In March 2014 Russian forces marched into the Autonomous Republic of Crimea under the pretext of helping the supposedly oppressed Russian citizens. Bit by bit, Russian soldiers – in uniforms with no insignia – took over the Crimea. Over time, the situation has stabilised and further unmarked soldiers have arrived.
After the annexation of Crimea into the Russian Federation, many Crimean- Tatars started to flee from its territory. The majority were politically active against the annexation, hence in risk of being oppressed by Moscow. Denunciations, bribing, intimidating – these are the methods currently used by the Russian government against the Crimean Tatars. Mustafa Dzhemilev – spiritual and political leader of Crimean Tatars – had to leave Crimea and is banned from entering the peninsula, where his family still lives.
The current situation is like reliving the past. Present events automatically recall traumatic memories for the Crimean Tatars (especially those of the older generation). In 1944, on Stalin's order, Crimean Tatars were deported and killed en masse. Those who were deported to Asia, were fighting for decades for the right of return. In the 80’s, when the Soviet Union was falling apart, they started to return to their homeland. In 2014 they have to leave it once again.
Currently there is no freedom of speech or thought in Crimea. Crossing the border with equipment film was almost impossible because of the existing bans there. During the shooting we had access to Mustafa Dzhemilev and Crimean Tatar activists who have helped us to get to Crimea with very basic film equipment. Any public outings with a camera could end the filming (as was the case of Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, convicted to 20 years in prison) and cause problems to the protagonists. The difficulties with making a movie clearly illustrate the lack of freedom in Crimea. Crimean Tartars who agreed to participate in this film took the risk, that at any moment their homes will be visited by the FSB (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation). However, for these simple people it’s the only way to be able to speak their minds out loud. It took quite some time before they finally trusted us and made us part of their homes and lives. They were hiding us in their houses and ask not to be filmed in public places. They are risking their lives to be able to speak for freedom in these difficult times.
History of Crimean Tatars shows how strong the bond between people and land can be and how important the historical consciousness is. And that we are part of the greater whole and we need to know who we were, who we are and where are we going to.