Polish photographer Justyna Górniak explores the politics of displacement that have become ingrained in the psyche of migrating communities. By focusing on the relationship between rituals and the everyday, an invigorating sense of collectivity and the pervasiveness (as well as perversity) of geopolitics, Górniak provides a hopeful reassessment of the uprooted Crimean Tatar population: although displaced and once again forced to live in an indefinite exile, their life goes on. For them, more than ever, hope is measured by the possibility to return home.

In March 2014 Crimea was annexed by the Russian Federation. The annexation was followed by a referendum whose results have not been recognised internationally. The great majority of Crimean Tatars—the indigenous people of the peninsula—boycotted the referendum. Thousands of them, fearing repression or simply disagreeing with the new situation, left Crimea for good. It is estimated that around 20.000 Crimean Tatars became illustrative of a mere acronym: IDP or Internally Displaced Persons. 

To this day they have lived dispersed around Ukraine. Around 20 families have found refuge in Drohobych, a post-industrial city located in the eastern part of Ukraine, more than 1000 km away from their native Crimea. Most of these families are religious and follow their own traditional customs. After having lived in the city for a few years, they are no longer “newcomers”, but neighbours. Although their life goes on in Drohobych, Crimea is on their mind. They are in touch with those who couldn’t or didn’t want to leave, they follow often worrying news from the peninsula, all while cultivating their traditions and customs.

Crimean Tatars have a very strong emotional bond with their native land—maybe because they were forced to leave it in the past. In 1944, the Soviet authorities ordered the deportation of about 200.000 Crimean Tatars, who were displaced to Central Asia. Returning to the homeland only became possible when Soviet Union began to crumble and eventually collapsed.

Those who have left Crimea after the annexation feel again that they have been deprived of the possibility to live a peaceful life in their historical homeland. However, the experience of previous generations gives them patience and assures them that eventually they will return home.

“Haytarma” is a traditional Crimean Tatar dance which means “return”.

Justyna Górniak is a freelancer based in Bosnia and Herzegovina / Ukraine / Poland, who is interested in the relationship between collective memory and ethnic / national identity and the long-term consequences of forced displacement. She has worked for and cooperated with various institution and organisations, including the Sarajevo based Centre for Refugee and IDP Studies, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, NGO „Zasto Ne”, War Childhood Museum, as well as the studio of socially engaged art "Rewiry (The Districts)”. Find more her work here.