Dnipro, Ukraine – Muslims in Ukraine are facing a difficult Ramadan this year as Russia’s war against the country continues to rage, yet many plan to use the charity season to raise money to support those in need.
“We have to adapt everything,” said Niyara Nimatova, a Crimean Tatar and leader of the Muslim League in Ukraine.
On the first day of Lent, probably on Saturday, she plans to prepare an Iftar supper with a group of displaced families living with her in the Islamic center of Chernivtsi.
“Many Muslims went abroad, and those who are still in Ukraine need support,” Nimatova said on the phone from the western Ukrainian city, where she has been displaced from the southeastern province of Zaporizhzhia, parts of which are under Russian control.
Five weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, more than 10 million people have been forced from their homes, including about four million people who fled abroad, according to the UN.
Muslims make up about one percent of the population of Ukraine, a predominantly Ukrainian-Orthodox Christian country by religion. Before the war, Ukraine was home to more than 20,000 Turkish citizens, as well as a number of Turkish peoples, especially Crimean Tatars.
Preparations for Ramadan have been both difficult and emotionally charged this year, as bombs fall over the country and curfews are in place, limiting movement in the evenings when families gather to break the daylight. Displaced by war, many are also far from their homes, local support networks and friends – yet they are determined to make the most of the party season.
“We must be ready to do our best to receive God’s forgiveness, to pray for our families, our souls, our country, Ukraine,” said Nimatova, whose husband, Muhammet Mamutov, is an imam.
‘We share our bread’
As a Crimean Tatar, Nimatova has previously been displaced – when Russia annexed the southern Crimean peninsula in 2014, she and her family were forced to flee to Zaporizhzhia.
“When we lived in Crimea, we never thought we would travel. My people were previously deported by [Soviet leader Joseph] Stalin and my grandparents and parents always had dreams of coming back, ”she said.
“When I was two, in 1988, we returned. But then Russia occupied Crimea in 2014, and we understood that we could not continue our religious activities, so we left. Now I have fled my home again.”
In 1944, more than 191,000 Crimean Tatars were deported on Stalin’s orders, mostly to present-day Uzbekistan.
Nimatova said she has had to change her many plans for this year’s Ramadan, including religious lessons – though some will move online – and efforts to feed the homeless.
“In Zaporizhzhia, the Muslim community was different. There were many different nationalities and everyone wanted to prepare their national dishes. One day we would eat Indian biryanis, another Palestinian mantsev or Uzbek plow,” she said.
»Now we live in hiding when we hear sirens. We do not know what tomorrow will bring. It’s very mental. It looks like we’re been 10 years since the beginning of this war. “
Isa Celebi, a Turkish curtain salesman who has lived in Ukraine since 2010, said this year’s Ramadan will find many away from their homes, where some “even live in their cars”.
“We always keep our house open to people during Ramadan or the war. We want to share our bread,” he said, adding that stocks of some food are low while prices have risen.
“The war affected us badly and we are struggling to survive – my business is completely stopped. But I believe we will see an end, maybe in a year, maybe two, but the good days will be back. Therefore, I will do not leave this country. ”
At the beginning of the war, Celebi helped evacuate 400 Turks, Muslims and Ukrainians from his hometown of Vinnytsia in western Ukraine.
Now he is helping 1,000 orphans living in nearby Chernivtsi’s Holy Ascension Monastery Banchenskyy.
“These kids are full of tears. I want to give them all our zakat this year. I call on others, please help this place where kids are crying,” he said.
“Ukrainians are good people. We should help lift their burden – I urge everyone to support Ukrainians.”