The forgotten persecution of the Italians
in Crimea during the Stalinian Purges

From the mid of XIX century, important migration fluxes departed from Italy directed to different areas of the world in order to find possibilities and a better situation. One of the areas where Italian people went for most was Crimea, part of the Russian Empire. Attracted by permissive migratorie policies promoted by the Russian Empire, by fertile grounds and by the strategic position of the peninsula for the maritime trade, Italians settled down in Crimea and above all in the city of Kerch, which is located in the narrow that divide the Black Sea from the Azov Sea. Moreover, in 1853 exploded the Crimean War, which saw Sardinia Kingdom together with France, United Kingdom and the Ottoman Empire facing the Russian Empire in order to prevent them from controlling The Bosphorus. Italian soldier, commanded by General La Marmora, fought with honor and eventually won the conflict. After the end of the war, a large number of soldiers joined the compatriots already in Crimea. It is estimated that at the end of XIX century Italians consisted of 5% of the population of the Crimean Peninsula. They were merchants, architects (Mr. Scazzi constructed the biggest harbor in the city), ship owners, commanders and peasantries.
With the collapse of the Russian Empire and the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, Italians as well as other minorities started to be mistreated. Initially their land were confiscated in order to create collective farms. Thus, a part of them came back to Italy, dropping the total down to 2%. However, the tragedy came with the advent of Stalin as leader of USSR. During the period of “Stalian Purges”, Italian were forced to abandon their houses, permitted only to take few things among their goods. Accused to be spies at service of fascism, they were all deported from Crimea to Siberian and Kazakhstan labor camps. More than 3000 people were packed into freight trains with animals for a trip that lasted two months. A large number of them died before reaching the camps due to cold, hunger and harshness. Who reached the destinations did not find a better situation…
With the death of Stalin, some of Italian deportees came back to Crimea while others kept their position in the wastelands of Kazakhstan. Terrified by the possibility of new persecutions, most of them hide their heritage, stopped speaking italian and eventually changed their documents. They became Russians.
Nowadays, in the area of the narrow of Kerch live about 150 families with Italian origins. Some of them are still in hungry with Italian institutions due to the lack of protection during the deportation and the recognition after the fall of USSR, while others claim with force their heritage, struggling to obtain Italian citizenship. They are assembled in the association CERKIO, “Italiani di Crimea”, headed by Giulia Giacchetti Boiko.
The expectations of their future is gloomy due to the Ukrainian crisis and the uncertain situation of the Crimean Peninsula at a crossroads between choosing to go to Russia or NATO.

“You only have power over people as long as you don't take everything away from them. But when you've robbed a man of everything, he's no longer in your power.
he's free again."
Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Italianskij is a story that i realized with my colleague Alessandro Lacchè.

The photobook of this story is edited by GB Editoria.

Click on images for full screen.​
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