By Taylor Valley
Ludmila Ulitskaya’s Medea and Her Children is set in a small village in Crimea and, although fictional, it sheds light on the lives of those in Crimea. Crimea has a unique history and many of the conflicts that Crimea has faced are represented by Ulitskaya’s characters. Ulitskaya uses her characters to give life to the changing identities of the people in Crimea. Specifically Ulitskaya depicts the struggle of the Crimean Tatars indirectly throughout the book in order to highlight how significantly Stalin has affected Crimea.
Historically Crimea did not belong to Ukraine or Russia, but to ancient Greece as a colony. As time passed, Crimea fell under the control of many other authorities, including the Mongol Empire and the Ottoman Empire. During this time the Crimean Tatars made up the majority of the population on the Crimean Peninsula. Crimea was not adopted into the Russian Empire until 1783 and even under Russian control the Tatars still made up significant portion of the population until they were forcibly deported under Stalin (Illarionov).
Medea’s family comes from Greek ancestry and has lived in Crimea for many generations. As time goes by, within the novel, less and less of Medea’s family lives alongside her in Crimea. Many new people come and go as Medea lives on in the Village, but this also gives Medea insight into the changing identity of the people in Crimea. Medea is the last pure-blooded Greek in Crimea as many other Greeks were deported or have simply moved away. In chapter one Medea’s best friend Elena also briefly mentions the struggles of the Crimean Tatars, another ethnicity that struggled to stay on the peninsula. Elena remarks that Eastern Crimea was beautiful when the Tatars were still around, “What orchards there were in Bakhchisarai! And now as you travel the road to Bakhchisarai, there’s not a tree to be seen: they’ve flattened them all” (Ulitskaya 11). Elena is referring to how Stalin exiled the Crimean Tatars into Central Asia as a form of collective punishment. Medea also references the struggle of the Tatars when she remarks, “The eastern slope was Christian, but after the deportation of the Tatars, Christian burials had begun to creep over onto Tatar territory, as if even the dead were involved in depriving them of their land,” (Ulitskaya 18). Medea is referring to the oppression that the Tatars have faced throughout history under Russian rule. There is an undertone of fear and anxiety that is reiterated throughout the novel and not just with the Tatars, but also with the whole of society under Stalin’s rule. When Ulitskaya references the Crimean Tatars she is usually referring to a more peaceful time in Crimea’s history. The Tatars are usually only mentioned in the past and this shows how the identity of Crimea has changed with the removal of some of its native people along with the terror that Stalin inflicted on the peninsula.
Medea is a remnant of a much different time in Crimea and through her eyes the reader is able to see the shifting identity of Crimea’s people. Through Medea’s recollections the reader is able to witness the struggles that different groups in Crimea have endured. The identity of the land changes with the people and the politics of the time. Although a wide array of people were affected by Stalin’s regime, in Medea and Her Children the plight of the Crimean Tatars is most evident.
Illarionov, Andrei. “The Ethnic Composition of Crimea during Three Centuries.” Institute of Economic Analysis. LiveJournal, 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 03 Mar. 2015.
Ulitskaya, Ludmila. Medea and Her Children. Trans. Arch Tait. New York: Schocken, 2002. Print.
Taylor Valley is a junior at Miami majoring in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.