[This text has been updated to amend the figure given for the number of deportations in the first paragraph]
Crimea’s Tatars are remembering the 200,000 people who were among the millions deported across the Soviet Union during the Stalin era.
Liberated from the Nazis only to be freighted like cattle to central Asia, nearly half died. Today again under Russian occupation, they were not allowed to commemorate the anniversary in their homeland, or in their historic capital of Bahchesaray in Crimea, where gatherings were banned. Some Tatars defied the ban to pray there.
“Ukraine and the world cannot allow the repetition of the Crimean Tatars’ tragedy. Crimea was, is, and will be a part of Ukraine. And a criminal country will be pushed to return what is stolen,” vowed Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko.
Rallies were held in Kyiv and several Ukrainian cities in support, and Tatars gathered on the Ukrainian side of the Crimean border at Henichesk.
The Tatars’ little-known near-extinction has had its international profile raised by Ukraine’s Eurovision victory with a song sung by a Tatar, “1944”, all about the fateful events.
“Ukrainian singer Jamala won at the Eurovision Song Contest and delivered to Europe and to the world her message. Her victory shows that Europe supported us,” said Crimean Tatar Hanna Islamova.
Since 2014 the Tatar disaster is also remembered in Russia when President Putin rehabilitated all of Stalin’s deported peoples, who had been written out of Soviet history textbooks.