As Islamophobia Rises In Many Countries, Muslims Find Unlikely Sanctuary In Western Ukraine

Source: Huffington Post

By Ian Bateson Freelance Journalist

LVIV, Ukraine ― Ernes and Alime Mambetov have been living with their 2-year-old son in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv for a little over a year. Both are practicing Muslims and Crimean Tatars that fled Crimea for mainland Ukraine after Russia’s military seized control of the peninsula in 2014.

When they left in June of that year, young Crimean Tatar men were disappearing and reported to be abducted under the new Russian authorities. Ernes feared he could be next.

“When we crossed the border, I felt like a weight had finally been taken off of me,” he said.

Both have been warmly received despite the fact Muslims had previously been a rarity in this part of Ukraine. Ernes’ well-groomed beard passes for hipster chic, and though Alime wears a headscarf, she said she has never experienced more than an odd look.

Lviv has a bloody history of ethnic cleansing of Jews and Poles in the 20th century, but in the 21st century it and the surrounding region have become an unlikely refuge for thousands of Muslim Crimean Tatars. The decision for Crimean Tatars to leave Crimea and come here was not easy. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin deported the entire Crimean Tatar population in cattle cars to Central Asia in 1944 and they were only be able to return to Crimea in the 90s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For those leaving Crimea again now, it has meant losing their homeland a second time. With the continued suppression of Crimean Tatar leaders and other dissidents, including the revival of the Soviet practice of branding dissidents mentally ill and forcing them to undergo psychological testing, it is a decision more and more Crimean Tatars are forced to contemplate.

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