Skip to main content
Sabrang
Sabrang
World

Plight of Ukraine’s Muslims amidst the Russian Invasion

Once persecuted and displaced, today the future of Muslims in Ukraine is plagued by uncertainty

Syed Ali Mujtaba 04 Mar 2022

Muslims
Image: Reuters

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24, 2022, has brought uncertainty to the lives and futures of nearly 4,00,000 Muslims who call the country their home, the majority being Crimean Tatar. According to an estimate, as many as 1,00,000 Muslims are living in the capital Kyiv alone, while others are in other war-torn cities like Kherson, etc.

The other ethnic Muslim groups in Ukraine besides Crimean Tatar are Volga Tatars, Azeris, North Caucasians, and Uzbeks. After the Russian invasion, the future of the Ukrainian Muslims hangs in balance and largely depends on the ongoing diplomatic efforts by world leaders to defuse the escalating tensions.

The Union of Islamic Communities of Italy has urged Muslim communities in the country, and across Europe, to open the doors of their centers so they can be safe havens for those fleeing from war in Ukraine. Muslim communities throughout Italy have been organising local initiatives to collect food and medicine to be donated to Ukraine, in cooperation with the Catholic organisations.

In this regard, there is little effort made by the Muslim countries. In fact, their reaction to the current Ukraine war does not inspire any hope. While Turkish President Erdogan has criticised the Russian invasion, Iran has accused the U.S. and the West of causing the 'problem' in Ukraine. The other Muslim countries are silent about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and they have no words of support for the fleeing Ukrainian Muslims.  

To recall, in March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea after a disputed and internationally rejected referendum. The occupying forces immediately began to crack down on the Crimean Muslims. The war displaced some 7,50,000 Muslims from the Crimea peninsula and they moved to the capital Kyiv and Kherson, a city in southern Ukraine.

Now with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the nightmare of persecution once again looms large over the minds of Muslims and they are worried about their future. The renewed threat of their displacement by the Russians, lays their future uncertain, and they fear being treated in the same way as they were in 2014, during the Crimea war.

The history of Muslims in Ukraine is associated with the Crimean Tatars, the Turkic-speaking descendants of Turkic and non-Turkic peoples who had settled in Eastern Europe as early as the 7th century. The Crimean Tatars are a Muslim ethnic group indigenous to the Crimean Peninsula, on the northern coast of the Black Sea. Muslim settlements are concentrated in the countries in the southern half, particularly in Crimea, although there are Lipka Tatar colonies in other regions such as Volhynia and Podolia.

Muslims established the Crimean Khanate in southern Ukraine in the 15th century. The Khanate soon lost its sovereignty and fell to the Ottoman Empire, although its local rulers retained a significant degree of autonomy. The Khanate ended after growing Russian influence leading to its annexation into the Russian Empire after the Russo-Turkish Wars in the late 18th century. At the time when the Khanate was annexed by Russia, its capital of Bakhchysarai had at least 18 mosques along with several madrassas. Later, at the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917, Muslims constituted one-third of Crimea's population. Nearly all major cities in Crimea had a significant Muslim population.

However, the Russian Empire began persecuting the Muslims. Crimean Muslims were subjected to mass deportation in 1944 by Joseph Stalin who accused them of collaborating with Nazi Germany. This stigma was propagated about the Muslims despite tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars serving in the Red Army.

In 1944, more than 200,000 Crimean Muslims were deported to Central Asia, primarily to Uzbekistan. They were forced onto the cattle trains and exiled. It is estimated that about half of them died due to the harsh journey, starvation, and subsequent diseases.  

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Crimean peninsula became part of Ukraine, and the exiled Muslims were asked to return to their homeland. The repatriation though began in 1989, accelerated after 1991. The returnees faced challenges such as being blocked from buying or renting homes, including those that they had previously owned before the deportation.

Estimates of the Ukrainian Muslim population vary. According to a 2011 Pew Forum study estimate, the Ukrainian Muslim population is about 3,93,000, but the Clerical Board of Ukraine's Muslims claim that there are two million Muslims living in Ukraine. According to another report of 2012 an estimated 5,00,000 Muslims live in Ukraine, among them, are as many as 3,00,000 are Crimean Tatars.

The condition of the Muslims in Ukraine has been improving since 1991, that is since Ukraine's independence. During the Soviet era, Ukrainian Muslims were not allowed to practice their religion in open but after 1991, Muslims were allowed to pray in their mosques.

There are other notable developments taking place with regard to Ukrainian Muslims since 1991. A Crimean Tatar representative body was formed to be called Mejlis in 1991. In addition, Crimean Tatar language schools were introduced to reverse the effects of the Soviet ban on the study of the language. Now Muslims in Ukraine have 445 communities, 433 ministers, and 160 mosques, more mosques being built there slowly and steadily. There are nearly 360 registered Ukrainian Muslim communities and organisations, including several charitable organisations.

Muslims in Ukraine lead an Islamic way of life. Weddings are conducted as per Islamic rituals, halal food is served, and Islamic education for children and adults and other facilities are provided. Ramadan programs are organised in a big way. During the month of Ramadan, there are about 800-1,000 people who visit the Central Mosque in Kyiv for iftar and Tarawih prayers daily.

The assumption is Russia may not persecute the Muslims of Ukraine as it has done before, because there is no reason for doing so. It is believed that Vladimir Putin has built a brand image for himself in the Muslim world that he is the only leader that can stand up to Western anti-Muslim biases. In the war against Ukraine, he must deploy this Russian capital in the most effective way and spare the Muslims from any harm to gain the support of Muslims from all over the world.

*The author is a journalist based in Chennai.

Related:

Trolls hound UP village leader stuck in Ukraine for asking GoI for help
Ukraine invasion: Indian student killed in Kharkiv, right-wing blames the victim!
Kashmir and Crimea – where is the difference?

Plight of Ukraine’s Muslims amidst the Russian Invasion

Once persecuted and displaced, today the future of Muslims in Ukraine is plagued by uncertainty

Muslims
Image: Reuters

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24, 2022, has brought uncertainty to the lives and futures of nearly 4,00,000 Muslims who call the country their home, the majority being Crimean Tatar. According to an estimate, as many as 1,00,000 Muslims are living in the capital Kyiv alone, while others are in other war-torn cities like Kherson, etc.

The other ethnic Muslim groups in Ukraine besides Crimean Tatar are Volga Tatars, Azeris, North Caucasians, and Uzbeks. After the Russian invasion, the future of the Ukrainian Muslims hangs in balance and largely depends on the ongoing diplomatic efforts by world leaders to defuse the escalating tensions.

The Union of Islamic Communities of Italy has urged Muslim communities in the country, and across Europe, to open the doors of their centers so they can be safe havens for those fleeing from war in Ukraine. Muslim communities throughout Italy have been organising local initiatives to collect food and medicine to be donated to Ukraine, in cooperation with the Catholic organisations.

In this regard, there is little effort made by the Muslim countries. In fact, their reaction to the current Ukraine war does not inspire any hope. While Turkish President Erdogan has criticised the Russian invasion, Iran has accused the U.S. and the West of causing the 'problem' in Ukraine. The other Muslim countries are silent about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and they have no words of support for the fleeing Ukrainian Muslims.  

To recall, in March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea after a disputed and internationally rejected referendum. The occupying forces immediately began to crack down on the Crimean Muslims. The war displaced some 7,50,000 Muslims from the Crimea peninsula and they moved to the capital Kyiv and Kherson, a city in southern Ukraine.

Now with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the nightmare of persecution once again looms large over the minds of Muslims and they are worried about their future. The renewed threat of their displacement by the Russians, lays their future uncertain, and they fear being treated in the same way as they were in 2014, during the Crimea war.

The history of Muslims in Ukraine is associated with the Crimean Tatars, the Turkic-speaking descendants of Turkic and non-Turkic peoples who had settled in Eastern Europe as early as the 7th century. The Crimean Tatars are a Muslim ethnic group indigenous to the Crimean Peninsula, on the northern coast of the Black Sea. Muslim settlements are concentrated in the countries in the southern half, particularly in Crimea, although there are Lipka Tatar colonies in other regions such as Volhynia and Podolia.

Muslims established the Crimean Khanate in southern Ukraine in the 15th century. The Khanate soon lost its sovereignty and fell to the Ottoman Empire, although its local rulers retained a significant degree of autonomy. The Khanate ended after growing Russian influence leading to its annexation into the Russian Empire after the Russo-Turkish Wars in the late 18th century. At the time when the Khanate was annexed by Russia, its capital of Bakhchysarai had at least 18 mosques along with several madrassas. Later, at the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917, Muslims constituted one-third of Crimea's population. Nearly all major cities in Crimea had a significant Muslim population.

However, the Russian Empire began persecuting the Muslims. Crimean Muslims were subjected to mass deportation in 1944 by Joseph Stalin who accused them of collaborating with Nazi Germany. This stigma was propagated about the Muslims despite tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars serving in the Red Army.

In 1944, more than 200,000 Crimean Muslims were deported to Central Asia, primarily to Uzbekistan. They were forced onto the cattle trains and exiled. It is estimated that about half of them died due to the harsh journey, starvation, and subsequent diseases.  

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Crimean peninsula became part of Ukraine, and the exiled Muslims were asked to return to their homeland. The repatriation though began in 1989, accelerated after 1991. The returnees faced challenges such as being blocked from buying or renting homes, including those that they had previously owned before the deportation.

Estimates of the Ukrainian Muslim population vary. According to a 2011 Pew Forum study estimate, the Ukrainian Muslim population is about 3,93,000, but the Clerical Board of Ukraine's Muslims claim that there are two million Muslims living in Ukraine. According to another report of 2012 an estimated 5,00,000 Muslims live in Ukraine, among them, are as many as 3,00,000 are Crimean Tatars.

The condition of the Muslims in Ukraine has been improving since 1991, that is since Ukraine's independence. During the Soviet era, Ukrainian Muslims were not allowed to practice their religion in open but after 1991, Muslims were allowed to pray in their mosques.

There are other notable developments taking place with regard to Ukrainian Muslims since 1991. A Crimean Tatar representative body was formed to be called Mejlis in 1991. In addition, Crimean Tatar language schools were introduced to reverse the effects of the Soviet ban on the study of the language. Now Muslims in Ukraine have 445 communities, 433 ministers, and 160 mosques, more mosques being built there slowly and steadily. There are nearly 360 registered Ukrainian Muslim communities and organisations, including several charitable organisations.

Muslims in Ukraine lead an Islamic way of life. Weddings are conducted as per Islamic rituals, halal food is served, and Islamic education for children and adults and other facilities are provided. Ramadan programs are organised in a big way. During the month of Ramadan, there are about 800-1,000 people who visit the Central Mosque in Kyiv for iftar and Tarawih prayers daily.

The assumption is Russia may not persecute the Muslims of Ukraine as it has done before, because there is no reason for doing so. It is believed that Vladimir Putin has built a brand image for himself in the Muslim world that he is the only leader that can stand up to Western anti-Muslim biases. In the war against Ukraine, he must deploy this Russian capital in the most effective way and spare the Muslims from any harm to gain the support of Muslims from all over the world.

*The author is a journalist based in Chennai.

Related:

Trolls hound UP village leader stuck in Ukraine for asking GoI for help
Ukraine invasion: Indian student killed in Kharkiv, right-wing blames the victim!
Kashmir and Crimea – where is the difference?

Related Articles

Sunday

03

Jan

Pan-India

Saturday

05

Dec

05 pm onwards

Rise in Rage!

North Gate, JNU campus

Thursday

26

Nov

10 am onwards

Delhi Chalo

Pan India

Theme

Stop Hate

Hate and Harmony in 2021

A recap of all that transpired across India in terms of hate speech and even outright hate crimes, as well as the persecution of those who dared to speak up against hate. This disturbing harvest of hate should now push us to do more to forge harmony.
Taliban 2021

Taliban in Afghanistan: A look back

Communalism Combat had taken a deep dive into the lives of people of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Here we reproduce some of our archives documenting the plight of hapless Afghanis, especially women, who suffered the most under the hardline regime.
2020

Milestones 2020

In the year devastated by the Covid 19 Pandemic, India witnessed apathy against some of its most marginalised people and vilification of dissenters by powerful state and non state actors. As 2020 draws to a close, and hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers continue their protest in the bitter North Indian cold. Read how Indians resisted all attempts to snatch away fundamental and constitutional freedoms.
Migrant Diaries

Migrant Diaries

The 2020 COVID pandemic brought to fore the dismal lives that our migrant workers lead. Read these heartbreaking stories of how they lived before the pandemic, how the lockdown changed their lives and what they’re doing now.

Campaigns

Sunday

03

Jan

Pan-India

Saturday

05

Dec

05 pm onwards

Rise in Rage!

North Gate, JNU campus

Thursday

26

Nov

10 am onwards

Delhi Chalo

Pan India

Videos

Communalism

Hate, Arms, Shrine Takeovers: Is Hindutva extremism at its peak in Karnataka?

WATCH: In this SabrangIndia Exclusive show called 'Column 9', journalist & activist Shivasundar talks about the journey of Hindutva Extremism, from fringe groups to the center, in Karnataka, which is arguably empowered and emboldened by the legislative and judiciary, simultaneously.

Communalism

Hate, Arms, Shrine Takeovers: Is Hindutva extremism at its peak in Karnataka?

WATCH: In this SabrangIndia Exclusive show called 'Column 9', journalist & activist Shivasundar talks about the journey of Hindutva Extremism, from fringe groups to the center, in Karnataka, which is arguably empowered and emboldened by the legislative and judiciary, simultaneously.

IN FACT

Analysis

Stop Hate

Hate and Harmony in 2021

A recap of all that transpired across India in terms of hate speech and even outright hate crimes, as well as the persecution of those who dared to speak up against hate. This disturbing harvest of hate should now push us to do more to forge harmony.
Taliban 2021

Taliban in Afghanistan: A look back

Communalism Combat had taken a deep dive into the lives of people of Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. Here we reproduce some of our archives documenting the plight of hapless Afghanis, especially women, who suffered the most under the hardline regime.
2020

Milestones 2020

In the year devastated by the Covid 19 Pandemic, India witnessed apathy against some of its most marginalised people and vilification of dissenters by powerful state and non state actors. As 2020 draws to a close, and hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers continue their protest in the bitter North Indian cold. Read how Indians resisted all attempts to snatch away fundamental and constitutional freedoms.
Migrant Diaries

Migrant Diaries

The 2020 COVID pandemic brought to fore the dismal lives that our migrant workers lead. Read these heartbreaking stories of how they lived before the pandemic, how the lockdown changed their lives and what they’re doing now.

Archives