The Crimean Tatars are Turkic people who inhabited the Crimean peninsula, now part of Ukraine, for over seven centuries. They established their own Khanate in the 1440s and remained an important power in Eastern Europe until 1783, when Crimea was annexed to Russia. During World War II, the entire Tatar population in Crimea fell victim to Stalin’s oppressive policies. In 1944 they were unjustly accused of being Nazi collaborators and deported en masse to Central Asia and other lands of the Soviet Union. Many died of disease and malnutrition. Although a 1967 Soviet decree removed the charges against Crimean Tatars, the Soviet government did nothing to facilitate their resettlement in Crimea and to make reparations for lost lives and confiscated property. Today more than 250,000 Crimean Tatars are back in their homeland, struggling to reestablish their lives and reclaim their national and cultural rights against many social and economic obstacles.

These photographs were taken in July 2008. I spent a few weeks travelling around Crimea with a translator, in order to communicate with the local people. The idea was born as a continuation of my long-term project on people in exile that started with the Saharawi in Western Algeria and continued with the Tibetans in India. There has been a common way of working on all of these chapters, concentrating on the people, their living environment and the landscape. This is how I usually work, analysing the landscape and how people interact with it. I tried to meet as much people as possible, hearing their stories and their experience of the forced exile.

Simone Donati