Thursday, 17 April 2014

whereabouts: Crimean Tatars' settlement

Crimean Tatars settlement in Koreiz, Crimea, May 2013

Of all the photos I have taken in the Ukraine during my stay in 2013, this photo is special. It matters to me. Over the weeks I had become familiar with this sight: A Crimean Tatar woman. Every evening she would stand at the corner of the street, burn her waste and watch it burn, stir around in the waste with a log. Burning waste, a ritual.

The corner is situated in the village where I stays, close to the coast. On my route home from the bus stop I would walk past this corner. All the days before I had not dared to take this photo. But this time – it was around the end of my stay – I did not pass by but and climbed down the small hill from the upper road and moved closer to the scene. My camera does not have a zoom, the zoom is in my legs.

During the Soviet area, the Crimean peninsula has served as a sanatorium where reupatble workers from all over the Soviet empire would spend their vacation. The Crimean peninsula was known for its pure air.When I planned my vacation, I was very looking forward to staying in a healthy environment surrounded by pure air, only to find myself in a toxic environment.

The evening we arrived in Kiev, we already noticed the fumes. To be precise: we noticed the fumes even before we had landed. You could see heavy fumes wandering around the outskirs of Kiev from the air. Fumes in colours we don't get to see in Austria. What we did not know back then, was that these fumes were resulting from fires in the woods, but from waste and that they would accompany us during our stay. Every single day. From dusk. Till dawn.

I would have to close my windows in the early morning hours as well in the evening. And in the afternoon. That's when the Crimean tatars' burnt their waste. All kinds of waste. Paper. Plastic. Wood. Plastic And more plastic. Having spent most of my life in Austria, I am not used to the fumes of burnt plastic. The fumes almost ruined my vacation. I turned into a Pavlovian dog: as soon as the fumes entered the room, I would rush to the windows and shut them.

My host repeatedly went across the street and told them to stop with the waste-burning. For years she had been trying to convince their neighbours to stop burning waste. She did it for two reasons: one, because she hated it and two, because she felt responsinble for my wellbeing. It was useless. The neighbours would not quit burning their waste.

Why would someone burn waste in the middle of the neighbourhood? You might think this photo is the direct response to a non-existent waste management. Which is not the case. Waste management exists. It is not the best around, but still better than, lets say, the waste management in Southern Italy. Russians, Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars live together on the Crimean pensinsula, door to door, but found only Crimean Tatars in the street, burning their waste.

I experience such a careless behaviour – in a slightly modified way – at home in Vienna. My neighbours. They open the door of their car just before they leave, so they can toss their litter. They leave and their garbage is spread in the street. And me? I watch this and cringe. Needless to say my moved to Vienna from a country in Southern Europe? Outch. I have enterted thin ice by now, asking questions like 'Why wouldn't they give up this behaviour?' Racism did not just knock on my door, it already took a seat, right next to me.


  1. Burning plastic, what toxic fumes, how absolutely horrid. Litter is a big problem in England also, people just throw their rubbish out of their car windows or drop it on the floor as they walk along. I used to stop people and ask them to put their rubbish in a waste bin but I've admitted defeat and stopped doing that now. My husband takes a plastic bag with him and collects rubbish from the hedgerows when he goes for a walk.

    1. You stopped people? *taking a deep breath*
      Now that you mention the litter in the UK - I remember empty energydrink cans all along the hiking routes in the Highlands in Scotland. First we thought it was funny, because the dring is an Austrian brand. The rubbish in/on/around the hedgerows can do harm to animals. :(