National Geographic : 2011 Apr
• the outskirts of Simferopol and Bakhchysaray, hoping to reclaim their ancestral lands, haunted by dispossession and neglect. Even so, Tatars are largely pro-Ukrainian. ey fear Russia re ex- ively---because of its nationalism and because it is the successor to the Soviet state---but Ukraine has no such baggage. "Conversation about Crimea was constant in my family," said Rustem Skibin, a 33-year-old Tatar artist with the hooded eyes and intensity of a falcon. We sat in his studio in back of his house in Acropolis, a village northeast of Sim- feropol, where the green of coastal Crimea gives way to the long horizon of the hot, dry steppes. "I heard the stories," he said, "but I didn't feel them." e family had been forcibly resettled in Uzbekistan. "In 1991 we came back. Crimea was home. I went to Alushta to see the narrow streets with their small Tatar houses. I felt a sense of belonging and understood what it meant to be Tatar in my homeland." It is our motherland, I kept hearing, but whose motherland? For Galina Onischenko, the motherland was Russia. For Rustem Skibin, Crimea was the Tatar homeland and had been for at least seven centuries. For Sergey Kulik, 54, formerly an o cer on a Russian submarine and now director of Nomos, a Sevastopol think tank, the motherland was Ukraine. "I was sorry when the Soviet Union col- lapsed," Kulik admitted over dinner one night. "Suddenly I was nowhere. I had to adjust." As a naval o cer, Kulik had lived comfortably under Soviet rule, but the collapse inspired an epiphany. One could live a cushioned life and still be surrounded by repression, brutality, and falsehood. "I too have nostalgia, but it is not blind," he explained. When Ukraine became independent and took over Sevastopol (a closed city under the Sovi- ets; entry required a permit), both governments faced the task of dividing up the Black Sea Fleet. Kulik and his fellow sailors---there were about 100,000---had a year to decide between the Rus- sian and Ukrainian Navies. "I didn't think twice," Kulik said. "I am Ukrai- nian. My parents are here. I speak Ukrainian. So I chose the Ukrainian Navy." But what does it mean to be Ukrainian? I asked. Kulik thought a while. "Being Ukrainian is like breathing," he answered. It seemed important to keep asking. "In the 21st century it's all about political boundaries. If you consider yourself to be Ukrai- nian, you are," said Olexiy Haran, a political sci- ence professor. "To be Ukrainian is the cherry trees in blos- som, the ripening wheat, our stubborn people who work so hard, and the language I love," in- sisted Anatoliy Zhernovoy, a lawyer and mem- ber of the Ukrainian Cossack movement. e Ukrainian Cossacks, whose forebears patrolled the steppes from the 13th to the 18th centuries, represent a muscular revival of national identity. " e era of nationalism is past. To be Ukrai- nian is to be a citizen of Ukraine. at's it," said Vladimir Pavlovich Kazarin, the president's rep- resentative to Crimea in Simferopol. But Sergey Yurchenko of the Crimean Union of Cossacks disagrees. His paramilitary group of about 7,000 men consider themselves defenders of Russian nationalist ideology. I met Yurchenko at a Cossack compound an hour's drive from Sevastopol, where in a month 200 boys 12 to 15 years old would attend summer camp and receive military-style training, which he'd super- vise. Yurchenko wore a beret and battle fatigues and had the face of a pugilist who'd taken too many punches. He showed me the eld where the boys would live in tents. "We teach them pa- triotism," he said. ey'd also be taught martial arts and how to shoot machine guns. e camp was in the shadow of a 16-foot-high wood cross Cossacks had hauled up to the top of Ay-Petri Plateau. Government o cials had You can take Crimea out of the Soviet Union. To pry the Soviet Union out of Crimea is something else.