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Life after deportation and before the occupation. Crimean Tatars by Gennadiy Minchenko

A Crimean Tatar shepherd in Crimea. Photo by Gennadiy Minchenko


On May 18, Ukraine commemorates the victims of the Crimean Tatar genocide. 80 years ago, at 3:00 a.m. on May 18, 1944, the Soviet authorities began the eviction of all Crimean Tatars from their native peninsula. About 200,000 people were forcibly taken away in freight cars. Almost half died on the way or in the first years after the deportation. The formal reason for the deportation was that the entire Crimean Tatar people were recognized as "traitors to the motherland": the Soviet authorities accused them of allegedly collaborating on a massive scale with Nazi Germany during World War II.


Photo by Gennadiy Minchenko


On this day, the Ukrainian Association of Professional Photographers publishes a project about the life of a Crimean Tatar photographer Gennadiy Minchenko, who has been visiting Crimean Tatars since the mid-2000s. He managed to document the life and culture of the Crimeans, who began to return to the peninsula in the late 80s and early 90s, trying to rebuild their lives.


The artificially created negative image of the Kyrymla


Hennadii Minchenko began to photograph the lives of Crimean Tatars in 2004. Back then, he traveled to the peninsula with the photographer Oleksandr Hlyadelov as part of a project from the Polish Institute in Kyiv. After the expedition, he returned there several times, where he found new friends and left a part of his heart. He actively recorded the personal stories of the Kyrymla people, who, against all odds, tried to preserve their traditions, culture, and identity, as well as to build a house in the middle of the field and achieve the right to receive at least a piece of their native land.


Photo by Gennadiy Minchenko


"This trip took place before the Orange Revolution," says Hennadii, "I was very impressed by my acquaintance with the Crimean Tatars. Because I remember various fakes about them. Unfortunately, we were very much under the influence of Russian propaganda and heard various false information on TV channels that Crimean Tatars had seized land somewhere or had clashes, etc. That is, we heard news about them in a negative light. So we arrived there, and these people met us so hospitably and joyfully. I wanted to film more, to get to know them and their culture!"


Photo by Gennadiy Minchenko


Gennadiy Minchenko admits that he was impressed by the culture of the indigenous people of Crimea. But he was also surprised that even 10 years before the annexation, Russian influence in Crimea was tangible. According to him, local authorities always looked toward Moscow, and Ukraine did not do enough to counteract this. This was also the complaint of the Kyrymlos, in whose homes Hennadii always stayed during his trips. He documented their personal stories and their acquaintances. He mostly took pictures on film, including black and white. He made a lot of photo shoots at that time. On the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Deportation, the photographer singles out the story of a jeweler.


Photo by Gennadiy Minchenko


Look at your strange home


Photo by Gennadiy Minchenko


Aider Asanov is the only Crimean Tatar master who learned jewelry making skills from his father. He directly experienced the deportation to Uzbekistan in 1944. That night, his family could only take away the memories of their lost home. However, young Aider miraculously managed to take his violin, which saved his life more than once. He earned his bread with it. When he returned to Crimea in 1990, he often went to see his now-alienated home, where he spent his childhood.


Photo by Gennadiy Minchenko


"The people who survived the deportation were already at a respectable age. Among them was the famous jeweler Aider Asanov, whose house was taken away. He always showed me his house, which was unjustly taken away from him. Of course, after returning to Crimea, he was not given anything back. Although at that time his childhood home was in a state of disrepair. The man bought a house near the train station and set up a workshop there," says Hennadii Minchenko about Aider.


Photo by Gennadiy Minchenko


The jeweler used modern materials, combining texture and color, as well as silver, melchior, copper, smalt, intertwining them into complex patterns. He tried to make each of his pieces unique. He taught his students to do the same. He became a real star of Crimean Tatar culture. The man died in Bakhchisarai in 2019 at the age of 92, before the liberation of Crimea.


Photo by Gennadiy Minchenko


Second loss of home in 2014


Photo by Gennadiy Minchenko


The photographer took the annexation of Crimea in 2014 with personal pain. For him, these events came as a shock, because not only his favorite places or fond memories remained under occupation, but also many of his friends and acquaintances, for whom he is sincerely worried. Hennadii dreams of returning to Sevastopol, Bakhchisarai and Balaklava, where he spent a lot of time filming and relaxing.


Photo by Gennadiy Minchenko


"Tatars have always been very supportive of Ukrainians! They were always on the Ukrainian side. All the Tatars knew their Crimean Tatar language, knew Ukrainian, knew Russian, and learned English at school. During all the time I spent with them, I managed to love them very much and to penetrate their culture. It was very difficult for me to survive the fact that the Russians annexed Crimea," Gennadiy says.


Photo by Gennadiy Minchenko


The world started talking about the genocide of Crimean Tatars after the Russian occupation. Hennadii's photographs received new life and attention. He supported the Crimean Tatars by providing his photographs for exhibitions and various projects representing the ethnic code of the indigenous people of Crimea.


Photo by Gennadiy Minchenko


"Looking back, I realize that these photos become important when there is some kind of feedback. Unfortunately, this project was not needed for a long time," says Hennadii.


Photo by Gennadiy Minchenko


 

Gennadiy Minchenko is a Ukrainian reportage photographer. He has worked as a photojournalist for the newspapers Vseseverskie Vedomosti, Uriadovyi Kurier, Vechirni Vesti, Ukraina i Mir Segodnya, Dilova Stolitsa, and Business. Currently, he is a photojournalist for the Ukrinform agency. He has participated in many collective exhibitions in Ukraine and abroad: the Kyiv Month of Photography Biennial (2003, 2007), Bakhchisaray-2004 at the RA Gallery, the Kyiv 24 Hours photo project, and exhibitions dedicated to the Orange Revolution (Warsaw, Krakow). His personal exhibitions were held in Kharkiv (2001) and Bratislava (2005). He has won several awards: the Grand Prix of the Icarus FC for his series "Homeless Children" (2001), one of the winners of the Ukraine in Focus photo contest (2002).


Social networks of the photographer: Facebook.


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