Hanging by a thread of land on the Black Sea coast of Ukraine, the Crimean Peninsula might as well be an island, a world of its own. “The mainland,” locals often refer to the rest of the country. Though relatively small in size, Crimea has had a long and turbulent history stretching back to antiquity. It was here the wild Scythians rode their horses and where Tatars ruled the Crimean Khanate from the 15th to the 18th century. The Crimean War was fought here in the 19th century, both on land and sea, and it is where the Second World War saw some of its bloodies battles. From this land, Stalin exiled hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tatars, many of whom perished. Crimea is not a peninsula: it is an entire continent, weighted with both beauty and tragedy.
Today, Crimea is undergoing another historical transformation. Following the bloody revolution in Kiev in February of 2014, Russian troops and pro-Russian groups have occupied Crimea by force, demanding greater autonomy and even secession from Ukraine. Though Russians constitute the majority, there are also sizeable populations of Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, who oppose Russia’s expansionist policies. Ethnic divisions that seemed to have little importance have now turned into rifts, often dividing neighbors and communities. On the dangerous brink of civil war, Crimea has turned into an enormous geopolitical crisis, its effects reverberating throughout the world. Journalist Dimiter Kenarov and photographer Boryana Katsarova document what is perhaps the gravest threat to peace in Europe since the end of the Cold War.