“The people, the parishioners have fully experienced all the ordeals of the bombardments” — RealnoeVremya.com
How does a large Tatar diaspora survive in the DPR and LPR republics?
The conflict in Novorossiya has become a personal tragedy for many families. A large Tatar diaspora has lived in the DPR and LPR republics for several generations. Since the beginning of the war, many Tatars left the territory of the conflict and went to Russia. Is it possible to call this a homecoming or a move to a new land? Karim Gaynullin, columnist for Realnoe Vremya, expert at the Center for Islamic World Studies, discusses this with Ruslan Ilkaev, a resident of Donbass.
“A Tatar of Ukrainian origin”
Ruslan Ilkayev, 42 years old
Ruslan, how did your ancestors end up in the Donbass?
My grandfather comes from a Tatar village in Mordovia, most Donetsk Tatars have roots there. During the Great Patriotic War he fought on the second Ukrainian front. After the victory he was in Ukraine for some time. Apparently this impressed him and he wanted to move there, which he did in the early 1950s.
My grandmother came a few years later, because my father was born in Mordovia. My own uncle was already born in Donetsk. What is interesting: when he was getting married, my father went to Mordovia and married my mother there. Then they returned to Donetsk together.
My sister and I were already born in Donetsk. . But I still have my grandmother, uncles, aunts, cousins and first cousins in Mordovia. I also took my wife from Mordovia, which also added relatives for me.
But I myself am probably a Tatar of Ukrainian origin who has returned to his historic homeland. My wife and child were no longer in Donetsk.
How did Donbas Tatars live in Soviet and post-Soviet times until 2014?
Due to my age, I have a poor memory of the Soviet period. In 1991, I was 10-11 years old. During the Soviet period, there were — you can’t call them reunions — friendly gatherings that the Tatars held in their homes. Religious holidays were not celebrated openly, but they took place at home, wherever it happened.
After the collapse of the USSR and with the beginning of independent Ukraine, religious and national movements also began to develop. My family at that time was not religious, the only thing was my grandmother, who read the prayer for the rest of her life. There was no religious infrastructure at that time as such.
But already in 1993-1994, an Arab Sunday school, let’s say, appeared. There was a study of the Arabic language, the basics of religion. Arab students from Ukraine were the teachers. Already in 1994-1995, the foundation stone was laid in the construction of the Donetsk Mosque-Cathedral. It just appeared in my neighborhood. It is still standing now, called Ahat-Dzhami. There were always many parishioners.
I was 13-14 years old. My knowledge of Islam and the Arabic language started with this school. Then, I didn’t attach much importance to it: it was just interesting. But Islam was already slowly emerging from the shadows. There were no prohibitions. They began to openly organize holidays, the Muslim community of Donetsk organized themselves. Meeting rooms and gymnasiums were donated for these meetings.
Until 2014, I did a lot of things: I worked and had my own business. In 1999, I had already acquired knowledge about Islam and received an elementary religious education. In general, he led an ordinary life, like everyone else, in the respect of Islam: without drugs or alcohol.
How was the life of the Muslim community and the Tatar community organized at that time?
There are many Muslims in Donetsk itself and in the region. Everything was working perfectly. The president of the Muslim community, Rashid Evgenievich (Bragin), and the director of the Tatar Cultural Center, Farida Rafikovna (Khafizova), have special merit in this regard. May Allah grant them all good health.
Sabantuy began to stand in Donetsk. Various events, exhibitions, Tatar language and literature clubs took place.
Until 2014, all of Donetsk prospered: Muslims and non-Muslims, everyone lived perfectly.
And after 2014?
The war has begun. The mosque in Donetsk, my hometown, happened to be right next to the separation line, a kilometer and a half from the infamous Donetsk airport. The people who lived in this neighborhood, the parishioners, fully lived through all the ordeals of the bombings. A very difficult time.
On the religious level, nothing has changed much, except that, in principle, it has become harder. Of course, they started to gather for Friday namaz in groups of 4-5 people: it became very dangerous. From 2014 to 2016 I was the Imam of the Donetsk Mosque. There were repeated beatings at the mosque. At first it was hard and scary, but you get used to everything. The value of life is completely different. You begin to understand: any day can be the last. You treat life completely differently.
After 2016 truces started, all sorts of Minsk agreements did their job. Then I left, but it became quieter. They even started to hold Sabantui again, away from the district.
How did you leave?
My wife is Russian. I was just going to marry her then. In 2016, I left for Russia, where I stayed. My papers are Ukrainian: I had to make do with occasional income. I could make money in Moscow somehow, but after my son was born I had to go to Mordovia. It is quite difficult in Mordovia itself.
Then I met local Muslims, made new friends, even managed to find a job as a manager, get a stable income. Obtained citizenship. Moved to Moscow.
Russia is another country, other peoples, other places. Relatives and friends remained in Donetsk. But I faced all the difficulties.