At first glance, the village of Fontany 5 exudes a sleepy suburban calm.
But below the surface of this Crimean Tatar settlement of about 500 people, there is fear.
Russian troops are stationed just a few kilometers away on the streets of the Crimean capital, Simferopol. And rumors are in the air of looming attacks against Tatars.
Mudasir Kafodar, a 55-year-old ethnic Tatar, holds his young granddaughter in the garden of his two-story stone house as his other six grandchildren played nearby.
“We want to live in peace. But Russian troops have entered our territory — Ukrainian territory — and armed men are walking around. It scares us – not just me, but all of us,” Kafodar says.
“They don’t say anything. They don’t explain who they are. But it’s clear they’re not Ukrainian — they’re Russian.”
Kafodar was born in Uzbekistan and in 2000 moved back to Crimea, which he considers his homeland. His parents — now 93 and 85 — were deported by Stalin in 1944. He has built his own family’s ancestral home from scratch and now fears losing it.
Tatars make up roughly 12 percent of Crimea’s 2 million inhabitants. Most were deported to Soviet Central Asia by Josef Stalin during World War II, accused of collaborating with the Nazis, and only returned after Ukraine won its independence in 1991.
And unlike the vast majority of Crimean residents, most Tatars supported the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv that toppled the pro-Moscow regime of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. They also are strong supporters of Ukrainian independence, of Crimea remaining in Ukraine, and of Kyiv’s drive for European integration.