Exiled from Crimea
Russia's annexation has led to many Crimean Tatar families have been ripped apart after occupation authorities began pursuing those who opposed the annexation
The 62-year-old, who has been awarded by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, now lives in Kyiv with his daughter, while his wife and two other children, as well as relatives, are in Crimea.
Suleyman Umerov, who has a family of his own, said he misses his father every day.
“Every son should have a father. Glory to Allah, I have him and he is not that far from me. But while I am in Crimea and he is in Kyiv, it feels like something was taken out of me and was not put back to its place,” he said.
Suleyman makes the trip to Kyiv to see his father at least twice a year.
“My younger son is three years old and he has not seen his grandfather for a year. Right at that moment when he started talking, discovered the world, his relatives and people in general, his grandfather should have been around. But unfortunately, it has not happened yet. But I hope that they will get acquainted once again in the nearest future,” he said.
The Crimean Tatar Muslim minority were deported by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1944 during World War II.
For Suleyman, this is one of the main reasons why leaving his home and joining his father is not an option.
“I personally cannot afford myself to leave Crimea. To be honest, I even do not think of it. Crimea is our homeland. Bones of our ancestors were buried here. And I think that every Crimean Tatar who respects himself thinks the same,” he said.
In Kyiv, Ilmi Umerov fears reuniting with his family could end with him being jailed by the Russian occupation regime. He spent two years in prison in 2017 on what are believed to be politically motivated charges by Russia. He was released as part of a deal brokered by the Turkish government.
“My grandson knows that when Russian authorities leave, his grandfather will come back. I sometimes ask my grandchildren jokingly: ‘What’s going on? Aren’t the Russians running away yet?’ Children laugh and the adults say that it is still not the case,” Ilmi Umerov said.
The Crimean Tatars have opposed Russia’s annexation of the black sea peninsula. Unmarked Russian troops invaded and annexed the peninsula in 2014. That same year on March 16, Russia held a fig leaf referendum in Crimea, it was boycotted by the Crimean Tatar community.
“If you asked me four or four and a half years ago, I would have said that everything would be over in a year or a year and a half. Now five years have passed already and there is no end in sight, but it does not mean that we should give up. We shouldn’t give up, we must always keep fighting,” Ilmi Umerov said.
The western world denounced the referendum and imposed sanctions on Moscow. But this hasn’t changed the fact that hundreds of families like the Ulmerovs were torn apart and have yet to reunite.