Posts Tagged 'spring'

Not about nostalgia

I rarely talk about Crimea with my Crimean (Crimean Tatar, mostly) friends who have moved away from there. Or rather, we talk a lot, about the political situation, recent events (often arrests and house searches), the people who are still there… but rarely about how we feel, in ourselves, about this place it’s so difficult for us to get to now.

It’s unusually warm and bright in Kyiv, but this time of year is hard – nothing growing yet, and won’t be for weeks. This used to be the time I’d jump on a train and go to Crimea, for snowdrops and crocuses up in the mountains. Soon there will be tissue-thin almond blossom on the slopes below the Crimean war panorama in Sevastopol. Downy pasque flowers all along the sunlit rims of the plateaux around Mangup Kalye, those sleepy purple flowers yawning straight into the clearest, wide-awake, scouring wind and light.



Crimea isn’t where I’m from, or where I grew up. It doesn’t belong to me in any way, or I to it. It’s not home. I just miss it.

That’s one reason why we don’t talk about it, I suppose. All I do is miss it.

There’s not much cosy nostalgia in my missing Crimea. I can’t just jump on a train anymore but I have been back since 2014, through a difficult, arbitrary process of visas and permissions and buses and border crossings. I can (so far) still do it. Some of my Crimean friends can still, so far, go back too. It’s always under question now though, because without having changed their citizenship or gone off to fight for a foreign country and betrayed their own, they have nevertheless lost the right to freely go home. The right has been taken away. Now when they return from trips to Crimea our inevitable talk is about ‘How was it on the border? Any problems? Are your family ok?’ There isn’t much ‘What did you think, how did you feel about Crimea now?’ Most of them spend the time with their families and hardly stir out of doors; maybe one or two trips to the sea side, or the mountains.

Some friends won’t go back, out of principle and fear. Some already can’t go back, even though it’s part of their country, it’s where they grew up and it belongs to them and they to it in a way that’s much more than a passport or a birth certificate, that’s difficult to put into words.

Some who left long ago, or after annexation, I think have realised they never really want to go back. I sometimes wonder if there’s a feeling of guilt about that.

Lots of us leave behind the place where we were born or grew up. Maybe we miss it, or feel a bit nostalgic, or we feel guilt and relief and achievement at making the choice to leave. But many Crimeans have lost that choice. Without changing their citizenship or betraying their country or otherwise doing something that might be worthy of banishment, they have had the choice, and their home, taken away.

And for what? So that Crimea could become Russian. Ukraine did not take Crimea from the Russians in 1991, as supporters of Russian annexation say it did. Anyone in Russia who felt a nostalgia for Crimea, a longing to see snowdrops or the place where they were born, could easily go there. They didn’t need visas or permissions, or to worry about being arrested or banned on the border. They could speak Russian in Crimea, they could buy property if they wanted, they could go and live there. It wasn’t part of their country anymore, but then, their country didn’t exist anyway by 1991 – not the Soviet Union, not the Russian empire. Those were countries they could only feel nostalgia for, like the nostalgia for the Crimea of their childhood holidays.

Yet when I’ve been to Crimea since annexation, wondering “for what?”, people there have talked to me of their feelings about Crimea. How they feel at home now, the way they never did when it was part of Ukraine. How they feel they belong to Crimea, and it to them, as it never did before. It’s odd; the people who told me these feelings were generally strangers met on buses, on park benches.

These were not the only feelings people told me, but they were the public ones. Perhaps it’s easier to repeat in a public place to a stranger an accepted national narrative that chimes with and reinforces your happy feelings, than to voice to a friend an unspeakable loss that you somehow have to live with.

It’s five years since Russia officially began annexation: 20 February 2014 is written on the medals later distributed by the Russian government ‘for the return of Crimea’.

crimea return medal


A frivolous post about wanton destruction

I loved this on Hampstead Heath; a random, inspired outburst of creativity with a few bits of plastic and an old light bulb. Yesterday I noticed that someone, in what seemed an equally random act of destruction, had broken off the teeth and gouged out the eye.

The blackthorn and cherry trees are all in bloom on Hampstead Heath. One of the cherry trees was raining blossom yesterday. A flock of green parakeets was strolling up and down the branches, pecking off flowers and dropping them down. The birds looked lovely, grass green and rose pink amid fluffy clouds of blossom against a blue sky, like a Japanese print. The flowers came whirling and twirling down like tiny umbrellas, and people were standing underneath catching them in their palms and exclaiming and wondering.

When I was a child there was a piano in our house, with a pretty fretted wooden pattern on the front, and blue-green silk stretched behind to show through. I was watching the parakeets and I remembered spending one afternoon poking my fingers though every single hole in that pattern to rip the silk. I knew it was a completely wantonly destructive thing to do, and I was wrecking something carefully created to look pretty (and that my parents were NOT going to be pleased) but it was simply too irresistible to stop. I remember the feeling as my finger went through the silk, the way it split apart with a tiny shirr and squeak. Delicious.

The birds pecked and pecked in busy silence. They certainly weren’t eating the blossom; maybe there is a bit of stem right under the flower head that is irresistibly delicious. But they made me think of myself that afternoon as a kid, they made me think of the wrecked tree-stump dragon elsewhere on the heath. Natural selection says we all have an urge to create, to survive by creating – but don’t we all, even parakeets, have an equally great urge to destroy? Not just in order to survive ourselves, but for the pure random pleasure of it.

The taste of spring


In Ukraine it’s birch sap collecting time. All through the forests there are glass jars and earthenware jugs propped at the base of the trees, filling with the essence of spring.

“It’s running well,” says the man I meet in the wood, hammering hollow elder-wood spouts into the white tree trunks to channel this unstoppable flow.

Fresh from the tree, it tastes like the most delicious water you could dream of. A little bit green, a little bit gold; eversoslightly sweet, a tang of moss and mould and earth and promise. It runs and runs like magic.

The birch sap’s flowing the same way blood runs faster now that the sun’s shining and the world’s turning and summer’s coming.

previous posts

A novel about the Crimean Tatars' return to their homeland

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