There Is Land Beyond Perekop – a Crimean Bildungsroman


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Many Ukrainian writers addressed the Crimean theme at different times, but it has been less present in novels, as has Ukrainian policy toward the peninsula, which resulted in its annexation. Anastasiia Levkova’s novel ‘There is Land Beyond Perekop’ fills this thematic gap in Ukrainian literature, and Crimea in this book is not just a setting, but, without exaggeration, a main character.


If you love, love Crimea too


It is Crimea that forms contacts and evokes deep and complex experiences in the young characters. The discussions on the pages of this book revolve around this land, and the Crimean Tatars have been returning to it for years, step by step, and, having returned, stay there in times of occupation. The title of the novel is the antithesis to the proverb “There is no land beyond Perekop.” Thus, the title intends to overcome the alienation of the peninsula from the mainland and, at the same time, the alienation of mainland literature from the peninsula’s socio-political problems. It is not an exaggeration to say that the whole pathos of the novel is aimed at showing the proximity of Crimean problems to the problems of Ukrainian society.


The novel is written in the first-person, and the theme of Crimea is fundamental to the narrator. The main character’s attitude toward others is largely determined by their views on the Crimean issue. Here lies a certain drama. The author shows the incompleteness of love, which is also due to the fact that the narrator’s boyfriend does not treat Crimea in the way she would like: “I did not believe in his love. <…> He was always shaming Crimea” (p. 152). By not sharing her boundless love for Crimea, the boyfriend undermines the centre of her worldview, which is why she does not fully trust him. 



There is Land Beyond Perekop, Levkova A., Kyiv, Laboratoria Publishing House, 2023



The novel is set in the 1990s and 2000s. From time to time, retrospective references to the biographies of the protagonists’ ancestors appear, including the deprivations and terror they suffered at the hands of the Soviet government (deportation, execution, imprisonment, loss of property). The period of Ukrainian independence for Crimeans, in particular for Crimean Tatars, was not a sweet one either, as it required them to defend their rights. The novel is written on the basis of research on the history of Crimea and oral testimonies of, and consultations with, Crimean Tatars. The author of the novel used rich ethnographic material, and her familiarity with the culture and history of the Crimean Tatars gives the impression that she, like her main character, grew up in the Kyrymlý community.



If you love, love your trauma too


The book is comprised of three parts, and the setting is primarily Crimea. The first part depicts the childhood (and school) years of the narrator and her friends; the second focuses on the student years, accompanied by trips to Kyiv, and the third part portrays the beginning of the narrator’s independent adult life amidst the Crimean maidan and the annexation of the peninsula. This three-part composition reflects the plot schemes of books in the bildungsroman genre.  No less important is the fact that the didactic instruction in ‘There is Land Beyond Perekop’ is indeed noticeable. This is a novel about how a person born with a Russian identity, not at all impacted by the “banderivtsi”, and with critical thinking, openness to knowledge about and influence of the Crimean Tatars becomes a convinced anti-Russian. Nowadays many people who were previously more loyal to the Russian world turn to such considerations after being impacted by the Russian tanks, rocket launchers, drones, bullets and missiles. 


If Anastasiia Levkova wrote such an ideological novel before the Euromaidan, it would, perhaps, not stand a chance of becoming a bestseller. At that time, the novel would have taken an overly speculative approach and the image of the protagonist was developed out of nowhere. But now, at the time of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukrainian lands, the evolution of the narrator and the worldview of the novel’s characters reflect the changes that have happened to many. 



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The success of the novel — one of the most widely read Ukrainian fiction published in 2023 — is to some extent based on the strategy of combining a love story with socio-political realities and ideological principles. 


In some places, the novel is really didactic, but when the generalisations about Russian culture are made amidst the respective routes of the two culturologists in love, these theses don’t sound like a direct message from the author. 


“Do you know how was the Russian Orthodox Church formed?” Vlad asked suddenly. I didn’t know. “The same one that the Kyiv Patriarchate calls schismatics,” he clarified. “Initially, the Moscow Church was a derivative of the Kyivan Church. And then – read it online, how and whom did they imprison, how they gave bribes so that they would be recognised as a separate Church.”


Vlad printed me three volumes of Domontovych, who wasn’t widely available, only in the library, and gifted me a book by Pidmohylny – that was a promise that Ukrainian culture is comprehensive. And also Meletius Smotrytsky, and Hryhorii Skovoroda, and Maria Prymachenko, artists of the 1920-30s, 1960-70s… “For Bulgakov to exist,” Vlad said, “they had to shoot Valerian Pidmohylny and Mykola Zerov in Sandarmokh. There is the cherished Russian literature.” (p. 182)



The relationship between Vlad and his girlfriend, whose name he does not mention, and their love story is filled with talks about the colonial relations between the two cultures. Eventually, their relationship ends, and it is worth noting that the reason for the couple’s separation may be not only Vlad’s scepticism about Crimea, which is not always acceptable to the girl (as mentioned above), but also the fact that she herself is not ready to open up to others fully. In her conversations with Vlad, she prefers to avoid mentioning the manifestations of Ukrainophobia in Crimea. She cannot admit to her closest friend who her grandfather was. She did tell Vlad, but almost not intentionally, when she “blurted it out” in a conversation. When talking about her grandfather to a strange woman in Germany (a country where it is usual to talk about ancestors involved in political crimes), she notes that she would not be able to say this to people she knew in her native country. It is no coincidence that the author gives her a surname with mysterious a mystery in its roots: Utaeva. Her active, communicative nature conceals something that gives Vlad reason to conclude, “You pretend to be researching wedding traditions, but in reality you are researching loneliness” (p. 210).



Salesmen of the past 


In their conversations with the narrator, her father, aunt Natasha, and Valerchyk, a special services officer (SBU-worker who became an FSB officer even before the annexation of Crimea), refer to the narrator’s ancestry and memory of her family tree. The father tells his daughter, when she asks about his attitude toward Viacheslav Chornovil, that she should honour her grandfather, a fighter against nationalism, while “by honouring his enemies, you are damaging the memory of him” (p. 72). Aunt Natasha also urges the girl not to desecrate the memory of her grandparents, who were Russian. In fact, it is not so much about specific grandparents as about the attitude towards the colonising country and about preserving an innate imperial identity.


The mother of the narrator views the question of identity differently. Even though she calls herself Russian, she doesn’t try to influence her daughter’s self-identification. Her adult daughter, with already formed pro-Ukrainian views, learns that her family tree is not as clear-cut as it was commonly believed. After all, her great-grandmother was repressed, served time in camps, and her first husband was shot by the Bolsheviks for betraying his Motherland. The guy from the secret services (who knows about traitors of your Motherland more than anyone else) and his FSB colleague agree to reveal the details of this family’s history to the girl. They have the truth about the narrator’s origins in their hands, so they are trying to trade this story and to use it as a tool for manipulation. However, the narrator refuses to buy this family secret at the cost of her own contribution to the future repressive mechanism of the Russian Federation. The future is more important than the memory of the past.


There is no shortage of the memories of the past in this book, and most of them are in the testimonies of Crimean Tatars and in ethnographic remarks.


The occupation of Crimea sharply poses the question of choosing one’s future to the characters. Every one of them answers this question in their own way. The best friend of the narrator, Crimean Tatar Aliie, gets married and stays on her ethnic territories. She concludes that people of her nationality should marry only Crimean Tatars and live on their native lands. A different friend also intended to stay in the peninsula, but changed her mind under the influence of the mentioned Valerchyk (specifically the episode with his threats, which allowed the woman to avoid punishment, is masterfully written). 



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Possibility of Marriage


Utaeva chooses to live on the mainland. Nameless throughout the novel, the girl finally gets rid of the silence surrounding her name, and since her name is Ukrainian, her move to the mainland  asserts her Ukrainian identity.


The question of the possibility of marriage between Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars remains open. Writing a script for a Ukrainian-Crimean Tatar wedding was an assignment that the narrator received when she attended a debate club in Bakhchisarai. Did she manage to create such a script? If so, where is it? Is coexistence between Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars possible? These questions are not answered in the novel because there is no answer to it outside the novel either. Nonetheless, it seems that Anastasia Levkova’s book ‘There is Land Beyond Perekop’ brings the common life between Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars closer.


Buy the book 



Translation: Olena Pankevych

Editing: Nicole Yurcaba