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asassa assasaas A Soldier’s Hidden Identity Shines A Light On Troubled History Of Crimea’s Tatars
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When Viktor Shevchenko was called forward to receive his medal from President Volodymyr Zelensky at a special ceremony in Kyiv earlier this year, his appearance seemed to come as a surprise to the Ukrainian leader.
It was not the neck gaiter Shevchenko was wearing, pulled up to cover his nose and mouth, though that certainly made him stand out from the rest of the two dozen men present. Instead, it was his darker skin tone, dark brown eyes and jet-black hair.
“Are you really Viktor Shevchenko, or are you collecting a medal on behalf of someone else?” Zelensky asked.
Shevchenko muttered his answer through the face scarf, but his voice was muffled, and the president failed to catch his reply.
Shevchenko tried again a bit louder.
This time, Zelensky understood.
He was the right soldier, but Viktor Shevchenko was not his real name.
Shevchenko laughed as he recalled the episode over lunch at a Crimean Tatar restaurant in Kyiv, and said the president was apologetic as soon as the penny dropped.
“He could see I was Tatar, that I wasn’t Slavic. I told him my parents are still in Crimea and he immediately understood,” he told us over a meal of traditional lamb chebureki, or fried turnovers seasoned with pepper, and dumplings.
He chose the name Shevchenko carefully, he said, to sound as un-Tatar as possible.

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