Ukrainians and die ingloriously.”