Kharkiv- With the beginning of the Russian war on Ukraine In February 2021, all mosques closed their doors in Kharkiv In the east of the country, after most of the Muslims were displaced, like other residents, especially since the fighting quickly reached inside the city.
After Russia took control of the city in September 2022, some Muslims returned, and some life returned to their mosques, but it is a life radically different from what was the case before the war.
This situation is evident in the noticeable decrease in the number of Muslims. Friday prayers barely gathered 150 people in the mosque of the Islamic Cultural Center, while the number reached 800 worshipers before the war. This was also reflected in other mosques and small prayer rooms in markets and various places, which closed their doors to absent patrons. .
The head of the Ukrainian Muslim Council, Siran Arifov, told Al Jazeera Net, “There are no accurate statistics for the number of Muslims in Kharkiv. They are about 50 thousand, according to the city administration, but the real numbers may be much more than that, as the city included tens of thousands of temporary residents, including students, merchants, and workers from Muslim countries.” .
He continues, “The numbers today are estimated at hundreds, and perhaps only a few thousand, because the city received a greater share of bombing and the repercussions of the war, which pushed many Muslims to flee or seek refuge without returning.”
In the face of this reality, mosques seem unable to return to their previous nature of activity in the cultural, educational, and advocacy fields, so their work is limited to the obligatory prayers, at a time when Friday prayers witness the absence of children and women, except for a few of them.
However, mosque sermons do not neglect to refer to the war and its repercussions, and Muslims also review in their conversations the developments and expectations after every prayer, amid fears and concerns that no one denies.
As for schools teaching the Arabic language and Islamic culture for non-Muslims – which were known for their Muslim activity – they stopped, as did any recreational or sporting activity. As for the surrounding streets, there is no longer any crowding or popular markets selling halal food, sweets and meat as usual.
The imam of the Islamic Cultural Center, Rustam Hasandinov, told Al Jazeera Net, “There are few families left in the city with children. Parents fear for their children, and the war has closed many mosques, and the school for Arab and Muslim children in the city of Kharkiv has been closed.”
It's like doomsday
Natalia – a Ukrainian Muslim – tells the story of her stay in the city, telling Al Jazeera Net, “I could not leave the city when the war started. My mother is crippled and difficult to carry. All attempts to seek help failed, so I was forced to stay.”
She continued, “I felt people's selfishness at the time, and this feeling intensified with the sounds of explosions, but I excuse everyone today, because the beginning of the war was truly like the Day of Resurrection, when every person thinks about himself and those closest to him.”
Natalia believes that the situation today is much better than it was. “Yes, we are now 3 or 6 Muslim women meeting instead of 30 or 50, but I feel that the spirit has returned to the place, and things will be better, God willing.”
Thriving volunteer work
In Kharkiv, many Muslims are active in the army and various fields of volunteer work, and it is noteworthy that some of them entered these fields from a purely humanitarian perspective.
Natalia works weekly with a number of Muslim women in the city to weave nets to camouflage military vehicles and sites, and to prepare candles and stoves for soldiers from primitive materials widely used to spread warmth and cook food in trenches and tents, she said.
He is famous in Kharkiv society and its army as “Boboy Sheikh” (that is his name), a volunteer in the Ukrainian army of Tajik origin. He cooks 140 kilograms of rice daily to prepare the popular “pilaf” food for soldiers and the needy in the most affected neighborhoods of the city.
A sheikh told Al Jazeera Net, “At the beginning of the war, I entered a basement containing civilians, and their condition reminded me of tragic scenes that I had seen in Tajikistan decades ago. Then I decided to stay and serve these people, and then I officially joined the army.”
Kharkiv Muslims today can be divided into three categories: a few returnees after displacement and asylum, those remaining who did not leave for various reasons, and volunteers who refused to leave even though it was easy and available to them.
Anwar is a Turkish merchant who returned to Kharkiv months ago to continue supervising a restaurant he owns in the city. He told Al Jazeera Net, “I returned and left my family temporarily in the city of Ivanofrankivsk (western Ukraine), where there is a good number of Muslims. The situation is not yet safe in Kharkiv, but I am forced to frequent it and check on my home and work.”